You know, I never review new-from-Japan anime series on this blog because everyone and their mother blogs about the newest anime episodes as soon as they hit the bittorrents. But Ed Sizmore of Comics Worth Reading requested to hear my impressions of one of my favorite series this season, Chu-Bra. Ed watched the first episode last night and was absolutely appalled by what he saw.
Ed’s main hangup on the series is with its over-sexualization of adolescent children. The characters are portrayed as just beginning Japanese middle school, which would place them as 7th graders, or 12-year-olds, at the start of the story. However, I think that Ed and most viewers are completely misunderstanding what type of appeal the series is intending to go for. And because they can’t see past this misconception, they’re missing out one of the better anime series to have come out in recent years.
I’m a fan of bishojo, or “pretty girl,” anime series. For the most part, this genre tends to have similar designs for all of their female characters regardless of their age. The bishojo – from elementary school girls to full blown adult women – all have innocent faces with big doe eyes, and they tend to also have petite frames and short stature. This creates the allusion of a girl who always appears to be young, healthy, and energetic, which is a very unrealistic notion because all girls eventually grow older and eventually lose their young looks. But in the fictional world of anime, these girls never age, so we become numb to this concept of aging and just enjoy the characters for their youthful visual appeal.
So saying the characters of Chu-Bra are 12-years-old holds no ground in real world logic of attraction because real life people look nothing like the ageless bishojo. Also, how could a bishojo possibly look like she was in middle school when she would have looked the exact same way if the story claimed her to be in high school or older?
We see this contradiction right there in the series. One of the “adolescent” lead characters, Haruka, has the body and figure of a fully matured adult woman. Meanwhile, the only “adult” bishojo character, the gym teacher Tamaki, looks just as young as her adolescent students. Age is completely irrelevant in this genre of anime, so you can’t waste all your time thinking about it those ways.
But one thing that Ed is correct in assuming is that there is a highly sexualized tone to the series. Chu-Bra is supposed to be a very sexy show meant to be enjoyed by mature men. However, the sex appeal doesn’t come from the fact that it’s about middle school girls. It comes from the fact that it’s all about female underwear!
By constantly showing females in their bra and panties, Chu-Bra is using the same sex appeal that you’ll find in any lingerie photo spread or Victoria Secret catalog. There’s no fetish in that, men simply like seeing girls in their underwear. It’s something I’ve been quite fond of beginning way early in my adolescence, and I don’t think this interest is going to go away any time soon.
The age isn’t sexy because you can’t equate bishojo character designs into the real world, but you sure as hell can equate bra and panties to their real life counterparts. And that’s where the true sex appeal emerges from this series.
Now, if you can take the time to look past all the fan service and silliness, you will see that the idea of 12-year-old girls just starting off middle school actually plays a key part in the plot of the show. This came as a big shock to me as I was expecting there to be no point to a show about girls’ underwear. But there is a point to this setting, and it’s one of the most interesting topics I’ve ever seen an anime series try to cover.
Chu-Bra, at its core, is a fairly serious look at girls facing a problem that we all did during the age when we switched from elementary to middle school. The lead characters go from being children to suddenly being surrounded by teenagers who have matured greatly through puberty. It becomes a very awkward and unfamiliar time in their lives, and the girls become self aware of their own bodies in relation to their peers.
And not surprisingly, the girls are not happy with the way they look.
You get both sides of this common adolescent problem right there within the main cast. On the one hand, you have the character of Yako. She has become sexually aware of herself, but her body has yet to physically mature. So she goes into denial of her own puberty by refusing to wear a bra, because that would be a reminder that she’s supposed to have developed full breasts like the rest of her classmates have. And on the other hand, you have Haruka, who’s body has already fully mature beyond most girls of her age. However, she is not yet ready to accept all the attention she’s now getting from the boys around her, so she hides her body whenever she can.
The only character that’s totally happy with her body is the lead girl, Nayu, who has yet to enter that stage of puberty. She serves as the positive voice of reason, and reminds the other girls to always be happy with the way they look no matter what size or shape they may be. But at the same time, we start watching Nayu also gradually enter adolescence as she becomes friends with Hiroki, a male classmate. As each episode goes by, we see her blissful happiness fade away as she becomes more confused and worried over these new feelings.
Just like we all were at that age.
So yes, the age of the characters is a major part of the appeal of the series, but it’s not THAT kind of appeal. There is a clear disconnect from the serious plot of girls struggling with puberty and the blatant sexuality of the series. As I wrote on this blog last week, all the fan service in the world won’t save an anime series unless it has a decent plot to keep it going. Chu-Bra is a fantastic coming-of-age story wrapped up in a sexy and comical package, and I think writing it off as being pure lolicon fodder is doing it a major disservice.