So it has come to this. From this new season, we already have two shows that brought in major rape themes, and one other that had a throwaway rape comment causing a major shitstorm. In case you missed one of them:
- The first episode of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun had a scene, where the socially clueless and sometimes unpredictably silly male protagonist suddenly grabbed the heroine, covered her mouth, dragged her to an alley, and said “if you make one sound I will rape you”. Then she nodded, and they had amusing random adventures together.
- The first episode of Psycho-Pass demonstrated the police team’s job, and the sci-fi setting’s functioning, with the case of a psychotic madman on the run, who kidnapped and raped one passerby woman during the episode. The same psycho-pass meters that first warned the police that the man is about to go crazy, now also marked the rape victim as unstable. After even more traumatic experiences, she was so screwed up that she almost had to be put down (according to the same psycho-pass system), but then the newbie protagonist policewoman managed to calm her down and merely institutionalize her.
- The second episode of Btooom! presented the backstory of the heroine Himiko, as the following: she got involved with a band of obviously dangerous-looking boys, and introduced her girlfriends to them. Later they invited the girls to their apartment. Himiko got there last, and found two of the girls raped and unconscious, while the third one was crying to her for help. She ignored the cries, escaped and called the police, who arrested the rapists. The three girls were transferred to another town and the friend she abandoned now hates her for it. Then Himiko got to the video game island where there are no rules. There she almost got raped by a fat smelly loser, and felt that this is her punishment for her crimes, but then activated a bomb, choosing to kill both of themselves rather than getting raped. The fat loser saw that and tried to run away, so she threw the bomb after him.
- Oh, and there were two other shoujo shows, with lots of nonconsensual kissing, and bishies pinning girls against walls in that typical bishie pose, and generally acting shoujo-ish.
So, yeah. Rape has been discussed in the aniblogosphere a lot recently. First of all, let’s clarify my own stance: I don’t think, that rape should be held to any different standard than other kinds of violence. Explicit glamorization of rape porn is not different from explicit glamorization of violence. Black comedy gags about rape are not different from any other black comedy gags. And gratuitous Rape as Backstory isn’t more offensive than any other badly executed gratuitous tragedy.
Yes, I know all the arguments about why it’s supposed different, how rape is always senseless, while other violence might sometimes be justified, how rape victims have to live through the rest of their lives with their trauma, that accepting rape culture might contribute to women getting raped, etc. I have heard that, and I disagree with their conclusion. Rape is just one of the many unpleasant and tragic things that can happen in life. Writers should be as experimental about exploring it’s role in narratives, as the role of anything else. There shouldn’t be a special taboo about it.
From that perspective, I didn’t think much about the scene in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. It was obviously played as an outlandishly threatening line that had no chance of being taken seriously considering the show’s general tone. Haru might have as well said “if you make one sound I will tear off your skin and make a coat out of it”, or “if you make one sound I will banish you to to the moon”. That’s it.
Now, let’s move to the part where I sound like less of a rape-apologist jerk, the part where I criticize Japan for how it typically deals with rape in anime: My main problem with rape scenes in anime, is the fine line that the medium managed to create between”Rape as Tragedy” and “Rape as Drama”. Or rather, between “Rape as Tragedy” and “Near-Rape as Drama”.
The first one of these, that I call “rape as tragedy”, is the one that people often criticize for being a transparent, shallow way to up the ante, to try to be edgy: “You say dead little sisters are tragic? Then how about RAPED little sisters??? Or how about explaining the villain’s motives by claiming that he was raped as a child? I’m such a genius at writing tragedy!!!”
It’s used as a cheap tragedy coupon, and easy way to explain why a character is utterly broken, a mere shorthand for “something horrible happened to this character”. A good (thus, bad) example of this, is the first half of the Btooom! episode. Himiko’s girlfriends are treated as nothing more than victims of tragedy. They are not survivors of an attack, they are not humiliated and terrorized, they are not injured. They are tragedified. After the deed is done, they might as well be ghosts, or memories condemning Himiko, because their role is nothing more than that, to have something tragic happen to them. After that, they disappear from her life and even from her town, as if they would be dead.
Then there is the other category, “Near-Rape as Drama”: The one that happens to the heroines. This is the type that happens to Himiko in the second half of the episode, but also the one that also happened to Yui in Kokoro Connect, (who also quickly pointed out that “nothing happened” at the ending of her backstory), and countless heroines who got saved from the “fate worse than death” just in time by the hero. They get to have some drama about feeling scared, and violated, or maybe even have a longer term androphobia, but then they get to slowly recover, fall in love with the hero for the virtue of him not being a rapist, and then it’s all OK. Even if they were stripped naked, or groped, or otherwise attacked, at least there was no penis entering their vagina, so there is no tragic damage done.
The most blatant example of this was probably the Sacred Blacksmith manga. The original light novel had a passage that clearly implied the villain raping the heroine, and it was followed by several chapters of her coping with this, but by the time the manga adaptation got to that part, the author was forced to “tone it down” by adding a line reminding the readers that the villain’s “body is incapable of something like that”, so while the plot point about her feeling “defiled” still stands, now she also remained a virgin, therefore it was not that bad.
While I have been on record defending anime’s obsession with virginity, by explaining that really, most of the time it’s more about creating an atmosphere for youthful innocence, first love, and and purity, well… this is not one of those cases. This is just fucked up.
Maybe what the anime medium needs, is more rape. And you can quote me on that.
Characters like Yui, Himiko, and the rest actually getting raped in their origin story, then coping with it, while still being likeable, strong characters who have every right to fall in love with the hero and have a somehow normal life while coping with their past.
Not the forced dilemma between the utter TRAGEDY of side characters getting raped into a pariah state or into villainy, and between getting saved from such a “fate worse than death” just in time.