This show depicts lovable, young, artistically-sensitive virgins who really ought to fall in love with each other.
This is a crowd-pleasing show. I enjoy it.
Unfortunately, I fear that it is bad art in several senses.
For one thing, it is prettifying what it ought to deconstruct, and thus it fails at deconstruction.
Spoilers lurk below, be warned.
The reality of Japan is pretty miserable. A good deconstruction would be able to show the misery without alienating the audience so much that they would refuse to watch — see Unforgiven for an example of this kind of deconstruction.
A serious deconstruction of Japanese misery would be less fantastical than Welcome to the NHK and less erotic than Genshiken.
This show has much lower production values. It is a crowd-pleasing show. It is not going to delve into the real-life misery that motivates Japanese people to give up on reality and live in order to indulge the escapist fantasies of manga.
Instead, it is going to show porn-addicted virgins, struggling to overcome the inhibitions of Japanese respectability so that they can have actual love affairs with actual human beings.
If you’re young, cute, and virginal, it’s easy to hang your hopes on love affairs. Love stories have to end as soon as the love affair is consummated, because the hope is that success in love is equivalent to paradise.
If you’re not so young, not so cute, and non-virginal, you are well aware that love affairs are not a one-way ticket to paradise.
I said that Denki-gai no Honya-san was bad art in several ways. I should note that it is effective political propaganda.
A major subplot involves porn addiction. This is a show made by porn addicts, for a nation of people who probably abuse porn more than they need to. This show is probably going to be a sugar-coated apologia for porn.
Some really honest shows that argue for a pro-perversion ideology, such as Hen-Zemi just disgusted me so much that I couldn’t be bothered to finish watching. But at least that was an honest show; it told the viewer, from the first episode, that it was going to celebrate perversion.
By contrast, I fear that Denki-gai no Honya-san is going to be a lot less honest. I fear it is going to sell porn addicts a delusion.
The reality is that habitual porn watchers are abusing porn because their personal relationships suck. If you look at porn out of curiosity, you’ll rapidly get bored and stop looking, because it’s terribly repetitive and formulaic. If you look at porn as an intellectual exercise in literature, you’ll spend 99% of your time typing up literary criticism essays and you won’t have time to watch even the titillating bits of porn. And if you actually have a willing sex partner who wants to watch porn with you, you won’t end up paying much attention to the porn, because you’ll stop watching it in order to have sex.
But the modern world is full of people who have little curiosity, no literary ambitions, and no willing sex partners. These people tend to use porn as a crutch – not just as inspiration for masturbation, but as a propaganda movie that helps them fool themselves into thinking that sex can provide meaning for a meaningless life.
Denki-gai no Honya-san depicts a Japanese government official whose job it is to police porn. And she is depicted as an incredibly strong, tall woman with sexy-librarian glasses and gravity-defying breasts.
The message here is: Hey, Japanese government, we manga creators are not sexual revolutionaries. We are not trying to defy your authority. We love the government and we welcome regulation. Look, your regulator is a sympathetic character who can accomplish her job well even though she is also a porn addict. And the porn creators in the show understand the depths of her soul and give her the porn that she really likes.
The notion that the female censor was crazy for boy-on-boy porn is a not-very-subtle coded message to feminists who snark at male anime viewers. The message is: “Okay, ladies, we know what your problem is; you are sexually frustrated and you can’t admit what you really want. Here you go.”
Whether or not any male could make that work on real-life censors, it works in the show. And as a result, the censor takes off her glasses and delivers a pro-porn speech:
The message here is that porn is a necessary part of the culture industry and that it SHOULD be produced to keep the masses quiescent. By contrast, a more rational policy would be to say that explicit depictions of sex are necessary for an informed populace, but those depictions can be kept out of the fine arts, in order to discourage rudderless citizens from becoming passive porn addicts. One way to achieve this might be to have a small number of highly explicit depictions, and to update them as rarely as possible. Porn addicts typically desire lots of novelty in porn. If explicit depictions were available, but were not updated to provide novelty, the curious would take one look, and then stop looking.
Unfortunately, Denki-gai no Honya-san will probably convince a lot of porn addicts to stop criticizing themselves and to go back to a never-ending treadmill of porn purchasing. This might be good for the Japanese economy, but it is bad for Japan in the long run.
It is pretty easy to sell otakus on the unrealistic notion that they could be self-employed and happily married to a sexy wife.
A slightly more realistic look at otaku marriage in Japan is Kantoku Fuyuki todoki.
This is a badly-drawn comedy about a 33-year-old woman, “Rompers,” settling into married life with a 44-year-old man. To compensate for her anxiety about being old, “Rompers” draws herself as a toddler in diapers. The story is not a Greek “comedy” with a happy plot – it is a plot-free series of jokes. But all in all it is a rather sad story. These lovely, talented people didn’t get married and have children at an early age – they got married after they were too old to conceive children safely. (The husband was born in 1960, the wife in 1971, and they married in 2002.)
The story’s narrator is an unreliable narrator; she is a post-manopausal manga creator, but she is in denial about her age and her geekiness and tries to pretend that she is a normal, mainstream Japanese woman rather than a television addict who sings the theme songs of old adventure shows:
In Kantoku Fuyukitodoki, the post-menopausal wife can take legitimate pride in her successful manga career, but she ends up taking more pride in her successful marriage to a famous anime director. There may be a lesson here for post-feminist career women, but I doubt that they will notice.
We don’t have total control over our lives, we don’t have perfect potential, but at some point, we draw a line and accept responsibility for what we have made of our lives. If you’re an alcoholic or a porn-o-holic or an xxx-holic, you probably had enablers, but your addiction is probably self-inflicted.
I don’t want to be all doom-and-gloom. I note that the first episode of Karen Senki has an interesting depiction of a young man with no wife and a strange sex life. If that character is well-written in later episodes, he might turn out to be the kind of deconstruction that Japanese misery needs.