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.
Affiliate Link – PlayAsia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
supporting 100 Word Anime.
Subscribe to the blog: