Back in October, I wrote about the controversy surrounding the Uzaki-chan blood donation poster. I noted at the time that this wasn’t the first time it had happened. A lot of my Japanese friends and sources told me they were sure it wouldn’t be the last, either.
Unfortunately, they were right. Also unfortunately, this latest poster controversy from Japan centers on the popular school idol anime Love Live! – a work that’s traditionally well known for its sensitive portrayals of underage girls in media.
Content Warning: Discussion of sexualization of minors in media. Links to outside sources may contain sensitive content.
The Love Live! Poster That Started the Controversy
Love Live! is part of the popular school idol genre of anime. The series debuted in 2013 and has been madly popular ever since. As a result, its characters make regular appearances in various promotional ad campaigns. For example, Its Love in Action campaign with the Japan Red Cross is one of the agency’s most effective promotions.
However, things didn’t go so smoothly for the brand’s latest tie-up.
The controversy began when the Love Live! official Twitter account posted a copy of the poster it created for a promotional campaign with JA Nansun, an agricultural cooperative in the city of Numatsu in Fukuoka Prefecture. The campaign promotes the regions Nishiura Satsuma (mandarin oranges; 西浦ミカン) with the fictional character Takami Chika, from Love Live! Sunshine!!, acting as the Nishiura Satsuma ambassador. Inami Anju, who voices Takami in the anime, made an appearance at the unveiling ceremony as her Takami’s 3D stand-in.
It didn’t take long for posters to notice something…off. In the poster, Chika’s wearing a loose, pleated skirt. Yet somehow, the line of her groin is visible through it. This is, of course, physically impossible, and a clear sign that the artist included it in an overt attempt to sexualize Chika.
There’s a more serious issue, however, beyond the issue of sexualization of women in public. The character of Takami Chika isn’t a “woman,” but an underage, 16-year-old girl.
Japanese netizens immediately called out the Love Live! poster for this. Several lamented that this type of representation seems to be common in the country:
Not again. Uzaki-chan, the Ama posters…too many of these in Japan to count. Why was it necessary to make her skirt tight and her groin and thighs stand out?
Japanese actress and model Miho Fuji drove the point home with a short video. She contrasted the skirt as the artist drew it with an alternate version in which she lengthened the skirt a little and erased the groin line. (Fuji was the subject of fierce vitriol for this post, including a string of nasty comments mocking her appearance.)
Others used humor to drive home the ridiculousness of it all. Sex education YouTuber Oonuki Shiori snarked: “Is her skirt being sucked up from behind by a vacuum cleaner?”
Magical Anime Vacuum Skirt and the Sexualization of Minors
Not surprisingly, the same Japanese anime fans who defended the Uzaki-chan poster are also defending the Love Live! poster. A common tactic has been to call those who pointed out the image perverts for paying attention to Chika’s groin area in the first place (a classic diversion tactic that misses the point). At least one guy attempted to mansplain to women how skirts work, contending that “static electricity” could cause the Chika Groin Effect.
A few artists have even created detailing guides arguing that the groin line is, in fact, realistic. Another user, however, rebutted those arguments with a photo collage.
The fact is that many women in Japan are concerned with how they’re represented in the media. As we’ve discussed before, over 40% of women surveyed are disturbed by the media’s depictions of women.
However, the issue becomes even more concerning when it involves the depiction of characters who are minors. One commenter, manga artist Watanabe Peko, argued that the persistent sexualization of minors in open spaces has a negative effect on Japanese children from a young age – and is something that adults have a responsibility to address.
Unfortunately, the Love Live! poster is nowhere close to the first or only instance of this phenomenon. Twitter user sara_sheena shared another instance of physics-defying sexualization – a phenomenon I’ve come to call “Magical Anime Vacuum Skirt,” in which a loose fitting item of clothing suddenly, magically, clings to a girl’s body. In her post, sara_sheena wondered: ” Is there some regulation at this school that dictates walking with your skirt tucked into your butt?”
In an even more egregious example from last year, the famous manga magazine Shonen Jump published a drawing of a young girl topless, but without nipples. The issue contained a “trick” where, if you held the page up to light, the drawing from the next page showed through, and the topless picture was complete. (Note: Sensitive content below.)
Signs of Progress
On the negative side, these issues keep recurring – and activists in Japan keep calling them out on a monthly basis. On the positive side, however, there are distinct signs of progress.
The Japan Red Cross, for example, recently released its second Uzaki-chan campaign. And, while it’s still partnering with the ecchi anime star, its second campaign contained none of the objectionable content in the first. The organization, through a spokesperson, confirmed that the Japan Red Cross changed its campaign guidelines in response to the incident.
And a lot of change is happening locally as well. More and more local prefectural, ward and city governments are creating media guidelines to ensure equal treatment of men and women in ad campaigns. A notable example is Saitama Prefecture, which wrote a series of guidelines for Prefectural personnel on how to ensure equal representation of men and women in ads, and avoid sexual objectification.
Progress may be slow, but it’s happening. I’ve no doubt the pace of progress will increase in the ensuing years, as activists and women in Japan continue to use social media and other tools to voice their displeasure over female objectification and the sexualization of minors.