Eromanga Sensei: Overrated Trash

by Raymond H

Raymond fulfills his promise to cover a romantic comedy by choosing the last romantic comedy you'd expect to find on this site
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Content warning from the editor: This article discusses teenage sexuality, with the media reviewed involving (without explicitly depicting) sexual activity between characters who in a great many jurisdictions around the world would be held to be below the age of consent. The particular material in question also touches on incest themes. If these subjects would be triggering to you or otherwise make you go "Mmm, no thank you", by all means, turn back now. Also, as editor I am going to keep a close eye on any discussion on this article and any advocacy of sexual interactions between grown adults and young teenagers is going to make me wave the banhammer.

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Today's song is a remix of "Si Mata Merah" by Franciska Peter. It doesn't say so in the description, but it's true.

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What I am about to say might be difficult for you to empathize with if you come from an earlier generation than me. However, I think it’s necessary to discuss this so that the basic, er, thrust of this piece will come across more easily. So, here goes. As someone who was born right in the middle of the 90’s, not only was the presence of the internet a major influence on my life growing up, but I still can distinctly remember a time when it simply did not exist, or at least, not in my household. This is important, because unlike those who were adults when they gained web-browsing powers and those who were born into it, I had the world of the internet grow and develop just as I did myself.

This brings us to the topic of smut, and a very specific type of smut in particular, that being the light novel series Eromanga Sensei, and its anime adaptation. Wait, you furrow your brow, Eromanga Sensei? Like, the Eromanga Sensei? Raymond, you can’t possibly enjoy that trash, can you? To which I say... ennnh? Let me explain.

First, a customary summation of Eromanga Sensei's plot. Izumi Masamune is a 15-year-old light novel author, who is also conveniently an orphan. It's anime, right? He lives alone with his 13-year-old little sister, Sagiri, who is also conveniently not related to him by blood. It's anime, right? One day, Izumi suddenly discovers that the mysterious Eromanga Sensei, a reclusive artist who's been drawing all the covers to his books, just so happens to also conveniently be, you guessed it, his little sister! It's anime, right? From there, wacky and often quite bawdy hijinks ensue, as Izumi meets more and more similarly-early-teenaged girls who spread like peanut butter within his presence. It's... anime, right?

Now, before watching the Eromanga Sensei anime (which this review will be focusing on), my only exposure to the show was through this and this. As one of the many Oreimo fans who felt personally betrayed and confused by its ending, I had no interest in watching EMS, especially since it seemed like just the sort of ecchi, perverted crap you’re scared your parents will think of when you first tell them you’re an anime fan.

So, what changed my mind? Well, it all started at the middle school where I teach. I had entered the classroom and set my books down at the desk, when I suddenly noticed, huddled by her desk, a particular student whom I will henceforth refer to as Judoko. Judoko, paradoxically enough, had always stood out because she was so shy and reserved. She was the kind of girl you probably remember from your own middle school experience, with the bangs over her eyes and the quiet, breathy whisper that she would speak with as she fidgeted and glanced about uncomfortably in social situations. As a 2-meter-tall Gaijin, I’d always tried to put her at ease in my presence, but so far nothing had worked, and I had assumed by that point that I was simply too scary for her. So when I noticed that Judoko was reading an Eromanga Sensei novel, I blurted out in complete surprise “Eh? Eromanga Sensei?” To this Judoko’s response was a stunned, bewildered, deer-in-the-headlights gaze in my direction, as she saw that I knew the thing that she was reading. Her friend’s response was to berate her to the effect of “You see I TOLD you this was smut! Look, the teacher even thinks it’s smut! You see? Do you see?”, to which Judoko wailed and begged for us not to judge her.

So... uh... basically I felt so bad about unintentionally kink-shaming one of my students that I went and got a copy of the entire anime series. Um... yeah.

So how did it go, you ask? Well, uh, not very well. I gotta say, Eromanga Sensei is kinda stupid. Like, it’s not terrible, and it’s not great, it’s just... meh? However, I will say this. It is seriously overrated trash. Not in the sense that it is trash and it is overrated, but rather that its trashiness has been largely exaggerated.

Huh? You glance at a list of all the show’s sexual sins. Correct you if you’re wrong, but this is a show with incest. Underage incest. And nudity. Like, lots and lots of openly hebephiliac shenanigans going on, right? How on earth can any charges of trashiness be overblown?

To this I draw back on my internet experiences. So, if you’re like me, then your first experience with pornography probably came not from magazines or late-night Showtime movies, but porn sites. And, in accordance with Miller V. California, these sites all came with a certain warning, asking you to confirm that you were 18 or older before allowing you to “enter”. After the initial perceived defeat, I eventually realized that the police were not going to immediately bust down the door and arrest me simply because I had said “yes” to this question. However, this illustrates an interesting point. Unlike with video shops or porn theaters, the internet allowed me as a young teenager to access pornographic films without fear of serious legal or social repercussions. However, it also drove into me the idea that, as a young teenager, this was not something that I should be doing or even wanting. Good boys and girls never ever ever wanted sex at that age.

But let’s be real. That’s a load of hokum. Despite what pearl-clutching moral guardians insist on, once puberty finally hits you, the raging hormones in your body are making you hornier than a... well, a sexually well-adjusted adult. In middle school, loads of people want sex. It’s just... well, at that time we have no idea what sex actually entails, beyond the basic penis-enters-vagina, penis-enters-anus, vagina-...-I-don’t-know-just-sort-of-rubs-together-or-something-?, et cetera. And if we are suddenly thrust into a sexual situation, we may have the enthusiasm, but lack the awareness or maturity to even fully appreciate the situation, and thus fully consent.

And I guess, on that note, now is as good a time as any to discuss a phenomenon in manga and anime that I like to refer to as The Quandary. Okay, do you have a pencil? Because you’re probably gonna need to jot this down. Basic minimum legal age of consent in Japan is defined as 13 years of age. Any sexual act under any circumstance committed with anyone under this age is always illegal. If an adult man has sex with an under-13-year-old girl, it’s a felony with a minimum sentencing of 20 years hard labor. If an adult woman has sex with an under-13-year-old boy, it’s a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of 200,000 yen. However, even if the adults wait until the kids turn 14, that still won’t save them from the clutches of the law, as the various prefectures of Japan have all independently implemented their own minor protection laws, which state that anyone over the age of 18 cannot legally have sex with anyone under it. Seems simple enough, you suppose, but there’s more. See, you do not become a full and legal adult in Japan with full legal agency and ability until you reach the age of 20. While for the most part, a 20-year-old wanting to date an 18-year-old needs little more than the parents’ permission to proceed, even if sex is involved, the fact remains that it’s a gray-enough area legally to warrant wariness. Also, boys can get legally married at 18, and girls can get legally married at 16, despite still not being considered adults in the eyes of the law. And as we all know, any sexual act performed within the bonds of holy matrimony is entirely consensual, always. Seriously though, if you want to help, you can do so here.

So, essentially, what this results in is that, while adults cannot legally have sex with teenagers, teenagers can legally have sex with other teenagers in Japan. Now, it should be noted that just because something is legal, that doesn’t make it socially acceptable. However, my experience with sex in Japan is that it’s socially alright, provided that you don’t explicitly mention it. Pre-marital sex? Extramarital affair? Mere maritime dalliance? All well and good, just don’t tell anyone about it. Let me make something perfectly plain and clear right at this point. You should not take my word as the end-all-be-all authority on how Japanese society works. Every society on earth is a complicated and multi-faceted structure, with varying degrees of social strata and kata that take a lifetime to learn. If a Japanese person tells you that everything I have just said now is bullshit, first check to see if they themselves are qualified (you wouldn’t ask Ben Carson for advice on African-American affairs, after all), but know that whatever qualifications they have, it’s probably more than me.

With all that said, this brings us back to The Quandary. See, if it’s perfectly legal and socially acceptable for your predominantly teenage audience to be having sex (with each other, anyway), and if sex sells (as it often does), then naturally you (or at the very least your editor), will want to include some degree of sex appeal in whatever form of media you’re making for your teenage audience. However, just because a media’s audience is predominantly teenaged, very rarely, if ever, are the people who actually make said media teenaged themselves. Also, while it’s relatively easy to restrict a minor from getting their hands on certain media, it’s difficult to do the same with a legal adult. Hence, you have adults making media with sexualized teenagers that is being consumed by adults, and it’s entirely possible that the motivations of these makers and consumers are, shall we say, less than savory. However, to not even attempt to include sex appeal in the first place misses out on a major selling point, and a major human motivation that media has the power to address. Hence, The Quandary. Regardless of where you sit on the Kinsey Scale or romantic scale or whatever hip new spectrum is hep with the kids these days, how we relate to sex is a very important and very powerful part of who we are as human beings. And, perhaps more importantly, our conception of sex, and how it changes as we grow older and more experienced, is an important part of growing up.

This is why, despite many people I know wondering how a series like Eromanga Sensei even got made in the first place, not only do I understand how it was made, but why it has become the phenomenon that it has. See, there is, as mentioned previously, a lot of sex in Eromanga Sensei (albeit no explicitly-mentioned-or-shown intercourse), and it’s sex that’s going on between 13-to-15-year-old protagonists. However, and this is the key, it’s sex between 13-to-15-year-old protagonists told through a 13-to-15-year-old perspective. Let’s be honest. Not only were we quite horny in our teenage years, but we also had a warped and immature perspective on what sex was in the first place. Even beyond not knowing basic technique, there was the whole matter of what a relationship would entail. Would anyone trust their 13-year-old selves to be a good boyfriend or girlfriend, looking back? Of course not! Barely anyone has even the slightest idea of what they’re doing at 13. Whether it came to sex, jobs, or relationships, it was all some vast, nebulous void of possibility as far as we were concerned.

However, that’s the exact appeal of Eromanga-sensei. All those weird and wacky things that turned you on at 13 but only make you chuckle now? They’re in EMS. All those times you thought at 13 “Man, wouldn’t it be awesome if I could live on my own without parents and just do what I wanted and crap?”. Check one for EMS. All the awkwardness, the trickiness, the cringe-worthy and strange attitudes and conceptions we had to outgrow and overcome? It’s all there, in crystal-clear, high definition, without a hint of irony or shame in EMS.

The thing is, I look at characters like Elf Yamada and Senju Muramasa as an adult and can barely contain my laughter. But I know that when I was 13, I would have loved to have had a girlfriend like them. Now that I’m an adult, all I want is a nice girl who won’t try to kill herself and say it was my fault. I have scars. I have suspicions. I have all the cynicism and wariness of your average adult. But when I watch Eromanga Sensei, even as I cringe and laugh at the teenage awkwardness permeating its story, I remember what it was like to be 13, and for the world of sex and sexuality to be an open, unexplored world, just waiting to be discovered.

Media aimed at children is constantly accused of failing to treat its audience like adults. The inherent flaw in this is the axiomatic assumption that adultness automatically equals maturity, and that furthermore that maturity is an ultimately good thing. Eromanga Sensei works not because it treats its teenage audience like adults, but precisely because it understands how a teenager’s conception of sex works and runs with it. If for even a moment the narrative or cinematography gave the impression of a voyeuristic adult living vicariously through the teenage characters, I think Eromanga Sensei would never have even risen above a very miniscule, very niche audience. However, somehow the people behind this show manage to make not only the characters teenaged, but the lens through which we view the story as well. Even as the male gaze is present in full force, it remains the gaze of a teenage male. There is of course The Quandary, and I have no doubt that there are plenty of sweaty, overweight, 40-plus men fantasizing about Sagiri (please Christ don’t send me doujin links). However, I think this show and the story it tells is an important one, and one that ought to be told to younger audiences. While I myself never felt the full brunt of America’s trademark puritanical attitude towards coital carousing, I did spend most of my teenage years hating myself and thinking there was something wrong with me for wanting sex. Eromanga Sensei though is a story that says to my 13-year-old self, and to the droves of similarly-minded teenage fans, “Hey, don’t worry about it.”

I would not recommend Eromanga Sensei to an adult audience. It is ultimately a story designed for young teenagers. However, I will say, that if you happen to one day stumble across a 13-year-old boy or girl with their noses stuffed in the pages of an EMS book and wonder why the hell they’d be reading such smut, that it’s an enjoyable and harmless romp filled with some fun times and genuine chuckles. It’s no worthier of pearl-clutching than any other type of smut, and it’s no trashier than your average teenage mind.

But... Raymond, you say, your brow furrowed and perplexed. The average teenage mind is positively FILTHY!

And to that, I smile, chuckle, and sigh. Isn’t it though?
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Comments (go to latest)
Raymond H at 11:04 on 2018-06-20
Also! Content warning from the writer:
If I haven't made it clear already, despite my attempts at keeping an open mind as a stranger in a strange land, I myself also do not endorse or condone adult-teenage relationships, or any relationships that do not involve consent. I've already posted a link to the NCADV, so for good measure, here is a link to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. Believe me, you may not feel like you can do much, but every little bit helps. The NCADV and RAINN are both American organizations (I don't know enough about other countries' organizations), but if any of you non-Americans can send links to places you can help out at, by all means, feel free to do so.
(Sorry if this isn't a very well put-together warning. As Arthur will tell you I'm a novice at this.)
Alice at 19:31 on 2018-06-20
Regardless of where you sit on the Kinsey Scale or romantic scale or whatever hip new spectrum is hep with the kids these days, sex is a very important and very powerful part of who we are as human beings.

I imagine there are plenty of ace folks who would disagree with you on this one.
Raymond H at 23:03 on 2018-06-20
Yeah, I was having difficulty figuring out how to best phrase that sentence due to the presence of ace people. However, and this is speaking only from my own experience with my own ace friends in my own life, that sex and romance are still a big part of their lives. Even if they themselves don't have any need for sex, all my ace friends at least have a desire for romantic human companionship, which I think is a disparate, but similar enough desire that it gets tied up in a lot of people's desire for sex. Also, even if you yourself don't need sex, you still have to contend with friends, family, and most everyone else in the world around you who does, and a few of my ace friends still geek out and squee over yaoi, so even if their own sexual desire isn't a thing, they can still take joy and get invested in other people's desire.

Like, if you're a pacifist monk in a country torn apart by war, war is still a major part of what's going on, even if you do not participate in it or want it, and even if you are largely defined as being in contrast to it. Does that make sense?

I realize that probably sounded like a "But look, THESE ace people think this way", but that's actually why I put the caveat of them being my friends. I don't know if you are ace or if you have ace friends and family who feel differently, and whatever experiences they or you have are just as valid as those of my friends, but I hope I was able to address your concerns. Yes? No?
Arthur B at 00:23 on 2018-06-21
Would it meet both Alice's point and preserve Raymond's meaning if it was amended to "how we relate to sex is a very important and very powerful part of who we are as human beings"? Regardless of whether you are entirely asexual and aromantic or way over on the super-romantic horndog side of the bell curve, figuring that out about yourself and figuring out how to navigate a sexualised society are a) big deals, especially in your teen years and b) seems to be what the article is focusing on.
Raymond H at 09:03 on 2018-06-21
Yes, I think you put it nicely like that. Man, you're a lot better at this than me. :)
Arthur B at 12:19 on 2018-06-21
I have edited accordingly.
Raymond H at 12:01 on 2018-06-25
Yar. Thankee, boss.
Ichneumon at 00:43 on 2018-07-24
Additionally, to the credit of the staff involved, Eromanga-Sensei is a beautifully animated show. It's just really, really not for me. Nor was Oreimo, for that matter, but I begrudge no-one their particular tastes (unless they should cross over into some nasty real-world attitudes).
Robinson L at 22:30 on 2018-09-10
Wait, you furrow your brow, Eromanga Sensei? Like, the Eromanga Sensei? Raymond, you can’t possibly enjoy that trash, can you?

You're assuming way more knowledge of anime culture on my part than is warranted, my friend.

So... uh... basically I felt so bad about unintentionally kink-shaming one of my students that I went and got a copy of the entire anime series. Um... yeah.

I can't decide if that's sweet or a neurotic overreaction.

in accordance with Miller V. California, these sites all came with a certain warning, asking you to confirm that you were 18 or older before allowing you to “enter”. After the initial perceived defeat, I eventually realized that the police were not going to immediately bust down the door and arrest me simply because I had said “yes” to this question.

Reminds me of that line from House about those 18 restrictions being so simple "even a 17-year-old can figure it out."

Eromanga Sensei though is a story that says to my 13-year-old self, and to the droves of similarly-minded teenage fans, “Hey, don’t worry about it.”

Huh, when you put it that way, it does actually sound kinda sweet.
Raymond H at 04:20 on 2018-09-16
You're assuming way more knowledge of anime culture on my part than is warranted, my friend.

Well... "sigh"... if you want a general idea of its infamy, you can just watch the two videos I linked here and here.

I can't decide if that's sweet or a neurotic overreaction.

I can respect that.

Reminds me of that line from House about those 18 restrictions being so simple "even a 17-year-old can figure it out."

...
Would you believe me if I told you that was the exact location from where the revelation sprang?

Huh, when you put it that way, it does actually sound kinda sweet.

It... weirdly is! Like, I really wasn't expecting it to be, and yet somehow there's a sweetness that permeates the whole thing.
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