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3rd November 2010

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Why Is Incest A Popular Theme In Anime & Manga?

Koi Kaze, a series that focused on brother-sister love.

"I LOVE YOU, ONII-CHAN! (Japanese for ‘big brother’)"

If there’s one taboo that really grinds people’s gears, it’s incest. Yes, the forbidden love between family members is something that we always try to avoid at all costs. However, some Japanese anime & manga creators have incorporated themes of incest into their stories. Incest is also one of the most (if not the most) popular fetishes when it comes to hentai (anime/manga porn). The important question to ask is this: what motivates anime/manga creators to bring up this very touchy subject to fans? It could be because of emotional needs and how Japan views gender and sexuality.

First, let’s take a look at the history of incest in anime and manga. One of the first anime series to heavily focus on it was Cream Lemon, back in the 1980s’. It was a very surreal series that focused on a brother, Hiroshi, and a sister, Ami, and their paths towards a incestuous relationship. Since then, incest has been a theme in mainstream series such as Revolutionary Girl Utena, Marmalade Boy, Koi Kaze, Angel Sanctuary, Vampire Knight, KissxSis, Fruits Basket, Aki Sora, and more recently, Oreimo (Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, “My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute”). These series have become very popular and have led to fan-related media (fanfiction, fanart, etc.) that revolves around the incestuous themes each series portrays.

Fruits Basket

So, why are Japanese creators fascinated by the taboo?

Maybe certain creators have “sibling/parent complexes”. They might have had a thing for their siblings/parents when they were younger. Did they have many close friends growing up? Who knows. By projecting their feelings onto anime/manga, perhaps it’s a better way for them to project their thoughts without suffering serious repercussions. It is noted here that Japanese mothers had an unhealthy, psychological obsession with their sons back in the 1980s’ and 1990s’. Another thing to note is the low birth-rate of Japan. You have to wonder if certain creators have any siblings at all. They may wonder what it was like to have a sibling, so they decide to create the “perfect sibling” in their stories to satisfy their own psychological needs.

One thing to note is that some of the titles I listed above are shojo (girls’ anime/manga) titles. Incest can be a theme because it is also an emotional relationship, not just physical. Shojo series technically focuses on relationships between people. They focus on finding “love” with a variety of people. Of course, the idea of “love” can be subjective. Adding incest to shojo stories generates an even greater emotional response. In essence, it causes controversy and gets eyeballs drawn to the stories. Creators might be doing this because they want attention or they just want to remind themselves of love they once had.

Angel Sanctuary brother and sister, Setsuna and Sara.

Anime & manga are very expressive art forms. The keyword is ART, since works of art can be depictions of people & situations that may not be real. Are there any guidelines to Japanese art? Japanese animators/publishers don’t seem to mind incest as long as it doesn’t turn into complete smut. For a country that seems to be very traditional, Japan is very open-minded when it comes to sexuality. Japan is pretty comfortable with it because they do not necessarily believe in religious morals & ideals. It is accepted, by the Japanese, that Japan was “procreated” by the union of heaven & earth. The union birthed two gods, Izanagi & Izanami, who wed each other & mated to create the country of Japan & human life there. So, basically, Japan exists because of incest. Sex in Japan is viewed as a celebration of the beginning of life. It is supposed to be happy and loving. There is also a Japanese legend that states that star-crossed lovers are sometimes reborn as siblings.

The Kousaka siblings of Oreimo.

Speaking of siblings, Japan is a country that uses honorifics when addressing older siblings, such as onii-chan (big brother), onee-chan (big sister), & aniki (big brother). Older siblings tend to take on the role of caretaker & seem to take greater responsibility when it comes to teaching younger siblings. Most of the time, younger siblings find it easier to talk to them for advice, since they often tend to explain things easier than peers do. Another thing is that older siblings have this inner desire to guide their little siblings properly, because the younger ones greatly admire & look up to them. These factors can create a very intimate relationship. Creators probably want to address the possibility of what happens when developmental psychology goes wrong. How intimate should siblings be when they’re around each other? A good example would be the relationship between Kyosuke Kosaka & Kirino Kosaka in Oreimo. Kirino comes to trust her older brother, Kyosuke, since he is willing to give her advice and not make fun of her hobbies. One of these hobbies just happens to be playing erotic video games focused on “older brother/little sister” relationships. Kirino even gets a very reluctant Kyosuke to play those games too, which could lead to future complications between the two.

The main characters of Aki Sora.

Regarding gender roles in Japan, women are supposed to be housewives, caretakers, and soft-spoken while men are the go-getters, high income-earners, & aggressive. Combine that with Japan’s views on sexuality and you have a recipe for psychological conflict within the self and the family. Creators may feel a need to use incest to address the pressures of society on families. A good example would be the character, Nami Aoi, from Aki Sora. She rapes her twin brother, Sora Aoi, after watching him be involved in a relationship with a girl she likes named Kana. Nami believes that since she is female and doesn’t have a penis, her love for Kana could never be fulfilled. She might not be able to provide Kana with all the things she needs and is thus filled with rage (with Sora being an unfortunate victim of it). Society’s guidelines on a proper sexual relationship have created a huge scar into Nami’s psyche.

Shin Natsume and Aya Natsume from Tenjho Tenge

Another interesting thing to point out is that incest is noted to be an act of narcissism. Your relationship with a relative is a means to please yourself. Your partner is treated as an object, so to speak. You lack any empathy whatsoever towards them. You want to control & dominate that person. Perhaps some creators want to point out the control aspect of incest. One notable example I can recall was the relationship between Shin Natsume & Maya Natsume in Tenjho Tenge. It was hinted that the relationship between the two was more like lovers than siblings. Shin was borderline insane and he only calmed down when he saw Maya. He was locked in prison because of his insanity and Maya came down to visit him often. As a result, he grew attached to her and became EXTREMELY protective of her. Shin never seemed to think about Maya’s feelings. It was as if Shin wanted Maya all for himself and no one else. When Shin died, he stated that Maya was the only one in his heart.

Incest Demotivational Poster

Incest will continue to be a part of anime and manga for a variety of reasons (maybe the ones I stated above). Japan is a very sexual country and that won’t change any time soon. Plus, Japanese audiences know that anime and manga are entirely fiction. They don’t confuse fantasy with reality. Although you may argue that Japan lacks certain morals, it’s not as if all the incest-related content over there is fan service or pornographic. People have many curious fascinations and there are things out there that are probably worse than incest. 

My final question is this: Will we see more incest-related mainstream titles in the future and will they start affecting the human psyche in a negative way?


Tagged: Japandevelopmental psychologyincestjapanese culturemanga psychologyanime psychologyJapanese mythologyanime themesmanga themespsychology of sexuality

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    "I LOVE YOU, ONII-CHAN! (Japanese for ‘big brother’)" If there’s one taboo that really grinds people’s gears, it’s...
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