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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.”

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.

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.

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.

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