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?