Purity in Anime Isn’t So Simple

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When the words “purity in anime” come up, I think the typical association is with sexual purity. Between past stories of fans being angry at individuals both fictional (Nagi from Kannagi) and real (Suzumiya Haruhi seiyuu Hirano Aya) for not being virgins, to the idol industry’s forbidding of relationships for its stars, there is a valuing of chastity that is often tinged with the desire for someone’s virginity to be in a state of limbo: always on the cusp of losing it, but never going to do so. At the same time, however, while sexual innocence is one form of purity, it’s not the only kind, and often it takes the form of a “naive perspective,” a “pure heart,” or a “child-like desire.”

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To shift the discussion away from female characters, I’d like to talk about perhaps the most famous character in all of anime: Son Goku. Suffice it to say, he needs no introduction, but one recurring trait of the character is that he is pure-hearted. It’s what allows him to ride Kintoun (Flying Nimbus). When confronted with the Devilmite Beam, an attack that turns one’s negative thoughts into damage, Goku is completely unaffected. Even as he fights planet-crushing adversaries, has two kids, and generally grows into an adult, Goku is still portrayed as innocent of mind. His love of fighting is genuine, and even sex doesn’t really change him.

Looking at more recent titles (unless you count Dragon Ball Super), a character like Nagisa in Clannad is supposed to be an epitome of innocence and purity, but by the time of After Story she’s married and is no longer a virgin. Even though her tragedy quotient shoots way up (as tends to happen in Key works), Nagisa is much like Goku in that sex doesn’t actually impact the sense of purity her character exudes. In terms of child-like desire, Haruka in Free! views the act of swimming similar to to how Goku approaches fighting. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the simple joy of the activity itself, whether that’s swimming to feel the thrill of the water regardless of competition, or wanting to test one’s strength against strong opponents. It’s as if the ultimate purity is one that maintains itself no matter the circumstances.

I can’t forget that there is a double standard when it comes to sex. Girls, be they fictional or real, are subjected to the issue of being “ruined” or considered “sluts” in a way that goes well beyond the limited world of idols where both sexes are subject to scrutiny. Nevertheless, I have to wonder if it’s possible for a character to be viewed as pure yet also sexually promiscuous? I don’t think it’s impossible. Perhaps even the enjoyment of sex can be portrayed innocently, even if that might not necessarily be realistic. That said, the degree to which people would be able to accept something like this is probably small in the grand scheme of industry and audience reactions, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing either. One question I wonder is how fans can reconcile a desire for purity in some cases with a strongly sexual presentation at the same time, but it might just have to do with having the option to shift responsibility, especially in the 2D realm of anime and the 2.5D realm of idols.

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In the first paragraph I mentioned Hirano Aya and her fall from grace due to the idea that she had sex with her band mates. The backlash essentially sent her from being the top otaku idol to only working in anime sparingly, but ultimately it’s my opinion that this has made her voice acting career better than ever. No longer is she pushed into roles that are tailored towards keeping her as that “goddess of anime.” She can be Migi, the alien symbiote in Parasyte. She can be Paiman, the weird panda-like hero in Gatchaman Crowds. She can be Dende, guardian of the Dragon Balls in Dragon Ball Super. It’s possible to look at her full CV and see that her acting is not limited to that which is most sexually thrilling or geared towards otaku appeal qualities. By de-coupling her from the very idea of virgin purity, her acting is arguably purer than ever before.

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