Last year, The Japan Red Cross society sparked outrage by using Uzaki-chan in their promotional material; her big chest was deemed ‘inappropriate’ for the public eye. This month, another controvery has been stirred up around another anime girl in advertisement. In a collaboration with JA Nansun, a group that assists farmers in several areas of Shizuoka, Love Live’s Chika Takami appears as an ambassador for the group’s citrus fruit, Nishiura Mikan. While this attracted praise from Love Live! fans, it also sparked criticism from some Japanese women who, uninterested in the idol franchise, simply saw the way her skirt clung to her body and accused the poster of sexualizing women.
It was business as usual for the world of social media: many people latched onto the calls for the poster to be taken down, perpetuating narratives of how anime girls looking in any way ‘sexualized’ is destroying the lives of real women in Japan and elsewhere. Otaku began to take note of the outrage, with some mocking ‘feminists’ for being obsessed with a fictional skirt while real fans were giving their attention to the real woman beside the poster. A Change.org petition was formed to support Chika, which has at the time of writing reached over 18,000 signatures and also been reached by a spokesperson for JA Nansun who has assured them that Chika will continue to be their ambassador.
Yet, ‘social justice’ advocates continue to decry the poster and their warped image of its target audience. The campaign is supposed to spread love and happiness through Chika’s moe support of agriculture, but some can only see it as a platform to be hateful towards others through a guise of ‘activism’.
The main voice behind the rallying cries for censorship in the English-speaking sphere is twitter user ‘@UnseenJapanSite’, who advertises themsleves as a resource for appreciating ‘The Japan you don’t see in anime’ and spent several days tweeting out his outrage at the poster in addition to writing an article for his site linking the poster to ‘child exploitation’. Behind the site is Jay Allen, an American citizen who ironically got into studying Japanese culture through his passion for anime. The blogger claims to have reached enlightment beyond the anime fandom and believes he stands as a voice that appreciates the ‘real’ Japan in a way that Western ‘otaku’ don’t, regularly mocking ‘weebs’ for being immoral and inferior to his wisdom. He recently voiced concerns over a drawing of a woman with larger-than-average breasts, claiming that no woman could be strong enough to walk around with them. It’s worth noting that he has been mocked on Japanese TV for his outbursts on social media regarding the busty Uzaki-chan poster; he did not handle that well.
For Allen, the threat of an illusory pedophilic predator trumps all other possible interpretations for the poster of Chika. Though the characters of Love Live! are designed to be divorced from reality through their focus on moe imagery, Chika was seen by some Japanese women as though she were explicitly real – an essential aspect of the character was denied in order to form a criticism of its supposed impact on society. , Despite the moe character being read by its target audience as having nothing to do with real women, the depiction of Chika is assumed to advocate for an attitude towards all women that would put them in danger. Allen chose to signal boost these voices, rather than listen to the core Love Live! fanbase at all.
Love Live! have previously collaborated with Japan Red Cross Society through a poster featuring an ensemble cast. Allen considers this ‘much less controversial’, even though any feminist could quite easily criticize that poster for its moe ‘infantilization’ of women as well. This was the kind of angle AnimeFeminist founder Amelia Cook used for one of the pieces she wrote for The Mary Sue before starting her own site. Popular tweets often pop up decrying how moe art styles are all about men wanting to have power over women by infantilizing them. But this inferred power dynamic doesn’t match up to how otaku talk about and behave with these characters. Fandoms built around moe characters, particularly idols, are much like cults; while Chika may be an ‘object’ for fans, her cuteness puts her in control of her audience, as they empty their wallets to roll for her or other characters in gacha games, buy her merchandise, or donate money to a charity she supports. She is the one with the power. This submissive position is common in many otaku audiences.
Even if the image was intended to draw more attention to the character’s ‘groin lines’, Love Live! has provided plenty of cutesy fanservice to its viewers through the use of swimwear, pajamas and other such outfits at could be read as ‘sexual’ despite the franchise’s explicit overtones of purity. It’s not hard to find bloggers who have been outraged at how the franchise could help ‘normalize’ problematic perspectives towards children. But again, all these aspects are designed to be dissociated from any attitudes towards real people. The way Chika’s skirt in the poster unnaturally clings to her mirrors how clothes often work in anime, adding exageration to the body’s curves and features by looking tighter than they would be in real life. While normal people would read this as a universal sign of ‘sex appeal’, the goal is ultimately to form a moe response through cuteness.
‘Ero-kawaii’ is found in a lot of public advertizing involving anime girls. Cute, infantile faces are often coupled with big breasts and revealing clothing, and it’s easy to cry out against these images ‘sexualizing children’. But sexiness is not the ultimate goal – the ‘ero’ aspect is designed to compliment the ‘kawaii’ in order to add another dimension to the character’s cuteness. There is nothing pornographic about the Love Live! poster, nor is there any impetus for audiences to see Chika as a generalization of women. As Patrick W. Galbraith discusses in Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan, ‘most otaku stress emotional rather than sexual needs for moe characters’. The short skirt and accentuated curves are simply a way of making Chika look cute in her isolated, anime world. Of course, the general public of Japan do not share the same mindset as otaku – when otaku narratives are put out into the open, they are often misread and seen as dangerous to society. But this is something that otaku should fight against.
Otaku in Japan know how to separate fantasy from reality – the cutesy fanservice featured in the franchise is enjoyed as ‘junsui na fantaji’, pure fantasy. If someone really cared about the rate of child sexual assault in Japan, the existence of schoolgirl cafes that run as fronts for underage prostitution should be the target of their outrage, not a slightly sexy poster of a fanservice-filled franchise enjoyed by millions. Given that School Idol Festival is played frequently in public, anything in the Love Live! world that can be categorized by these people as ‘the sexualization of minors’ has already been displayed in many more places than on a poster for a charity drive.
Yet, fictional girls are a much simpler platform to live out ‘white saviour’ complexes on than the direct plight of real Japanese girls. No matter how much evidence is presented to the contrary, the supposed effect of violence in video games on society can be thrown around blindly as a blunt weapon to justify censorship; the same is true for anything questionable in Japanese animated media. Removing Chika and her short skirt will not help change the lives of any women in Japan, but it will give those desperate for power and control an easy way to feel like they’ve done some good for the world. And when you’re on the outside like Allen, all you have to do is elevate those few voices, claim that that’s what Japan ‘really’ thinks, and ride your high horse all the way to the bank of social capital.
Rarely do social justice advocates like Allen consider the double-edged sword of their crusades against ‘immoral’ drawings. Crying out that having the image of a short-skirted schoolgirl in public tells women they ‘exist for men’ ends up telling women that they should still be ultimately beholdent to a ‘male gaze’ and cover up their ‘sexual’ features, lest they encourage someone towards acting on predatory impulses. It’s a common line of thought that feeds into the history of ‘rape culture’ in the West: rather than invalidate the perspective of the predator, they are given power through criticisms of the way women dress. If a woman was raped, people will ask ‘what was she wearing?’ and ‘was she asking for it?’; why do we understand that this approach is harmful, but continue to perpetuate the mindset behind it through the way we treat fiction and fantasy and how it is displayed in public? Why do we look at Japan’s issues with sex crime and sexism and tell fictional bishoujo that they are to blame? Allen somehow understands the need to support lingerie models speaking out about how their bodies don’t exist for men, but he can’t do the same for a cartoon.
It’s clear that these advocates for ‘social justice’ have a fetish for enforcing modesty onto women who can’t talk back – drawings and 3D models can’t ‘consent’ to the way they’re rendered, but neither can they argue against any calls for censorship. If a man wanted to participate in modern ‘feminism’ but still felt a need to have control and power over women, these censorious crusades would be all they needed to get their fix. Funny how that works.
Happy to get two articles out in a month. I should have a lot more free time starting around September this year, so I’m looking forward to being able to put out content more regularly in the future for this site.
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Thank you for reading!
One thought on “Fetishizing Modesty: Thoughts on the Love Live! Poster Controversy”
A bit late, but I’d like to show you some due respect for putting this article out there. I’m glad that there are people who will talk about these issues in detail. It was a very informative and engaging read, and I like the balance you kept between including the facts and including your own perspective. Very well done.