In episode 2 of Dance of the Vampire Bund, Mina Tepes lures fellow protagonist Akira to a secluded location. She then strips down in front of him and requests that he rubs an oil on her, which will protect her from the sun’s deadly rays. It sounds like a scene straight out of any raunchy romcom series, but it’s the fact that Mina has the body of a little girl that had people feeling more than a little uncomfortable.
Mina Tepes is powerful, intelligent, and presumably ancient, yet she looks like a Eastern-European preteen girl. And in this 2010 TV anime by Studio Shaft, you get to see her pose naked, bathe, and share a bed with a dude almost 3 times her size, all of it uncensored and in full view. I’ll be honest and admit that I sought the show out specifically because I knew it to be infamous. Yet, when I realized the rest of the series was actually quite good, its lolicon-pandering became a severe black mark on an otherwise promising series
I never quite figured out how I feel about lolicons. I love characters like Renge from Non Non Biyori or Usalia from the Disgaea series, but I can’t fathom a mindset where anybody would find these adorable characters sexually appealing. It’s an idea that my mind can’t parse and the few times I’ve seen it happen in anime served only to sour my opinion of whatever I was watching. For some series it was just a brief annoyance that I could begrudgingly tolerate. In other cases, it was cause for me to immediately drop the anime entirely. Looking at you, Hybrid Heart.
At the same time, I can’t really feel hostility towards loli lovers. While I find sexualizing characters this young in anime & manga to be deplorable, I can’t earnestly equate it to literal pedophilia. I have heard the defense that nobody is hurt in the process of providing loli content and its availability may actually deter potential pedophiles from hurting real people. While I don’t have the statistics and information to argue about the latter point, I will agree that loli hentai/fanservice is at least victimless in the immediate sense. Those who enjoy it may be in some need of help—it’s still kinda weird to be into this stuff my dudes—but I wouldn’t label them a threat to society.
In fact, in their defense I am willing to admit that anime is just weird in general. Many an ecchi romcom has been set in high schools and we tend to just kinda accept that because anime is wacky and different, and we’ve already been accepting it for literally dozens of years. Nobody cries pedophilia when Is This a Zombie? has a student stripped to her underpants, even if by Western standards she’d be a minor. When somebody outside of the community jokes about anime being all “school girls and tentacles”, that’s actually an incredibly good sign. It means that they accept the mixture of teenagers and tentacles as being “kinda weird” as opposed to “illegally weird”.
Few people will assume that anime fans who find a character like Kaguya Shinomiya attractive would also be pursuing actual, real-life teenagers. It’s just been a thing anime does for so long that we have all come to accept it as being fine and harmless. Sometimes you’ll see somebody point out that a character is underage when lewd art or screenshots of them are posted, and other people get mad at them for saying so; that person is threatening to pop the pleasant bubble we’ve fostered for ourselves over the years. I am not going to argue that we should pop the bubble, but it’s worth keeping in mind and having conversations about.
Actually, we should strive to have better conversations about sex in anime, in general. For example, the typical “she’s actually a 500-year-old vampire/dragon/Goddess/plot MacGuffin” excuse is partly parody, but it is also still used legitimately. Whenever some murmurs flare up about politicians wanting to take a look at sexual content in anime, we collectively shoot into a panic and start throwing around weak excuses like that.
A fantasy character looking like a kid despite being hundreds of years old is fine, but to then sexualize that character was still a conscious decision made to cater to a specific fetish.
She’s actually legal in Japan? Maybe so, but most of us aren’t in Japan and the age of consent doesn’t magically change based on where your media came from.
Again, I am not calling for censorship; I am merely illustrating how the usual talking points would fail to win anyone over if we actually did face censorship.
You know what would also help? If anime that feature such questionable content weren’t as unapologetic about it as Dance in the Vampire Bund. Loli fanservice frustrates me whenever it slips its way into a show I like, but I can begrudgingly accept it when it’s meant as a joke or otherwise has an excuse for existing. Dance in the Vampire Bund is comparatively unambiguous. Mina is deliberately characterized as a sexual tease who contrives reasons to appear naked before Akira, some of which would come off as forced even in actual hentai.
Frustratingly, I know that the show can do better. Its final story arc has an example of sexualization being used to strong effect. It’s clear that the artist realized this too because that scene specifically obscures much of Mina’s body. It’s not meant to be arousing, whereas earlier scenes obviously are.
Which brings me to my final point: we should be wary of this and choose our battles wisely. When Funimation licensed Dance in the Vampire Bund it decided to obscure the worst of the nudity without cutting scenes entirely, leading to an outpouring of backlash against the company. I am generally a proponent of uncensored anime & nudity, but boycotting a release because it doesn’t let you see a little girl’s breasts is not a good look, even if you are doing it to “preserve the author’s intent” or other totally-not-creepy reasons.
We can circlejerk and complain all we want, but if politicians were to take steps against problematic anime, loli shows like Dance in the Vampire Bund would be front and center in the discussions. The community’s outright refusal to accept a version without prepubescent titties would be an unpleasant point to be reminded of then.
That’s it for me today, I’m afraid. I was tempted to include whole list comments I’d seen in regards to Funimation censoring Mina Tepes’ nudity and responding to them individually, but this piece is already quite long and I shouldn’t be trying to have the whole conversation just by myself. I am curious what others think about the topic of loli fanservice and whether it has a place in The West, be that legally or morally.
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