Is It Okay To Enjoy An Anime When The Characters Act Questionably?

Are characters under some obligation to behave in an ‘appropriate’ manner in order for their stories to be enjoyed?

At first I thought the answer to this question was obvious. Of course characters in a story couldn’t all act in a way that necessarily matched the morality of the society that produced them (or individual groups within that society). To start with, we’d never have any villains ever again, unless you think someone chewing gum too loudly is villainous in which case perhaps we could have a plot about young teens ridding the city of petty annoyances. However, when I stop trivialising the question I realise what people are actually asking is whether or not the protagonists, or the characters the audience is asked to sympathise with and somehow connect with, should behave in what someone believes is an appropriate manner?

More than that: Is it wrong to enjoy the story when they don’t?

Spoilers for Tensura 2, Horimiya and Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation.

As an anime fan who writes on the internet, I’m well aware that some commentators, reviewers, and groups can be quite vocal and vicious with their criticism. Not just of an anime they personally didn’t approve of, but of people who watch and/or enjoyed that anime.

Whether they accuse people watching the showing of being perverted, degenerates, idiotic or a whole range of other unflattering words, they cast judgement on anyone who would dare to find enjoyment in something they found offensive. And you know, while I fully support their right to be offended and to choose not to watch what they don’t want to watch, I don’t support name calling or shaming people for what they enjoyed or liked to watch given someone else enjoying an anime doesn’t hurt anybody in the slightest.

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What I find even stranger finding a character decision to be a little questionable, or even outright morally wrong, doesn’t actually make the story worse by default. Certainly, it might rub you the wrong way and maybe it will throw you out of comfortable viewing mode and you don’t want to stick around. That’s fine. I had a friend who felt that way about Terror in Resonance. She didn’t want to watch a story where the ‘terrorists’ and their actions were being given some justification. Didn’t want to stick around to find out why they were acting as they were or even to find out if the anime ultimately did condemn them or not. Her choice. But you know, she didn’t call me sick or a degenerate because I was fascinated by the story and the characters and wanted to know what lay behind their actions. I wasn’t pro-terrorist, but I did want to see what the overall story wanted to say.

I’m pretty sure they only caused this much damage once.

Recently three of the anime I’ve watched this year have had moments where the main characters have had me seriously blinking and wondering about their decisions and all three cases I mostly enjoyed the series they were in. I fully understand that one of them seems to have passed without comment by the community at large, another had a brief flare up of words and then slipped away, and the third seemed to really bring out some strong opposition and almost as vocal a defence.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Season 2 – Not So Controversial

Part of me wonders why there hasn’t been more discussion around Rimuru’s actions in Tensura season 2. I mean, I guess part of it is the fantasy world is very removed, it is a second season so people are more or less acclimated to the series, it clearly isn’t intended to be taken actually seriously, etc, etc… Yet, when faced with the death and injury of some of the people in his city of monsters Rimuru very quickly makes a call to transform into a demon lord in the hope of bringing them back to life and will gain the power to do this by literally slaughtering the entire opposing army.

Nope – you are going to die.

It’s an abrupt decision given barely any digestion time, eagerly accepted by Rimuru’s followers, and acting upon with frighteningly swift and efficient brutality. This wasn’t a war. It was barely even a fight. It was open slaughter. While some argument might be made that it was in retaliation for an act of heinous violence by the human army first, there is definitely a discussion about how proportional the response was particularly given no effort was made at a peaceful solution or simply defence. Rimuru went from harm-no-human to kill-every-member-of-the-army in less than a single episode and the audience seemed to largely be expected to support or endorse his actions.

Now would Rimuru have had any success at finding a peaceful solution?

Given the extreme hatred the church had of monsters and the callous attitudes of the nobles leading the army it seems unlikely. Did every single soldier need to die? Were they all fanatics with a monster hating mentality or were some just soldiers who signed up to protect their country and feed their family who were ordered to march out? We’re not supposed to ask. Is Rimuru right to pursue a resurrection of his people at the cost of all these souls? Again, we’re not supposed to ask. We’re supposed to be hoping a miracle occurs and not actually looking at the cost of it.

Does enjoying this mean you are a horrible person who would support genocide in real life? – That’s a firm no.

I actually did enjoy this sequence though I felt Slime missed out on the opportunity to really explore the moral quandary here. Then again, people don’t tune in to watch Tensura for moral quandaries that might lie therein. They watch to see Rimuru bounce about, enjoy being held by various women, and occasionally devour monsters while getting another power-up.

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Horimiya – A Brief Splash

When I’d only watched the first 3 episodes of Horimiya for my watch or drop post, I started to see a few arguments and comments online regarding a particular line by Horimiya that some people found homophobic. Basically, Hori tells Miyamura that if he leaves her it wasn’t allowed to be for a guy.

Not a character reaction to the line – just representative of some of the online comments.

Now, whether people in the thick of this one who were watching week to week found it was a little more intense, from my point of view there seemed to be a whole bunch of people voicing their opinion one way or the other as to whether the character was homophobic or not and then it just kind of disappeared off my radar. While there might still have been comments in my twitter feed connected to it, I didn’t really notice.

I actually didn’t have too much of a conflict with Hori’s statement. It was ridiculous and illogical but I think she was genuinely flustered and it wasn’t something she repeated or reinforced – more something that was blurted out in the heat of a moment and then the story moved on. Now, while her ‘no guys’ statement could definitely be seen as reinforcing standard relationship views and excluding other communities (and it would probably be more offensive to people who had life experience here) it didn’t feel to me like the anime was pushing an agenda and more that a teenage character in the anime had said something that wasn’t great in one of her less than amazing moments.

Actually, Horimiya caused me more concerns with Hori herself encouraging her boyfriend to verbally and at one point physically abuse her. Largely because if removed from the sweet premise of the anime with two characters who genuinely care for each other, Hori could get herself into an actually abusive relationship if her partner took advantage.

Again, the anime wasn’t taking this darker view of the issue or trying to encourage people to act in a particular way, but you could certainly view the series and that aspect of Hori in a concerning light. Again, while I definitely thought about the issue, considered the implications outside of the anime for people in the real world, and I did wonder if perhaps the anime could have just left that part out, I also continued to enjoy watching Horimiya.

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Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – Ouch

Gear up your pitchforks and placards or get your best defence slogans ready because this one caused a stir. I’d raised my own concerns about some of the creepiness of Rudy in my watch or drop post and placed this one at a maybe for completing. I wasn’t concerned whether anyone else enjoyed it or not but for me Rudy as a character wasn’t someone I was finding it easy to get behind so while there were a lot of aspects to the story I kind of enjoyed, I was a little conflicted. That said, I’ve now finished Jobless Reincarnation so have read a number of other reviews of the series. They are diverse to say the least.

I don’t think the internet waits for later, Zenith.

This one has had the main character called a pervert and a paedophile and a whole bunch of other less than pleasant things. Viewers of the show have been called degenerate in some tweets and reviews, particularly if they dare to claim anything less than utter disgust with the title. And all of this because a reincarnated middle-aged man looks at girls?

Well, not really. He goes a bit further and there’s a few scenes that do hit me personally as being quite uncomfortable viewing even though the anime doesn’t want you to think about it. It really wants to play it off for laughs and usually has a slap-stick moment of Rudy getting kicked or punched afterward, though occasionally he just kind of walks away with a creepy grin on his face.

However, while there are those howling about this anime and its poor taste, there are also those singing its praises as being a different kind of isekai, for its world exploration, for the way magic is handled. And all of these aspects of the story are actually pretty praise worthy. So we have an anime that with the exception of several main characters and their treatment of women is actually pretty good but the way some of those men treat or talk about women is pretty… well let’s just go with triggering for some.

Basically, enjoyment of this one will depend where you land. I enjoyed the series but not as much as other isekai anime that I’ve previously watched and loved because I couldn’t form much of a connection with Rudy. I don’t like him and I don’t like some of his choices. Plus, that grin of his really does creep me out. At the same time, I actually understand why people would drop this one and decide it wasn’t for them. Equally, I get those who accept that Rudy isn’t a perfectly nice human being who is always nice and respectful to others and just watch the anime for what it is and enjoy it. While I get these two groups probably won’t really see eye to eye, I also think that they can keep their criticism to the anime itself and not to the other viewers.

So, Is It Okay To Enjoy An Anime When The Characters Act Questionably?

I’d say absolutely. Sometimes characters who act questionably are needed to really make the audience consider their choices. Sometimes it drives the narrative. Sometimes it is just a throw away action that while it might open a significant discussion around how particularly ideas and groups are represented in stories, it isn’t actually the central point of the anime so shouldn’t necessarily be enough to condemn the entire rest of the story.

Of course, it is also okay not to enjoy the anime because of the questionable character actions. That really depends on your own tolerances, trigger points and experiences, and you’ll make the decision for yourself about what you did and didn’t enjoy and why.

But what shouldn’t be okay is taking an issue with someone else for enjoying something just because you didn’t. By all means, discuss your view, put forward your reasons, write your own article or make your own video explaining why something is a problem, but leave the name calling out of it.

Be sure to share your experiences with an anime where you haven’t necessarily agreed with the choices made by a character or a time when you got called out for enjoying something someone else found offensive. Let’s have an open and respectful discussion.

Images in this article from:

  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Season 2. Dir. Y Kikuchi. 8bit. 2021.
  • Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation. Dir. M Okamoto. Studio Bind. 2021.
  • Horimiya. M Ishihama. Cloverworks. 2021.
  • Terror in Resonance. S Watanabe. MAPPA. 2014.


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19 thoughts on “Is It Okay To Enjoy An Anime When The Characters Act Questionably?

  1. It’s just such a complex topic. You can enjoy a show despite “problematic content”, and you can enjoy a show because of “porblematic content”, and enjoying a show because of “problematic content” can be problematic, but isn’t necessarily so. And even enjoying “problematic content” is problematic in some respects it can also have cathartic effects… Really, if you’re going to judge people look at what they do first and foremost.

    I could easily see, for example, someone enjoy the Slime scene as a kill-the-bigots power fantasy. Why not? It’s cathartic. Slime has never been very realistic. I don’t mean that it’s fantasy, here, but the whole way the narrative is handled. In this scene, for example, consider who would be part of such a large army. Only fanatic combatants? Nah, you’d have people to take care of animals and equipment. Cooks and prostitutes, likely. Potentially even family. An army this large would be a little travelling village. What would happen if you, a beta reader, would point that out to the aouthor? My guess is it’d be ignored. Slime’s not realistic story; what doesn’t fit the mood gets edited out. It’s a fantasy in more than just the genre term. It’s satisfying to see those powerhungry bastards at the receiving end, and there’s some sort of romanticised angsting (“Oh no, am I evil now?”) that’s toyed with, but also dismissed in a scene where Rimuru overhears bigots being bigots (and we’re not supposed to worry about mouthing off and peer pressure or things like that; no , they’re all evil so it’s okay to kill them).

    I don’t like simplistic stuff like that, and it often bothers me. Here, I rolled my eyes at that scene, but that was that. It’s an element that’s always low-key bothered me with slime – an entire world basially built around the protagonist’s mindset. But at the same time I actually like the mindset (or my interpretation of what I’m seeing in it), so I’m in a bit of a strange situation – liking some aspects of the revenge fantasy, while disliking other aspects of it (I probably would have liked the scene more, if the show hadn’t tried to legitimise the slaughter with a single overheard conversation).

    In real life, I’d consider Rimuru guilty of warcrimes; no ifs or buts.

    Similarly, last season Mushuko Tensei bothered me a lot more than Redo of Healer; I actually liked Mushuko Tensei and dropped Redo of Healer (picked it up again out of a morbid fascination, and then dropped it again with no regrets). Most often it’s not what characters do in a show that bothers me, but how it’s framed. How it comes across? Redo of Healer came across to me as straightforward depravity porn. No excuses; everyone’s depraved or broken and many are both. Meanwhile, I feel like Mushuko Tensei sent contradictory signals – like it was trying to score points by pointing out skeevy behaviour but at the same time indulging in it. Until nearly the end I couldn’t find a clean mode of watching the show. I had similar problems with Shield Hero, for example. The shows try far too hard not to look to bad; Redo of Healer just accepts what it is and revels in it. That bothers me a lot less.

    Framing is a lot vaguer though than what happens in a show, and it’s also much harder to explain and in consequence not easy to talk about. The basic question here is: What would be different about your perception of the show if a certain element weren’t in it? And that has to be always speculative, because nobody on Earth knows themself well enough to be entirely sure. Well, I certainly don’t. But I still like the thought experiment.

    1. That’s a well thought out response and I agree slime was not supposed to really get in depth with it’s decisions so we really aren’t supposed to be picking it apart. I haven’t watched any of redo healer because the gifs on twitter were enough to convince me I wasn’t going to enjoy the experience.

  2. I decided not to watch the terrorist one because I did not think I would enjoy a series from the perspective of the terrorists, but even than I think it was from an enjoyment perspective. I would never enjoy a show like that because the ideas would make it unable to connect with the cast.

    However I do not think people should stay away from anime like that. Right or Wrong, Deplorable or Justifiable are all subjective terms. If we say.. yes Rimuru can’t slaughter humans because that’s an evil action, then conservatives or religious traditionalists can make a point about being Transgender, or gay being immoral as well as that is not how god created us.. that in the eye of the beholder is wrong.

    I think it is very important to offer people different perspectives. Allow us to form an opinion on what each character does on our own and allow us to enjoy a character. I think seeing morally debatable behaviors in a character allows us to put thinks in perspective.. we can understand things are evil or wrong, if we can’t do that society will brainwash us into zombies and in a few generations we wont even have a moral compass we just follow rules without knowing why. So let’s enjoy anime characters and debate!

    I’d rather have a world that is interesting and worth living in anyway..rather than one free of all moral depravity

  3. The only show I ever dropped because of a character was “Happy Sugar Life”. the show itself was tawdry enough but the older brother’s gleeful abuse of his little sister main character was just reprehensible and far too uncomfortable for my tastes. I’m guessing he got his at the end but I was too appalled to stick around and find out.

    As it happens there are two shows this season I’m watching which have dodgy characters acting with questionable intent that (hopefully) might not be so bad in the long run.

    One is “Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui” about a playboy salaryman who falls in love with a school girl who is kind to him and tries to win her over; the other is “Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou” in which a school girl runaway tries to seduce lecherous salaryman for a place to stay but he resists (despite being tempted) and takes her in anyway, to put her life straight.

    Presumably both shows lead to redemption and the cat coming out of it better people but it is hard not to feel some discomfort in their early actions, especially the girl in “HigeHirou”.

    It will be interesting to see how these shows play out but first impression do count for a lot in investing in a character/plot premise.

    1. I am still trying to decide whether to try Koi to Yobu. It seems like I probably won’t enjoy the set-up. If you keep watching I would be curious to know how it goes.

      1. On the plus side they are both comedies so the lasciviousness shouldn’t wander to far into troublesome ecchi territory. And according to people on MAL who have read the manga, “HigeHirou” is apparent more wholesome than it appears… <_<

  4. I mean if I dropped every anime where I was at times uncomfortable with a person then I wouldn’t have finished Hunter X Hunter coz Hisoka is a whole new level at times.

    In general I think stop watching soemthing based on a person’s actions i.e a serial rapist is more understanadable if you feel uncomfortable. But when it is to do with someone’s world view or justification like your terriorst example I think watching it to understand isn’t bad. People’s inability to understand whether that be left or right extremist is a reason for the world being so polarised

  5. Short answer: yes.

    Long answer: what you said. 😉

    People get very caught up in things these days, and everything, absolutely everything from a political party to what music one likes to how one dresses and talks to how much meat one eats to every other last and most minute detail of one’s behavior, absolutely *must* be judged as some absolute indicator of one’s worth as a human being. It’s cancel culture run rampant on a personal level.

    Live and let live, and like and let like, I say.

  6. I think this is one of those topics where people have to draw their own lines on what they consider ‘questionable’ in the first place. Like, I find student/teacher relationships questionable to put it mildly, to the point where I don’t watch them. I acknowledge there is a space for them in media, some better then others. And that other viewers don’t consider that relationship dynamic questionable at all.

    As individuals, we’re in charge of what we consider ‘questionable’ and how we engage with these things. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘don’t like it, don’t watch’. Other times, there is some merit in trying to discuss how well, or how poorly a show handles a particular issue.

  7. The answer, before I head m started reading, is yes! Anime series are stories and stories don’t always have the most morale people and I think that shows which evaluate why characters are like they are are inherently interesting to me. I also might have crushes on a few of them….

  8. Symptomatic of a larger issue with humans in general. You can disagree with someone and simply agree to disagree. Or on the other end of the spectrum, you can destroy anyone who doesn’t strictly conform to your morality. Happens on both the political right and left, so I’m not going after any particular ideology or theology. I think there’s more of the latter today than there once was.

    It’s just flashing images on a monitor. Watching something does not mean you’re going to go out and do it yourself. Having it expressed in an anime does not encourage one to engage in it for real. I don’t want to get into a modern version of the Hayes Code enforced by SJWs.

    1. I really wonder how bland stories would be if they all had to conform to a strict moral standard that would not offend anyone (like that would be possible).

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