Why your anime waifu deserves better

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The short answer. She should be more than a vessel to sell sex.

The long answer? Romance and harem anime targeted at men do their women dirty by reducing them to flat love interests instead of developed, dimensional characters.

These types of stories aim to bring out our most self-indulgent fantasies. Who hasn’t dreamt about being wanted by the hottest girls around or staying up late imagining romantic scenarios? 

The bleakness of modern dating often leaves us wanting more than what apps and hook-up culture can offer, and it’s no one’s business if we get that satisfaction from watching some ridiculous isekai. It’s no different from men enjoying a good Bond girl when dreaming of a life filled with action and excitement.

But does that justify how female characters exist simply for fanservice? When we fantasize about women, do they always have to be just pretty and vapid?

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

“Women do that too!”

It’s not entirely different from anime directed toward women, where shoujo romance also assigns unrealistic expectations to men.

Anime like Fruits Basket (2019) sets the bar for men a bit higher than they can achieve. It’s similar to the larger-than-life nature of men in romantic comedies. Grand gestures ranging from ginormous rose bouquets to airport chases are too expensive and impractical for any man to pull off.

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

So why do we single out male-led romance?

While unrealistic expectations can arise from the portrayal of these ideal men, they are not overtly sexualized or fan serviced. Shoujo romance still portrays men as their characters. It’s natural to fantasize about hot men, but more emphasis appears on the male characters’ ability to communicate and express themselves to the female audience.

Doesn’t it say a lot that in romance anime for women, they want more emotional involvement from men compared to simple eye candy? It’s a far cry from how female love interests are treated, designed primarily for appearance, with their driving motivation to just be desirable for the male lead.

The self-insert and the manic pixie dream girl

Male anime leads are usually plainly designed to look like the average Japanese man, to help the audience project themselves onto the character. It’s the same dark-haired, fair-skinned guy who is probably a copy-paste version of Kirito from Sword Art Online (2012).

 

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

They’re often bland in personality, which makes no sense when their love interests are young, hot, and exciting women who wouldn’t spare them a glance in real life. Sometimes, the spice added to their character to make them less boring makes them perverts— which isn’t any better given how normalized sexual harassment is within anime.

Winter 2022-Anime of the Season title went to romantic comedy My Dress-Up Darling, which follows how a shy doll-maker skilled in sewing gets involved with creating costumes for his popular, outgoing gyaru classmate Marin Kitagawa.

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

The anime is visually stunning with a cute high school romance, but the excessive fanservice centered on Marin has left a lot of people uncomfortable. Marin also finds herself in various states of undress in front of our protagonist, Gojo, from panty shots to close-ups of her cleavage.

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

Compared to Marin, Gojo is reclusive. He hasn’t had any real friends before meeting her. But we can’t entirely hate him because he’s… nice and respectful. He’s attentive when needed, and competent in housework. Nothing is exactly wrong with him and the way he treats Marin.

Bare minimum.

Male-targeted romance anime showcase women throwing themselves at these ordinary protagonists. Are men owed female attention without doing anything exceptional?

Build-a-bitch

The tsundere. The femme fatale. The 800-year-old fox god who looks like a child. Not only are female characters built to showcase different archetypes meant to cater to various male preferences, but they often come with sexual caricatures.

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

Archetypes are great writing tools for building foundations for characters and what they contribute to the story— but it shouldn’t limit girls into neat little boxes.

The lead girl in Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! (2020) is a bright and quirky girl, with breasts larger than her face. She is also regularly mistaken for a middle schooler despite being college-age. And yes, she does look like a child had stuck balls under her shirt.

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

In Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro (2021), our titular character is a sadistic, mischievous younger girl who loves pushing the male lead around. Nagatoro is also tanned or dark-skinned, a trait that tends to be viewed as promiscuous when on girls.

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

An alarming trend with these girls is the concerning interest from the male audience in younger bodies, to the point where it leads to the sexualization of high school girls. While romantic interests older than 30 tend to be rare across all genders, why can anime waifus drop to as young as 12 years old and maybe even younger?

A lot of backlash gets directed towards female characters who don’t fit into archetypes that directly cater to the interests of men. When Studio MAPPA took over to animate Attack on Titan: The Final Season Parts 1 and 2, many complaints were raised about the design changes.

Attack on Titan isn’t even a romance anime, yet many criticisms were directed toward female lead Mikasa Ackerman for cutting her hair shorter and appearing more muscular despite being a trained soldier (earning her the derogatory nickname “Mankasa”).

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

Male-led anime can be good

Thankfully, many more animation studios are picking up romance stories that place both the male and female leads on equal footing. Anime like Horimiya (2021) showcases how good a love story can be when both characters are as charming and complex as the other. The leads are their persons, unique to their story.

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

Archetypal characters are also enjoyable when afforded room to subvert expectations. Kaguya-Sama: Love is War (2019) is a fantastic romance that parodies popular anime tropes to tell a compelling story.

The appeal of these stories, beyond just the romantic leads, can be seen in how well the entire cast ensemble is treated. When writers focus on creating interesting characters who don’t have to rely on fanservice to keep the audience watching, they can produce memorable plotlines that can be even more indulgent than cheap panty scenes.

SPY X FAMILY (2022) is an ongoing romance-action anime currently on Netflix, that follows a spy, agent Twilight, and his attempts to infiltrate an exclusive private school with his fake family. Unknownst to him, his fake wife Yor moonlights as an assassin, and their adoptive daughter Anya is a telepath. It’s the perfect example of a story with a strong roster of characters supporting a romance built on compatibility and chemistry, not over-sexualization.

anime, <b> Why your anime waifu deserves better </b>

Fantasizing about women should go beyond using them as props for male validation, and seeing them as objects to satisfy needs. Our anime waifus deserve better because they’re more than pretty, submissive faces who would fill in for the real thing.

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