Those who’ve followed this site for a while will have noticed that all the coverage of contemporary cinema is periodically punctuated by reviews of fanservice anime. In my first such review – of Ikkitousen’s third season – I made a serious attempt to grapple with the politics of a genre operating in the vein of exploitation except without, y’know, anyone to exploit.
Where I landed at the end of that piece is pretty well where I am nowadays: these anime are often crass and sexist – putting the ‘guilty’ in ‘guilty pleasure’ – but they’re too innocuous to worry about. On the surface, a show like Motto To Love-Ru seems to be the perfect example of this. The follow-up season to the (fairly dire) To Love-Ru ramps up the nudity and steps down any semblance of serialised plotting.
Each 20-some minute episode consists of three (largely standalone) chapters the invariably revolve around the female cast getting scantily-dressed (or entirely undressed). These stories are sustained by alien technology and mishaps – whether it’s a watermelon transforming into a tentacle-slinging monster or hero Rito Yūki (Akeno Watanabe) finding himself with X-ray glasses strapped onto his face – and are easy to laugh off as trivial trifles.
But Motto To Love-Ru is a little more insidious than that. It’s certainly not intended to be taken particularly seriously, but there’s a troubling reinforcement of the “Nice Guy” paradigm driving the series’ harem scenario. Where fanservice contemporaries like Maken Ki! and High School DXD pair their unabashed perversion with unabashed perverts for protagonists, Motto saddles Rito with an exaggerated aversion to any kind of sexuality. When he’s got those X-ray glasses plastered on his face, he seems terrified at the prospect of inadvertently seeing his classmates nude; not out of any sense of propriety or respect for his friends, but out of some primal, juvenile fear of sex. Any time he’s faced with a come-on throughout the series his first reaction is sheer terror.
This is pretty consistent with plenty of harem set-ups. Presumably the idea is that their otaku fanbase will better relate to a weak-willed, nervous protagonist than a drooling perve. It’s maybe unfair, then, to single out Motto (and I don’t doubt that plenty of other similar series could be substituted into this piece). But when the series finale sees Rito express his love for (and possibly propose to) a half-dozen or so young women, all of whom seem to be infatuated with him, it uncomfortably emphasises the underlying assumption that decency warrants romance.
Motto’s fantasy never finds time to explain why these attractive women would fall for our hero. He possesses no exceptional qualities, no defining personality traits beyond timidity and lukewarm niceness. What the show seems to be doing is actually positioning Rito’s discomfort around eroticism as a positive, distinguishing him from the show’s only other male ‘character’ (the school principal, a caricature of lustful masculinity who’s forever doffing his clothes and throwing himself at Motto’s ladies).
Again, this seems innocent enough, but this thinking is a seed that grows into toxic tendrils. Young men – awkward, nerdy, intelligent young men – see enough pop culture through this lens and they start to think that they deserve love by default. Simply for not being assertive, or overtly sexual. They’re “nice guys.” If you watch enough of this sort of anime, that should be enough to have one – if not many – of girls falling head over heels for you. Right? You don’t have to look far on the internet to see what happens when that kind of entitlement curdles into resentment, and I think anime like this have some responsibility for that. Granted, plenty of other pop culture offers these kind of messages, but the prevalence of anime avatars in the men harassing women online suggests there’s at least a tentative connection between the prevalence of these stories in anime and the toxicity of the fanbase (pockets therein, anyway).
Motto To Love-Ru is entertaining enough if you don’t think about it too much. And that’s the point – you’re not supposed to think about it. But I wish that shows like this, even when their primary focus might be animated boobs, would spend more time thinking about the politics behind all those panty shots and melon monsters. Now those ‘guilty pleasures’ are even guiltier…
6 thoughts on “Melon Monsters and Nice Guys: The Strained Sexual Politics of Motto To-Love-Ru”
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Yes it is sexist,but not in the way you think.This anime is misandristic not misogynistic.Just because they show female body it does not make it misogynistic.Every time Rito fall on some of the girls boobs he gets punished.This anime literally in one episode show that it’s ok for a woman to cheat on a man.In one episode Mikan hit Rito with a snowball and when he hit her it was shown as bullying.Girls beat the shit out of MC trough every episode even when he don’t deserve at all and it was shown as comedy.Almost every male character is shown a loser.
Yes it is sexist,but not in the way you think.This anime is misandristic not misogynistic.Just because they show female body it does not make it misogynistic.Every time Rito fall on some of the girls boobs he gets punished.This anime literally in one episode show that it’s ok for a woman to cheat on a man.In one episode Mikan hit Rito with a snowball and when he hit her it was shown as bullying.Girls beat the shit out of MC trough every episode even when he don’t deserve at all and it was shown as comedy.Almost every male character is shown as an loser.
Or because To LOVE-Ru is aimed at a different demographic than DxD, i.e. DxD being a LN actually aimed at otaku whereas TLR was published alongside series like Naruto and Bleach. The target demo isn’t as old or familiar with sexuality, so of course they’re going to write the protagonist in a way that’s not as comfortable with his sexuality yet. A shocked, embarrassed reaction is just more relatable for an age group that’s going to be inexperienced with sexuality and more awkward about it than even a poorly adjusted adult would be. Which is, y’know, the ones that tend to talk all big about knowing about sex and are blown away by the sight of a bare tit. The ones shounen mags tend to be squarely catered towards.
I just can’t escape the feeling you made all of this broad claims about what the series does and why it’s doing it without actually looking into basic, easy to find info about it.