Please Tell Me! Galko-chan and Portrayals of the Nerd/Bombshell Romance

When the anime for 3D Kanojo (aka Real Girl) first started airing, my review of the manga by Nanami Mao would see an influx of hits. The story of an otaku boy who ends up in a relationship with a girl with a reputation for dating around, it’s a charming romance where two people genuinely connect on a deeper level. However, in response to that review, I’ve been getting the same question over and over again: “Is the girl, Iroha, a virgin or not?!” The answer is “most probably not,” but the fact that viewers feel so strongly about Iroha’s virginity saddens me a little. Part of the appeal of 3D Kanojo in the first place is that it eschews that whole obsession with virginal purity and the girl having to be someone’s “first,” something that permeates not just Japanese society but much of the world too. The message that audiences of 3D Kanojo should be taking away is “it doesn’t really matter if Iroha’s a virgin or not if they love and care for each other.”

It’s my hope that the idea gets across to viewers and readers, especially to those who judge a woman’s worth by their sexual behavior. But if it isn’t clear that virginity isn’t the be-all, end-all, a different (and perhaps unexpected) manga provides an interesting perspective on this type of virgin nerd/experienced babe relationship: Please Tell Me! Galko-chan by Suzuki Kenya.

Galko-chan is primarily known for its attractive female characters talking frankly about sexual topics which they actually have no idea about, but there’s at least one character who’s extremely, unabashedly sexually active: Galko’s big sister. College-aged unlike the teenage Galko, the big sister isn’t afraid of getting down and dirty, to the extent that she’ll even “borrow” Galko’s school uniform for some guy she’s dating. However, while she’s comfortable sleeping with lots of guys, the most recent storyline in the manga concerns a burgeoning romance between Galko’s sister and the otaku brother of Galko’s best friend Otako.

What starts out as Galko’s sister wanting to rock some nerdy virgin’s world for kicks turns into something greater. Galko’s sister agrees to go on a date with Otako’s brother, and during it makes her intentions crystal clear. She directly brings up the topic of sex and even nibbles on his ears during dinner. But as much as Otako’s brother wants to sleep with her so very badly, he doesn’t want to be treated like a mere conquest. Instead, he wants their relationship to be something special, and if he’s just another tally for the “virginities taken” box, then he wants no part of it.

This hits Galko’s sister harder than she expects, because she genuinely began to fall for him, and realizes she took the absolutely wrong approach. Which is to say, lust and love certainly overlap, but they’re not the same thing.

And then Galko’s sister tries to show her feelings for Otako’s brother by letting him in on a secret—that she has athlete’s foot—which in turn causes him to get visibly turned on. Romance successful! That’s Please Tell Me! Galko-chan for you. I said it provided an interesting perspective, not that it’s ultra-classy.

I think the big takeaway here is that the struggles between Otako’s brother and Galko’s sister on their date don’t come from the idea that Galko’s sister should have been a virgin, or that virginity should matter all that much for men or women. Instead, it’s about what sex means to each of them, and coming to a mutual understanding of what it takes to make their relationship potentially work. It’s sweet, it’s hot, and it displays something unique for this classic nerd/beauty trope.

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The Mystery of Stocking’s Virginity (or Lack Thereof)

The idea that otaku over-value virginity is prevalent. This sexism is not limited to otaku or even just Japan of course, and there are equivalents around the world in different forms, but whether it’s people getting mad over their favorite anime characters having had past relationships, or scandals over Japanese idols secretly dating, it’s become a valid point of criticism for otaku subculture. At the same time, I wonder if that mindset isn’t so cut and dry. Just as girls do not fall under a simple virgin/slut dichotomy, I think it may be faulty to view otaku as liking only one or the other.

The main title that has me looking over the otaku preference thing is actually Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. It’s well-established, based on sales of merchandise both official and unofficial, that the sweets-loving goth Stocking is much more popular among Japanese fans than the sex-crazed Panty. This seems to fall in line with the general rhetoric that otaku hate non-virgins, as Panty as a character is defined by the sheer amount of sex she has. She has extremely shallow standards for men, possibly spends more time having sex than not, and will even have important conversations in the middle of sex with people other than the guy(s) she’s with. The image of otaku’s preferences would work out perfectly, if not for the fact that the show states that Stocking is also sexually active.

Stocking mentions during the series that she also has a love life. It’s not even that she’s only had long-term relationships, or is merely a non-virgin still hesitant about sex even after having it. Though she’s more selective than Panty in terms of men, she establishes that she’s been with multiple guys, and will candidly discuss with Panty that some were great in bed and others weren’t. In light of this, why do the fans prefer Stocking to the point that her figures will go out of stock while Panty’s will get discounted heavily due to lack of sales?

One possibility I’m considering is pretty much a matter of relativity. Within the context of individual shows, it becomes easy to categorize characters in comparison to each other. In a show where everyone is small and cute, the character with any sort of bust becomes the “big-breasted” one, whereas in a show where all the character designs are leggy supermodels there may be a different standard among fans. Because Panty’s head is filled with sex (as the opening shows us), and Stocking is not so preoccupied with the same subject, it becomes a matter of Stocking being preferable by contrast even though she probably has more sex than your typical female anime character?

Another possibility is that it just comes down to character design, that Stocking’s gothic lolita look and Panty’s blonde hair and cocktail dress are the main ways in which they’re judged regardless of what happens in the show. Or maybe it’s that, at a cursory glance, Panty’s sexual activeness is extremely visible (the first thing we see of her in Episode 1 is her crawling out of bed with a guy), whereas Stocking’s love life is not so prominent? Only by watching the show do you learn that Stocking is no stranger to the opposite sex either, but it’s possible to understand this about Panty from the anciliary material.

If you have any thoughts or opinions on this, feel free to leave a comment, as I don’t feel like I quite have the answers. I’m not really sure myself, but I get the impression that Stocking’s relative popularity shows that things aren’t as simple as otaku liking either only the “pure” or the “promiscuous.” There are other examples as well, like how Akihabara idol Momoi Halko married and had a child but is still beloved. I have to wonder then if there’s another factor at work, like an inside/outside-group dynamic (and I don’t mean strictly in the Japanese culture sense) which dictates that allows some girls, fictional or otherwise, to be okay no matter what while others are judged more harshly.