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?