The Problem with Shock Value — an #Anitwitwatches post

I should probably be writing something else. Something that responds to a tag post or something about Haruhi, both of which I have some ideas for.

But I’m not writing about them today.

Instead, I want to start by talking about the stories I used to write.

When I was a teenager, I wanted people to pay attention to me. I dearly wanted people to think I was special, smart and clever. Like most people who are only some of those things, I chose to shock people instead. I would do things like howl at the moon, or write stories that involved gruesome and morbid deaths.

I think I made up reasons for doing those things, but they were all lies. What I wanted was to be noticed, and if I did these things I was noticed. Much like Angela Hayes in American Beauty, I was so afraid of being normal that I was willing to do anything to prove that I wasn’t.

All of this is a lead in to talk about The Perfect Insider.

We recently finished up the show as part of #Anitwitwatches, which is a group organized by Jon Spencer where we watch shows every week and talk about them on Twitter. It’s a fun group.

The Perfect Insider is a strange beast for anime. It is a locked room parlor mystery. As a genre, this is more usual for British or American television aimed at 40-somethings. There are shows like Murder She Wrote, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. The idea is that the action normally happens through dialogue.

Almost all of the action happens in the parlor, and I heard it called a parlor mystery at one point, so that’s what I call them.

As a parlor mystery, it’s good. The dialogue is interesting. I know other people solved it before the end, but I didn’t. I wasn’t trying though. There are a few things that are artifacts of its time, like the sensory deprivation VR tanks.

But it wasn’t until the end that I realized I have been watching it all wrong and then only after talking with other people in the viewing.

Beware. From this point on there will be spoilers, and I’m going to be talking about child molestation and child rape. Consider yourself warned.

The problem with child rape

To understand what my problem with Shiki Magata, I need to explain something about child rape. I’ve read dozens of police reports involving child molestation or rape, and I would categorize them broadly into two groups.

The first are people who know what they are doing is wrong, but are doing it anyway. They may lie to cops about it at first, but eventually, they’ll admit to it. They’ll say they’re very sorry. What is important here is that they admit to being the aggressor.

Then there is the other group. These are people who have built up some sort of fantasy about how the child came on to them. Invariably, they wanted to resist, but they were too weak and they gave in. They are never the aggressor. They’re the unwilling victim.

(A third group of 27- to 33-year-old men who date 13- or 14-year-olds exists, but they don’t matter in this discussion because they don’t explain themselves to the cops.)

So early on in the show, we’re introduced to a sexual relationship between Magata and her uncle that started when she is 14. She is the aggressor in this relationship. She pursues him until he gives in.

This relationship colored my entire outlook on this show. It seemed obvious to me that the creators were trying to paint her as someone who is outside of morality, but it’s hard to just cast aside my knowledge that this is literally a child molester’s fantasy.

I have a hard time fathoming why the creators made this choice. I was left with two real options as I watched the show.

The first was that the creators were trying to make some sort of social commentary about how dangerous child rape is, and its long-lasting implications. How her mind was broken because of it.

OK. Who am I kidding? This is anime.

The other option was that the creators were trying to portray Magata as a deviant. This is a common trope for anime. If you want an aggressive or violent girl, they are often also sexually aggressive. One of the more recent examples of this came out of Babylon. The main antagonist in that show uses her sex appeal to kill people (when she’s not using an ax.)

But we see this in other examples where the overly sexual female character is also overly violent.

You can watch this show with this view of Magata, and I still hold that it’s a viable show. But one thing doesn’t make sense.

Mirroring relationships

Throughout the show, they mirror Saikawa’s relationship with Nishinosono and Magata’s relationship with her uncle. It proved a thorn in my proverbial side. I couldn’t figure it out.

Was the show trying to say that Saikawa’s and Nishinosono’s relationship was actually good? Were they saying that they shared a similar problem in power dynamics?

The problem is that there is a third way to see the relationship between Magata and her uncle — as an actual wholesome, if strange, relationship between two people who understand each other.

This is how the show intends for you to see their relationship.

If you view the relationship that way, you can see the parallel’s between the power dynamics and Saikawa’s acceptance of Nishinosono. It casts the entire show in a different light.

But it doesn’t stop it from being effed up.

We are supposed to view a relationship between a 30- or 40-year-old man and his 14-year-old niece as consensual. We’re supposed to view her murder of her parents as the ultimate expression of her love. We’re supposed to accept that her eventual murder of her uncle and her daughter as the same.

The problem is that the creators seem to want to have their cake and eat it too.

The problem with shock

The Perfect Insider trades in shock. The way the scenes between Magata and her uncle are shot is meant to be disconcerting. I simply can’t see those scenes any other way.

But it’s obvious that the show doesn’t want me to see them that way. They want me to see 14-year-old Magata and her uncle as equals that Magata is making a choice and that her decision to stab her parents is simply an act of love. It has nothing to do with the illicit relationship.

Or maybe it does, I can’t tell.

This is the problem with using shock and deviant behavior to delineate your characters. It can muddy the waters of what you’re trying to do. It brings in all of your own preconceptions and biases. This was the thing I didn’t understand when I was 17. Shock is something that should be used carefully and with reason, and understanding that some people aren’t going to see past the thing you put in their face.

The shock here simply confused me. Even now, I don’t get how I’m supposed to view the relationship between Magata and her uncle. Is she a sexually aggressive Jezebel that leads her uncle astray? Is she meant to be some sort of nihilistic prophet that is especially enlightened?

From others’ reactions, it seems that I’m supposed to see her in the later but the problem is that I end up seeing her in the former.

As always, thanks for reading.

8 thoughts on “The Problem with Shock Value — an #Anitwitwatches post

  1. Well you already know my views of course. I don’t agree with the analysis of the show, but I do with the sentiment of your writing. In either case, I did enjoy reading 🙂

  2. On a lot of morality levels, I a definitely with you. This situation is wrong and I never considered it any other way in my mind.

  3. I’ve never heard of this show, nor do I now wish to. (As for the subject of child sexual abuse, well, we two already had that discussion in a post that you deleted. It remains inexcusable and unforgivable.)

  4. This is a culture where middle aged men hire teenage girl to be their “dates” and child porn is widely considered acceptable. Where anime lolis are dressed up like fetish hookers and treated as objects of sexual desire.

    I recently blogged about “How Not to Summon a Demon Lord.” While I could mentally adjust the ages of the major characters, a couple of the girls were drawn to obviously be prepubescent and still ended up in bed with the MC. It irritated me and detracted from the rest of the show.

    It made me wonder again what there was in Japanese culture that normalizes such things.

    In this particular show, though, I do think it was to make Magata appear atypical in the extreme. I didn’t see the relationship held up as something to aspire to. I felt it was all part of her psychopathology. It didn’t turn her into a psychopath or schizophrenic or whatever, it happened because she was *already* one. Heck, she might be lost somewhere in a strange corner of the autism spectrum. Uncle definitely had a few screws loose too. Perhaps also somewhere in a strange corner.

    The thing is that the affair by itself would be shocking in America but in Japan, not so much. It is the double murder that makes it shocking. She’s quite the yandere.

    When Nabokov published “Lolita” there were a lot of people who were shocked by it. The grooming and repeated rape of a pubescent girl. Even today, an American studio could not film a screenplay that was close to what Nabokov wrote without being accused of child porn. In Japanese culture, it would be VERY easy to do it as an anime.

    1. I don’t see Saikawa’s relationship with Nishinosono as being mirrored. I see it as being contrasted. The guy was enamored with the genius of Magata and unphased by her brutal murders of those who were closest to her. He all but ignores his student who obviously has a college girl’s crush on her professor.

  5. Wow. I mean, wow. That was a very detailed analysis of the show’s themes. How anyone could come up with this concept for this kind of show is beyond me. I pray I never have to come across a show as morally whack as this one.

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