Manga Recommendation: Bitter Virgin

Given the recent political developments surrounding sexual assault, violence, and rape, I thought it would be an appropriate time to recommend one of my favorite manga. Bitter Virgin is a relatively short manga that you can read in a few hours which centers on the story of Aikawa Hinako, a high school girl who was the victim of being raped by her step-father at the age of 14. She gets an abortion only for the sexual violence and raping to continue and gets pregnant a second time. This time, she is forced to wait out the term and give birth to her father’s baby. Because of this history, she develops a deep rooted fear of men and moves to the countryside where her classmate Suwa accidentally finds out about her secret when she confesses at the local church. Thus begins the story of a girl who has experienced nothing but tragedy and a boy attempting to balance her fears and secret with his own growing attraction to her.

I first read Bitter Virgin in high school, and I feel like it did a lot to teach me the kinds of problems girls have to deal with that, as a guy, I would never realize on my own. That is not to say every girl has been raped, but as more and more women have been coming out and publicly telling their stories, it is clear that every girl has at least one story involving sexual harassment.  Without such awareness movements, this would continue to go unnoticed, as women go on pretending to be happy even when they are really crying on the inside. It is becoming more and more obvious how many women in today’s society have had traumatic experiences with sexual harassment, assault, and rape yet remain silent for their entire lives.

While Aikawa is still too young to have shouldered her secret for decades, the story nonetheless touches on this topic. When she first confesses to her mother about her step-father’s actions, she is reprimanded for being a liar and a disgrace. The one person who should have protected her only makes the problem worse. It’s only after the doctor points out she is likely a victim of rape that the mother finally acknowledges the truth – even so, it is the doctor, not the victim, who is able to change her mind. If a girl cannot trust her own mother, who can she trust? Throughout the story, we see Aikawa’s fear not just of men and sexual assault, but also of being found out. To be a victim of sexual assault is considered the greatest shame, and while it never states it directly, the manga makes it a point that she sees herself as “damaged goods” who could never be loved. She lives every day in fear of others discovering her secret, and the amount of psychological damage that entails for a sexual assault victim is something I will never be able to truly relate to.

Interestingly enough, there is also a scene with a false rape accusation. This is perhaps the most relevant scene in the manga to today’s developments with a certain Supreme Court Justice nominee (well, now after drafting this, he is officially confirmed). There are many opinions on the topic, but I think this one line from the manga sums up how rape accusations go the best:

If she had really been raped, she wouldn’t be able to make such a fuss. When you’re raped, you’re scared and in pain. You can’t do anything but cry.

It is disgusting that so many people say things like “if she had really been raped, she would have immediately pressed charges!” As if that is how the mentality of a rape victim will go. A rape victim is instead far more likely to curl up in a ball, cry, and pretend it never happened.  If people find out, there is the threat of the greatest public shame not for the assaulter but for the victim. If she goes without proof, she could be called a liar (what a surprise, that’s EXACTLY what happened), possibly even by her own family. And even if all that goes in her favor, there is still the potential issue of pregnancy and abortion, not to mention having to live with the trauma and scars left behind. Anyone who actually cares about sexual assault victims would know that keeping it a secret for decades is absolutely the most common and realistic response a young girl would make.

Bitter Virgin is seriously the best manga I’ve read when it comes to understanding the mentality and tragedy of sexual assault victims. I have nothing but praise for the author Kusonoki Kei who has stated some parts of the story relate to her own personal life experiences (not the rape).   It is especially impressive in the context of Japan’s extremely patriarchal society and its tendency to downplay sexual assault and rape even more than America, not to mention how a core tenant of anime/manga is the sexual imagery of female characters. Maybe it’s still inaccurate or not as good as it could be, but again, as a guy, it opened my eyes to the cruel reality of sexual assault in many positive ways. So to sum it up, go read Bitter Virgin if you want a mature story on a serious topic that everyone is talking about lately.

I’d like to end by saying how much I respect every woman who has come out and admitted to being a victim of sexual assault. It takes such an enormous amount of courage to do that in a public forum where you will inevitably be greeted by criticism and hatred. And even for the countless others who have not revealed their secrets, you’re amazing too. Just being able to live out each day after undergoing such a traumatic event should be praiseworthy. I’m just a random guy on the internet, so it probably doesn’t mean anything, but still, please, keep fighting on because being able to continue after such a horrific experience makes you stronger than I could ever imagine myself to be.

On Christian Otaku Outreach

Subahibi has finally been announced for an August release (which isn’t July 20th, very disappointed). Considering its fame across the entire otaku community, I’ll be interested in seeing people’s reactions, even if I think it’s gotten a bit overrated over the years (also because Sakura no Uta ended up being even better). Even so, as a philosophical masterpiece that people have waited years for and with a translation project(s) that spawned numerous memes, this is one of those titles where I put on my elitist cap and wonder how you can call yourself an otaku if you’ve never even heard of this title before. I guess I should apologize in advance, but this post is going to be closer to a rant that a usual coherent post. This frustration I have with the otaku community – and mainly the Christian otaku community – also played a role in why I left Beneath the Tangles.

The more I interact with or listen to Christian otaku, the more I question how otaku they really are. This is a frustration that is admittedly in part elitism on my end, and I try to curb that as much as possible while phrasing my opinions in a more joking manner (i.e. bad anime is bad). But any elitism I may feel toward others’ interests and knowledge is often less about feeling superior and more about feeling disconnected. Because there is a big difference between “you don’t like what I like,” and “you have absolutely no idea what I like even is.” I’m sure this is a feeling that every anime fan can empathize with, so there is no reason to think that the same phenomenon cannot occur even within a fandom as large as this one is.

I should clarify I don’t intend to criticize Christian otaku who don’t have any interest in visual novels (the part of the fandom that personally relates to me, but there are numerous other fringe niches that exist and are ignored). You like what you like, and I like what I like. However, when it comes to the topic of ministry and outreach in this area which is very close to my heart, this disconnect brings about two related issues that I can’t ignore. The first is the general ignorance of what is out there and what it looks like. I remember reading about a Christian anime fan who was excited to attend Comiket because it’s a “Japanese anime convention.” Little did she know how much of the event was literally pornographic, and she was scarred, to say the least. Even people who are more aware about the culture than this will paint the industry with broad strokes without actually knowing any details about it.

Now, it’s basically a catch 22 to expect people who aren’t well informed about the industry to understand it. But I suppose what I want of people is awareness to some degree and to be more open about learning rather than trying to generalize something you know very little about. Especially when it comes to the former, it’s absurd to me how misinformed or ignorant self-proclaimed Christian otaku can be. Probably over 99% of them don’t even know what Subahibi is, even though it was one of the most praised titles in the community in the last several years (and this not limited to only VNs). I understand that this is caused by a mix of different interests, that the majority of anime fans talked about stuff like Madoka, SAO, and Shingeki instead, and most of all, that most fans are new fans who haven’t been engulfed in the fandom for decades, but again, that’s exactly why I’m trying to bring about awareness on the subject – and again, specifically when it comes to Christians. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to know about everything; the sub-communities are so large and expansive that it’s basically impossible. However, I wish there was some better awareness surrounding some of the biggest, most talked about things, and that these things exist and are loved by the fandom. If you are going to call yourself an otaku, then at least have the awareness to know there is some spectrum from 1-100 (to keep things simple) and you fall at the 20 or the 50 or maybe the 70, and that there are things beyond that into the 80s and 90s and 100. Honestly, I wouldn’t even put myself into the 80s on such a hypothetical scale.  I have my limits, but I’m well aware of what exists beyond that, and that’s what I’m asking of people who are attempting to do Christian outreach in this weird but attractive fandom.

Dies Irae is pretty good too

This leads into the second issue when Christian otaku actually start talking about and doing outreach work. If you are an anime fan reaching out to anime fans, then fine go do that; that’s great. But this means you are completely unequipped to deal with other people, who are further along the yes-overly-simplified-2D-spectrum I just mentioned. This in itself is again okay because that’s how things will always be in any field. However, while the first issue is fine in a vacuum, when you combine outreach with the previous issue of lack of awareness, it has the potential to go wrong in all kinds of ways. Especially in a part of the fandom that is almost inherently anti-Christian (i.e. porn games), for Christian otaku outreach to 1) not be able to relate to them, 2) not even be aware of some of the biggest titles, and 3) still imply you can understand them, that is going to exacerbate any disconnects that already exist. I mean, I feel that disconnect pretty strongly even as a Christian; how much worse will it be for people who are wary of Christian fans?  I don’t expect you to change your interests nor am I intending to set a bar of elitism that you must pass. However, I do wish that when someone mentions something as widely recognized as Subahibi, that you don’t give a blank stare of ignorance, or when someone starts talking about porn, that you at least know how to deal with the situation rather than being surprised that there are fans who glorify these things.

I think especially because there has been a recent growth in people trying to do Christian otaku outreach (no doubt related to the recent growth in anime fans), this is an important time when Christian otaku have kind of a blank slate to define themselves. Yes, there is a huge anti-anime voice in the Christian community, but there has never really been a large, strong voice of Christians not only supporting otaku but trying to claim we all share the same interests too. Moreover, VNs in particular are in a similar situation in the West, with localizations starting to flood the market on steam. Titles fans have only dreamed of getting localizations like Subahibi, Dies Irae, Clannad, etc. actually happened. There is not going to be a better time to start learning about VNs as a Christian and become a part of a community that is very different yet much related to anime, just as I wondered only a few years ago.

the crux of what I want to say is that this is about forming a collective social implication about what the term “Christian otaku” means and therefore how Christian outreach on both sides will be affected by this perception

Right now is the time when Christian fans are beginning to define what a “Christian otaku” even is, and whether or not that includes or excludes certain groups and fandoms. It could just be the biased VN fan in me, but I feel that the boundary of a Christian otaku will be defined within a few short years. I realize it may sound alarmist in some ways, but frankly, people vastly underestimate the speed of influence that internet culture has on our daily lives. If people don’t make efforts now (which is in part what I’m trying to do, but I’m just a lone fan), people on both sides will start to form more defined ideas of what a “Christian otaku” means, who that includes, and most importantly, who they are willing to reach out to. In other words, the crux of what I want to say is that this is about forming a collective social implication about what the term “Christian otaku” means and therefore how Christian outreach on both sides will be affected by this perception. As of now, people view it as a joke, but are simultaneously willing to listen and learn about it because “lol what in the world is this supposed to be?” That luxury of being a foreign existence will not exist for long. As such, I would really like to fully implore Christian otaku working in the field of outreach, be it Japan or the States, to really consider the scope of the otaku fandom and how to broaden outreach as far as possible before such boundaries are defined.

Coming back to Subahibi, I would really like to see every Christian otaku at least have an opinion on it. I mean, right now, most don’t even know what it is. But this is a title that’s been almost universally praised as a philosophical masterpiece. It has so much to say about happiness in a broken world, a topic that I believe is very relevant to Christians. It has some of the most infamous use of adult content in the industry. I don’t think the scenes can really be called pornographic, because they are most certainly not intended to instill sexual gratification but rather disgust. For example, the beastiality scene got removed from the R-18 release; it’s that bad. I’m not going to tell you to read the scenes (I pretty much just literally could not physically read them.  Not even the images, just the pure text was already too much for me), but I can still acknowledge how much meaning there is to them in the greater scope of the story. There’s also this one spoiler that I will probably write on later which was incredibly remindful of our relationship with God. When I consider just how knowledgeable Sca-ji is about Christianity (daily reminder that this guy understands Christian theology better than any other Japanese author in the industry and uses references in proper context), a part of me wonders if that was actually intentional. I guess I would call those the three major reasons Subahibi is a work that would make for very interesting discussion among the Christian otaku fandom, but sadly, almost no one even knows what it is. I’m not even asking people to read it, just be a bit more informed about it to form some kind of opinion for discussion with others. Because I guarantee you that while being ignorant about these things will generate disconnections, having some kind of informed opinion on a porn game can lead to quite some interesting discussions.