Management: Another anthropological research paper I’m working on investigating male otaku paraphiliacs, the otaku subculture, and the larger Japanese society. I managed another pretty decent grade on this paper, but my anthropology professor is, again, ultimately just one (albeit highly knowledgeable) person who’s critiqued my work. I’d welcome more if you guys are willing to provide feedback.
The label otaku did not always refer to men who like anime. Otaku once referred more broadly to enthusiasts of any particular interest. Now, however, the otaku label increasingly describes those intensely enthused by anime-stylized interests. More specifically, otaku refers to those enthralled by manga and Japanese video games, in addition to anime (Kotani, 2004, p. 23). Coming out of the otaku community is the assertion by some male otaku that there is this kind of love. There is this kind of love – romantic, emotional, and sexual – that some male otaku preferred over all others and transcended the bounds of convention. That love is 2D love, or love for the anime-stylized character. It was exemplified in real life through the marriage of “Nintendo DS user Sal9000 and a game character Nene Anegasaki from Love Plus (Stasieńko, 2015, p. 80).” The preferential eroticization of the 2D over the 3D constitutes a paraphilia, defined by King and Regan (2014) as a sexual disorder “in which repeatedly engaging in or fantasizing about unusual behaviors is the preferred way of obtaining sexual arousal and gratification (p. 370).” This eroticization, however, does not preclude the development of romantically and emotionally intimate dimensions in a 2D relationship as felt by paraphilic otaku.
I will use socio-cultural and socio-biological explanations to explain why male paraphilic otaku behave the way they do. I will then use these explanations to make comparisons between male paraphilic otaku and objectophiles. Whereas the latter’s objects of obsession tend to consist of non-human looking objects, the former’s objects of fixation are distinctly human-like characters. Among the human-like characters available for male paraphilic otaku to fixate over are prepubescent female children. The anthro-centric, or human-like, appearance of 2D girls raises questions concerning the potential criminality of male paraphilic otaku toward committing sex crimes, especially on young girls. It also raises questions regarding the contested legality of creative works, especially lolicon, produced and consumed by both a dedicated otaku industry and the otaku community itself.
Male Paraphilic Otaku
While sharing in the similar anime, manga, and Japanese video game interests, male otaku are distinct from male paraphilic otaku. Male otaku might even find 2D girls sexually attractive, but male paraphilic otaku prefer 2D girls to the exclusion of a sexual relationship with a 3D woman. The author of this paper, something of male otaku himself, confesses to find the figures of 2D female characters sexually pleasing while having no problems being sexually active with his 3D girlfriend. However, I am a sexual variant, not a paraphiliac. The difference between the varied behavior of a sexual variant and the preferred behavior of full-blown paraphiliac begs inquiries of why paraphilic otaku prefer 2D girls and avoid 3D women (King and Regan, 2014, p. 370). Does this kind of behavior not undermine humanity’s evolutionary tendencies to procreate?
Male paraphilic otaku are, at least in part, a product of Japanese culture. Japanese culture is mired in social expectations about adulthood (Kotani, 2004, p. 39; Kinsella, 1998, p. 313-314) and manhood (Galbraith, 2015, p. 209-211). These social expectations can be incredibly oppressing to boys and men. They are told that they should study incessantly and constantly for a place in the world characterized by working that is incessant, constant, and exhausting. The expectation of the fully grown and wholly respected Japanese man is one bound to a fate of working long hours to support a company and family. For some of those Japanese boys and men who later become otaku, their engagement with anime, manga, and Japanese video games is a disengagement from the one-sided oppressiveness of studying, working, and family care-taking. They are boys and men who buckle and balk at these expectations and the emotional and mental toll it takes to try to live up to them. The result are a number of male otaku, and especially male paraphilic otaku, who are socially inept and insecure. This social ineptness and insecurity translates into discomfort and uneasiness around women.
Insecurity and Fantasy
Male paraphilic otaku and objectophiles have their similarities and differences. Both groups of people profess love for inanimate objects. However, there is nonetheless a striking visual contrast between the objects of their affection. The objects of arousal for male paraphilic otaku, 2D girls, are distinctively human-like in their appearance. For objectophiles, their objects for gratification appear distinctly non-human. Male paraphilic otaku might be enamored by Asuka Soryu Langley, a human-looking 2D girl from the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Toru Honda, a male paraphilic otaku, is obsessed with specifically both the appearance and character of his 2D girl as opposed to just his 2D girl’s appearance. (Katayama, 2009). He switches between pillow covers of his 2D female lover and throws away worn ones without serious issue. In contrast, objectophiles might be attached to things ranging from the specific cars they own to specific non-human looking national monuments. Marsh (2010) notes of a male objectophile attached to his car and a female objectophile attached to the Eiffel Tower. Despite their non-human appearances, some objectophiles do describe their objects with personifying labels – for instance, nouns and adjectives that express or suggest gender. It is consistent with Smilek et al‘s (2007) study on the synesthesic personification of inanimate things. Despite their differences, both paraphilic otaku (Kotani 2014) and objectophiles (Marsh 2010) also show patterns of ineptness and insecurity in making and maintaining social relationships with other human beings.
Male paraphilic otaku, despite their sexual aversion to 3D women, nonetheless find sexual pleasure, in addition to romantic affection and emotional satisfaction, in 2D characters that resemble their 3D counterparts. For male paraphilic otaku, their lack of companionship with 3D females does not necessarily preclude the want for female companionship altogether. Men have only been able to propagate their genes down the generations thanks to desiring spousal relationships with women, and culture throughout the generations have constantly emphasized to men that spousal relationships with women are a good thing. These developments suggest that heteronormative men – the vast majority of men – were biologically built and socially conditioned with the goal of desiring women. It is in this context that male paraphilic otaku have directed their otherwise heteronormative desires toward 2D girls – whether because they exclusively prefer 2D girls or default to 2D girls because they are unable to find a suitable 3D woman. From a socio-biological perspective, human males can get around their evolutionary tendencies for reproduction by obtaining, via fantasy, sexual satisfaction and emotional intimacy from a 2D girl. Human males avoid impregnating and partnering with 3D girls because male bodies and brains confuse the titillating reality of 3D girls with the titillating simulacra of 2D girls. 2D girls, after all, resemble their 3D female models.
From a socio-cultural perspective, male paraphilic otaku are able to both avoid the pains attached with compromising with the demands and achieving the pleasures associated with 3D female companionship by turning to 2D girls. 2D girls are fictional females that are easy to mass produce for the otaku community and easily conformable to male paraphilic otaku tastes. Physical or digital icons of 2D girls tend range between images that are 100% completely static to images that are nonresponsive to nuanced human interaction. In this lack of active interaction, male paraphilic otaku substitute imagined ones. They take advantage of the fictional nature of these characters, inserting their fantasies to dictate what they believe and how they behave. The 2D magical girlfriend archetype is the pinnacle of this exercise of wish-fulfillment. The magical girlfriend consists a fictional girl who is explicitly conceived to cater to the desires of her male partners. 2D girl archetypes are not limited to magical girlfriend though. Male paraphilic otaku can choose their preferences for characters not only on the basis of stock appearance, but stock behavior. Fetishized behavioral tropes include such staples as tsundere. A tsundere refers to a girl defined by a mixture of both emotional coldness and tenderness (Amit, 2012, p.181). Tsundere and other behavioral tropes by themselves are over-simplifications of how 3D people behave. They nonetheless resemble 3D people behavior, just enough so that male paraphilic otaku find it stimulating without being overly threatening.
While anime, manga, and Japanese video games are all mediums containing a diversity of character models, a nonetheless common quality in many of them are that they feature girls characterized by cuteness and innocence. This quality of cuteness and innocence is expressed or suggested visually via the youthful feminine treatment of the eyes. Depending on the anime, manga, and Japanese video game, a character roster organized according to age would tend to illustrate the younger 2D girls with larger and more doe-ish eyes. Young boys and older men especially tend to feature narrower eyes in general. The anime Clannad provides an especially distinct difference in eye design between the anime‘s featured cast of males and females. An interview with the scenario writer for Clannad highlights his intention to make consumers of his work cry when his characters, and especially female characters, suffer life’s hardships (Galbraith, 2014, p. 98-107). They are emotionally rending in part because his characters’ cuteness and innocence are being sullied.
Neoteny and Fantasy
What visually communicates this cuteness and innocence among otaku at a conscious and subconscious level? A socio-cultural explanations say that when memorable characters within early anime, manga, and Japanese video game narratives were successfully sold as cute and innocent, coincidental components of these characters – such as their large and doughy eyes – gain a standalone quality of cuteness and innocence within the otaku subculture. Large and doughy eyes can be transplanted from the faces of one 2D girl to another to elicit the same symbolic response of cuteness and innocence from the latter character as in the former character. A socio-biological explanation, on the other hand, deals with the human developmental phenomenon of neoteny (Lamarre, 2011, p. 121). Certain aspects of the human physique are more fully grown after birth in infants and children than others. One of these aspects are the eyes, which in infants/children tend to be larger and more doe-ish than adults’. The stage in human development where women still retain immature facial features while having grown mature body proportions communicates a message tied to evolution. Women are most successfully fertile when they are still young. Women become less likely to birth healthy offspring as they grow old. Additionally, infants/children are widely seen in mainstream culture as cute and innocent, in part because of both humanity’s evolutionary tendencies to react positively to their species’ progeny and infants’/children’s inability to conceive of abstract and complex concepts of right and wrong. The otaku community’s propensity to identify large and doe-ish eyes with cuteness and innocence in 2D girls, therefore, can be seen as a natural extension among human beings to associate these abstract qualities with physical qualities of infantile and child-like.
A sensible theory for otaku paraphilia can be wrought out from a combination of both the socio-cultural reason for why Japanese men become male paraphilic otaku and the socio-biological reason for why many male paraphilic otaku fixate on cute and innocent 2D girls. They reject and avoid the social expectations placed on them by Japanese society to subjugate themselves to work and family life. They also reject and avoid 3D women, who male paraphilic otaku tend to see as intimidating. They see 3D women as demanding them to live up to their social expectations of caring for them comfortably, of bringing them societal respect, and of being the financial providers for their children. A long ingrained assumption still persists in Japanese society that women must be, foremost, wives and mothers (Kato, 1989, p. 54-56; Sekiguchi, 2010, p. 95-96; Gordon, 2009, p. 303-304). Male paraphilic otaku thus turn to 2D girls for their romantic, emotional, and sexual needs. 2D girls are female companions who fit the male paraphilic otaku‘s preferences appearance-wise, are not overbearingly and conflictingly demanding of the male paraphilic otaku, and are cute and innocent. They are not corrupted by society’s expectations of what they should believe and how they should act, because they are designed to bear nothing save unconditional love for the male paraphilic otaku as he is.
This male paraphilic otaku fantasy of unconstrained service and affection towards 2D girls is characterized by an uneven power dynamic. 2D girls are fictional, and therefore can only resist the male paraphilic otaku‘s advances insofar as the paraphilic otaku permit them to – in a tsundere way, for instance. Male paraphilic otaku can create their own original 2D girl character to obtain arousal from. Male paraphilic otaku can also pick and choose from existing 2D girls that already feature attractive stock traits (Hiroki, 2009, p. 49-52) and reinterpret their behavior for their own gratification (p. 46-47). Even an established anime character such as Asuka Soryu Langley from Neon Genesis Evangelion has been appropriated to the extent that how the original creator conceived Asuka’s character to be is vastly different from how many male paraphilic otaku infatuated with Asuka perceive her character as. How Asuka is portrayed in the anime can be, and has been, radically different to how she ends up being presented in many otaku fanzines, to the extent that they can be considered essentially two separate characters that just happen to share the same name, looks, and similarities in behavior. The name, looks and even behavior, if in a superficial way, nonetheless tie Asuka to the popular anime she originally hailed from. They tie Asuka to male paraphilic otaku, who experienced positive engagement with her character from her anime. Asuka is burdened with a grievously terrible anti-social streak characterized by an outlandish brashness to succeed and a debilitating sense of self-doubt when she fails – the result of mother abandonment issues. The oversimplified tsundere behavioral trope, now a staple behavioral trait for many 2D girls, was popularized by many otaku‘s reductionist hot-and-cold perception of Asuka. This popular conception is despite her character’s existing complexity in the show. Male paraphilic otaku have all the power to decide what 2D girls should be like essentially, and 2D girls have none of the power to maintain any of their own essence.
Loli and Fantasy
The combination of both this uneven power dynamic and the resemblance of 2D girls to 3D ones is the subject of a significant amount of controversy over whether or not otaku paraphilia should not only be discouraged, but cracked down on. Mainstream culture in Japanese society already tends to look down on the otaku subculture for what it sees as encouraging anti-social tendencies and deviant beliefs that avoid, reject, and even potentially undermine social norms (Kinsella, 1998, p. 313-314). The arguably more worrying issue, however, is whether or not otaku paraphilia encourages harmful behavior. King and Regan (2014) note that paraphiliacs of one interest tend to be paraphiliacs of others (p. 370-371). From personal experience, the author of this paper can attest that the anime, manga, and Japanese video game mediums contain ample amounts of paraphilic content ranging from courtship disorders, to sadomasochism, and to myriad fetishes. One of the most common is pedophilic, or lolicon content. Lolicon is short for lolita complex, after Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita (1958). The lolicon trope is connected to the anecdotal case of Tsutomu Miyazaki, Japanese molester and serial killer of four young girls (Hiroki, 2009, p. 4; Galbraith, 2015, p. 211; Galbraith, 2011, p. 103-105). A search of his apartment yielded lolicon fanzines, and the Japanese news media subsequently sought to demonstrate a link between paraphilic otaku and sexual predators. The whole episode contributed to a hostile image of the otaku subculture that is being rehabilitated more recently, albeit unevenly, as the otaku industry and community have figured more heavily in Japan’s cultural exports and tourism revenue (Galbraith, 2010, p. 212-213).
Concerns remain, however, as to whether or not otaku paraphilia leads to sexually violent predation. To reiterate, in the case of objectophiles, their objects of desire tend to be non-human looking. Their behavior, therefore, tends to be understood as benign in relation to other people. In the case of male paraphilic otaku, however, their fantasies are directed at characters that resemble human beings. The production of 2D lolicon fanzines does not directly lead to harm akin to the creation of 3D child pornography. Nonetheless, fears arise from whether or not male paraphilic otaku with lolicon tastes will eventually translate their desires for fictional prepubescent girls into desires for real ones. Similar to the treatment of kids in J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951), fictional prepubescent girls, or loli, are seen as near-ultimate expressions of cuteness and innocence. In a hypothetical relationship between male paraphilic otaku and still developing girls, the power dynamic is especially lopsided in favor of the senior party. Members of the latter party are especially vulnerable to exploitation due to their limited physical, mental, and emotional capacities.
These risks have lead to debates about whether or not to connect fictional pedophilic material like lolicon with anti-child pornography statutes and legislation, such as in Anglophone countries (Stapleton, 2010, p. 4-6; Galbraith, 2011, p. 88-89). That act is a big if, however. The verdict, at least according to Saito (2011), is that “there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that the consumption of manga, anime, and games leads to… violent and/or sexual crime (Galbraith, 2015, p. 213).” Male paraphilic otaku “maintain quiet everyday lives as ordinary heterosexuals,” resulting in their paraphilia being “not a problem in the least (Saito, 2011, p. 31).” Galbraith (2011) states that “the urge to view images of sexualized girls does not necessarily reflect the desires of viewers or influence them to physically abuse girls (p. 86).” He makes this conclusion after discovering that the extent of child abuse in Japan, where lolicon is prolific, is smaller than in the US, where it is less so. After confessing that he has sex with his sixth grade 2D female lover, Toru Taima, a male paraphilic otaku, stridently insists that he has never looked at 3D child pornography before (Katayama, 2009). He says that he “lives with his sister and his 3-year-old niece, whom he insists he has no sexual feelings for.” He also insists adamantly that he “is not doing harm to anybody.” Finally, he consciously admits to knowing that his 2D girl lives “in his imagination” and calls 2D girls “works of art.”
Despite its paraphilic nature, 2D love or otaku paraphilia, on the whole, does not cause male paraphilic otaku to become violently sexual predators, as the Japanese news media sought to assert or suggest during the anecdotal drama of the Miyazaki Tsutomu case. In fact, empathizing with male paraphilic otaku reveal that their obsessiveness and deviance are products of oppressive expectations for adulthood and manhood within Japanese society. Male paraphilic otaku, in this sense, are anti-authoritarian and individualistic, pursuing a goal that onlookers might find worthwhile in light of their society’s pressures to conform as yet another cog in the machine: their personal happiness. Rather than fighting against the system, however, they have responded by retreating from it. Male paraphilic otaku indulge themselves in the company of 2D girls of their own imagined design. These 2D girls, in their minds, will not judge them and will love them regardless of what society says. Magical girlfriends, lolicon, and other character archetypes and behavioral tropes tend to be nothing more than part of this fictional package of purity. Otaku paraphilia is certainly far from the norm, but it is not necessarily harmful. Perhaps, after understanding it, it should draw sympathy, if not full acceptance, from us.
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