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Revolutionary Girl Utena – Gender dynamics meet Yuri

Aelysium brought up an interesting discussion about the blatant use of ecchi in anime. I’m really pleased to have this small chat with him.

Aelysium: This post idea came to me after watching Philosotaku’s video titled a defense of ecchi. Whilst for a lot of people ecchi is definitely an end unto itself, for a great deal of others it is often a hindrance; a cliche that many would argue is ruining anime. I don’t particularly care for ecchi myself and often will be put off by any show that tries to cover up plot and character holes using well-endowed harems, however, I have to wonder if there really isn’t any subtle use for the genre. Is it simply pandering to an already subdued market or is there, beneath the prima facie titillation, something that can actually inspire depth in ecchi? I would argue the latter. Whilst ecchi is certainly not the pioneer of great philosophy, it isn’t the completely barren land of bustling valleys and gratuitous panty shots one might believe.

SnippetTee: I think that the discussion of anime and ecchi boils down to society’s perception of visual culture and the anime’s supposed targeted audience. We tend to link cartoons as children shows wherein censorship and morality are highly observed. Plus when it comes to eroticism, people tend to reserve their feelings about it.

Anyway, I agree with Philosotaku. In addition, I think when we talk about ecchi it’s important to define it first because there are many words which surround its meaning, but I guess what specifically gives a distasteful connotation is the association of eroticism and sexual innuendoes. It’s unfortunate that these words are related to being dirty, just like how ecchi means dirty.

Also, I noticed that lots of times fan service and ecchi are being linked to hentai and pornography because all of these share a common theme which is nudity. However, what the audience is neglecting about the concept of undressed bodies is that these are forms of expressions. Let’s not forget that the most natural and finest medium that a human can only offer is his or her naked body. Hence, nudity is not just to titillate, it’s an art of expressing the human body.

Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi – The art of machines

Aelysium: Exactly, Snippet. The definition of ecchi hangs so loosely, that any meaningful discussion about it is simply reduced to whatever bias one carries for the genre. Whilst there are varying degrees of ecchi, the general consensus seems to take ecchi as the ostensible act of titillation. But is that really a wholly consistent way of looking at it?

As what you have said, the human body – whilst obviously used to titillate – is not without its own artistic capability. Is it tasteless ecchi in Ghost in the Shell when Motoko is shown nude? Was it put there just to excite the audience? I would argue no. In the world Motoko lives in, she is a genderless cyborg struggling to find her identity as a person where personal identities seem sparse and meaningless. Devoid of femininity yet having a seemingly perfect feminine body, traditional themes of femininity and post-modern gender neutrality clash. Her body isn’t to titillate, it’s just a triviality of the thematic setting. In a time where the boundaries of gender and sexuality are blurred by the conflagration of technology, the frankness of nudity is neither appealing nor titillating. Motoko and her partner certainly seem oblivious to it and I would argue, so was I. Sexuality (or lack of it in GiTS) is also a crucial part of expressing one’s honest feelings, thoughts and personality. I never took GiTS to be ecchi but it is conspicuously so. However, this so called ecchi was a much more effective method of exposition than wordy dialogue – fleshing out character and story depth in a natural, tasteful and inspired way.

Mawaru Penguindrum – Fashion, Ecchi and Style have never been closer.

SnippetTee: I really like when you said that ecchi is a much more effective method of exposition than wordy dialogue. The meaning of ecchi, at least for me, has evolved throughout the years, though I’m just purely referring to the anime culture.

I’m not going to deny that there are times that I was bored and put-off by the random exposure of panty shots and breasts. However as I get to watch more anime, I learned how to develop different kinds of appreciation. I think everyone would agree that the use of fan service in Queen’s Blade is completely different from the use of fan service in Revolutionary Girl Utena. I don’t really want to rule out the titillation effect since arousal is entirely subjective, rather I’d like to point out that ecchi is perceived differently depending on the presentation, context, and delivery.

Further, different people have different fetishes. Some see fan service as portrayal of sexual prowess and some see it as degradation especially when we talk about the female body. I also don’t really want to overgeneralise but I believe that how we see ecchi reflects us. Japan has a patriarchal society so I couldn’t help but to perceive that fan service is largely meant to fan serve the male market. But again, different people have different cultural views.

Queen’s Blade – Ecchi in ridiculous excess.

Aelysium: How could I forget Revolutionary Girl Utena? Great example of ecchi being used in a stylistic and meaningful way.

However, as you pointed out as well, it is there for titillation. I guess the issue isn’t that it is there for titillation as much as, the market has become so over saturated with these themes that they seem to pervade nearly any and every show. From the early beginnings of moé, to the more recent movement of lolicon to the even more modern explicit decadence of women, anime has hypersexualised the aesthetic of being female. It’s almost as if being female dictates being extremely provocative (sexually) in the medium.

Fan service is a household term not because it is a core part of anime, rather the focus of anime just seems to have shifted that way. Fans have been polarised in this regard and I guess I would be on the side of nay-sayers – not because I think ecchi is ruining anime, as I pointed out above it can be very poignant, just because for the most part it’s not necessary or is overused. Ecchi has slowly been normalized and could even be considered as a canon part of anime – whether that is a good thing though, I’m not so sure.

If what you said is true, if it really does reflect our society in some loosely broad sense, then where does that lead us? And where will it take us in the future?

Senjougahara Hitagi – Stationary has never known better company

SnippetTee: Future, hmm… I would like to believe that for the most part, normalisation leads to acceptance. How come naked ancient Greek sculptures are considered artistic but panty shots in Japanese cartoons are off-putting? How come one is seen as an art and the other as a porn if both are depicting bare bodies? I think that’s because consumerism is ever changing and so is the definition of lust. We have seen from time to time that the by-product of this negatively connoted human aspect has a potential to evolve into a wonderful aesthetic. Shows like Revolutionary Girl Utena, Bakemonogatari, and Redline are some anime that I had seen wherein the ecchi-ness was used as a substance to present and justify the context not just erotically but more so artistically.

But as what you have exemplified, Aelysium, I don’t want to rule out the grey side of ecchi—some things will always remain negative regardless of time. I’m not also sure if fan service as a canon part of anime is a good thing, but if it can enhance the viewing experience in a non-negative and creative way, then what’s the reason to detest it?

Horo – Everyone’s favourite medieval wolf spirit

Aelysium: Great point Snippet, why is it that nude paintings and erotic literature is considered okay, whilst ecchi is considered derogatory or primal? I guess it’s to do with the intended meaning. The former arts are considered to have meaning beyond titillation and to inspire thought. They are considered to enhance viewer experience beyond just the visual.

I guess that’s the crux of the debate, isn’t it Snippet? Does ecchi enhance viewing experience? Well, just from this discussion we can see that ecchi can not only allow us to flesh out mature and complex themes in a way that dialogue perhaps can’t but also, it can actually serve as a societal looking glass into the minds of the individual but also the collective fandom. As philosotaku argued it lets us ask ourselves why we find certain things titillating whilst others going too far. And for some people, it’s simply arousing goodness. I guess that’s what we’ve been looking at here really.

Does ecchi actually provide much beyond obvious titillation? 95% of the time, no. Do we like this much ecchi? I’m not so sure the answer to that is clear. However, as someone not overly fond of ecchi, I would say that even that 5% is worth the trouble. Finding a gem of a show in the otherwise murky depths is often much more satisfying than eliminating the element all together. Is it ruining anime? I wouldn’t say it’s ruining anime; anime preferences and tastes change with the fandom, if there is an excess of ecchi, it’s because the fandom has shifted that way – clearly the fans want more ecchi. Regardless of whether or not this is a good thing, I should still think ecchi has a rightful place in anime.

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About Aelysium (@aelysium)
Procrastinator by day, anime lover by night with music, art, games and old books filling in the betweens.

About SnippetTee (@snippettee)
Never really knew I’m a euphemist until my professor pointed out.

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