Gankutsuou and Responsibly Portraying a Teen Crushing on an Adult

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After the Rain has sparked many a conversation about the lines between ethical fantasy, how age gap media is targeted (and how you can tell), and the romanticizing or normalizing of potentially predatory behavior. Many have argued that AtR is a light and harmless fantasy show meant to give young women a chance to live out their crushes on older men in a safe environment. I’ve talked before about why I don’t truck with that assessment—the framing skews heavily toward romance (Crunchyroll’s ad copy quotes it as a “heartrending love story”), heroine Akira wouldn’t be out of place in the films of real-life predator Woody Allen, and most of the interior life is given to the male protagonist Kondo.

Whether or not Akira and Kondo wind up together forever (or at all), there’s the fact that framing matters immensely. No media exists in a vacuum—it inevitably answers to other works of art and to real events, and doubly so when it sets itself in a real, grounded setting like Rain’s. It means that whether or not the show intends, say, to play up that Kondo is so completely harmless and could never hurt a girl against her will (a technique commonly used by predators) or frame the narrative so that Akira is constantly coming on to the clueless Kondo (an excuse favored by sexual predators after they’ve been caught), it nonetheless creates a seedy impression hitting too close to real life—and not in a way the show is intending to. There is a reason that the most successful shows about indulging in a taboo subject have some marked fantastical element to set them apart.

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“This is a fantasy for teens,” I often hear, but it strikes me as the opposite—a fantasy for old men who want to prey on teens. I know, because my all-time favorite anime—one I discovered as a teenager and have continued to enjoy into adulthood—has at its core the story of a teen who is able to save an adult from himself.

[contains major spoilers for Gankutsuou]

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