Isuca ain’t your typical fanservice anime. Where most such shows succeed is in their sense of humour, a light-hearted awareness of their own frivolity. Isuca is different. Its opening minutes feature a naked woman transforming into a grotesque creature, and the series that follows continues to unpack the kind of complex representation of female sexuality that suggests.
Deftly existing at the borderline of exploitation and empowerment, the main character of the series – Sakuya, whose “true name” gives the show its title – is a capable warrior, monster hunter and heir to the Shimazu family ‘throne’. But despite her competence and headstrong personality, she’s overshadowed by high school boy Shinichirō, who’s in possession of a rare magical power. That power allows Shinichirō to learn any supernatural being’s true name and thereafter control them.
In a weaker show, Shinichirō’s power would be a lukewarm excuse for fanservice. And it’s sometimes that. But just as often, Isuca interrogates how talented, dedicated women are beholden to mediocre men, forced to serve them by virtue of their immanent privilege. The show might lack for high quality animation or an original premise, but it makes up for it with a considered take on consent, sexism and sexuality.