Gundam 00

I recently started watching Kannagi after reading about the 2ch shitstorm over the main female lead’s alleged past sexual experience. You can read more about this dorama over at Sankaku Complex. The gist of the matter is that Nagi may or may not be Negi in disguise a virgin because she apparently has an ex-boyfriend! Also, she’s not even human so it reminds to be determined if the concepts of virginity and copulation even apply to her. In any case, this revelation in the manga’s plot development led to a firestorm of otaku rage and book tearing.

Oh, the humanity.

When I was watching the first episode of Kannagi, I thought it was a pretty average show with some marginally interesting directing. The バラバラ殺神事件 sequence caught me by surprise and I actually laughed out loud, so all in all the show was actually surprisingly good and held its ground better than most love comedies founded on the age-old premise of having a poor sob’s life invaded by an overbearing sometimes-magical girl. (Toradora on the other hand made me want to fall asleep.)

I’m guessing there are many people who agree with me, because Kannagi seems pretty popular. (Then again, Naruto and Gundam 00 are popular, so perhaps that’s not a clear indication of intent.)

Gundam 00

If Nagi weren’t a virgin, none of that would change. The jokes would still be funny, the Earth would still spin, and fujoshi would still write Sasuke x Naruto fan fictions. But of course this is all hypothetical talk since:

  1. The manga hasn’t actually revealed anything beyond the existence of an ex-boyfriend.
  2. The question of whether forest gods, of whom Nagi is one, can have “virginity” still hangs in the balance.
  3. Nagi is a fictional character.

I guess you can tell which side of this issue I stand on. But what I really wanted to talk about is something else that’s being demonstrated by this incident.

As anime fans, particularly foreign ones, we like to claim that anime is made for adults, that it is a diverse medium of creative expression, and that it is not “just cartoons”. These are not lies — it is certainly a fact that many anime titles being made today are not targeted at children — but they are only partial truths.

Are most anime titles made for adults? I don’t think so. If the fan base of Kannagi were adults, then Nagi’s virginity wouldn’t have been an issue, just as for example the virginity of the characters featured in a novel written for adults would be a non-issue. I would, however, expect a similar backlash if Hermione turned out to be engaged in under-age hanky panky, because it’s the typical reaction from the kind of fans Harry Potter attracts. This means that Kannagi, along with a great deal of popular anime titles, is closer to Harry Potter than Haruki Murakami.

Gundam 00
How dare she act like a real girl!?

The truth is that Kannagi, like most anime being churned out today, is not targeted at just any adult, but specifically grown men with underdeveloped social faculty. I am not making an assertion about everyone who loves otaku-oriented titles, since I myself find Kannagi and certain similar titles to be pretty entertaining, but I am addressing the fact that these somewhat niche titles thrive financially thanks primarily to a dedicated social class of unmarried Japanese salarymen, a significant portion of whom has an altogether unrealistic expectation of women. That expectation manifests itself in anime due to both its prevalence within the subculture that includes the creators, and its commercial usefulness as a tool for boosting sales.

On hindsight and in view of such a reality, it was a huge mistake for the mangaka of Kannagi to exercise a bit of harmless creative freedom in introducing this plot development. The truth is that manga and anime are seldom the empty canvass we imagine them to be, and fan expectations tend to run higher than in most other forms of storytelling. The fandom simply doesn’t want to see realism featured in a character whom they had thought would be a typical undefiled anime idol.

It’s a shame too, because I personally feel that such little bits of realism add character and depth to an otherwise flat (literally and figuratively) and often self-conforming medium of entertainment.

Gundam 00
Forest god and all, how do people even know she’s anatomically female?

I suppose it’s the same old tragic tale of the self-selecting vicious cycle: because anime titles that try to take the high road of matured storytelling don’t do very well commercially, the way to make a living in the industry is to invest in cookie-cutter otaku baits, and this in turn drives away from the genre any potential consumer who seeks higher-order gratifications.

It’s a lot like election campaigns really. We all like to criticize negative campaigners for “taking the low road”, and yet attack ads work remarkably well in getting votes. Perhaps anime is in need of its own Barack Obama.

Follow DarkMirage on Twitter