tonariTrigger warning. Also mild spoilers for the anime Hana Yori Dango and Rose of Versailles.

So back in 2012, the manga Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun got an anime adaptation and the anime blogosphere raised hell (or maybe it was a select few sites I happened upon). A few managa bloggers also chimed in with their outrage. The main point of contention was the threat of rape that happens in the very first episode (and chapter) of Tonari. A little later, I had decided to run a feature that looked at the worst the shoujo manga demographic had to offer, and deconstruct, through snark, why it was so harmful and problematic. Given the hell that was raised around Tonari, I thought it would be a great candidate for the feature. However having finished the first 5 chapters for my feature, I have to say that most of the criticisms levelled at Tonari missed the big picture about rape acceptance in manga and anime.

I’ve discussed this already with fellow bloggers, but I think a good part of the folks that raised the hell are fairly recent anime-watchers. I say this because allusions, references, and instances of rape are not something rare in shoujo. They are certainly less prevalent in shoujo anime than manga, but not so rare that people should be outright shocked about it popping up in the genre. Yet this was the first time I had seen such a volume of bloggers denouncing an anime due to its usage of rape. And that’s the general idea I got when reading most of the damning posts about Tonari. People were slamming it for having a hero who threatens the heroine with rape with no repercussions. I’m not going to try and justify this, but I do think it was more tasteless in the case of Tonari than disturbing or uncomfortable as seen in other shoujo anime. As I mentioned in the first issue of Substandard Shoujo Spectacle, the threat happens as a way of establishing that Haru has social problems. He has no idea of the weight of his words nor actions. This is reinforced by the fact that there is absolutely no build up to the threat (happens so randomly), and it is defused immediately afterwards with Haru sneaking away to show Shizuku a puppy. It certainly wasn’t necessary for the author to use the threat to show us that Haru has no idea what he is doing socially, which is why I call it tasteless. Thing is, I feel like people latched onto Tonari just because Tonari actually used the word ‘rape’. I say this because lots of shoujo touch on rape, but very few actually come out and name it as such. I wrote about the infamous episode 8 of Ouran Highschool Host Club, which also featured a rape threat. The only difference was that the word rape was never used. Likewise, the anime adaptation of Hana Yori Dango has also adapted the scene where Tsukasa, mad with rage that Tsukushi has a thing for Rui, grabs her and begins to sexually assault her, only to stop when he realizes that he is hurting her. Again, no mention of rape is made, but it is clear that had Tsukasa gone through with what he was doing, it would have been rape. Even Rose of Versailles has a similar situation with Andre becoming frustrated at Oscar ignoring his feelings and grabbing her and beginning to rip her clothing off until he realizes what he is doing. If we reach into manga, the examples are even more plentiful.

tsukasa forcing himself on tsukushi

Tsukasa forcing himself on Tsukushi in HanaDan

So to me it comes down to the fact that either these bloggers were new to the medium (since most of the shows that feature rape/sexual assault or threats of it are from the 90s and earlier), or they reacted so strongly because the word ‘rape’ was used. I find the latter disconcerting because the the label isn’t important, it’s the content. ‘Rape’ is just a word. It’s the image and idea (the content) that holds the real power. Thus in my opinion, those 3 examples I provided are much more damning than what Tonari did. Tonari, if one continues watching and reading, makes it clear that what Haru says and does is problematic. It’s not romantic and it’s not normal. In the case of the 3 examples: Ouran tries so hard to justify and glorify the threat, while HanaDan and Versailles paint it as romantic to a certain extent1. The context in these 3 is much more problematic than in Tonari.

Chapter 5 of Tonari begins to show that it is dawning on Haru that violence may not be the answer.

Chapter 5 of Tonari begins to show that it is dawning on Haru that violence may not be the answer.

Does that mean those three are utter trash? No, I’m a big fan of both HanaDan and Versailles, and I think they do much more good than bad overall. Likewise, while my opinion of Ouran has been soured, I can definitely see why people enjoy it, and I don’t think it’s a bad anime/manga. Furthermore, I do recognize that people do read erotic romances with questionable scenarios and that’s okay.2 But at the same time, I do think it is important to notice when problematic things like justifying and romanticizing rape happen, and to call it out as such. It’s important to keep thinking about our media consumption and recognize the not so good things in it. Likewise, it’s fine to find what Tonari did disgusting, since there really was no excuse for the manga author to have to bring in rape threats to make her point about Haru. I already understood he had serious social problems back when he tackled Shizuku and interrogated her about being a spy from school. But I think most people missed the fact that even though Shizuku ends up falling for Haru, this particular instance was neither justified nor romanticized by the author. Haru neither attempts to teach Shizuku a lesson via threatening her nor is he so passionately in love that he can’t keep his hands off her. He’s just a socially awkward boy that knows intellectually that the threat of rape can be used to get women and girls to do what you want and he does just that. The fact that he immediately lets her go and grins like an idiot gives us the context we need to arrive at the conclusion that he has no idea about the repercussions of what he just did. And that is why I think in this case, Tonari holds up a tad better than most shoujo in its usage of rape. It’s still tasteless and unnecessary, but I personally don’t think it warrants the outrage this particular instance got. Undoubtedly everyone is entitled to their own feelings and thoughts, but I am rather sad that Tonari got trashed as much as it did because it may have turned some people off a work that actually addresses whether commonly desirable traits in male leads are really all that desirable. Yes, I am genuinely intrigued that Tonari is actually painting Haru’s violent behaviours in ways that highlight that violent guys may not be all that awesome.

–SW

Notes

1 — Only to a certain extent because both instances are an isolated occurrences in their respective anime, and both heroines do not approve of what the hero tried to do. Tsukushi is visibly distressed during the attack, and doesn’t know how to react to Tsukasa afterwards and ends up dealing with it by writing it off as a dog biting her. Whereas Oscar, being an older lady, calmly asks Andre if he’s cooled his head. Nonetheless, there is an element of romanticizing rape here because it is presented as an uncontrollable act of passion rather than an act of control and power with its sole aim being to hurt the victim.

2 — Actually I don’t think there isn’t any erotic manga/novels (or at least I haven’t come across any) that doesn’t hinge on some aspect of forceful sexual encounters. The question of why is a rather complex and possibly unanswerable chicken-egg scenario. I do realize that the forcefulness of such encounters is enticing on a very base adrenaline level in the same way we get a high from falling on roller coaster even though no one in their right mind would jump off a building to seek the sensation of falling. So ultimately, I don’t think there is anything wrong with reading smut. Part of this is also the fact that the reader is identifying with the abused rather than the abuser. It is more questionable when the reverse is true.

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