Mushoku Tensei: Lolis Aren’t “Just Drawings”

To date, my essay decrying Mushoku Tensei as the worst anime ever is my highest-performing post. It has garnered more support and criticism than every other post on this blog put together, actually. While I could be upset about that, it’s just something you get used to on the internet; a tiny minority will always claim the largest share of attention, and courting controversy is the easiest way to get views.

I’ve thought about revisiting Mushoku Tensei before, but it was one piece of criticism that struck me as odd. When I wasn’t the subject of homophobic slurs, death threats, and literally just straight-up libel, there were people accusing me of being a normie. “Stop calling yourself an otaku!” or “Can’t wait to see him cry over Redo of Healer.”

I’m able to ignore most of that because I know it’s not true. Being a fan of anime and manga has very little to do with being able to stomach Mushoku Tensei, and the difference between Jobless Reincarnation and Redo of Healer lies in what they try to do.

Mushoku Tensei is ostensibly a fantasy adventure story that diverts from that premise to watch its protagonist engage in sex crimes, while Redo of Healer is vile schlock intended to produce shock value. If you watch the latter, it’s because you know it’s vile, and I can’t work myself up about that just like I know there are people who enjoy A Serbian Film.

But there was something else among the dozens or even hundreds of comments I got in the wake of that essay and since; people asked, “how do you watch anime if you hate lolis?” And that shocked me, because to my knowledge, I don’t. Many of my favorite games and anime have them, and while I wince at the occasional wink most anime do towards people who are way too into lolis, it rarely affects my ability to consume anime.

But what I hate more is seeing the eternal idiotic debate between lolicons and the anti-loli lobby. “They’re just drawings!” vs “Yeah, drawings of children.” As you may have noticed, I’m not opposed to angering both sides of an argument. So, you’re weird for liking lolis, and you’re weird for caring so much about people who like lolis. Everyone mad? Good, let’s break that down.

Let’s focus on that first argument. It’s just a drawing. For the entirety of human history, artists have dared to create that which is offensive; it’s intrinsic to artistic expression. We are driven to portray that which is repulsive and unpleasant, but there’s a bit of a difference between A Clockwork Orange and Bokurano versus 120 Days in Sodom and anime that sexualizes children for the purpose of audience titillation.

The fact is that nothing is just a drawing. A piece of art is a piece of the person who created it, and while that doesn’t mean it is indicative of their integrity or morals, never underestimate the power of art to influence. Bret Easton Ellis is not responsible for the actions of Patrick Bateman, but neither can you say that American Psycho has not affected the people who read it. It is a piece of art intended to disturb and negatively impress the audience, and that is why we judge any art on what it intends to be, rather than merely what it is.

So, yes, lolicons are correct when they say that a sexualized drawing of a child does not harm real children. However, it’s ignorant to the point of naivete to say that the pornography that people consume doesn’t affect them and their tastes. By embracing pornography that depicts morally abhorrent subject matter, we open the window of what is permissible for people to enjoy.

This is not to advocate for the ban of any artistic expression; I have my own views, but I would rather thoughtfully explore an issue to allow you to decide for yourself, rather than tell you what to believe. A democratic society has to reckon with what speech, if any, needs to be censored, and the decision they come to will vary wildly based on the existing culture and status quo.

But now that I’ve established that nothing is just a drawing, the antis might be feeling I’m comfortable in their corner, and that’s not quite the case. For some reason, the year is 2022 and Twitter has become a beacon of puritanism, of all things.

There have been weirdos on Twitter crying about games and anime for years, but it didn’t sink in for me that these weren’t just isolated crazies until about 2019. Following the Japanese release of Persona 5 Royal, poster girl Kasumi Yoshizawa was all over the dumb bird app, and much was made of her character design. Her outfit as a Phantom Thief is a reflection of her subconscious, even her soul, and it was too terrible for the terminally online to handle; she was wearing a leotard.

If you’ve played Persona 5 Royal, that doesn’t sound weird. Kasumi’s not the only character who is sexualized, and she’s a gymnast. In the Metaverse, where your appearance is centered on your self-perception, a gymnast would probably be wearing a leotard.

Unfortunately, not everyone agreed, and some people took a surprising amount of offense at the thought of a woman exposing her legs in public. There were redraws claiming to have “fixed” her design, and a wave of criticism towards developer Atlus for sexualizing a fifteen-year-old character.

The glaring flaw with that argument is that Kasumi is not drawn as a fifteen-year-old girl; in fact, 99 percent of anime characters are not drawn at the age their writer gives them. With exceptions being made for the occasional moe show like K-On or A Place Further Than The Universe, anime characters (especially girls) are drawn as physically mature adults.

This is a messy gray area, as anime as an art style relies on simplifying people down to certain sanded-down edges. Some adults are petite and don’t have bulging muscles or bulging…anything else, and some teenagers develop early and look like adults. However, this is not in reference to real people; in the vast majority of anime, characters are designed with adult physiques unless to specifically convey their immaturity or childishness.

To use a few examples, in My Hero Academia, there’s very little separating canonically fifteen-year-old characters Tenya Iida and Momo Yaoyorozu from 30-year-old Shota Aizawa and Midnight. In Jujutsu Kaisen, which has a less cartoonish art style, there’s nothing to distinguish the ages of Yuji or Megumi from those of Nanami and Gojo except height. Heck, Yuta Okkotsu looks like the oldest member of the cast at seventeen, but that’s just because the poor kid needs some sleep.

In short, anime characters are drawn as older than whatever age is given in their profile because the simplified art style reduces the characteristics of age to a few wrinkles and some sharper features. Mileage will vary, but there’s nothing wrong with finding characters drawn as adults attractive…because the real problem comes when those characters are written like they’re children.

In The Rising of the Shield Hero, Raphtalia is introduced as a child. However, in the world of Shield Hero, demihumans like her don’t grow as time passes; they mature physically as they level up. By the time she finishes a quick training session, Raphtalia looks of an age with her master Naofumi, though the wiki gives her age at that time as seventeen.

That’s all well and fine; Raphtalia might not be an adult by our metrics of years, but she is recognized as an adult in the world of Shield Hero and is intended to look the part. However, we get tripped up when she confesses to believing that kissing is how you get pregnant, and the illusion that this girl is bordering on legal adulthood shatters.

I’ll put that specific example aside because obviously physical and emotional maturity doesn’t directly correlate to understanding where babies come from. Raphtalia might be an adult, but that doesn’t mean she’s had the time to learn everything an adult needs to know, and it doesn’t disqualify her from adulthood. What would disqualify her is that she still acts like a ten-year-old, and you can tell that the writer really wanted to have his cake and eat it, too.

It’s a staple of harem and rom-com anime, but even when they’re adults, anime characters act like children. Eighteen-year-old Vanitas is so dismayed at the thought of being liked by a girl that he’s reduced to hysterics, despite actively flirting with her at every opportunity before. Okay, eighteen might not count as adults even if you can vote, so what about someone in their late twenties?

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is predicated on being an adult-centered show; its principal cast are adults who work in an office and balance their responsibilities with their unconventional hobbies. Great, except that this is the same kind of maddening hormonal politics that dominate teenage relationships, and while I love Wotakoi, it isn’t really about adults; it’s about kids who have jobs and apartments.

I don’t have a problem with drawing teenage characters as adults; it often grounds an otherwise fantastical story when the characters look mature enough to handle these problems, even if they’re actually not. I don’t have a problem with writing adult characters like children; it has this perennial charm by saying we never really outgrow our childish insecurities and habits. It’s only when you try to combine the two that you create a dissonance that serves to undercut both goals.

So, lolis aren’t just drawings, but liking Beatrice or Shinobu isn’t going to turn you into a Discord mod. I don’t believe that this issue will ever be truly resolved; there are a lot of problems surrounding otaku culture that Japanese society isn’t really equipped to address.

I don’t think that anime has to change, either. If you love anime, then you either accept that the world is going to be saved by a bunch of sixteen-year-olds, or you actively enjoy that aspect. Really, it’s not up to Western otaku to say what creators on the other side of the globe get to do with their work.

But media doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that’s why I’ve addressed this essay to the Western weebs. There’s a lot of room for discussion, and we can find common ground rather than call everyone who disagrees with us a professional Smash player or a prude. It’s only by examining our and other peoples’ beliefs that we realize that the majority of people do not operate out of malice, and we stand to gain a lot by listening and empathizing with others.

So, while I said I was trying to make both sides mad, that’s only if you’re unwilling to communicate. If you’re willing to do that, chances are your views are not nearly as harmful as they’re made out to be. The reason that extreme beliefs are so consistently wrong is that extreme goods and evils rarely if ever exist out in the world, and it’s foolish to try and put complexities into narrow boxes.

If you got through that without typing out my IP address, then I would like to congratulate you. If you are writing out a rant calling me a Nazi-fascist or an SJW libcuck, don’t let me being reasonable and moderate stop you.

Once you’re done, though, you might want to share this post or even follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress, or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I really would like to hear your thoughts. Until next time, thanks for reading.


2 responses to “Mushoku Tensei: Lolis Aren’t “Just Drawings””

  1. I commend you for correctly using the word “schlock” in a sentence. Very impressive! I really like that you looked at anime from the perspective of it being an art form. And because art is a form of communication, we do need to consider what was intended to be communicated when we consume art. One of my degrees is in Fine Art, and from that perspective I want to say that no art should ever be censored or altered even if they have highly offensive depictions. But I’m also an anime fan, and I freely admit that there are some anime I just don’t watch because they have content that I find offensive. Should these anime be banned in some way because they are offensive to some? Umm . . . I don’t know, probably not. Am I a bad otaku because there are some anime I choose not to watch? I don’t think so, everyone has preferences. And then there’s the question of if what’s being depicted in art might actually normalize offensive activities in real life. And that’s a really good point! But some statistics show that while video game violence has gone up, real life violent crimes have been creeping downwards globally. Though I understand that video games and anime aren’t the same, they do have a lot of similarities, so maybe depictions in media don’t get normalized that much? Wow, this post has a lot of hard questions! Thank you for writing this post. It was very thought provoking, with lots of tricky concepts to wrap my head around!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a well considered angle on a nuanced topic — too bad so many people ignore the nuance. I’m very big on freedom of expression; it would be impossible for me not to be. But you’re right that that’s a separate matter from criticism. Too often these two are confused by the people fighting against the “anti” types. But then of course, you have those “anti” types as well. I remember all the moaning about Kasumi’s outfit, even though it fit the context of P5R perfectly well.

    In general, I don’t have a problem with dirty jokes or with (some) extreme sorts of stories. However, I agree that the “drawings are just drawings” comment misses the mark. For the purposes of arguments over actual bans or censorship, I’m almost a free speech absolutist, but when I started writing my own fiction, I found myself thinking about the messages I wanted to express. I’ll defend others’ rights to write vile stories, but I wouldn’t write them myself. I don’t know if these are contradictory views to hold, but I don’t believe they are.


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