On Kannagi and Virginity

For those of you who missed it, there was a big to-do at the close of 2008 over the fact that Nagi of Kannagi might not be “pure.”

Not a vampire.

It’s fascinating to me how so much of the international anime community took the Western perspective and applied it as if it ought to be universal.  Sankaku Complex was flooded with hate in the stories it ran. Darkmirage’s popular take on the subject garnered forty comments and not one mentioned how cultural expectations of women are different in Japan vs. in the West. There was not one reference to Yamamoto Nadeshiko, that ideal of self-sacrificing femininity that was inculcated in the Japanese in WWII and whose specter still discourages modern Japanese women from marrying.

Some conservative men in Japan expect virginity of ideal women. This is about cultural expectations, so criticism centered on realism is an unproductive angle: even if you make such a man admit he is unlikely to get X, that doesn’t change the fact that X is his ideal. For that matter, quite a few fundamentalist Christian men in America have similar notions of ideal women; they simply don’t tend to frequent 2ch and talk about anime. There is a terrible eagerness here to insist that our take on things is unambiguously superior and theirs is unambiguously wrong – which is, ironically, the primary criticism leveled at conservatives. As an admitted radical feminist, I am aware of the damage caused by such expectations leveled at real women, but I don’t think the solution here is to turn around and bash the Japanese fans for expecting this of a 2D girl. Progress requires understanding.

Too postmodern?

I want to go back to the breakdown Darkmirage offered here:

“If Nagi weren’t a virgin, none of that would change. The jokes would still be funny, the Earth would still spin, and fujoshi would still write Sasuke x Naruto fan fictions.”

The implicit assumption is that the only reasons someone might watch a show are the reasons he watches the show. But I would argue that the reactions suggest that those are not the only reasons the angry 2channers watch, and that is the source of the disconnect between them and Western fans. Clearly, their enjoyment of the show is to some degree predicated on the female lead matching up with their ideals. Virginity is one of those ideals.

This is, to me, no more and no less valid than demanding pettanko, nekomimi, dojikko, megane, or any other fetish of a show. True, when my friends in the US say something like “I won’t watch X show; it’s not moe,” they are aware on some level of how absurd that is, how very self-serving and subjective their criteria are. But so what? They are watching anime for their own enjoyment, and that is not something that other otaku tend to criticize as “unrealistic.” Nor is fan-rage something that otaku are incapable of appreciating, or hinano would have stopped garnering positive responses long ago. What is it about the combination of unrealistic standards and fan-rage that had everyone up in arms? I can find nothing more than simple unfamiliarity with an alien set of cultural values and expectations.

Cucumber beer is pretty alien to me.

International otaku are attracted to anime in part by Japanese culture. However, when you examine another culture, there will typically be parts you don’t agree with. This should surprise no one. I can’t see this sort of refusal to understand another facet of Japanese culture as any more mature than the book-tearing of the 2channers in question.

12 thoughts on “On Kannagi and Virginity”

  1. I think the issue may a bit deeper than just the cultural differences between eastern and western fandom but also the level of emotional involvement, of course I can only speak for myself but while a anime girl can be the target of my sexual interest one has never been the target of my romantic interest. I suspect that this is a fairly common perspective the west while the converse viewpoint occurs with more frequency in Japanese fandom which causes those cultural values to take more prominence. Just a hypothesis, but what do you think?

  2. If only the author also had simultaneous international sales of her (translated) manga, she could have just ignored that extreme fringe of fandom, and focused on the majority.

    All of my japanese acquaintances and business partners have a more open attitude towards such things…but the fact that they are expats and our common dislike of certain segments of otakuism may have colored my perceptions.

    The internet merely gave extremists a voice all out of proportion to their size,  the silent majority will still decide the outcome IRL.

    Unless, your clientele IS the fringe, then you are royally f*cked.

  3. Like carbon mentioned before, I think it’s less about conservative views on marriage and more about people falling so obsessively in love with a fictional character (to an extreme point). As you say, people in Asia are more conservative than west when it comes to virginity and marriage (although in Korea for example that is rapidly changing as younger the generation gets) and most people are tolerant enough to understand these values, but most normal people aren’t tolerant enough to understand people who obsess (romantically) over 2D characters. Perhaps that is more relevant question. Is it wrong to romantically fall in love with a 2D character? Is it hurting anyone other than the person himself?

  4. @carbon, @gaguri – Certainly there is something to be said for the notion of devotion which demands devotion in return, even of a fictional character.  That definitely plays a part here. What I found interesting was that plenty of people who nominally should have no problem understanding the otaku fixation resorted to mockery, hostility, and criticism of the demand for a particular character trait.  Of course, culturally, in the West the expectation of virginity is associated with orthodoxy and conservativism, and the Western otakus who responded may have only scorn for such things. 

    @Passingass – Indeed, international businessmen are generally going to have more worldly takes on things than cloistered shut-ins.  I’m not one for over-reliance on stereotypes but it seems a reasonable assertion, especially when backed up by your experience.

  5. @moritheil Thats certainly a valid point about the vehemence of the western response and I’m not looking to excuse the behavior but rather to explore what drove it, prahaps something similar to the uncanny valley effect where the cultural similarity is the reason that they overreacted to the difference. I myself found the Japanese take on Nagi’s virginity a bit repellent but not enough so to raise hue and cry. Or it could be the that fandom on our side of the pond was displaying one of our cultural quirks, and were just being dicks. ;-)

    In any case I’m glad I get to geek out discussing it. Thanks!

  6. This whole controversial issue started from the latest story development of Kannagi. Apparently, one of the new character in the manga turned out to be the former lover” of Nagi. The problematic content doesn’t really say more than that, but some people started to discuss how far Nagi could have gone with this guy, and hence, the theory of “Nagi is not a virgin.”

    I myself, wasn’t following the latest chapter, so can’t say if this is convincing argument or not, but I have to say, this is an interesting development (no, not the story but the situation). I mean, this is one of the most popular series this season. At the same time, one of the show that’s using the charm of the character to sell the show. So, if such an issue like above arises, it could be quite devestating blow to the sale. From the looks of it, “boyfriend” part looks pretty solid. I’m not sure what the editors of the manga thinking, cuz it is obvious that many fans of the series would be compelled by this type of development (unless this development was to trick the readers;;;). Especially after a great start of the anime, why let this story develop right now? Let’s face it. Guys don’t want their fantasy idol to have a “lover” let alone “lost virginity”. Another problem seems to be the fact that this new character is apparently not so likable. (Also, it seems like the main character was started to develop feelings for Nagi) I also am having a bit of an issue with this problem. Nagi is supposed to be “God”. She always was protrayed as god, and yet, suddenly, such a human like development…. You go tell all the AMG fans that Belldandy is actually not a virgin, AMG sales will drop more than 50%, I tell you. Anyways, it will be interesting to see the dvd sale after this (also the TV ratings).

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