There’s no denying that kids of all ages love anime cartoons. In our home Pokemon has been a perennial favourite, and I know we’re not alone! Last summer that became evident, as thousands of people took to the streets with the Pokemon Go app; living the dream of finally becoming a real-life Pokemon trainer.
What little I do know
While my experience with anime is limited to a few glimpses of Saturday morning cartoons, I understand that there is a whole other world of anime I know very little about. In fact there are dozens of genres available, that can be explored by anyone with an internet connection.
This week, as I drove a bunch of my son’s classmates to a battle of the books competition, it was all they could talk about. Who was watching what. What’s cool. What’s lame. And what is next in the line up.
With so much available, parents (myself included) need to understand that a significant amount of anime contains extremely mature content. What first appears young, fresh and innocent can quickly turn to twisted and disturbing themes —a typical trick of the porn industry! This dark, sexually exploitive anime belongs to a universe most of us can’t even imagine. Hentai is the Japanese word used to describe it. The literal translation is pervert. Here’s a quick description from Urban Dictionary:
“Every character in a hentai has body features several times better than any real person. 13-year-old boys with 12-inch erections. 8-year-old school girls with breasts better than most 16-year-olds. The thinner the woman, the bigger the breasts.”
Going to the expert for advice
This spring, I had the opportunity to speak with Lacy Bentley of Women United Recovery Coalition (WURCTogether) —a support group designed specifically to assist women recovering from unwanted pornography addiction. I learned that while followers of anime are both male and female, girls and women are particularly interested in storylines that involve relationships. When emotional connection is combined with physical arousal the bond can be very strong. This could explain why so many women cite anime as a root cause of their compulsion to use porn.
Bentley says that teens can find themselves introduced to softcore porn while watching anime and not even realize it. The innocent looking and childlike features of anime characters are alluring to young people; but depending on the genre can also be extremely deceptive. She calls this initial introduction a gateway drug into the more disturbing and violent themes of hentai. What first seems like an escape into a harmless world of fantasy, soon becomes a nightmare they can’t get away from.
Naturally, I asked what parents could do to protect their children from getting caught up in this potentially addictive habit. Bentley warns that most parents haven’t considered that this kind of animation even exists. Nevermind how easy it is to find, or how incredibly difficult it is for individuals to walk away from it once they’ve been involved. To help parents get better informed she offers five truths about anime that everyone needs to know.
1. Just because it is a cartoon, does not mean it is not pornographic
Part of the lure into hentai is the innocent looking and childlike nature of the characters. The storylines however, are purposefully created to resonate with developmental changes in adolescents. Plus, they heavily encourage sexual experimentation outside natural and healthy parameters. Know that anime cartoons are often wolves in sheep’s clothing. As with all media, parents will want to be involved in helping their children select appropriate content.
2. The line between what children of the 90’s called “bubble gum” and today’s “hentai” are becoming more blurred than ever
Bubble gum describes any genre of anime that appeals to teens and preteens but also contains underlying sexual themes. Hentai on the other hand, makes no attempt at subtlety; it overtly portrays sexualized characters and plots.
Unfortunately, the industry isn’t concerned with labeling regular anime and hentai into distinct categories. Think of it as more of a continuum of increasingly sexualized animation. Because of its innocent looking nature, not all youth know to be on guard. Young people may also feel it’s more acceptable since the sexualized scenes are drawn from the artist’s imagination. But, to the brain, it has the same sexual stimulation as if it were live-action. The truth is, that many popular anime films and series portray scenes that would be criminal if they were live-action film, or worse yet, real life.
3. Understanding anime subculture and the “fangirl/fanboy” mentality
Parents should know that anime has a culture and social construct all its own. Fans are often deeply loyal and engaged in anime through multiple arenas: social media, gaming, internet and phones included. It is fed by cos-play, clothing trends, eye-widening procedures and make-up fads worldwide (see video below). Entire events, online merchants, websites, and communities exist that revolve around anime and hentai.
These real-life events help make it feel more acceptable to live in the fantasy created by unsupervised, no-holds-barred, teen life. Along with the lack of rules, human care and real emotional connection are absent. False identities are assumed, acted out, and even parallel lives lived. This is much more than a cult-classic phenomenon. The 90’s made anime popular. Now we are dealing with an entire subculture of teens assuming double lives.
4. Anime is highly appealing to young women who might not otherwise engage in sexualized or pornographic media consumption
Anime contains elements of themes that teens and young adults are living; it is relatable to their experiences. And it is purposefully designed to make these themes more sexualized and appealing. As girls connect emotionally with the lives of on-screen characters it often changes the way they think about themselves.
Young girls portrayed are desirable, coquettish, and constantly sexually amicable. It takes little for men, young or otherwise, to woo and seduce these animated personalities. In return, the young girls do a fair amount of their own seducing. Genitalia are exaggerated and childlike, the image powerful and eroticized. There is nothing real about anime, but that does not stop teens from believing and mimicking it.
5. Teens are learning what is and is not expected of them through these materials
Viewers of anime observe childlike but amicable sexual beings their own age and younger, engaging in a myriad of sexual behaviors. As young people connect with other fans online, many feel compelled to watch, to make out, to allow and to perform sex acts they may not otherwise feel comfortable with.
There is immense pressure to relax and let down boundaries due to the acceptance they see on screen. This can quickly lead to peer coercion and poor decision making in real life. Young women want to be liked, feel powerful, and feel desired. Young men want to feel similar emotions, and both are learning how to achieve these natural longings in distorted and fantasized ways through their involvement in anime porn.
A final caution to parents
Just because Pokemon and Speed Racer are made for children does not mean all anime is created equal. Most anime is intended for older teens and young adults —not children. Even when the anime has been created for younger audiences, pay close attention to gender expectations and dress. While not explicit, even these widely accepted animations could present young women and teens in provocative clothing, heavily accentuating female anatomy.
Ten to thirteen-year old girls are often portrayed as fully developed women in highly sexualized clothing. Little to no adult supervision exists within the anime world, and the adults that do exist are often the butt of jokes, or portrayed as infantile and idiotic. The themes played out are far from innocent.
Start today: Begin a dialogue with your child or teens about anime
Watching sexual acts play out in seemingly innocent cartoons, may actually create a situation layered with even more confusion than typical porn and other erotic materials. If parents do not teach intentionally, kids will learn to respond subconsciously.
What is shown on screen becomes believable to kids in real life especially as they are seeking to understand themselves emotionally, socially and sexually. The relational dynamics in these animations start to feel normal, desirable, and replace reality. It is so easy to lose a sense of true connection in the swirl of colors, lights, and large, doey unrealistically hued eyes.
If, as parents, we approach these materials in a way that encourages dialogue and openness from our kids, we set them on a path to think ahead, and make decisions before they are blind-sided. However, if we do not address the potential danger of these animated themes, our children will not be prepared to handle them.
It is widely known that teen and young adult frontal lobes are not fully developed until their mid-20s. Decision making is impaired, and processing centers are not quite up to par until the frontal lobe fully develops. Worse yet, the amygdala is in overdrive. This tiny brain structure is responsible for eating, survival, and sex drive. When it is overactive, decision-making centers of the brain shut down.
If heat of the moment decision-making is left to chance, impulses are acted upon and regret can be a bitter pill to swallow. We can be certain, if we don’t talk first, the media will have the last word.