Definitions of Lolicon

If you’re into anime and aware of the concept of lolicon, then you probably have an idea of what the word means and the kinds of characters associated with it. Lolicon, after all, means the eroticization of very young characters, particularly female ones, right? It turns out to not be so simple, and I don’t mean in terms of “she looks 10 but is actually 500.”

I’ve been re-reading Sharon Kinsella’s Adult Manga lately (which is one of the best academic texts on manga and the manga industry), and in one chapter she writes about lolicon and doujinshi creators, as well as their relationships to professional manga In it, she gives the definition of “lolicon manga” as manga which “usually features a young girlish heroine with large eyes and a childish but voluptuous figure, neatly clad in a revealing outfit or set of armour.” It’s still pretty consistent with the current general conception of lolicon, but the “voluptuous” trait might seem a little strange.

Kinsella points out Gunsmith Cats as a lolicon title, but unlike the idea that it’s lolicon because of Minnie-May Hopkins and her child-like figure (see above), the example given is of the older-looking Rally Vincent.

Furthermore, she discusses the lolicon-esque qualities of Ah! My Goddess, but like Gunsmith Cats she isn’t just talking about the younger Skuld but also Belldandy and Urd, who, Urd especially, seem to go almost entirely against the current conception of lolicon used by people. Other titles from Monthly Afternoon (home of Genshiken!) mentioned as lolicon which seem to defy that definition further are Seraphic Feather and Assembler 0X.

Ah! My Goddess

This could be considered merely a rather broad definition of “lolicon,” but there are three things keep me from drawing that conclusion. First, according to Kinsella the influence of lolicon-style on the manga industry is somewhat acknowledged by professionals. Second, the character designs of Azuma Hideo, the “father of lolicon,” are very much in that blurry territory of the “child-like but voluptuous.” Third, is a conversation I’ve had with ex-manga editor and current Vertical Inc. editor and frontman, Ed Chavez.

According to Ed, one of the most significant lolicon characters ever is Lum from Urusei Yatsura, a character known for her sexy figure, and he also considers the origin of lolicon to actually be Maetel from Galaxy Express 999, a character notable for her mature and motherly qualities. I remember finding his categorization a little out of the ordinary, but when taking Kinsella’s words into account as well, it starts to make sense. It is that intersection of youthful but in certain ways adult, where for example the body is more developed but the face remains youthful, though neither is necessarily at any extreme.

Lum (left), Maetel (right)

Given this idea of lolicon, one of the most fascinating lines of thought to come out of this can be summarized with the following: if we go by this older definition of lolicon, even many of the fans who consider themselves vehemently against lolicon, who try to avoid it like the plague, would be categorized as lolicon fans themselves. Again, characters like Rally Vincent and Belldandy have been presented among fans for years and years now as the positive counterpoint to their respective series’ younger-looking characters, but they too now fall under the same umbrella.

Taking that into further consideration, the question becomes: given the anime of the last 20 years or so, what female characters wouldn’t be considered lolicon? It seems to encompass a large majority, where even characters defined by their mature, sexual bodies like Miura Azusa from THE iDOLM@STER and Fukiyose Seiri from A Certain Magical Index are grouped in, not to mention characters like Lina Inverse from Slayers.


Miura Azusa (left), Fukiyose Seiri (right)

I am not using this as a platform to invalidate people’s opinions, or to accuse anyone of being hypocrites. The term lolicon seems to have transformed over time, and the current generally accepted definition of it isn’t somehow less valid than its origins discussed above, though it may make for some inconsistencies in communicating, and at the end of the day Minnie May is still there. Rather, I think it shows a clear example of how words can change over time, that the boundaries by which we categorize things may not simply be about what traits are and aren’t present, but how those traits interact with each other (though that subtlety makes it susceptible to being more narrowly defined), and furthermore, how those traits are then perceived by those viewing.

In the end, Kinsella provides a quote from a senior editor of Monthly Afternoon:

The form of the manga is the same, but the themes have been changed to make them easier to read and understand for lots of people. Aah! My Godesss is a good example. It looks like otaku manga, but the content is different, the story has been changed so it can be read by a wider audience.

Could it be that, by taking the styles originally associated with lolicon, and putting them into contexts more relatable to a broader audience, this lolicon aesthetic no longer exists in that form? Where once the term referred to a broader range created by the interaction of certain traits, by having that larger readership claim one end of that spectrum, does the lolicon genre as we currently know it come into the forefront?

22 thoughts on “Definitions of Lolicon

  1. The topic of “just how much lolicon appeal do Lum et al have?” is venturing down the dark path of delineating “ephebophilia,” a word for which there has never been a single good post made containing it. (This one is no exception.) Is there a Japanese equivalent to that term?

    But even back when it was originally being released in English, it always struck me as INCREDIBLY WEIRD that Rally Vincent, for the lion’s share of Gunsmith Cats, is herself underage. She owns a gun shop in the United States of America. She’s a licensed bounty hunter. She legally owns several guns. AND SHE’S UNDER 18.

    This one actually required a concerted EFFORT on Sonoda’s part. He had to go well out of his way to establish that this was the case, and then justify why in-story. Surely it would have been easier to not do so, to just say “Rally’s in her early to mid-20s” and be done with it. Eventually–and it took me years to realize what is today plainly apparently–one concludes “no, it’s actually vital to Sonoda’s tastes that she NOT be legal.” Much like how Sharon Apple loves Guld but loves Isamu more, Kenichi Sonoda is a dude who loves cars and guns…but he loves underage girls more. Hmm. I think I should cross-post that last bit on that CA post.

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  2. One of the things that should be remembered is that when Urusei Yatsura came out if you where a grown man or even an older teen and you expressed interest in Lum people might have taken you as a Lolicon. A person with a lolita complex. Lum wasn’t there for adults to gawk at she was there for children to gawk at. Originally anyway. Personally I don’t think putting these young but adult looking characters in a more relatable position that changed the definition. What changed the meaning was the sexualization over the years of the younger looking character themselves.

    Take the Evangelion girls they are obviously really young, below the legal age even in japan, and sexualized but no one bats an eye at them anymore. Through pornography and the tastes of creators the girls at the forefront of lolicon started to look younger and younger and it was just accepted.

    Using the Kenichi Sonoda example look at his manga Exaxxion and Bullet the Wizard the main female character isn’t a Rally but a May. Sure there are other female characters in both but the one that is supposed to catch your eye is the young looking leads.

    Part of it is Maetel, Lum, Rally and a lot of other characters like them get a “AND SHE’S UNDER 18” response from people like Daryl Surat but in most cases that isn’t how the world works. A woman with a body like theirs even at 16 or 17 is very approachable for most men. Sure it’s wrong but when has something being wrong stopped anyone.

    And that is why I think the younger girls took over the term lolicon. Lum doesn’t have an edge and neither do those others. There are series now with sexualized girls who are no more than elementary schoolers or at lest look it because 17 and hot doesn’t cut it anymore. The term is going to be applied to younger and younger characters.

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  3. Remember Minmay didn’t look 16 and Shammy (the moe-ist) didn’t look 18. According to pre-production notes Milia is just a tender 14 year old like her pink haired daughter would be later on.

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  4. “Rorikon” has apparently meant different things over the years; Frederik Schodt in Manga! Manga!, while discussing Aki Uchiyama, seems to suggest that in the early 1980s it encompassed both the broader sense you mention *and* the term as it would be currently understood. The consistent (if admittedly vague) meaning in Japanese media over the years seems to have been a relative one: that is, finding a sense of youthfulness or innocence, as opposed to a sense of maturity or experience, sexually attractive. Plenty of Japanese people are attracted to the latter, including plenty of otaku.

    The otaku market, per se, did not invent the rorikon concept, nor were otaku the ones who demonstrated its popularity (what is being done in 2012 in Shonen Ace was also being done in 1982 in Shonen Champion). You would see stories about it in Futabasha’s Action, one of the greatest seinen magazines of all time. People often joked about it–how could you compare it?–the way they did about cocaine in the U.S. in the 1970s; that is, it wasn’t necessarily considered healthy or laudable, but it was a trend. Subcultures are exactly that–sub-divisions within a larger culture, rather than a separate culture entirely.

    I’m drawn back to a Japanese government figure Schodt cites from 1980–only 7% of Japanese high school-age kids said they had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Not 7% of the nerds–7% among *all* Japanese 15-to-19 year-olds. 40% said they didn’t even have any *friends* of the opposite sex, let alone someone they were going out with. In light of this, the tendency to experience both love and sex vicariously through manga and anime culture might be better understood.

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  5. >Lum wasn’t there for adults to gawk at she was there for children to gawk at.

    I recall Takahashi Rumiko saying the intended audience of Urusei Yatsura was college students, while the audience of Ranma 1/2 was younger. Is there any evidence that Urusei Yatsura TV series had a significantly different intended audience?

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    • I was more just going with the fact it was first serialized in Shonen Sunday. Though I guess Sunday usually does skew a bit more toward older audiences for a shonen targeted magazine. If she has said it was written for the college age demographic I freely admit to being wrong on Lum then.

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  6. >sexualized but no one bats an eye at them anymore. Through pornography and the tastes of creators the girls at the forefront of lolicon started to look younger and younger and it was just accepted.

    And I’ve read, probably at Neojaponisme, a Japanese observer pointed out that Japan is the only nation where all magazines, regardless of genre, put teenager girls on covers for their sexual appeal, a trend started by a certain magazine in the 1970s? 1980s?

    Can anyone help dig this info up again?

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  7. Ok – first things first: what “lolicon” is – is pretty well defined. There is nothing to discuss here. Check dictionaries.

    Now, anyone has the right to start discussing what “lolicon” “really is”. Sure, you can write and publish (or just blog) any shit you want, be my guest. There is a whole industry of the sort: it’s called “philosophy”. For hundreds years thousands of people play with words, combining them into different grammatically correct sentences, thinking they are pushing human knowledge.

    Whatever. I am all for the First Amendment.

    You can discuss what “lolicon” is, and you can discuss what “white” is, – and I bet a lot of philosophers would gladly explain that what you think is white “in reality” is black, or the “white” has changed its meaning with time…

    It’s just BS. White is white. Lolicon is lolicon. AND: Miss Urd is NOT a lolicon character BY FAR. And a book that claims otherwise is like a tech book that says 2×2=5. Not worth the paper it’s printed on. Don’t re-read it. Threw it away and forget about it.

    Whoever wrote this post (BTW it’s not signed. Anonymous, eh?) is hypnotized like “if this is a book (oh my!) it must be taken seriously”.

    Name any bullshit and you can find a book (or, at least, a blog) that takes that BS as granted.

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      • While I wouldn’t mind a debate about all of the criticisms leveled and Kinsella, and of course I don’t agree with everything she says (though I think this paper you linked/wrote? seems to place moral value judgments onto Kinsella which I feel don’t exist), none of that really pertains to the specific topic at hand.

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    • People sometimes say “The dictionary gives the definition of this word as…” But if you look in most large dictionaries, you will see that words are often shown not with one definition, but with the multiple definitions, (sometimes more, and sometimes less related) that people mean by them. If you look in the largest dictionary of all, the Oxford English Dictionary, you will see how it shows the different ways the same word has been used over time by different people.

      This isn’t an academic plot to make words mean nothing but what academics say they do. Nor is it a matter of abstract philosophy, and I’ll go as far to say that the idea a word can and must have only one correct meaning is itself a philosophical position removed from everyday reality. If anything, multiple or broader definitions are an attempt to better reflect reality–the reality that a language lies more in how it is actually used in communication between different people and at different times, then how it appears in any single book–a book that never itself has to be engaged in any two-way conversations. This is one of the reasons, for example, that good human translations remain superior to good machine translations. Humans have a sense of the flexibility of context and real-world language use that programs do not–especially programs that choose one definition only for a word. Words are tools, communication apps, and like tools and apps they are in fact used for different purposes by different people. They are also, of course, things that are fiercely fought over on ideological and political grounds…but that again reflects the larger human reality, not just academia.

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      • By the way, I’m sympathetic to critiquing Kinsella’s book, which I first encountered when it came out. I too had the initial reaction “that’s wrong, she doesn’t understand this” to some of what she said. But Kinsella actually conducted her research by working with and interviewing people at Kodansha, and a major point of her book was to illustrate the cultural gap between manga fans and creators, as well as between both those groups and manga editors and publishers. The people who green-light manga, supervise their production, and publish them may indeed look differently at terms and categories than, say, an average fan at Comike. The deficiencies in Kinsella’s work may come more from not understanding fans enough, but her emphasis was on the industry’s point of view, and that’s an important thing to learn about, too. I agree that overall this is a valuable book for people interested in the big picture of manga.

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        • The degree to which the industry’s view and the fans’ view of what lolicon is and is not would be a really interesting topic to delve into, especially because of the way that fans becoming creators is a long-standing part of the manga and anime industries at this point.

          At the very least I’ll be looking to cross reference some of what she’s said with other sources.

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  8. Well, I guess Kinsella is an idiot if she thinks Belldandy is a loli and not Skuld. So much for “one of the best academic texts on manga and the manga industry”. I bet a discussion about lolicon on 4chan would be more rewarding than that entire book. Just because something is published doesn’t mean their is any authority behind it. Sometimes you need to accept that some people in the academic world are just fools.

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  10. Despite what some people say, I thought this was a very interesting post. Thanks!

    And I have to say, having only seen the anime, I had no idea that Rally was supposed to be under 18. So I was somewhat surprised when I read the Comics Alliance piece about GSC and learned how young she was supposed to be. A little strange, especially with the somewhat dubious explanations that would have to be in place to justify how a seventeen year old is somehow a famous bounty hunter, let alone the owner of a gun shop.

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    • In partial defense of the work, I was actually mistaken: Rally is in fact 19 at the start of the Gunsmith Cats manga. But this doesn’t completely invalidate my greater point. 19 is still too young for her to legally do this stuff. Even at the start of the comic, she has been a bounty hunter and an owner of the gun shop for long enough that she already has a sterling reputation. We can rather unambiguously infer she’s a seasoned veteran who’s been at this for at least a few years. So there still needs to be a justification given as to why Rally can be a gunsmith and bounty hunter: a justification that would be entirely unnecessary had they just gone with the far simpler “she’s over 21” route. The fact that Sonoda not only didn’t do this, but explicitly wrote up a big justification for it being the way it is implies that he really REALLY needs her to be that young.

      And you know what? This is so freaking obvious that there’s really no need to bring it up, but the one Japanese guy in the series? The one who has sex with Minnie May all the time because “that’s what he’s into”? The one who’s a total gun/explosives otaku as well as a straight-up Akihabara model kit/maid/anime otaku? Yeah, his name is “Ken” and he’s roughly the same age as the author. That’s a self-insertion if ever there was one.

      Incidentally, these posts inspired me to finally read through all 5 volumes of Gunsmith Cats Burst. For the first 3 volumes, I was ready to recant and take back everything I said about Sonoda and his priorities…but THEN the final 2 volumes happened. Sigh. At some point he must have also forgotten the time period his story was supposed to take place in, because suddenly everyone has razor cell phones, easy access to high-speed streaming video over the Internet, an knows about the Matrix films…except the cast hasn’t aged accordingly. Eat your heart out, Fujishima.

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      • All this talk of Gunsmith Cats finally got me to start reading the original manga. Had it forever, never read it, for no good reason at all. And it’s painfully obvious, as people have said, that Sonada’s reasoning for making the girl’s so young is that that’s what he’s in to. I haven’t even gotten to the part where he comes up with an explanation for how Rally is a famous bounty hunter at the age of 19, or where the author’s fictional stand-in shows up to have sex with the prepubescent sidekick (hilarious, by the way), and it’s just obvious it’s, to his mind, an absolutely essential part of the fantasy he’s channeling, along with the slick cars and the gun porn. It’s hard to otherwise justify him writing a 12 year old (oh, excuse me, “17 year old” according to the Dark Horse translation… youngest looking 17 year old ever, apparently) not only excitedly infiltrating a brothel, but also giving a middle aged man a blow job on panel.

        I wonder what Sonada’s definition of “lolicon” is…

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