Thesis: A character cannot seem sexy to me if that character is not interested in sex.
Ryuuko, the protagonist of Kill La Kill! is a young lady whose father was brutally slain. She came home one day to find his rapidly cooling body as he bled out. This hardship immediately transformed her from a normal girl into a violent woman who will stop at nothing to get bloody revenge.
I have seen 12 episodes of Kill La Kill! so far. At no point has Ryuuko struck me as sexy, mostly because at no point has Ryuuko showed any desire for sex.
Because she will stop at nothing, Ryuuko is a Determinator:
There is no stopping the Determinator. They do not understand tact. … No one can reason with them. They’ll do whatever they have to without question. No price is too great to pay for success, up to and including their own life (and others’). Do not expect them to realize they might be better off letting it go, even if they can barely stand. … Their adversaries will shout, in exasperated rage, “Why Won’t You Die?!”. For them, there is no line between “perseverance” and “insanity.”
Because her destiny handed her more pain than anyone could reasonably be asked to deal with, and she continued to function, I see her as a bit of an Iron Woobie:
Most Woobies are the victim of external circumstance. [The Iron Woobie has] lost the ability to feel sorry for himself, and will continue standing in the path of inevitable misfortune. …
Oftentimes the Iron Woobie is also a Determinator, though this isn’t an essential part of the character. …[The Iron Woobie] stubbornly insists on walking the same misfortune-laden path he was on before, and won’t give up his personal ethical code just because things continue to go poorly for him.
A “woobie” is a name for any type of character who makes you feel extremely sorry for them. Basically, the first thing you think to say when you see the woobie is: “Aw, poor baby!” …
An important aspect of the Woobie is that their suffering must be caused by external sources. A character who suffers as the result of their own actions is a Tragic Hero and does not qualify. …
In many versions there is also something about the Woobie’s suffering that is notably heroic or noble. In this case the character is an Iron Woobie. …
In anime, the Woobie makes up a large part of Moe characters.
Recently Artemis was writing about moe, and I got onto a sidetrack about Kill La Kill!, in which I claimed that the protagonist was moe.
I also disagree about the lead from Kill la Kill being moe – in part because of her physical prowess, but also because of her overt sexualisation. While she may be in the general age range of other moe anime characters, I just don’t see her being on the cusp of anything other than a nipple slip.
That makes sense. Moe characters are supposed to be somewhat too childish to be sexual. While I don’t see Ryuuko as sexy, that just means that the artists and writers failed to accomplish that task with me. Probably most male viewers do see Ryuuko as sexy, and certainly she is supposed to be sexy in a grown-up way.
Ryuuko is not truly moe. I do feel some urge to protect Ryuuko; I do feel an instinctive tendency to take her side in conflicts – but that’s because she is a righteous Good Guy, not because she’s moe.
Ryuuko is a girl-next-door type who hasn’t really gotten interested in sex. She is very unhappy that she has to show a lot of skin just to fight – but she’s a Determinator after revenge, so she “sucks up” her embarrassment.
Satsuki-sama, on the other hand, is a Determinator somewhat like Griffith from Berserk or the King of the Chimera Ants from Hunter X Hunter– that is to say, she’s an ambitious, aristocratic, and determined to wage a war of conquest. Satsuki-sama isn’t very interested in sex, but she would be willing to engage in it if it suited her purposes. An aristocratic permanent-alliance-by-marriage would probably be her preferred form of sex.
Having sex with a woman either like Ryuuko or Satsuki-sama would be awkward at best. They wouldn’t be in love with their sex partners – they probably would be planning violence against enemies rather than enjoying the sex with their lovers. Regardless of how much skin they show, they’re not very sexy because they’re not very interested in sex. (There is some chance that Ryuuko will be able to fall in love after she’s gotten revenge for her father, but I don’t think she will be able to feel even a single iota of sexual tension until she has avenged her father.)
I can imagine these two characters reacting to the same dialog:
Sidekick: Ryuuko-chan, the boys in our class are taking pictures of you in your skimpy costume.
Ryuuko: That’s gross! I only wear this because I have to fight.
Sidekick: Satsuki-sama, the boys in our class are taking pictures of you in your skimpy costume.
Satsuki: Well, it’s natural that they all desire me, because I am the most desirable woman on earth. Sadly, I am destined for higher things. I rule them now with an iron fist; soon, I will rule the entire earth.
Unlike Ryuuko, Chitanda Eru of Hyouka is at least a little bit interested in sex. This is the face she makes when she’s trying to get the attention of the boy she wants to have sex with.
Chitanda never makes that face when looking at her female classmates, or her family members, or her teachers. She gives that look only to the boy she wants.
Chitanda Eru is very moe. And she is a prim and proper young lady who doesn’t immediately have sex with a boy just because she’s head-over-heels in love with him. But it’s obvious, watching her interactions with her beloved, that she can barely restrain herself from knocking him down and ripping his clothes off. Chitanda Eru would be pretty boring if she were just hanging out with random people, but when she’s around the boy she loves, she becomes sexy, because it fits her character.
Because Hyouka has some dark overtones, we are worried that Chitanda won’t find true happiness in life. The story ends before she gets commitment or even sex from the boy she loves. But Chitanda is not a woobie, she’s a young woman in love, and she has considerable hope of winning the heart of her beloved and marrying him.
Just showing skin, or being interested in sex, isn’t enough to make a character sexy. For example, Yaya from Unbreakable Machine Doll shows quite a bit of skin and is very interested in having sex with the male lead. For whatever reason, she doesn’t strike me as sexy at all. However, while her attempts to be sexy fail to stir me, they don’t prevent me from watching the anime.
For that matter, a character can be explicitly shown during sex and still fail to strike the viewer as sexy. If you want to endure some really bad anime, you can watch Rumbling Hearts. The characters are engaged in sexual relationships, mostly because they are idiots. Yes, they were “interested” in sex, but in a very shallow way. They were mostly wrapped up in their own emotions. They weren’t sensual enough to make good erotica, and they weren’t interested in each other enough to make a good romance story.
They would have been better off keeping their clothes on, but no reasonable viewer can get too broken up about their sex-induced angst. The viewer is supposed to be aroused and fascinated because the characters are supposed to be sexy. In my case, I was neither aroused nor fascinated; I was amazed by how idiotic the characters were, and I wanted to slap the producers and demand seven hours of my life back.
The recent show Noukome featured two potentially romantic female characters.
Ouka Yuuouji was a very cheerful, accepting girl. She was willing to accept questionable treatment; she was willing to remain cheerful with classmates who didn’t respect her; she was willing to let the male lead touch her in sexual ways without much complaint. (However, to show that she was a pure-hearted virgin, she reflected that she would have to marry him immediately, since he had both seen her panties and touched her breast.)
She was a wonderfully moe girl; any reasonable viewer would want to protect her from sadness and harm. But despite her womanly body, she was not extremely sexy. She was not in love with the protagonist the way that Chitanda was in love with her chosen boy.
Furano Yukihira showed very little skin, made no intimate caresses, spoke no loving words to the male lead. She was, in fact, sarcastic, cruel, and snarky. However, she was a fan favorite, because her major conflict was that she had been in love with him for a long time but she was too shy to admit it to him. I suspect many of the viewers sympathized with Yukihira’s sense of being an unhappy introvert and coping not-very-successfully with social pressures.
Furano Yukihira was rated as the best female character in a poll of myanimelist viewers.
Yukihira received 242 votes (about 43%), whereas Yuuouji received 122 (about 21%). This probably doesn’t prove anything scientifically, but it seems to suggest that hundreds of other anime viewers share my feelings about what makes a character sexy.
Not surprisingly, Yukihira is the first girl introduced to the audience, and the general rule for harem stories is: First Girl Wins.
Furthermore, Yukihira underscores a familiar theme in anime – the tsundere girl is usually presented as serious enough to be marriage-minded, whereas more easy-going girls are too easy-going to take marital fidelity seriously. I don’t know that Japan is going to ever going to restore patriarchal marriage – which was never a very strong institution in Japan anyway. But it’s clear that the anime-viewing audience likes romanticized portrayals of anti-feminist, pro-patriarchal versions of marriage. Then again, the anime-viewing public also likes visions of telekinetic teenagers destroying Tokyo Tower, so don’t count them for realistic action plans.