I was considering giving this post a more serious title, but “Anime Boobs” seemed to be the most fitting label for a visual essay that I hope will demonstrate that the female torso is fetishized in many animated films and television series from Japan. Since a major goal of much of the early critical work on anime was to show that the animated medium allows for a broad range of content and is just as capable of expressing art and philosophy as it is of being a visualization of juvenile heterosexual male fantasies, an argument that there is still a great deal of heterosexual male wish fulfillment going on might seem a bit reactionary. Still, I think it’s necessary to get some things out in the open, so to speak. Allow me to explain.
On March 6, this video from Kyoto Animation was posted to Youtube:
This is a promotional video for the studio itself, not for an actual anime series (they’ve done these before), but many female fans on Tumblr jumped right in and began enjoying themselves with various fannish activities, such as inventing relationships between the boys, drawing fan art, opening ask blogs, claiming characters for roleplay groups, and so on.
Male fans on Tumblr did not like this. Because of the way that Tumblr works, it’s difficult to link to specific comments and response threads, but some of the comments on the Kotaku write-up of the fandom reaction to the video are representative of the male outrage at this particular female-dominated culture of fandom:
Moist fat fan girls want stupid shit to fantasize about.
Piss off. People like you almost ruined Gundam.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
Granted, these comments are tame, and the commenters are adequately called out on their meanness. Deeper within the internet, however, there was genuine outrage, which tended to be accompanied by accusations of reverse sexism (which is a classic derailing tactic, by the way). How dare women subject male bodies to the same sort of erotic gaze that (still, more than forty years after Laura Mulvey’s essay) dominates mainstream media.
To give an example from a discussion I observed:
If this was about idealized girls in skin tight swim suits bending over and shaking their tits would you be as benign about it? I bet you’d have a 10 page rant about the male gaze or something.
When someone pointed out that there are in fact a lot of anime “about idealized girls in skin tight swim suits bending over and shaking their tits,” the response was:
People say this kind of thing and it makes me want to watch anime, thinking it’s going to be nothing but tits, but every time I do I’m disappointed.
The fact that someone can in good faith state that anime, as a broad category of media, is not filled to bursting with many prominent examples of hyper-exposed cleavage is mind-boggling to me. I don’t want to make any value judgments or grand sweeping pronouncements, but I think discussions of the sexualization and objectification of characters in anime might run more smoothly if everyone can agree that “anime boobs” do in fact exist.
While I was waiting for the comment thread I mentioned above to update, I happened to be watching the thirteenth episode of Cowboy Bebop, which is titled “Jupiter Jazz (Part 2).” This episode takes place on the Jovian moon Callisto, which is apparently very cold. While the male lead, Spike Spiegel, covers his customary blue suit with a big fluffy coat…
…the female lead, Faye Valentine, spends the majority of the episode dressed like this:
Spike gives her a jacket to put on later, thank goodness. I kept worrying about how cold she must be all throughout the episode.
Another candidate for “Wow, she must be freezing” is the character Neko from the recent anime series K, who spends a disproportionate amount of time completely naked. She’s actually a cat, you see, but sometimes she can take human form. This is how the viewer first sees her…
….and this is her as she playfully scampers around the male protagonist’s apartment:
Here’s Awashima Seri, another character from the same anime whose chest is somehow even more on display, even though she’s fully clothed:
Moving back in time, an anime classic that’s all about domestic disturbances of the “I just can’t stop tripping and falling into my housemates’ boobs” variety is Love Hina:
Love Hina is based on a manga by Akamatsu Ken, and it was so popular that the artist apparently had trouble ending it. Once it finally wrapped up, Akamatsu started a new project called Negima!, which had even more boobs to trip and accidentally fall into:
The bold text at the top reads: “Is everyone looking at the ocean? Or are they looking at you?”
Even though the story is set in a Japanese version of Hogwarts, in both the manga and the anime versions the young male protagonist and his pretty female students find all sorts of opportunities to go swimming, whether it’s at the pool, the ocean, or a hot springs resort. And where there’s water, there are swimsuits… except when they accidentally come off!
Speaking of anime classics, does anyone remember Tenchi Muyo?
How about Slayers?
There was also a cute two-episode Slayers knock-off OVA called Dragon Half:
While we’re on the subject of old school OVAs, there was one particularly bodacious forty-minute one-shot inexplicably tiled Plastic Little:
Around the same time there was another OVA on the U.S. market called Mezzo Forte:
Like its spiritual forbearer Kite, Mezzo Forte is all about how prolonged violent sex scenes empower women with no chins to shoot things with huge guns in clumsily choreographed action sequences set to laughably bad background music. Oh anime.
“Girls with guns” is a popular theme in anime. For these types of shows, it tends to help the female protagonists’ mobility if they are wearing very tight clothing that is easily destroyed, as is the case with Canaan:
Sometimes a woman doesn’t wield a weapon, however; sometimes her entire body is a weapon. In that case, it helps if she wears even less clothing:
The character pictured above, Lucy, is from the show Elfen Lied. After Lucy escapes from her laboratory, she can’t remember anything about herself, so the young man who adopts her calls her “Nyuu,” which is the only sound that she can make. Poor Nyuu doesn’t know anything about the real world; and, in the second episode of the series, she soils herself in the foyer of someone’s house because he hasn’t formally invited her in to use the bathroom yet. (I could make a joke about female empowerment here, but I’ll pass.)
While we’re on the subject of strange female-coded creatures being adopted by young men, the anime DearS is notorious for its portrayal of quasi-slavery. It’s okay, though, because the girls are aliens:
This isn’t to say that some anime boobs can’t be self-reflexive. Karina Lyle from the show Tiger & Bunny is well aware of how her “feminine assets” are used to market the character she plays on TV, Blue Rose:
Moreover, it’s not as if female viewers don’t appreciate sexualized depictions of the female form. In the lesbian gag manga Tokyo Love~ Rica ‘tte Kanji!? (which you can read here, if you’d like a preview), there’s a joke about how proclaiming an interest in the notoriously boob-heavy Cutey Honey franchise…
…is sort of like a pick-up line between women.
Still, some shows are just ridiculous. Take Battle Vixens, for instance:
There’s also Burst Angel…
…and Girls Bravo…
…and Princess Resurrection:
When the concept from Witchblade, a Western comic book series, was adapted into an anime, the studio apparently decided that the most important feature of its original lead character is her, um, identity as a mother:
Another fun action series is High School of the Dead:
Skintight schoolgirl uniforms are obviously the best defense against the zombie apocalypse.
Speaking of girls in impractical armor, the female warriors in Sacred Blacksmith must buy their battle gear wholesale, because it’s always getting ripped to shreds:
Scrapped Princess is equally bad with female armor…
…as is the .hack// franchise:
If these titles seem too niche, I should mention that anime boobs also appear in mega-franchises such as Bleach…
…and One Piece:
One Piece is full of female character designs like the one pictured above. Maybe it’s just the way that Oda Eiichirō draws. This character design is quite common, however. See also the character Lucy Heartfilia, from Fairy Tail:
There are plenty of anime boobs on display in Soul Eater, too:
One of my favorite characters is Blair:
Blair mostly hangs out at home and invites the male protagonists to enjoy her company:
Despite not appearing much in the show, Blair is a fan favorite who has a large, dedicated fandom. Another character who is loved across broad swatches of anime fandom is Yoko from Gurren Lagann:
Gurren Lagann was animated by Studio Gainax, which is still best known for the alpha and omega of all anime franchises, Neon Genesis Evangelion. As a franchise, Evangelion is often represented by a single character, Ayanami Rei:
If Ayanami is not to your taste, however, Evangelion has other young female characters to appreciate. There’s also Asuka Langley…
…and, more recently, Makinami Mari:
If Evangelion isn’t artistic and philosophical enough for you, feel free to check out one of the most intellectually mature and thematically complex animated movies of all time…
There’s also a television series based on the Ghost in the Shell manga. In the TV show, the lead character, Kusanagi Makoto, gets to wear a bit more clothing:
Before I wrap this up, I should mention that interest in anime boobs isn’t limited to a small segment of fandom. In fact, the British publication Neo, which regularly features the work of renowned anime writers such as Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements, occasionally puts the boobs right on the cover:
In conclusion, anime boobs exist. It is entirely possible to watch a wide variety of animated films, television shows, and web shorts from Japan without ever coming across a single skintight outfit or low-cut halter top, but anime boobs are still out there.
I am not trying to say that all anime sexualizes and fetishizes the female form, because that is not true at all. In any given work that does feature anime boobs, it is also not necessarily the case that every female character will be subjected to the same treatment.
I am also not trying to say that all of the female characters displayed above are nothing more than sex objects, because that is not true, not even a little bit. Although I sometimes couldn’t help making fun of character designs and diegetic circumstances that are blatantly ridiculous, I am not trying to say that sexual depictions of female characters are bad or morally wrong or artistically weak, nor am I trying to say that sexualization and fetishization can’t serve multiple narrative and thematic purposes.
I’m obviously not trying to say that real women with real bodies are somehow ridiculous, or that any woman, real or fictional, should be defined by the shape of her body. Don’t even go there.
For the record, I’m also not saying that all male fans of anime are sexist pigs. Regarding the “swim club anime” with which I began this discussion, I read through a few conversations on Reddit in which people were surprisingly self-reflexive about the male objectification in the video in light of the studio’s other projects. (One of my favorite comments was “I’m a guy and I watched that video ten times,” to which another user immediately replied, “Don’t worry bro, we all did.”)
What I am trying to say is that there is a definite pattern of female bodies being sexualized in anime. It doesn’t happen all the time in every anime, but it happens frequently enough in enough prominent titles to be noticeable even to an impartial observer. The sexualization of female and male characters is a tricky issue; but, if we can agree on nothing else, let us simply come to the consensus that “anime boobs” really do exist.