The Perverted Character: An Anime/Manga Staple?

Master Roshi (Dragonball); Meliodas (Seven Deadly Sins); Jiraiya (Naruto); Sanji (One Piece)

This is a topic that I’ve been tempted to do for a long time, but I was never sure how it would go over.  Wednesday’s ‘7 Tips’ post is probably going to be worse.  Yet, I’ve been wondering a lot about this archetype after finishing ‘Naruto’, continuing ‘One Piece’, starting ‘Inuyasha’, and talking about ‘Dragonball’.  You’ll notice that all of these are animes and mangas.  To be honest, I can’t think of an American show or movie with a perverted character who isn’t a villain.  So, why is that?

Much of it has to do with cultural taboos.  I think.  Here’s the problem.  I tried to look all of this up and found essay after essay on the topic.  Half of them explained that Japanese culture is more open to nakedness and male desire (not female desire), so this is an acceptable character.  Meanwhile, America has been heavily influenced from the beginning by Christianity, which demonizes nakedness and sex.  So, we would put perverts down as villains while the Japanese have them more as comical heroes.  Still, I couldn’t quite get a full understanding because the Internet is filled with articles by Americans complaining about the perverted characters.  There was a feeling that our cultural sensibilities and standards were being used in place of the one where the stories were created.  This makes it a difficult opinion to go by because it only shows one side.  In the end, I think it does come down to one culture being more open to these types of characters while the other doesn’t like them.  (I’m pretty sure many people who read my blog are already rushing to the comments in order to voice their complaint about the archetype.)

Now, this seems to be only male characters, but I’ve heard that there is a trend of female perverts starting up.  I’ll touch on this a bit more on Friday.  As far as scope, these characters tend to be shameless womanizers who peep and hit on for the most part.  An exception in the picture above is Meliodas who gropes one of the female leads.  (This is one reason I prefer Ban who is a gentleman.)  Still, there is typically a punishment for their actions too.  This is done for comedic effect because the result is always violent.  A slap that sends them skyward, a punch that puts them in the hospital, nosebleeds, heavy objects being smashed on top of them, or something else that befalls the pervert.  Weirdest thing is they will shift right back to a stable character and this ‘quirk’ is put on the back burner until more comedy is needed.

There are some accidental perverts too.  Keitaro from ‘Love Hina’ tends to blunder into situations where he sees one of the female characters naked.  Then he’s punched and sent into the stratosphere.  Not sure where this falls into the category.  Unlike Meliodas, he doesn’t do these things on purpose.  In fact, there are many degrees here.  Sanji (One Piece) mostly hits on female characters by praising their beauty, which is different than Miroku (Inuyasha) asking for women to bare his children.  There is a plot reason for him doing that in case you were wondering and I just realized that he gropes too.  Going further we have Jiraiya of ‘Naruto’ actively peeping on bathing women.  Then you have the gropers like Meliodas and going further we have. . . Well, ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ is on Netflix now.  Anyone who has seen the whole series probably knows what I’m talking about.  My point is that this character type does seem to have levels, but all of them boil down to ‘pervert’.

In the end, this is something that I don’t think would go over well in an American story.  It might get some laughs in a sitcom, but you’d have many complaints about the character’s actions.  The classic womanizer is one thing, but peeping toms and gropers, regardless of the punishments, are crossing a line for many people.  At least in this country because much of it depends on what is acceptable in one’s society.  As I said, I saw many articles condemning these characters while others talked about how well-rounded they are since the perverted behavior is a single part.  For example, Jirayai is a peeping tom, but he is a powerful ninja and a wise mentor to Naruto.  Could he be those things without the pervert aspect?  Yes, but that isn’t how he was made and the perverted old mentor does seem to be a thing at times.  They fall under the ‘dirty old man’ label.

Well, I’ve opened Pandora’s Box here.  I’m sure anyone who hasn’t watched anime or read manga will have a little trouble here.  Perhaps these characters are the reason you never got into them.  I have read plenty of series where there isn’t a pervert like ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’, ‘Black Cat’, ‘Cowboy Bebop’, and many others.  Just seems this is a fairly common archetype.  Let’s just try and stay civil in the comments, especially if I try to play Devil’s Advocate.

Miroku getting the usual reaction from Sango

By the way, I really don’t know if I’m going to ever write a character like this.  I tried a little with Fritz Warrenberg in Beginning of a Hero, but he really was more of a dirty flirt than anything like I’ve talked about here.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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39 Responses to The Perverted Character: An Anime/Manga Staple?

  1. L. Marie says:

    This is an interesting topic. Yes, I’ve seen these characters in anime, particularly Naruto. But the issue is not just about sex but about power–the perception of having it to the extent where it doesn’t matter what someone else might think (i.e., someone groping someone else simply because the groper feels he or she can do whatever he/she wants). My question is, why is this character necessary? If for laughs, who is the humor directed toward? I’m not debating an author’s right to include such a character, particularly if a fictional work takes place in a certain era. But I can’t help thinking of laws in place today.

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    • I’m surprised I haven’t gotten any angry comments yet. Here’s the way I look at it. This is a crude type of comedy directed at those who find it funny. Comedy doesn’t work on everyone. If you say a character such as this is not necessary than one had to wonder if any archetype beyond hero and villain are. Comic reliefs tend to be fat and less attractive than the heroes. Should I call for them to be banned because they occasionally offend me? What about any character who teases others because that’s how they interact? You bring up power, but I find that people throw that around far too easily. Looking at these characters, their actions are rather random and played off as almost juvenile prankish. It doesn’t really come off as ‘power’ unless the reader adds that themselves. This could be a cultural thing too since we rarely seen them outside of anime/manga. Perhaps it’s their shock events much like we use heavy gore and jump scares in movies. You really can’t look at fiction and think of modern laws unless the story takes place in modern America. Otherwise, one would have to question a lot such as the use of violence and how none of these heroes are arrested for murder of enemies. It is odd how we accept violent heroes much more easily than horny ones.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi there. It is definitely a cultural thing. Japan is very open about sex, sexuality, etc. Pervy (horny) vs Bloody (violent)? Hmmm. Both are vices, but like you mentioned why do Western countries (especially the United States) find one more accepting than the other. Great question and may lend itself well to a fascinating future post. 🙂

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      • That’s a question I ask a lot. I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten fewer comments, and the ones I did get were critical, than when I’ve discussed assassins, thieves, bad boys, antiheroes, vigilantes, serial killers, and other violent archetypes.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I liked your post. I’ve often wondered that and didn’t think to connect the discussion to one of my favorite genres and median — manga and anime. Clever work, Charles.

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      • I’m going to spend the week on this with 7 tips to writing these characters on Wednesday and ‘Female Perverts’ on Friday. Guess it’ll be a quiet or argumentative week. Might do a small post Friday night to point out the ‘violence vs sex’ thing.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Something to add. You ask who the humor is directed towards. There is an audience, but the comedy isn’t in the groping. It’s the slapstick result. The perversion is the setup and the beating is the punchline. Think about how the perverts of anime and manga rarely get away with things. They always get struck with a blow that would be lethal outside of looney tunes physics. Again, we’re probably looking at a culture thing here.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. L. Marie says:

    You misunderstood my question. I asked the question as I ask myself about every character I include in a book. Why is this character necessary? I ask the question as I think about providing more depth to a character. But next time, I will keep my opinion to myself.

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    • I get it. The pervert part seems to be a quirk that belies a seriousness. It’s almost like how a character will act goofy to make enemies underestimate them. For example, Jiraiya is an information gatherer and this tends to make get overlooked as a fool.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. rsrook says:

    It’s pretty close to the “loveable misogynist” trope that actually is pretty common in American comedies–think Barney from How I Met Your Mother, or even Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy, or practically the entire male cast of The Big Bang Theory. It’s true that American characters don’t typically go as far as groping because that generally isn’t tolerated in American culture the way other misogynistic, lewd, or objectifying behaviour can be played for laughs.

    If it’s part of making the characters into someone to laugh at, that is fine, but often these characters are drawn sympathetically, even excusing their perverse behavior, so that we are laughing with them instead of at them–and that often comes at the expense of the female characters. I actually think it’s almost as common in American media as Japanese, (and American comedy is probably worse about making women the butt of the joke) but you notice it more readily in Japanese media because the way it’s carried out is unacceptable in our culture. Whereas misogynistic behavior (esp. as played for laughs) goes unnoticed by most Americans when presented in culturally familiar ways.

    I recommend this YouTube video for a better understanding of the trope in an American context: https://youtu.be/X3-hOigoxHs

    Also, I should note that it’s totally reasonable for someone to hate this character, particularly women. And if you go the extra mile of making them sympathetic despite being gross then that can really turn some readers off. Would you expect people of color to be interested in reading a sympathetic portrayal of a racist? I think not. Handled poorly, they may even perceive the author as condoning those kinds of behaviors. They may even feel as if they are themselves being mocked.

    I don’t think it’s useful to tell an author not to include any given character or trope, but the author should keep in mind that some tropes are more likely than others to alienate potential readers. This is one of them.

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    • The loveable misogynist would be a good comparison. Much of this depends on what the culture allows in fiction, which could change as time progresses. That being said, America tends to be a lot more squeamish about sexuality in general. I’d like to point out that men are butts of jokes a lot too. We just seem to overlook that because nobody really cares if a guy is made fun of. You bring up the Big Bang Theory, which had many of the male characters be the victims of various jokes and insults. Sheldon especially gets rough treatment at times and we’re made to think he deserves it because of how he acts.

      To answer your question about sympathy, I would have to see how it’s done. What if the character was raised that way and didn’t know any better? Their story arc can be that they change their ways. The fact is that you need to make all characters human, including the ones with these horrible traits. You can’t just put that one them and make sure that they are nothing more than despised. Will this alienate people? Probably, but that’s the risk one takes. If all we have are pure good and pure bad archetypes with these others left out of the mix then things would be dull. As I said, the addition of sympathy can lead to a redemption arc or even demonstrate how a person can get that way without simply being ‘born that way’. In some ways, I think it could even help understand the problem instead of leaving it only for humor, evil, or out completely. Through understanding, one can find ways to combat it in real life and hopefully turn some away from those paths. Otherwise, we’re chalking up misogynists, racists, and perverts as lost souls both in fiction and reality.

      Liked by 2 people

      • rsrook says:

        I would recommend you take a look at the YouTube video. He does a better job of examining the interplay of the characters misogyny along with how they are mocked as nerds. (He also has a companion video that examines how the male characters mock each other in gender-based ways).

        And I see the value in a redemption arc, because character development is always good. But I think it’s important to consider who is getting sympathy and why.

        In Inuyasha you could argue that Miroku’s behavior is born both out of a facade of continuing his line, but also serves as a means to keep Sango at arm’s length because he knows he’s dying. That’s sympathetic (he’s also the embodiment of an ancient lecherous monk trope that goes all the way back to kabuki tradition which plays into the series time travel theme).

        BUT, the problem with sympathy in these characters is not that they get it from the reader at all, but rather that it often comes at the expense of the people those actions would harm. What often ends up happening in those redemption arcs is that the negative effects of the behavior are downplayed by having the victim easily forgive them (sometimes for things that real people wouldn’t, weakening the believability of the other characters and the story as a whole), or worse the victim is portrayed as cold or unreasonable for not forgiving the person who offended them.

        It’s rare to see a character experience a redemption arc where they also have to grapple with, and ultimately accept, that they are not entitled to forgiveness, and that their victim is not necessarily wrong in refusing to grant it.

        The juxtaposition is always the difficult part–whose perspective is valued more? Whose feelings are the most important? Does the character just get credit for changing behavior, or do they also have to really face the things they did before? Is the focus on their own feelings of guilt or their understanding of the harmed party’s grievance?

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      • I’ll have to make time for the video, but that will probably be the weekend. As much as I understand what you’re saying about the expense of the victim, I a redemption arc does hold a problem here. Many people are unforgiving and will think any forgiveness by the victim is earned too easily. You would run into the opposite of that cold issue, which can be legitimate if the character going for redemption is working hard on making amends. If the two are staying as enemies then the redemption arc utterly fails. The audience will not accept that they have been redeemed if the other characters are still making them suffer and withholding forgiveness. Is the victim wrong? No, but it also prevents the storyline from ending in any way other than the other character continue being seen in a bad light.

        You speak as if changing behavior and facing their actions aren’t related. That’s really the only way change can be done without it being lazy. Guilt and understanding both have to factor in. They need to understand what they did wrong to change the behavior and guilt is needed to trigger the initial understanding. I would argue that both perspectives and feelings are important for the sake of the story. Once you put one above the other, you choose a side and deem the other as lesser. Do you ignore the feelings of guilt and desire to change because you think the victim needs to be kept above all others without any wavering? An author has to be careful about putting one above the other if they want both characters to develop.

        One more thing about forgiveness is that you really can’t say that real people wouldn’t forgive something. That’s person by person situation. Some people will forgive horrible crimes to set themselves free while others will condemn small slights for eternity. If you establish the characters’ personality to be that they are capable of forgiving an act if the other character works at redemption then it works. The readers might not agree because of their own standards, but the author can’t do anything about that unless they make forgiveness impossible.

        Liked by 1 person

      • rsrook says:

        I see what you’re saying. Irretrievably condemning people is counterproductive and dehumanizing in its own way. But we do tend to be a lot more willing to present the humanizing, redemptive arcs to people that hold more power in the first place. The white terrorist gets redeemed, but the Muslim terrorist is a one-note villain. The greedy billionaire learns the error of his ways, the impoverished street thug gets murdered by the cops. The womanizer gets a redemption arc, but the slut is maligned…even when her sexual behaviors don’t cause any real harm in the first place. There’s a definite skew in who gets to be forgiven, who gets to be fully human, and who, generally speaking doesn’t.

        On the other hand, all that has a lot more to do with general trends, and there is only so much a single author can or should be held responsible for. It’s a tough question. I think the answer will always be “it depends” and the ultimate conclusion will vary from reader to reader.

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      • There is a skew, but I think the answer is to write more redemption arcs for those types that don’t than reduce the other side. I think showing that anyone can be redeemed can help people learn forgiveness in real life. By increasing the character types that get the arc, you can help that.

        Curious thing about the billionaire, which fits with your trends. How many action movies have the villain be a greedy, rich guy who inevitably gets called? That seems to be a common irredeemable villain going back to my own childhood. I think I’ve seen more movies and shows with redeemed felons than billionaires. The latter seems fairly easier to make truly evil than the former.

        Liked by 1 person

      • rsrook says:

        True, but those villains also have a strong tendency to be foreign (i.e. non-American). And we have a pretty startling amount of billionaire heroes (Tony Stark, Batman, Green Arrow, any prince or princess characters, etc.) to weigh against that.

        And the felons being redeemed tend to not be redeemed on the basis of whatever they became felons for. You could read Ant-man that way, for example–he’s in prison for theft…and his “redemption” arc involves committing heist. Same is true for a lot of those action flicks–the felon is “redeemed” by saving the world using the same violence society castigated them for previously. I’m not sure those actually constitute redemption arcs, became the character doesn’t really change–they’re just misunderstood or misdirected at the beginning. Those are just the movies I can think of. Do you know any good ones where the felon really has to come to terms with what they’ve done?

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      • I don’t know. I remember billionaire American villains in a bunch of 80’s and 90’s action movies. Even in comedies, you have the rich American asshole such as Empire Records.

        I’m noticing you’re using a lot of superheroes. Those do tend to follow the same trends depending on the era. You currently have one of old names being put on new faces. Billionaire villains are common there too like Kingpin, Lex Luthor, Doctor Doom, Green Goblin, and a slew of dictators. They actually outnumber the rich heroes.

        I’ll have to look through movies for examples, but the problem is the genre. Action movies thrive off the use of violence to solve the plot. So, you need a character prone to that. Violence is how redemption is gained in the genre. Just like how romances have it achieved through a big mushy act done in public or a heartfelt admittance if feelings. Actually, Luke Cage does atone for his actions in the Netflix series from what I remember. ‘Point of No Return’ had a junkie turned assassin and she had to accept it was her last chance.

        Liked by 2 people

      • rsrook says:

        That’s probably a good point. I’ll need to start looking out for more redemption arc narratives. Thanks for all the responses, you’ve given me a lot to think about.

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      • You’re welcome. Thanks for the discussion. Looks like this topic isn’t as big on talking as I expected. And I made two more posts about it for the week.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on adaratrosclair and commented:
    One of my favorite manga/anime series was Ranma 1/2 saturated with misunderstandings, gender-bender hilarity, ridiculous martial arts/dancing duals with a poor hero, Ranma Saotome, smack-dab in the center of it. Why? Because he was cursed after falling into the “Spring of Drowned Girl” and every time he is splashed with cold water he transforms into a girl (temporarily). The world of Ranma 1/2 is filled with pseudo-perverts (misunderstandings) and actual perverts who get the taste dragon punched out of their mouths.

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  5. jomz says:

    I find them amusing and hilarious, specially when played right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They definitely fill a niche in this medium. Yet, I can see how one has to be careful. This is why I think the punishment aspect is an essential part and compared it to the punchline of the joke. It isn’t what they do that we find amusing, but how they are brutally beaten for it. That doesn’t seem to translate to American audiences all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jomz says:

        Hahahaha! Indeed. The slapstick humor associated with the punishment for perversion. I completely forgot about that aspect.

        It’s not them being perverted that is funny in itself – it’s the punishment that is the punchline! Hahaha.

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      • It’s actually a little more sensible than American slapstick. That’s usually done out of barely provoked angry or a contrived accident. This ends up having a bigger trigger that one could see at a regular level in reality. I mean, you would punch a pervert for groping. Would you really run a saw along someone’s head when annoyed like in the Three Stooges? Probably not unless you’re a psychopath.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Looks like you got the comments going today. I think you’re dead on with the cultural aspect of this. Americans are going to have a hard time with any redemption for a perverted character. Look at our own politicians. We want to crucify them for acts that occurred decades ago, when they may well have seen the errors of their ways. People change, and I wouldn’t want to be held up to my personal record from the 1970s. I tried this arc with Jason Fogg. I took the idea that any American male is going to look through the fence at the skinny dipper. People will deny it, but it’s true. Given a cool new power, one might abuse it. Then Jason grows up and leaves some of this childishness behind. I’m toying with this angle for a future story involving Lizzie and The Hat.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The character I first recall with this trait is Happosai, from Ranma 1/2. He had an obsession with stealing women’s underwear, but like Jiraya of Naruto is a powerful ninja master. This trope seems like it might come from a traditional storytelling or theater tradition in Japan. I’ve noticed they also have certain characters who are drunk all the time — not something Americans enjoy that much, either. I’ve even seen a few who are completely obsessed with food, so that you can knock them unconscious and their first words on waking will be to plead for their favorite dish.

    Maybe the excessive indulgence is the connecting thread?

    Anyway, it does annoy me that women are groped so often. Like, the writers can’t think of anything more clever?

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    • Never saw Ranma, so the first one for me in that context is Master Roshi. It was the dirty old man thing with peeping and flirting. Good points on the food and drinking usages. The eating an insane amount of food is very common, especially as characters get more powerful. I’ll admit that I did that with Luke Callindor since I saw he was using a lot of energy as he got stronger.

      With the groping, I think it’s because that’s the easiest way to show the pervert character’s habits. Reading a dirty magazine and peeping have become oddly mundane, which could be caused by overuse. So, they’ve upped the actions, which has also led to more violent reactions.

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    • Never saw Ranma, so the first one for me in that context is Master Roshi. It was the dirty old man thing with peeping and flirting. Good points on the food and drinking usages. The eating an insane amount of food is very common, especially as characters get more powerful. I’ll admit that I did that with Luke Callindor since I saw he was using a lot of energy as he got stronger.

      With the groping, I think it’s because that’s the easiest way to show the pervert character’s habits. Reading a dirty magazine and peeping have become oddly mundane, which could be caused by overuse. So, they’ve upped the actions, which has also led to more violent reactions.

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  8. Should’ve read this one first. 🙂

    There’s a bit of this behavior in some American films and cartoons, but not extreme and always frowned upon.

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