If you follow a number of anime/manga people on Twitter, you may have already read this piece by Lisa Katayama that will run in Sunday’s NY Times Magazine called “Love in 2-D”. If not, I think it’s worth at least taking a look at because it flows well (I have an admiration for good feature writing) and offers an interesting look at “a subset of otaku culture” in Japan and at the psychologies of those involved in it.
I agree with some of my colleagues that the presence of prepubescent characters as targets of affection was disconcerting, particularly if one tries to consider possible misconceptions this could spawn among those not familiar with the scene. One of the people in the piece, Momo, said he never looks at child porn and that he’s “not doing anything to harm anybody”, that the characters “are works of art”, “cute girls that live in [his] imagination”. He makes a clear distinction between fictional characters and reality, unlike the reasoning behind recent obscenity cases in America involving manga.
However, what concerned me more was the mention of a government survey where 50 percent of men and women said they do not have friends of the opposite sex. (The other part that was included was the finding that more than 25% of men and women ages 30-34 are virgins but I’m more interested by the one I chose to bring up.) To me, this points to a larger societal problem of nervousness and insulation. I don’t claim to understand casual Japanese relationships – I’m using “relationships” in a broader sense to mean people you keep in touch with on a regular basis – so I don’t know if people you know from work would be considered as friends. Are there fewer social activities available or something? According to one of Lisa’s tweets, the survey comes from the government agency that monitors population and social security so there’s a hint for those who want to look for it.
Also: for those interested about how the term moé was mentioned, Lisa describes it in a way that seems a bit too escapist for me but it serves its purpose for those unfamiliar with it:
In Japan the fetishistic love for two-dimensional characters is enough of a phenomenon to have earned its own slang word, moe, homonymous with the Japanese words for “burning” or “budding.” In an ideal moe relationship, a man frees himself from the expectations of an ordinary human relationship and expresses his passion for a chosen character, without fear of being judged or rejected.
I don’t feel like writing a lengthy post about the societal views of love and relationships and frankly I think other writers can elucidate on that subject much better than I can, but I did want to write something about the article to get it off my mind for a while.
UPDATE 7/27: Adamu of Mutantfrog Travelogue has written a well-constructed response to the NYT piece where he debunks the two key statistics cited by Katayama and explains why making Nisan, the balding 30-something man, the focus skewed the piece unfairly (he thinks it would have been more fair to begin with Ken Okayama).