How Far is Too Far When it Comes to Bishonen?

Disclaimer: I’m gonna talk about touchy subjects in this. I don’t believe strongly in any religion so I should give you the heads-up about that.

Also, it says “bishonen” in the title because that’s what I’m talking about in the post, but the argument also applies to moe girls/bishoujo.

I like (looking at) bishonen. I like listing them down and picking out my favourites…

…but what happens when those bishonen are based on things you’d rather not tangle with?

After my pre-season prediction list was compiled, I saw a hot anime guy on Crunchyroll and chased up who he was – as it turns out, he’s the dark-haired guy on one of the Namu Amida Butsu! Rendai Utena visuals, so he’s one of the stars of the show, Taishakuten. I didn’t watch the show at that point in time, although I did put it on my PTW, because it made me wonder if watching a show about Buddhism made me a Buddhist or an advocate of Buddhism. (Well, it was also because there was some chance of it appearing on Crunchyroll or me buying a HiDive subscription later, but that’s beside the point.)

Sidebar: This was written before Rendai Utena appeared on Crunchyroll in certain regions, so I didn’t know how I’d react to it back then (I didn’t know Taishakuten’s name then either, but obviously I edited that in). I’ve since dropped it for reasons unrelated to its bishonen…although in the process, I discovered I really have a thing for bishonen with long hair and ponytails.

In the same way, there’s this donghua (the Chinese version of an anime) called The Leader (I haven’t the foggiest idea as to what the title is in Chinese and I don’t even want to check it up). I have zero interest in watching it, but it attracts eyes simply because of its star…a bishonen Karl Marx. Say, if I watched that…would that be me condoning Marxism or communism?

I believe people should be able to do what they want, believe what they want and watch/read what they want. However, media has this paradox of foisting on to you sets of ideals by way of choosing the background, characters and so on. Directors may not realise it, but by choosing aspects of their story, they are constructing a message which can be interpreted multiple ways and can be acted upon in just as many ways.

So, here’s an example that already happened, just to show you one possible reaction. It’s not exactly the same scenario, but it is close – it’s Shield Hero.

Personally, I didn’t see it as a story about rape allegations (and I don’t find Naofumi to be particularly bishonen, but I think Arthifis does and he has somewhat similar tastes to mine) but rather about the empowerment of a guy at rock bottom. By focussing on the issue rather than its interpretation, Shield Hero got this massive cloud over its metaphorical head that scared potential viewers away. By watching Shield Hero, I don’t condone rape or slavery because all I’m looking for is a good narrative in that case.

Sure, bishonen make one’s life great if you like 2D guys and you can indulge in a little fantasy. You can pair them up with whoever you want, you can stick them in your own narratives for them or even think about how you’d interact with them (that’s what self-insert fantasy is for, after all) – their beauty, which transcends gender, is part of their unattainability.

Bishonen can make entire shows, series or genres palatable simply by existing. I mean, I wouldn’t have even imagined touching the novel Crime and Punishment of my free will, but the Bungou Stray Dogs version of Fyodor Dostoevsky made me churn through 600 pages in order to understand the villain’s (potential) motivations.

However, when things like ideology get wrapped up in a bishonen package, you have to remember you can step away if you think you’re sending the wrong message to others by watching the show or reading the manga. That’s the beauty of having so much anime and manga around.

So, have you ever encountered a problematic series – anime, manga or otherwise – that is probably going for the moolah by including pretty characters you’d like to watch, but instead gives off a message it really shouldn’t be sending? More importantly, did you choose to watch it, or would you not touch it with a 10 foot pole?

8 thoughts on “How Far is Too Far When it Comes to Bishonen?

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  1. Huh, I didn’t notice this before I wrote my own post on bishounen in Namu Amida Butsu, but I think its relevant. If you don’t mind late comments…

    I think you may be a little too hard on yourself here. I haven’t watched Rising of the Shield Hero myself either, but if it tries to sell a pro-slavery message with cute anime girls, a criticism of that theme would indict only Shield Hero itself, not its broader medium (i.e. moe-fied girls). That medium may have internal problems – with bishounen and moe, probably sexual objectification – and feature a disproportionate number of examples of regressive themes (yugh, why so much slavery in anime?), but I think you can safely separate the medium from the message in most cases. To use your examples, nothing about bishounen makes it inherently Buddhist or communist. Bishounen is a tool put towards making those themes appealing but it could just as well promote capitalism and Christianity.

    Or in fewer words, the proposed problem with Shield Hero isn’t the moe, it’s the slavery apologism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t mind late comments at all.

      The problem with Shield Hero is the first few episodes match what I’m saying here (and that’s where it gets its infamy from), but when you get 19 episodes in the accuser is still around and unforgiven but it’s no longer possible to interpret the plot as being slave apologia. However, at that point it’s (spoiler) using the church as an enemy, which is a whole new can of worms.

      In Rendai Utena and The Leader’s cases, the premise is meant to be both educational and entertaining, but it’s also contradictory to the ways of life advertised in those ideologies. I think that’s what I mean when I say “Rendai Utena doesn’t know what it wants to be”.

      As for slavery, as far as I can recall it only occurs in isekai and 18+ works (e.g. Doreiku) while the shoujo progenitors of isekai didn’t have such a problem…


  2. People need to learn to differentiate fiction and reality.
    Take the “Hot-Daddy” I list I made as example, there is two problematic characters on that list but their way of acting doesn’t make them visually unattractive.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If Anime has an entire industry built on the backs of “cute sexy anime girls” then they can make their male characters as bishonen as they want. It’s only fair. It’s a hard truth to swallow for some, but titties, ass and abs move merchandise, which keeps the anime industry running. It an’t blu ray sales, it’s the tenth figurine of the main girl in a sexy swimsuit

    Remember that this is anime, when others say why, Anime proudly says “why not?” You have to respect them for that.

    Liked by 1 person

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