The latest edition of WTF Japan?!? covers the taboo topic of incest and it’s prevalence in anime. While incest is nothing new to the entertainment medium, like the traps in anime that I discussed previously, incest and it’s varying iterations has become something of an unhealthy presence in anime.
As I’m sure all are aware, incest involves romantic or sexual relationships between closely related persons, most often family members. With respect to anime, these illicit relationships can run the gamut from the more extreme parent/child or blood-related siblings to the slightly more tame step-siblings, cousins or brother/sister complexes. The degree to which a relationship is taken or how seriously it is treated is all dependent on the anime.
While incest has often been considered acceptable in the past, what with royal or prominent families often marrying or reproducing within the family in order to keep the genetic lines “pure,” incest has universally been considered depraved and disgusting, and therefore taboo, for much longer.
The Westermarck effect, a theory developed by Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermarck in 1891, suggests that it is actually imprinting (phase-sensitive learning) during our childhood that is the primary reason for why incest is so universally taboo. The Westermarck effect states that “two people who live in close domestic proximity during the first few years in the life of either one become desensitized to later close sexual attraction.” The theory posits that this is the reason why siblings or close cousins are rarely sexually attracted to one another later in life or why most children do not have romantic fantasies involving their parents, and vice versa. It not only applies to blood-related family, but also to adopted children or also children raised together communally. The theory is that this Westermarck effect is nature’s evolved way of suppressing inbreeding.
The time frame of this reverse sexual imprinting is believed to be only during the first six or seven years of life, however, which is why siblings raised apart, older foster or adoptive children and even step-families may find themselves sexually attracted to each other when they do meet later in life. In the case of blood-related siblings or parent/child relationships, this is known as genetic sexual attraction (GSA) and can actually make for more intense sexual attraction given that we as humans tend to find shared interests or personality traits and similar appearances more attractive and trustworthy, something someone with the same genetics is likely to possess.
So why exactly is incest considered so morally reprehensible? There have been many arguments over the morality of incest and why it is considered so universally repulsive or illegal in most countries, especially in consensual circumstances, claiming that so long as both parties are willing it is akin to a victimless crime. The problem is really that incest goes against our very basic genetic evolution. And if offspring of this union are involved, the children become the victims in the form of increased chance of a genetic disorder since both parents likely carry the same recessive mutations, if present of course, thereby doubling the chance the child will acquire it.
So how does this all relate to anime?
Pornography, including animated porn, also known as hentai, has always been replete with all sorts of debaucherous fetishes, with incest being a long-time pornographic mainstay. But given that part of what makes porn so titillating is the taboo nature of many of its subjects or acts, this is not wholly unexpected. As they say, different strokes for different folks – and this phrase can be taken quite literally in this case.
Image withheld – You’re welcome!
As such, I will not be discussing incest’s inclusion in hentai at this time. Certain trends or fetishes in hentai, or the medium as a whole, is a potential blog for another time.
Instead, this blog will focus on non-hentai and how incest has been increasingly becoming a recurring or prominent feature in more mainstream anime.
Unless it’s treated with absolute seriousness for dramatic purposes, such as in Mardock Scramble, the parent-child incestuous relationship is thankfully rarely touched on in standard anime. Instead we’re mostly treated to cousin-lovin’ or sibling-sexing. I could go into the full list of every show that contains these illicit relationships, but the list is so extensive and exhaustive that the links in the previous sentence and this table of contents page will have to do.
While it bothered me a bit at first, in fairness, I have since changed my tune and am willing to give the kissing cousins thing a pass since it is perfectly legal for cousins to marry in Japan. As such, the addition of such a plot point or romantic encounter is nothing taboo to the Japanese culture, and when watching a program of any sort, it is important to keep that culture in mind before passing unfair judgment upon it.
That being said, while there is no law against incest in Japan, though it is looked down upon, incestuous marriage is illegal, so that is fair game. Once again, like my discussion on traps in anime, it’s not in the presence of such things within these shows or movies that offense is instantly taken; it is in how they are presented or used.
For example, many of the older anime series, such as Koi Kaze or Please Twins!, used their incestuous themes to tell a dramatic and somewhat tragic story, as well as to make a statement on society of some sort. At the very least, they placed the viewer in a position where they might perhaps question how they might have handled the situation had they been in the protagonist’s shoes. The intent wasn’t pure titillation, but perhaps reflection of some sort.
But as time has gone by, the market had been flooded with a deluge of incest-as-fanservice shows that do nothing to challenge societal restraint or get the audience to reflect on the situation. Instead we are treated to inane shows such as KissxSis where a pair of twin girls repeatedly try to molest their younger step-brother and are even encouraged to do so by their parents.
Or Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!! where a girl is desperately trying to enter an illicit relationship with her brother and is actually disappointed to learn she was adopted so the relationship won’t be as taboo as she had wished. Or even Ore No Imouto Ga Konna Ni Kawaii Wake Ga Nai in which the queen of bitch mountain gets her older brother to dote on her because she appears to have incestuous feelings for him. These are shows where the incest aspect is meant to be the appeal of the show, not an unfortunate circumstance. They are simply to cater to the ever-increasing popularity of incestuous relationships that the audience is demanding. So when the term used to describe incest in anime is “wincest” it’s quite obvious it’s not being used in a healthy or morally responsible way.
Even shows that started out with nary a lick of incestuous overtones have jumped on the bandwagon as they went along. To Love-Ru, while always raunchy, began to toy with the idea of main character Rito’s younger sister Mikan having feelings for him. The Monogatari series started out with Koyomi Araragi stating quite specifically in Bakemonogatari that “Falling in love with your sister is just a fantasy by those who don’t have sisters” and yet follow-up anime Nisemonogatari has him developing a dubious and somewhat precarious relationship with his sister that borders on incest.
This season’s Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru! (which translates to “Among These Girls Is My Younger Sister!”) is perhaps a perfect example of the fetish-catering aspect of this trope. The show’s plot revolves a high school boy who inherits a wealthy company from his father and is in training to become it’s next president, so he transfers to a prestigious high school; however, the catch is that he must find a bride from said school before he graduates. So this would be your typical harem anime where he clumsily falls all over random women’s breasts while said women fall in love with him for no apparent reason, except the twist is that one of the harem members is actually his younger sister. But which one?
Were this a case of neither character knowing they were related, that would be one thing, especially given that the Westermarck effect is not in play here while genetic sexual attraction most certainly could be, but that does not seem to be the case here. Instead, my impression is that the younger sister herself calls the protagonist and gives him the heads-up that she is also enrolled at the school, implying that she is actively trying to get that ring on her finger and into his pants despite knowing the truth.
And even if that’s not the case and it’s just a random girl calling, the fact that the caller doesn’t reveal who the sister is or the fact that the very notion of a DNA test is completely unheard of suggests that the show is deliberately avoiding logical methods of revealing exactly who the sister is, thereby cramming the possibility of incest into the plot just for the sake of including it to please their audience’s dubious fetish.
But at what cost? So I must state once again: Just because the audience wants it, that doesn’t mean the studios should provide it. Don’t make me trot out Ian Malcolm again.
Unfortunately, this prevalence is not good for the industry. Overabundance leads to increased desensitization which in turn leads to the taboo subject matter becoming more acceptable amongst the anime-watching community. However, any casual viewers, potential viewers or viewers with morals will likely be turned off, which in turn prevents the studios from expanding their audience. We’re already seeing how being labeled an “otaku” in Japan is not a badge of honor, but the more the industry caters to this core otaku demographic, the worse the stigma will become. So what say we tone it down a bit, huh?
But incest in anime is just the tip of the iceberg. The worst – lolicon – is yet to come. Stay tuned (to my blog, not incest or lolicon anime. I’m totally not endorsing that)!