Projected Responses to Backstory Sex in K-On

This post will be easier to understand if you read some posts like this. It also helps to know about anime/manga like this, this and this, and also ones like this.

Lets run through some scenarios, shall we?          

Scenario 1. We have just started watching K-On. We meet our four girls. We are introduced to Ritsu. We find out that she is a person who recently broke up with her past boyfriend. Throughout the show, we see her coming to terms with the breakup and finding a new love (possibly a new yuri love?!) and by the end, this love has made her find happiness. The fanbase spends the whole series pissed at her old boyfriend, cheering her on, and full of joy when her heart is filled again. This all plays sub-story to the main show, sort of like Konata’s story in Lucky Star, but it gets itself some great jokes and touching moments to go with it.

Scenario 2. It’s episode 6 or 7 in the series, and we find out that there is a shocking truth behind Yui’s retardation. As it turns out, she was sexually abused at one point in her life, and the shock from back then made her go a little kooky. She used to actually be very intelligent, but lost a lot of it in the incident which was buried deep inside of her. Through her experience in the series, she starts to gain back her intelligence and overcomes her past. When the revelation is made, the fans get even more deeply in love and connected with Yui and want to protect her and make her happy and bring her back from that trauma. This leads to infinite touching moments and tears being shed, plus people who hated Yui for being such an idiot get their reasoning and justification for her stupidity and are able to stop hating her as much.

Scenario 3. Once again, it’s episode 6-7. We find out that Mio actually had a boyfriend some time ago before joining the K-On. They were pretty serious at the time, too, so there is a chance that they could have had a sexual encounter. The relationship ended on bad terms, so Mio doesn’t like to talk about it. The fans become furious. Many drop the show, burn the manga, vandalize the Kyoto Animation offices, and demand their time and money back for ever bothering with the show.

Well, that last one ended in disaster. But why? Seems like the things she went through were no different than the other two characters. But it’s all a matter of timing and consentuality (not a word). In electronics terms, it’s like a NAND gate. The truth table would look like:

Though admittedly this leaves out non-consentual sex without dramatic timing which would also be A-okay

Though admittedly this leaves out 'non-consentual sex without dramatic timing' which would also be A-okay

Now, lets support these theories with some examples.

1. When a character is introduced as having a sexual background, it lessens, if not fully erases, the blow of them not being a virgin because it is something we know from the beginning. Obviously, a lack of virginity without a lack of consent is not enough to make a character hated. Mom characters, even if they are single by divorce, are always hugely popular. We have characters like Misato from Evangelion who we know has had sex before as a mature woman with a hell of a slutty side, who are still popular. It isn’t because they are older, it’s just because we knew from the beginning that this was an aspect of their character. We can start right off with this person in mind as a non-virgin and cheer her on in her endeavors and love her for reasons that have nothing to do with her purity.

2. Rape always works as a plot device. Always. Especially in moe anime. It can be something we know from the beginning – see Bitter Virgin (which is shoujo but has a large male fanbase who are the moe type) or Elfen Lied. In this case, we root for the character from the beginning because she is broken and we have this sense of needing to fix her, and we may feel that her purity was stolen from her, rather than that she lost it. It may even turn around and make her even more pure in our hearts than before because her innocence was taken advantage of. As a dramatically timed revelation, it can have an even huger effect like in ef ~a tale of melodies~. A character who was already endeared for other reasons now has this endearment super collided with that of being a raped character. The love and sympathy may create one of the ultimate forms of moe. This can also work by the rape even happening on-screen, as it does seem to happen in fucktons of eroge (pissing No Name and I off to NO END.)

3. The problem arises when we learn that a character is not so pure, doesn’t mind it, and didn’t tell us. A character who acts as pure and innocent as any other is suddenly revealed to be less innocent and unworldly and actually may have had sex in the past with someone else. To many otaku, this is like betrayal for a woman to act innocent and fulfill their fantasies, only to turn around and not actually be innocent. It’s kind of like a girl flirting with you and going on date-y things and only telling you later that they have a boyfriend, just because you didn’t ask (this happened to my brother, though he impressively hung in there anyway.) It sucks, and you feel like she may have been fake all along and not who you thought she was since she’s been keeping things from you.

(EDIT: No Name reminded me of another great example: Shugo Chara. One of the main female characters turns out to be a man after 38 EPISODES. It was enough for both of us to drop the show for over a year, and he still hasn’t picked it back up since, well, ‘he fapped to it’. This is exactly what I mean.)

Sex is treated as a pretty big deal in storytelling. It, more than anything, seperates the mature stories from the lesser-mature ones, and creates depth in characters by it’s mere existence. Especially in anime, it’s one of the biggest character traits – after all the important moments in an eroge are the ones that get you into bed with your girl. Relationships are most defined by whether or not those involved are fucking or not. What we know about a character’s sexual experience is one of their biggest defining characteristics, even if that experience is none, and adverse reactions can be expected.

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6 thoughts on “Projected Responses to Backstory Sex in K-On

  1. Interesting observations. I don’t disagree with #3. And that sort of thing is jarring even in real life. But I think the problem with #3, compared to #1 and #2 is that sexual background is a key component for #1 and #2. It’s an integral part of their character and their eventual growth. Whereas for #3, it’s sort of a side story. It’s not central to who they are and what they become. If Mio had never revealed that she got it on with her bf, the story would go on, and no one would be the wiser.

    I think the larger problem is otakus tend to have… unreasonably chaste expectations… of their 2D idols :roll: Case in point: the SK stories you link to. I’d argue that the real problem is that they’re impressing their virginal frustrations out on the “success” of a character that might’ve gone all the way. The adverse reaction isn’t due to any fault of Nagi or Kannagi’s writer, but due to otakus who made poor assumptions or had unreasonable expectations.

    Let’s take your Mio example for a second. If she had explicitly lied about not having a relationship, or gave us some pretty good reasons to believe that she was “pure,” then yes, there’s a justifiable reason for the audience to be upset. In this case, it’d be much like you mentioned, a girl flirting with you, but actually having a bf already. But if the audience had simply assumed she was pure, because she was cute, or her mannerisms were moe, or whatever, then that’s totally the audience’s fault.

  2. I do also think, though, that these authors are operating within a set of expectations and should probably be aware of them. If you write for an otaku audience, you know how they will react to things, and I’m not saying that they should compromise the integrity of their story to appease otaku, but the reaction should at least be expected. Otherwise, it would help to douse that expectation earlier. When you write an otaku manga in an otaku magazine and you write a moe character who acts like other moe characters who are pure and innocent, it’s no surprise people would expect her to be. And also, we expect our women to remain women, not that you brought that up.

  3. yeah, that’s really interesting. i’d add too that the interest that people have in their partners’ past sex lives is inversely proportionate to the quantity and quality of their own. people that get around a lot wouldn’t really care.

  4. @DB: True, but I think at a certain point, it becomes impossible to meet those expectations. I don’t know if Takanashi Eri could’ve have anticipated that the otakus would go nuts over a simple mention of Nagi’s possible ex-bf. Not even alluding to sex or kissing for that matter. I think at that point, all you can do is shrug your shoulders and not worry about appeasing the fanatics.

  5. My personal hatred for rape aside, this pretty much sums up the whole issue surrounding Kannagi. If sex is used as a plot device, it’s more or less acceptable, especially if the girl was a victim. Likewise, revealing the entire truth in the beginning means that the viewer can’t start complaining half way through because they already knew what they were in for. The problem is, with moe anime in specific, the female characters are seen by the viewers as potential girlfriends of sorts; that’s why eroge females are never taken. The viewer has no literal connection to the story – they’re separated by a dimension, of course – but the 2D character becomes someone that the 3D person has feelings for on some level. Thus, a plot twist that makes the female character less “pure” would feel to the viewer like a personal betrayal, as if the character were cheating, even if that isn’t the case within the story’s context.

    Whether or not that’s a reasonable way of thinking is irrelevant; I’m pretty sure that’s why some fans react to these things the way they do, and your examples prove the point decisively.

  6. My own approach to the issue focuses more on the cultural expectations of women in Japan, and how they are different from those amongst otaku in the West, but our conclusions are quite similar. It’s the difference between expectation and reality that is at the core of the emotional response of betrayal. You’ve hit the nail on the head.

    @ETERNAL:
    “The problem is, with moe anime in specific, the female characters are seen by the viewers as potential girlfriends of sorts; that’s why eroge females are never taken.”

    That’s right, and further, I’d argue that is due to the expectations of fans of entertainment media in general, rather than merely being a genre convention. How many singers for bands have been told to not publicly get a significant other for fear of lessening their fan appeal?

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