I Don't Wanna Grow Up, 'Cause Maybe if I Did... I'd Have to Date 3D Adults Instead of 2D Kids

The translation following this essay dates from December 1983. It appeared in the pages of Manga Burikko — the same magazine in which Nakamori Akio first introduced the term “otaku” to the world. For this third and final installment of the magazine’s notorious “Otaku Research” series, Nakamori is replaced by a psuedonymous writer “Ejisonta,” who maintains his predecessor’s tone of gleeful disdain for the magazine’s core readership.

Manga Burikko was (and is) a soft-core porn manga magazine dedicated to “lolicon” — a sub-genre of anime and manga featuring illustrations of what appear to be pre-pubescent girls in compromising situations. While this may sound royally gross to detractors, of which there are a great many (including, not incidentally, me), it’s important to note that lolicon doesn’t involve actual children. Rather, it’s a fetishization of girlish naivete and innocence, as played out in fictional stories featuring little girls. Photography of or contact with real children is not an accepted part of the “scene.” (In fact, Burikko readers actually demanded that editors remove photographs of teenaged gravure idols from the pages of the magazine. Like Japan turning its back on gunpowder in the 17th century, this has to be the only case in human history of teenage boys clamoring for less skin in a skin mag.)

Lolicon remains a controversial subject even today;  it is one of the targets of Tokyo Mayor Ishihara Shintaro’s much-debated Bill 156, which aims to keep portrayals of “non-existent youth” engaged in “harmful fictional sex” out of mainstream magazines and non-adult bookstores. One of the fascinating things about Ejisona’s essay is how clearly it illustrates that this tension among creators, consumers, and detractors is nothing new.

The most surprising part of the Otaku Research series may be that that Ejisonta and Nakamori’s broadsides ran in the pages of a magazine dedicated to the very same topic they were lambasting. But appearances can be deceiving. Nakamori and Ejisonta seem to revel in the “bad taste” of the genre; they never once question the value or morality of lolicon itself. The line they draw in the sand is between people such as themselves, who indulge while realizing just how fundamentally misanthropic lolicon is, and those who through naivete or a lack of social graces consume it exclusively, unquestioningly, and obsessively to the further detriment of the social lives that led them to lolicon in the first place.

As you might expect, this provocative stance didn’t exactly endear them to the Burikko readership. Outrage from readers culminated in the editor forbidding Nakamori from using “otaku” in the pages of the magazine, essentially killing the column six months after it had began. (Nakamori’s parting salvo is the stuff of legend; stay tuned for a translation soon.)

Ejisonta’s essay links the obsession with lolicon to a point only obliquely referred to in previous installments: the otaku’s defiant refusal to grow up and join the ranks of society. Lionizing the supposed innocence and open-mindedness of youth as a foil to adulthood is hardly limited to the otaku. In fact, it was a globally debated aspect of most subcultures during this period.

In a 1978 interview, punk rocker Richard Hell declared that “the extent to which you maintain the attitude you had as a teenager is the extent to which you remain alive.” To this critic Lester Bangs retorted “adolescence is one of the WORST parts of life… when the fun you have always seems to be tempered by some kind of stupid bullshit.” As you will see, Ejisonta takes Bangs’ side in this debate.

Clearly it’s a stretch to link punks and otaku; punks were all about giving the finger to the mainstream in the most obnoxious way possible, whereas otaku were passive rebels, content simply to shirk their obligations to society. Yet there are intriguing similarities between the two subcultures. Like the punks, the otaku were portrayed as a public menace in their heyday, lumped in with the likes of serial killers and marginalized to the point where “otaku” became a discriminatory epithet. Public broadcaster NHK only lifted its prohibition on using the word on-air quite recently, in 2008.

In another odd similarity, the otaku have been co-opted and re-packaged by the mainstream in the form of the government’s Cool Japan campaign — much like punk rock merged into the Cool Britannia narrative. These social misfits, who dedicated body and soul to dropping out of society, have now become ambassadors of Japanese culture abroad.

But here’s where the punk-otaku analogy breaks down. Whatever punk’s merits or demerits, gender segregation and lolita complexes weren’t really part of the package. Much as Japanese government PR wonks would probably wish otherwise, from the very beginning a major subset of the otaku have always preferred two-dimensional characters over actual human relationships.

Technology has only amplified the escapism that outraged Ejisonta and Nakamori. Modern otaku culture is increasingly less about nostalgically clinging to the anime, manga, or toys of one’s youth, and more about a single-minded obsession for simulations of little girls in tender fetishwear. Lolicon never went away; it blossomed into the trend now known as “moé.” Little did Ejisonta and Nakamori realize that their allusions to this superdeformed sexuality were merely a preview of things to come: an (economically) apocalyptic future in which the lolicon otaku represent the last saviors of a crumbling consumer kingdom.

“Otona Club” (“Adult Club”) Corner

Otaku Research : Conclusions

by Ejisonta

(Originally Published in Manga Burikko, December 1983)

“I don’t want to grow up.”

That was the particular catch-copy for a certain famed manga club, but the phrase perfectly captures the essence of the manga maniac. Manga maniacs and anime fans both (come to think of it, “maniac” feels too heavy while “fan” feels too vanilla) are infatuated with “lolicon,” refusing to mature, interested only in maintaining psychological stasis. All of us feel this to a certain degree — you, me, the presidents of major corporations, everybody. But the urge is far stronger amongst the otaku. Point out this desire for stasis to one of them, and they inevitably over-react as though you’ve picked a decade-old scar, occasionally launching into impassioned ideological tirades as to why refusing to grow up is so important.

This is why they remain in the manga/anime cultural sphere, maintaining a mid-teen level mindset and sensibility, reacting to adults who happen to penetrate from time to time with a “please leave us alone.” I’m sure they feel that their child-like mindset gives them a purer view of the world, but that is total fantasy. The way they see the world couldn’t be further from that of childhood or even puberty. Sure, the elderly always wax nostalgic for the glory of their teen years, but that’s only a desire for renewed vitality.

In reality puberty is a very difficult time. Old enough to be sexually aware, but too green to actually pull off the foreplay needed to be sexually successful. Normally one twists and turns and grows and gradually approaches “real” adulthood, but the otaku are different. Mentally, they completely refuse to vector themselves towards maturity. What remains is immature self-assertiveness, immature thinking — effectively speaking, immature everything.

Come on, your teen years aren’t really worth clinging to! Sure, we’ve all experienced the phenomenon of stumbling on some deep idea the creators embedded in their manga or anime. That sort of thing can be enlightening. But the more tenaciously you cling to that period in your life the less you’ll actually grow up. And all of us have to grow up sometime.

Let’s look at a real-world problem: you! Reading this lolicon-mag with a huge-ass grin on your face. Take a look in the mirror. You know you’re gross. Jerking off to stuff like this is nothing to be proud of.

This is why sad little children can’t resist clumping together with other “different kids” and transform themselves into otaku cliques. But as a famous lolicon manga artist once said: “Even otaku boys have a chance to meet girls, so don’t lock yourselves up in the dark. Go out and make friends!” Damn straight.

No man can live his life in a bubble. Everyone has to grow up sometime. It’s how you carry yourself that gets you through the trials of society. You can hang on to that childish sense of wonder throughout that, if you want. Maybe that’s even purer and clearer than a vague and uncompromising otaku worldview.

That’s the grown-up way of looking at things. This is “Otona Club,” after all.

Matthew ALT
June 23, 2011

Matt Alt lives in Tokyo and is the co-author of Hello, Please! Very Helpful Super Kawaii Characters from Japan and Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide, among others. His blog can be found at http://altjapan.typepad.com.

29 Responses

  1. Matt Dunn Says:

    Oh no he di-int!

    Really interesting read.

    Matt D.

  2. Shii Says:

    Even today’s Internet people could serve to gain from this message.

  3. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    Otona Club: we meet at the bar.

  4. Carl Says:

    Without wishing to stretch things too out of shape, it might be noted that early punk was also associated with (selling) a sexual subculture, through Malcolm McLaren’s boutique SEX; the Sex Pistols were literally named for the shop. Still, as Johnny Rotten, aka Ejisonta said: “You won’t find me living for the screen/Are you lonely, all your needs catered?…You got a problem?/The problem is YOU!”

  5. MattAlt Says:

    Indeed. But selling a sexual subculture is one thing; the whole point of Ejisonta’s article is that otaku were pretty much all about REFUSING sex. Nakamori makes a big point in his first pieces on the subject about how they even avoid (photographic) pornography. Monastic onanism?

  6. Carl Says:

    Well, more specifically, not refusing sex (that makes it sound like women were throwing themselves at these otaku) but refusing the pursuit of social interaction (“a chance to meet girls”) that may or may not lead to getting to have sex with a human being–i.e., the normal dating process.

    But if a person is not interested in human beings sexually even in photographs, where no emotions are risked, it’s not surprising that a suggestion they should actually go out and try and get a date with one would fall on deaf ears. Presuming “Ejisonta” is who I think he is, he would have been 25 when he wrote this. Do you think he was still possessed of some youthful idealism, or was he just trolling?

  7. MattAlt Says:

    Yes, forgive my wording. I didn’t mean to imply otaku were “mote-mote,” as they say in Japanese. It’s a defensive kind of refusal: no girl will ever love me so I’ll never make an attempt to interact with a girl!

    There’s definitely a trollish aspect to Ejisonta and Nakamori’s writing, but it’s also hard to understate just how deeply lolicon had entrenched itself at the time. Some of the stuff appearing in regular weekly million-run magazines was really off the wall by almost any standard (such as Aki Uchiyama’s stuff.) The fact the two of them are writing this in the pages of a lolicon mag instead of Aera or some mainstream news magazine gives it a “tough love” rather than “trollish” sort of feel, I think.

    Who do you think Ejisonta is? I’m curious.

  8. M-Bone Says:

    Love these translations (great for students) – very much looking forward to more. Somebody needs to do an “Otaku Reader” – so little writing on anime, manga, and fandom has been translated.

  9. Joseph Luster Says:

    Definitely reads like “tough love” advice, as Matt put it. Really interesting.

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  11. Carl Says:

    I think it’s Eiji Otsuka, based on the tone and his association with the magazine (naturally, I could be completely wrong ^_^)

    Yeah, I think it’s somewhat forgotten today (even among otaku) how this material was present in mainstream manga–Fred Schodt noted the phenomenon back in 1983′s Manga! Manga! It certainly wasn’t a case of only a few thousand otaku supporting a genre. So whereas in 2011 a lot of people would be dubious at the idea you could like this sort of thing at all and still have a normal life, it seems Ejisonta’s perspective here is: but look at the people reading Uchiyama in Shonen Champion…right alongside Black Jack and Dokaben! In other words, he felt he had some evidence to back his viewpoint up.

  12. MattAlt Says:

    “Fred Schodt noted the phenomenon back in 1983′s Manga! Manga! ”

    On that note, here’s a side-story on that very topic:

    http://altjapan.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/06/lolicomplicated.html

    Before I translated Ejisonta’s essay, I honestly had no idea how entrenched lolicon was back then, and it was hard to wrap my brain around his agitation until I stumbled across this example. Uchiyama’s “Andro Trio” (which the two of them must have been familiar with) is pretty much straight-up lolicon fetish porn serialized the pages of a totally mainstream youth magazine that sold multi-millions of copies a month. Moé boom or not, it’s hard to imagine a manga about peeing schoolgirls making it into a mainstream magazine today. (Or maybe I’m just leading a sheltered life?)

    Whatever the case, it makes Ejisonta and Nakamori’s “bitch-slap” of their fellow otaku a lot easier to understand. I think it’s telling that they never come down on lolicon itself; they seem to want it back in the closet. It would be interesting to track them down and see what they think about things today. (Hmm….)

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  14. syrup Says:

    “Like Japan turning its back on gunpowder in the 17th century”

    Guns were used heavily in Japanese warfare from the mid-16th century onward.

  15. MattAlt Says:

    Syrup,

    Firearms played a major role during the late Sengoku era (mid-1500s) and briefly into the Tokugawa era; you can see this in Tokyo place names such as “Hyakunincho” in Shin-Okubo, which refers to a famous corps of riflemen stationed there. But the consensus of foreign and domestic historians seems to be that restrictions the Tokugawa Shogunate put on guns effectively meant the nation turned their back on firearms until the Meiji era. (This isn’t to say there wasn’t a single gun anywhere in Japan or that they were never used. We’re talking broad trends here.)

    That said I’m always interested in hearing examples or arguments to the contrary, so let ‘em rip. Out of curiosity have you read Perrin’s “Giving up the Gun”?

    http://www.amazon.com/Giving-Up-Gun-Reversion-1543-1879/dp/0879237732

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  17. M-Bone Says:

    “Or maybe I’m just leading a sheltered life?”

    The closest currently running title that I can think of is ゴクジョッ in Super Jump. The characters are in high school and are actually drawn in the “adult” kyabajo mode (ie. there are identical looking characters being described as “20-something” in currently running manga) but while it isn’t “loli”, it sure is nasty.

  18. MattAlt Says:

    Stylistically that sounds a lot like Go Nagai’s “Harenchi Gakuen” and “Cutie Honey,” which featured “kids” that looked twentysomething. That’s the big difference between the Seventies and Eighties, I think; Seventies stuff tended to make the kids look like little adults, while in the Eighties that trended progressively younger…

  19. M-Bone Says:

    “make the kids look like little adults, while in the Eighties that trended progressively younger…”

    I wonder if Takahashi Rumiko’s Urusei Yatsura and Toriyama’s Dr. Slump popularized a new visual style that was later pornified.

    “Out of curiosity have you read Perrin’s “Giving up the Gun”?”

    That one was devastatingly reviewed by Conrad Totman, probably the most prominent scholar of Edo in English, in the Journal of Asian Studies back in the day.

    Why? Perrin was a professor of English and read no Japanese (doesn’t sink it on its own, but does explain the narrow source focus). His reason for writing was to suggest that we can turn back technological progress in armaments (ie. give up nukes).

    His argument is a culturalist one – that samurai had a mystical affinity for the sword. He plays this up at the expense of what Totman identifies as a more important reason -taking away the emphasis on guns helped to prop up the brutally repressive class system.

    Did Japan give up the spear or mounted combat? Given the terms that are most often used to suggest that Japan gave up the gun, one could easily make the same argument for other weapons. All lords maintained guns and had units trained to use them. It was limited – just like the spear and the horse – by central decree. Following this line of logic, one could even argue that Japan gave up the castle – the Tokugawa regulated castle building while beefing up theirs.

    During the Edo period, there was a general decline in real military preparedness (hence the development of proto-dou forms of martial arts) not limited to firearms but with guns maintained in the thousands and some samurai ordered to practice with them, why, I wonder, does Japan’s giving up the gun always get singled out as unique?

    In Japan, it fits well with postwar peace norms of national identity and in outside, it fits with a popular image of Japan as defined by the blade.

    In any case, whenever serious fighting took place during the period (Shimabara, the rebellion of Oshio Heihachiro), guns were used.

    Perrin’s book was published in Japanese, complete with Nihonjinron touting translator’s preface and there was a significant scholarly response:

    鈴木 真哉, 鉄砲と日本人―「鉄砲神話」が隠してきたこと

    The book makes a number of striking revelations – private samurai practice with firearms, clandestine manufacturing, peasants owning guns for hunting, etc.

  20. MattAlt Says:

    “I wonder if Takahashi Rumiko’s Urusei Yatsura and Toriyama’s Dr. Slump popularized a new visual style that was later pornified.”

    There’s no question those two’s styles were really widely influential, but I don’t think they represent the roots of lolicon. If one wanted to (probably over) simplify it, I think you could call lolicon a sexualization of the shojo (girls manga) genre. Patrick Galbraith has done a lot of work investigating the field, if you’re interested in reading more.

    “That one was devastatingly reviewed”

    Thanks very much for the details! Much appreciated. I will check out Totman’s review and Suzuki’s book.

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  22. Carl Says:

    I’m not sure if it developed out of shojo, or, if it did, whether that wasn’t one of several tracks. You’ve probably seen it, but there’s a late 70s or early 80s Animage article that examines it in terms of Miyazaki/Takahata characters (among others) dating back to the 1960s. I gather it was somewhat facetious, but then I gather the whole phenomenon at the time was viewed somewhat facetiously–you can find examples of it used as a joke even in workaday mahjong manga of the period–the kind of stuff that’d run in Action. It seems Ejisonta was tweaking those who took the aesthetic seriously enough to devote a whole magazine to it.

  23. MattAlt Says:

    On the topic of how silly most people thought this was back in the day, have you ever seen this? It’s a scan from a 1982 issue of Animage that lets readers diagnose their “Lolicon Level” by picking which female anime characters they find most stimulating. Identifying with the (relatively) mature ladies in the top row is “relatively normal,” but those in the bottom marks one as ビョーキ (byoki/sick, a forerunner of the word “otaku.”) This is obviously intended as a joke… Mostly?

    http://ogiuemaniax.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/the-lolicon-of-1982/

  24. Carl Says:

    Yes, that’s the one. I’m not sure if the division presented in this chart is so much age as…character development? Heroine-ness? My sense as an anime fan is that the chart is saying, “we here at Animage can understand why you’d be smitten with a Clarisse or a Lana, but Shizuka…?” It seems to be questioning a reader’s taste, rather than their morals (it’s also worth pointing out that, judging by the letters column, many–a plurality?–of readers of Animage in 1982 were themselves teenagers).

    While there is facetiousness here, it seems unlikely to me that these things start with the fans–they start with the artists themselves, and have since long before the Akiba era. A year after this chart was printed, Miyazaki would tell Animage “…I eventually resolved my feelings for Lana. In the beginning, I created her thinking that she was mine, but as we went along I came to see she belonged to Conan. My interest in her started to fade. The whole thing’s a world of pretend anyway.”

  25. M-Bone Says:

    I haven’t seen anything but stills, but I think that we can agree that the “Cream Lemon” OVA thing was the entrenchment of Lolicon just as Dallos let everyone know that scifi anime wasn’t for children.

    When you consider the “Cream Lemon” designs, as well as Uchiyama’s (also haven’t seen anything apart from a Google images search) I don’t see much of 70s Shojo there – take designs from the well known series like Ace wo Nerae or the proto BL Banana Bread Pudding or any of the famous ones and you see long legs and adult hairstyles. Even if you look at something more obviously youth oriented like Candy Candy – I don’t see much of a hint of bodies there at all. The bodies of the characters are essentially clothes racks – a point that several academics have made about Shojo girls and this holds through most of the 1980s.

    UY puts “girlish” bodies on display in a tongue in cheek way. Dr. Slump mainstreamed deformed CB characters. I think that combination, and the massive popularity of the two series both in the mainstream and with fans, influenced the Loli art sytle.

    The mainstream series (that also developed a creepy adult fan following) from that time that most closely mirrors Loli design logic is Minky Mono – which I think clearly shows both the UY and Dr. Slump influences. Of course, none of this really has anything to do with why grown men like cartoon little girls, but simply why those girls ended up looking the way they did in the 1980s.

    I haven’t seen Galbraith historicize Loli (and he tends to write in oblique defense of 2D complexes on the level of alternative experience and intimacy, no?): can you point me to any particular piece?

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  28. MattAlt Says:

    Being a robots-and-space-pirates sort of anime guy I am not really qualified to trace the aesthetic lineage of the cute-girl shows, which are a universe unto themselves. I meant shojo manga as a sort of spiritual/conceptual ancestor rather than a design influence per se: the “training ground,” as it were, for boys and men to consume products created for girls and women. The tropes they most reacted to were then co-opted to make lolicon, which you could call a sort of “shojo for boys.” (As an aside, I think moé waters down this cocktail a step further by reacting to lolicon’s reaction rather than the original works.)

    I agree with what you’re saying about the knot — dare I say Mobeius strip — of interconnected influences of the day. Incidentally, Nakamori singles out Minky Momo fans for special attention in the essay that precedes Ejisonta’s:

    http://neojaponisme.com/2008/04/07/can-otaku-love-like-normal-people/

    Galbraith wrote a paper that discusses both lolicon as a whole and Manga Burikko in particular. It’s available in PDF form online if you do a search for his name plus “Manga Burikko.”

  29. M-Bone Says:

    Across this whole discussion: in the Burikko piece, in Otsuka’s writing on Shojo, in Galbraith’s interesting article (although he does the “alternative imagination” thing there as well…), in much of Otakuology, there is a lack of effort to distinguish between titles that, say, fetishize 17 year old high school girls (for an audience which includes no small number of 14 year old boys) and the clearly 10 and under stuff which I think everyone here could agree is marketed to adults and is damn disturbing (although I’d still say that someone is creepy if they are buying kits of high school characters).

    I generally like Space Pirates over Giant Robots and like manga with an overtly political focus or a serious anthropological interest in setting the most (Tezuka’s seinen work, Shirato Sanpei, Otomo, Miyazaki’s Shuna / Nausicaa, Otsuka Eiji’s work) and see moe as a betrayal of potential (particularly in anime). The lineage of moe, however, is not at all clear – is much current product really consistent with early 80s loli, or should we blame “Touch” (which seems strongly Shojo influenced as the plotting is very similar)? It seems to me that most moe product tends to trend to high school age and when something that is clearly younger (Kodomo no Jikan) appears it tends to divide even the Japanese niche community. Is this “progress”?