There are a lot of themes in anime that fans of the medium have just gotten used to. Some of these themes are pretty questionable when it comes to normal people’s values. From the occasionally hyper fanservice heavy show, to lolicon magical girl shows, even to incest. Even with the massive hit TV show of Game of Thrones featuring an incestuous type relationship, its presence in a narrative still makes people uneasy. Ever a portion of the anime fanbase dislikes the plot element so much that it can be a defining feature that makes them drop the show. I know people who love Monogatari but almost dropped it because of Nisemonogatari. With that said, why is incest such a popular reoccurring element in anime?
My first experience with incest in anime, as I hope it was with many, was an incredibly awkward one. I’m not sure which anime it was, but it was a strange thing for me to even think about let alone experience in a medium I was slowly becoming enveloped in. Now, I watch an anime, can pick up incest vibes like it was second nature, and just deal with it. I think its safe to say that a good portion of people who regularly watch anime have also grown to deal with incestuous tones like this as well.
While this is very much so something that a good portion of us get used to, if not a majority, it’s still not even a question that (at least in the Western audience) its a very bold thing to become dare I say mainstream. With all the slow set up for the topic out of the way, it’s honestly an interesting thing to think about. Incest, something naturally deemed gross and in many cultures illegal, being considered commonplace. On top of that, despite not being very knowledgable on things outside of my little bubble, I can’t think of any major forms of media that feature many touchy subjects like incest regularly. Except for one.
Western media has almost completely normalised the use of drugs in fiction. We’re not talking weak, almost socially acceptable drugs like marijuana either, drugs that are very generally agreed to be extremely bad for you and straight up dangerous have been under the spotlight on more than one occasion. I don’t think this is a bad thing, I’ve expressed my opinions on how I believe reality and fiction to be very separate in the past, but it’s interesting. It’s especially interesting considering under 10% of people in the United States alone use illegal drugs, a huge portion of which being just marijuana.
So then what made hardcore illegal drugs become so accepted in movies and television. What made everything from Breaking Bad to Family Guy and every Seth Rogen film ever have drugs in it without almost any of its audience question it. I can’t say for sure, as I don’t watch movies or huge television shows very often, but I have a tiny theory. What if the use of drugs as an element of the narrative, whether it be primary or secondary, made a clear distinction between fiction and reality while also playing as a foreign enough object to most people, that it can either fantasize the situation or over hyperbolise the situation and act as an enforcer to suspension of disbelief?
That was a pretty complicated question so allow me to rephrase it. What if the commonality of Western media using drugs acts as a way to put emphasis on the fact that the production is just fiction, to make drugs seem way more fantastic than they actually are, or to act as something to allow the audience to believe everything happening on the screen in the moment. It seems like a perfectly legitimate thing to assume if you ask me, and I feel like we can tie this back to the original topic of incest in anime. Primarily focusing on those last two ideas.
Going back to how this relates to anime, what if the regular use of incest in anime acts as a way to make romantic relationships with siblings seem more fantastic than they actually are and are also used as a way to soften the blatant need of suspension of disbelief to comprehend the story? No, really, let’s think about this for a moment.
One of the most common things I hear that gets people into anime is that it serves as a fantasy. That watching these shows serves as epic tale after epic tale, fantasy after fantasy, things we never knew we wanted to live through, with an almost endless library of adventures to choose from. It’s a pretty understandable reason, at least to me for reasons I won’t be getting into this week, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that Japanese media that appeals to the crowd of people who enjoy anime have started to bank on common or unusual fantasies.
Now let’s take a look at the show everyone should have been expecting me to talk about from the title of this editorial alone, Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai, aka My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute, best known as Oreimo. How many people reading this even slightly have the inner fantasy of wanting to be in a relationship with your brother or sister. None of you, hopefully (God, I hope). Routing the question back to my previous example from Western media, how many people reading this even slighty have the inner fantasy of getting high on drugs so dangerous they could easily kill you over time? Again, hopefully none of you.
So then why are either of these things common? Well, let’s slightly alter the question. How many of you have the fantasy of wanting to be in a relationship with a cute imouto type character? I guarantee I at least got one person to think that question applied to them. What changed? The word cute added? Changing “brother or sister” to its Japanese counterpart? What I actually changed was the words making the situation seem realistic, to make the situation seem purely fictional. To make the situation seem like a fantasy rather than a reality. That’s where the power of these themes, both incest in anime and drugs in Western media, have their strengths.
I know that a ton of people like Oreimo. I mean, the show is extremely questionable and whenever it’s brought up a fist fight is likely to break out, but it’s popularity is pretty undeniable even if it has died down a bit. The most used phrases in that show (this isn’t a statistic or anything, I’m just snowballing off of three year old memory) could easily be crowned as “onii-chan” and “imouto.” Assuming you understand what that means, even characters that weren’t Kirino used the phrase “onii-chan” slightly sparingly in the best moments to highlight the idea that the show was appealing to a fantasy, while the phrase “imouto” was spammed over and over again until it lost all meaning. The show very heavily built up an idea of the fantasy of a little sister complex, and for a few people, it worked.
Not as in it made them want to call up their little sisters and start dating them, but it created an appeal for cute imouto type characters. Fans wanted Kirino or Ayase to be their little sisters because they were so cute and… wait, isn’t this incest? What Oreimo just crafted, isn’t that technically incest? I mean, the normal idea here is that incest isn’t only taboo but straight up illegal in some cases. But Oreimo was able to play itself perfectly as the personification of the fantasy of being in a relationship with an imouto type character.
Let’s go back to my theory on drugs in Western media. The use of incest here acts as a way to separate reality from fiction. This one’s easy to defend. Incest is frowned upon in society while imouto characters are treasured to a degree. The use of incest in anime acts as a way to make incestuous relationships seem fantastic. Again, this is pretty easy. Not many people look at their siblings and get infatuated with them, but the idea of imouto characters being cute and datable isn’t exactly rare within the anime fan community. Next. The use of incest in anime acts as a way to replace the need for suspension of disbelief. Rarely ever do we question how these incestuous relationships work in anime. It just does. We accept it. When it comes to other relationships in some shows, like the relationship between Renji and Chihiro in ef: A Tale of Memories that so little people know about that I’m not sure why I’m bringing it up, we question how it can work out and what happens between them. We never really go that far in thought with brother sister relationships.
So why don’t we see it as weird? It’s sure as hell awkward in our first encounter, but past that? Well, the incestuous tones and relationships masquerade themselves in a somewhat perfect way. We don’t put much thought into it and for that reason, we accept that what we’re experiencing is straight up incest when it’s presented cleverly. I mean, we never get to the point where we straight up ignore it, but it bothers us less and less. Just like every single cocaine joke in slapstick rated R comedy movies.
Thanks so much to my friend Chris, co-host of a myriad of podcasts that are all pretty interesting to listen to, for giving me this week’s topic. Also, thank you so much to everyone who read this week’s editorial! It honestly means the world to me to have even just a tiny audience who listens to my unpopular opinions here. If you’d like to see what I’m up to when I don’t do my part for this blog or see my well-past-midnight comments about the editorial I’m writing, you can always follow me on Twitter! Speaking of Twitter, my anniversary of joining this blog is coming up and I was wondering if you all would be interested in a Q&A from myself, so please let me know your thoughts over on this link. As always, I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this editorial was drawn by pixiv artist EdogawaKid.