Loveless: Virginity and Gender Performativity

Loveless (anime based on the ongoing manga series by Yun Kouga, a dojinshi turned manga writer) tells the story of 12 year old Ritsuka Aoyagi, a high school student who after the death of his older brother, Seimei, undergoes a form of amnesia in which he is almost entirely reborn as a new person. As his mother no longer sees him as the “real” Ritsuka, this leads to parental abuse, and subsequently, psychological issues. One day, he meets the mysterious 20-year-old Soubi Agatsuma, a friend of Seimei’s. This story takes place in a fantasy-esque world in which some people are born as fighting units. The general population is unaware of this fact, but these pairs (also known as spell casters and sacrifices) are apparently made before birth. Ritsuka only finds out about this new world one week before Seimei dies in which he reveals his true name “Beloved” to him. Ritsuka does not know what this means, but after meeting Soubi, Ritsuka is thrown into a battle with him and Soubi partnered up (Soubi as the spell caster and Ritsuka as the sacrifice). However, as Soubi and Seimei were meant to be a fighting unit (their true names are both “Beloved” and Ritsuka’s true name is discovered to be “Loveless” in the first battle), Soubi’s fighting with Ritsuka is seen as “disgusting” and “unnatural,” especially because it is said that when one’s sacrifice dies, the spell caster should also die. The pervasive themes within this series are memory, loss, trauma, and what love really is.

Within the world of Loveless it Soubi constantly tells Ritsuka that he loves him romantically, as kisses are exchanged and a reference is made about Soubi waiting for Ritsuka to become older to engage in intercourse, as a 12-year-old without their ears would raise questions. It is also insinuated from the beginning that Ritsuka has romantic feelings for Soubi. However, whether Soubi’s “love” for Ritsuka is real or not comes under question when Ritsuka discovers that Seimi ordered Soubi to love and protect Ritsuka, and because Seimi was Soubi’s sacrifice and part of his original fighting unit, Soubi has no choice but to obey Seimi. In this way, master-servant romances are realized. After Soubi is paired with Ritsuka, Ritsuka becomes Soubi’s master, in which Soubi must obey Ritsuka’s orders without fail. Of course, this romance is further sexualized by comments from Soubi about Soubi being dominated by Ritsuka.

This dichotomy pushes this anime into the shotacon or “Shotaro Complex” (romantic interest in which an adult pursues a prepubescent boy) sub-genre of shonen-ai. However, there are arguments as to whether shotacon is exclusively a BL sub-genre, as it can be further broken down to targeting a female audience and targeting a male audience, with it being said that the targeted male audience is more pornographic compared to its female counterpart in which shotacon is often exclusively rooted in BL/yaoi (as found in The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex, and Sexuality; unable to find page numbers through the online version but the information for this blog is under the shotacon subheading and from here this anthology will be referred to as RCMSS). Furthermore, it is stated in RCMSS that compared to ~1000 manga categorized as shotacon that have been published, only 4 are categorized as such in the English market however, there are numerous amounts of manga that suggest shotacon in which such relationships are contextualized and perceived as such by the reader. The section in RCMSS also suggests that Loveless (manga) in which shotacon is only hinted at due to context and visual age even though it is explicitly stated that the 12-year-old Ritsuka and 20-year-old Soubi are in an eroticized relationship (I think that its pretty hard to argue that it is not a shotacon).

Loveless also takes place in a world in which everyone is born with cat ears and tails. Once someone first engages in sexual intercourse, their ears and tails disappear (or in the original Japanese “thrown away”). In which case, just by looking, everyone knows whether or not someone is a virgin. This can be seen in cases where Ritsuka’s homeroom teacher is first introduced (“She’s 23 and she still has her ears”) and Ritsuka meets Soubi for the first time (“He doesn’t have any ears. He’s a grown-up!”). In which cases, it is apparent that losing one’s virginity equates to adulthood, regardless of age; the homeroom teacher (23) is still a virgin, therefore she is not yet an adult and Soubi (20) is no longer a virgin, therefore he is an adult is constantly made clear throughout the entire story. With interactions between the homeroom teacher and Soubi it becomes even more apparent even without mentioning who does or doesn’t have cat ears and a tail, in a couple of situations in which Soubi scolds the teacher and the teacher cries. Furthermore, there are cases where high school age students (both with and without ears) make fun of the still-virgin teacher, as she has yet to reach “adulthood.”

Finally, I will discuss gender performativity within Loveless. Ritsuka is pinned as the bishonen, through comments made by Yayoi,a male classmate who has a crush on Ritsuka’s female friend Yuiko, such as “he is pretty like a girl” and comments made by Soubi such as “you’re so cute,” and has both physical and psychological characteristics that are ambiguous. Ritsuka is able to show his more “masculine” side when protecting or trying to protect those he loves, but shows his more stereotypical emotional and vulnerable “feminine” side when he becomes upset and cries at various points throughout the series when saying things such as “It hurts when I see him,” “I don’t like thinking about you all the time” (to Soubi), and “Why does he confuse me every time I see him.”

Yuiko, who is in love with Ritsuka, although she is only 12, was drawn with the body of someone much older. She is given large breasts, which causes conflict among her classmates, yet envy from those older than her. Personality-wise, she is a character that is meant to go through extreme change, as she is introduced as an incredibly ditzy character and dumb character who’s only role is to be controlled by others and refers to herself in first person “Yuiko” as opposed to “I.” However, as Ritsuka goes throughout the series saying things like, “I hate dumb people” or “I hate people who are controlled by others,” Yuiko changes into someone who starts to read books (she was previously thought to be illiterate) and uses the pronoun “I.” However, is this not a form of control? Ritsuka changes those around him by stating behaviors that he hates, and in turn, the people around him change (mostly Yuiko but it can be exhibited in others). In a more extreme example, Ritsuka actually controls Soubi’s actions be commanding him to do various tasks (Soubi tells him this from the beginning that this is how a typical fighting unit works; Ritsuka is hesitant at first but becomes more receptive to commanding Soubi later in the series). For someone who does not like people who are controlled by others, Ritsuka does a lot of controlling other people. In this way, Ritsuka exhibits stereotypically masculine characteristics by being the controller as opposed to the controllee.

Smith, Clarissa, Feona Attwood, and Brian McNair. The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality. 2018. Internet resource. https://books.google.com/books?id=x0IwDwAAQBAJ&lpg=PT283&ots=xSW4V2qwHf&dq=The%20Routledge%20companion%20to%20media%2C%20sex%20and%20sexuality%20pdf&pg=PT7#v=onepage&q=shotacon&f=false

One thought on “Loveless: Virginity and Gender Performativity

  1. Hi Jennifer,

    This sounds like a very interesting anime. I want to unpack a few of the elements you bring up here. First, what is the significance of shotacon? Who consumes it, and why? What do these characters represent to these different demographics? (i.e., different demographics must consume it for different reasons; these characters must represent different things to different consumers).

    Second, what is the meaning of maturity in this film? You discuss the physical characteristics that reveal whether someone is “innocent” or not (connected to sexual experience), and I wonder what this means to different demographics as well. For instance, what does this maturity/sex theme mean to a heterosexual adult woman versus an adolescent gay male?

    Cheers,
    Amanda

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