Wicked City & The modern power struggle in Japan

I believe that pornographic anime reflects the power struggle between men and women that is happening in Japan today through the depiction of the characters. In the beginning of Wicked City, Taki is almost killed by a woman from the demon world after he has sex with her. She was able to deceive Taki by taking on a human form, but once she gets what she wants from him, she becomes her true demon self. According to Susan Napier, “an important aspect of the female body is its occult ability to change, a property that has both traditional and contemporary resonances” (69). The ability of the female body to change in pornographic anime can be representative of the changes that women in Japan have experienced throughout history. Napier mentions, “In the 1980s and 1990s women have grown more independent, both financially and socially, taking on far more identities than the “good wife wise mother” of Meiji Japan” (76). With women gaining so much power and taking new roles, they are now able to compete with men. Although the status of women has improved, the depiction of them in pornographic anime shows that men still desire to have them under their control. In Wicked City, Makie is punished for betraying the demon world by being raped and tortured repeatedly. In pornographic anime, “the [female] body is seen as powerful, mysterious, and frightening, controllable only by demons, and even then only temporarily” (76). It is possible that with the changing gender roles of women in Japan, some men feel that the only way that they can assert dominance over women is to subject them to unwanted sexual behaviors. Usually, the demonic male body is the one that takes part in such actions (79). Perhaps, this suggests that men repress their desires regularly.

Wicked City Shows Not Enough Progress

Females, and the female body are seen in such contradictory ways in Japanese pornographic animation, and no film better shows all this than the 1987 anime film “Wicked City.”

Susan Napier states that “Japanese pornography sometimes seems to privilege the image of the female body in pain, usually with graphic scenes of the torture and mutilation of women” (64). One of the main characters, the female “hero” Makie, is shown brutally gang raped as punishment and requires the help of her human partner Taki to come and be saved… and his reward for saving her is a night sleeping with her and impregnating her. Read that again if that sounds normal – a powerful female demon is raped, saved by her HUMAN male partner, and submits to him to bear his child.

The “male gaze” is very dominant when viewing Wicked City, as seen in so many of the sex scenes and the focus on her lower body and her arousal. Furthermore, the film helps to reestablish traditional gender roles with the traditional “man saves woman” trope, despite as previously stated, the power of the woman, and in fact, by bearing child, the woman gains even MORE power.

All of this shows that although Japan has slowly been moving forward in the ways they viewed women, as opposed to the cliched traditional gender roles (woman having more power, more in control) they still struggle to fully empower women, as showed by the film, which cannot completely live with Makie being in control of herself and needing to rely on Taki (and other males) to save them.

The Evolution of Shojo

Ladies comics is a term that is used for manga for ladies. The primarily feature is about women’s sexual desires that were rarely open to public. It allows women to satisfy their sexual desire and eventually find their own sexuality.

As it was stated in Jones’s article, “… the very existence of ladies’ comics and their tremendous sales indicate that their readers are demanding access to avenues of sexual expression that have been solely male until now” (108). This shows the change of women’s consumption towards sex. Women have become more open (but not open to public to say they watch the comics) it is for their own satisfaction as men do towards porn. It broke a set notion that men are the only ones who need a media to satisfy their sexual desires. Even though there are topics that seem violent, like rape and more. Still, it satisfies women’s sexual fantasy they would not experience in reality. Shojo who was consuming and excited about fun high school love stories has evolved.

Ladies comics are one way of Japanese women to find their own sexuality just like the main character, Maho from the Lilac’s Dawn who was passive about sex but then became a different person after continuously practicing sex by herself. This indicates that women not only watch ladies comics to satisfy their sexual desire, but also the comic helps them to find their own sexuality that they were not aware of. No one would know what kind of sexuality that they are attracted before sex just like Maho. However, by consuming various types of ladies comics, women can find, and eventually discover their own sexuality in safer way than actual sex.

Ladies comics represent how today’s women’s view and consumption changed towards sex. Shojos, “it is time to graduate!” (108).

As an American-born feminist with little exposure to Japanese pornographic anime, I was surprised—to say the least—to learn that many ladies’ comics feature graphic sadomasochistic or rape-fantasy scenes, mostly written by women and “aimed at adult, heterosexual female readers” as stated in Gretchen Jones’ “Bad Girls Like to Watch” article (98). I’m surprised less by the existence of the material, itself, but by the larger social commentary it creates regarding the identities of the female readers.

While Wicked City is not a ladies’ comic, but a pornographic anime, its portrayal of female sexuality strongly relates to Jones’ argument on ladies’ comics characters, in general: “through masochistic experiences, they find greater pleasure” (100). Makie’s character depicts a strong woman who—usually—keeps up with the boys. This strength falters in scenes of voyeurism and sadomasochism, such as Makie’s sexual torture on display for Taki, or the bondage portrayed by her bodily entanglement in the parasite. This content is not unlike that of many ladies’ comics which, as we know, is written as erotic material by and for women.

Like others in our class, I wondered how both fictitious women and real female readers felt sexual liberation from acts of physical domination perpetrated by a man. Jones provides a sensible explanation: ladies’ comics are “an outlet for inherent but never openly acknowledged sexual desire” (105). Through this lens, I understood the erotic appeal of these acts without any shame. Rape fantasy is quite the loaded subject, but can be summed up as follows (from my understanding): women reclaim their sexuality by reclaiming the act of rape, itself, altering its meaning and removing the perceived degradation by inserting their own consent. In this way, Japanese ladies’ comics are an acknowledgement of the Japanese woman’s sexual repression and an active rebellion against it.

Reinforcement not Progression

It is the 20th century but is it possible that Japan has not progressed its traditional gender roles? Examining one of the most popular four star rated pornographic films, Wicked City shows how far Japan has progressed from its traditional gender roles. Women first are portrayed as powerful strong individuals, Makie saving Taki and the three women who are employed with the obligations of the important mission that will prevent the unification of the real and demonic world. Essentially, this is seen as women given freedom of choice and power, they can have incredible sex with whomever they choose by having an undeniable sexually appeal that is considered threatening, even almost ending the lives of Taki and Giusepee. This relates to Napier’s discussion of metamorphoses. Women have the power to change from their innocent, naïve self into their most sexually and threatening form with for a short while, the ability to empower men only to be eventually defeated by men.

This is a representation of how women in Japan’s society today try to conform out of Japan’s traditional gender roles but no matter how hard they try, failure and conformation is the only way to go. The metamorphoses is women falling out of their gender roles, being promiscuous and in a sense more superior to men whereas being defeated by men represent the traditional patriarchal order shoving them back in their traditional place. Looking at Makie, she becomes actually powerful when, as Napier states “the reassuring image of Makie’s beautiful body serves its most traditional function” (Napier, 71). Makie gains an ultimate ability when she defeats the final enemy before the mission ends with what the wide-eyed awed Giusepee claims as a miracle. Traditional gender roles brought about this happy ending.

LADIES COMICS, TAKES IT BACK

ya

Pornographic media can reflect larger social issues in Japan, especially when examining the perverse texts of ladies comics. The fact that these works are written by women for women provides the opportunity for women to take back their sexuality. In Japanese societies women are seen as inferior and quiet and conservative, which is the complete opposite of what these texts are providing. “Japanese women are unable to express their sexuality overtly, and sees a link between the violence in ladies’ comics and readers’ difficulties in “owning” their own sexual desire.” These comics provide the ability to understand, discover the female body, “The female body is drawn in such a way as to appear “on display” to a reader/viewer.” It also introduces a new idea of sexuality and how women can enjoy their own exploration. An example of this would be the beginning of Lilac’s Dawn, she is exploring and understand her body and what she is capable of, which can be interpreted as women are able to receive pleasure without the aid of men. Japanese women in society today are not able to be openly sexual, which makes it difficult for the female society to control their autonomy and sexuality. “Female sexual expression in Japan often make it difficult for Japanese women to psychologically ‘let go’… but these stories from ladies comics can express women’s independence and autonomy.” Women can take control of their sexuality, let go, and fulfill their sex drive. The only thing I don’t entirely agree on is the rape aspect although it relates to the rage that is within, I think the rage can be portrayed differently and the fact that ladies comics aren’t publicized due to the traditional society. “Ladies’ comics are thus seen as an outlet for inherent but never openly acknowledged sexual desire.”

Ladies Comics and Blossoming Sexuality

Japanese pornographic media reflects a larger social issue that is the suppressed sexuality of women in Japan. In Gretchen Jones’s “Bad Girls Like to Watch” she states “…the publication runs for each title of ladies’ comics are in hundreds of thousands per month; with between 20-40 different titles currently in publication…” If the number of women consuming ladies comics is so large why are the readers so difficult to identify? In my opinion women are ashamed to express their sexuality. Perhaps this is why rape and bondage fetishes are so popular. Women fanaticize of a sexual experience in which their bodies are used for sexual pleasure but they play no active role in it. Ladies comics serve as an outlet for women to satisfy their sexual needs and communicate their sexual experiences with an audience that will accept and understand them. In Lilac’s Dawn we see a woman who is not comfortable expressing her sexual desires after growing up in a strict home environment. With the help of her friend she feels comfortable exploring and expressing her sexual needs. The woman (who is a virgin in the comic) would likely be a consumer of ladies comics. She could satisfy her sexual needs without the stigma of sleeping with random men. In my opinion, I advocate for women satisfying their sexual needs in anyway they feel comfortable but I understand the stigma that comes with a women who owns her sexuality. My hope for the future is that in the women not only Japanese women but women from nations all over the world feel more comfortable expressing their sexuality without judgment.

Ladies’ Comics: Subverting Male Sexual Dominance

Ladies’ Comics have multiple layers to them that can be dissected and examined. They can be viewed from multiple angles- from downright problematic and enforcing rape culture to empowering women to explore their sexuality. I believe that the sexual violence against the women illustrated and written about in LC, based on the sole fact that the main consumption and production is done by women, for women, is a form of subversion against the sexism women experience in Japan and that it comments on the daily lives of women in Japan. Nearly all of the storylines are taken directly from the readers themselves, either by experience recorded in comments and surveys, or by describing sexual fantasies (102-103). In Lilac’s Dawn, the protagonist is shown to positively explore her sexuality through masturbation. Despite the themes of violence and humiliation, these are stories that women want to read, have experienced, or fantasize about.

I see this as a subversion of male sexual dominance. By taking the inevitable violence that women experience (mostly by men) and turning it into a story in which women essentially control the narrative, I argue that this empowers women to embrace their sexuality, explore it, and to never be ashamed of it. It also provides a safe space for women to think about and explore the issue of rape, and possibly a coping mechanism for those who had had to endure it. I believe the content of LC reflects larger social issues happening in Japan because the sheer prominence of violence in LC that women are writing about and talking about shows that this violence is something that effects nearly every portion of their lives- all the way down to how they experience sexuality. LC can also be a window into how Japanese culture views rape and violence towards women.

Failure of Men in Wicked City

In the late 80s, the Japanese watched their glorious bubble economy pop and men became filled with anxiety and frustration over their alleged failure as the salary men of Japan. This is especially obvious in the pornographic Wicked City (1987) through its apocalyptic tone and gender relations.

An excerpt from Susan Napier’s “Controlling Bodies: The Body in Pornographic Anime” summarizes the connection between failed masculinity and the lack of male orgasm in the pornography: “In general, male orgasm is depicted far less frequently than male frustration or imply endless penetration, no doubt due in part to censorship limitations and also because orgasm might suggest a vulnerable loss of control. The sexual male’s combination of frustration and desperate need for control underlines once again the paucity of sexual identities available to the Japanese male. The eternal displacement of orgasm suggests a truly hellish world in which genuine satisfaction can never be achieved. Always erect, the male body, be it comic or demonic, seems to be continually seeking and never finding fulfillment.” The only point in the film where a male achieves orgasm is at the end when Taki, having potentially succeeded in saving the world, impregnates Makie.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that men can’t cum in Wicked City, they also face the looming threat of emasculation. Taki is almost castrated by a demonic spider woman, and both Taki and Giuseppe confront demon women who try to take them back into the womb. This is a clear example of men’s fear of failing as men, and regressing to children or women. Their only chance of dominating these threatening women is through sexual violence, exemplified by the numerous rape scenes in Wicked City.

One last example of failed masculinity is that of Makie and her gradual metamorphosis from male to female. Napier observes a “possibility of male viewer identification with the metamorphosing female rather than the restricted male”. In the beginning of the film, Makie is presented as powerful and masculine. As she fails at her job of protecting Guiseppe, she is subjected to sexual violence and humiliation and is displayed as more feminine. By the end of the film she is completely female and maternal as she has become pregnant.

Ladies’ Comics

With the creation of the subgenre ladies’ comics, it has given an avenue for women to explore their sexuality. These comics were created in the 1980’s and often contain content that display physical pain, and psychological abuse. Ladies’ comics are mostly created by women.The main target audience for these comics are heterosexual women, but at first glance at the content, it may seem as though it was intended for men. Gretchen I. Jones states that “Ladies’ comics are thus seen as an outlet for inherent but never openly acknowledged sexual desire” (105). When you keep something like sexuality down and repressed in society, it will eventually branch out in alternate ways. Ladies’ comics can be seen as a result of this, giving women the ability to consume fantasies that society labels as forbidden or morally wrong. They are supposed to represent subjectivity rather than objectivity.The artwork that is depicted in Lilac’s Dawn heavily concentrates on the mannerisms of the main character. They highlight that in the process of experiencing these sexual desires, and acts of self pleasure that she is somehow out of this world. This can be seen as an attempt to indirectly ask women the question of, how far have they explored their sexuality? Ladies’ comics economic success paints the clear picture that there is a great demand for women centric desires in popular media, and that it is only growing.