Mature Themes in Anime

Mature Themes in Anime

Introduction

Last night I saw a tweet from someone associated with Anime News Network claiming that The Rising of the Shield Hero is “the most morally repugnant isekai show” they have seen due to its inclusion of slavery. So, I think it’s time for me to explain exactly why slavery should be included in that series.

However, I won’t stop there, because I’m sure people who believe slavery shouldn’t be depicted in Shield Hero are also the same ones who think sexual assault shouldn’t be depicted in Goblin Slayer. And, for good measure, I’ll be throwing mental illness, such as depression, into the mix too.

So, if you’re someone who believes none of these more mature themes should be present in anime, then you’re the person who needs to read this post the most. There are a variety of reasons these themes need to be included in anime, and you’re probably overlooking them.

Sexual Assault

I’ve discussed the inclusion of sexual assault and rape in Goblin Slayer a decent number of times during my episode reviews of it, so we’ll start here because it’s familiar territory to at least some of you. Everyone who dropped Goblin Slayer after the first episode and then complained about the series is wrong.

Well, they’re probably not all wrong; some of them simply decided that the series wasn’t for them. But, anyone who dropped the series specifically because they thought it was using sexual assault for shock and entertainment value is completely misunderstanding the point of the series.

Think of it this way, yes Goblin Slayer includes scenes of brutal sexual assault, but does it ever glorify it? The answer is no. And, the reason for this is because the underlying story of Goblin Slayer is about the struggle to return to a state of normalcy after something like a sexual assault occurs.

Fantasy series are parallels of our own world in which we can explore themes and ideas that are otherwise off-limits for one reason or another. Take The Lord of the Rings for example; parts of it cover how deforestation and pollution negatively affect the world.

So, for a dark fantasy series such as Goblin Slayer to do something similar with sexual assault makes complete sense. By taking this taboo topic and putting it into a fantasy story, it becomes more accessible for a lot of people and may even make them start thinking about it.

Yes, we can all agree that sexual assault is bad, but we typically don’t stop to think about life after the assault. How do survivors cope with it? What happens if they can’t cope with it? What about their family and friends, how are they affected as well? These are the questions Goblin Slayer brings to the forefront.

Fighter, post-Goblin attack from the anime series Goblin Slayer episode 1
Fighter, post-Goblin attack

But, most of Goblin Slayer focuses on what I’ll call secondary victims of sexual assault. This would be characters like Goblin Slayer, whose sister was assaulted, or Priestess, whose comrade, Fighter, was assaulted. There are probably a number of reasons for this, but my guess would be that this is the side the author felt he could do justice.

This has led some to claim that the end result for the primary victims, like Fighter, is brushed under the rug. However, I’m here to tell you that isn’t the case. Yes, Fighter is so physically, mentally, and emotionally scarred that she quits being an adventurer and fades away, but the sad reality is that’s what happens to some survivors in our world too.

By including the fact that Fighter never recovers, we’re being shown that not everyone is capable to returning to a state of normalcy. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this, despite how much we as a society like to avert our eyes.

And, I’d also like to point out that Sword Maiden is an example of a primary survivor who, although hasn’t completely recovered and probably never will, has at least worked hard to make the best of her situation. She’s still scarred, but she’s doing her best to regain control of her life.

Also, I should point out that since sexual violence is a real thing in our world, it only makes sense for it to also be present in fantasy worlds. So, in that regard Goblin Slayer is simply being realistic.

Slavery

Now it’s time for the current hot-topic, slavery in anime, specifically Shield Hero. So, let me start by saying that as a historian I’m opposed to brushing any part of history under the rug, especially if it’s done so that certain groups of people can pretend the dark parts of their history never happened.

Slavery was real, slavery is still real, and we shouldn’t try to pretend that isn’t the case simply because it makes us uncomfortable. So, now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at three key points about slavery:

  1. Slavery has always been a part of human civilization.
  2. Slavery isn’t purely a racial issue even though we like to think of it that way in the U.S. specifically.
  3. Even those who owned slaves generally understood it was wrong.

With those three points in mind we can start to understand why slavery is depicted in Shield Hero and why it’s depicted the way it is. As for the first point, slavery is, unfortunately, common wherever there’s a large population of humans.

And, since the nature of slavery has changed in modern-day, I won’t comment on it, but historically slavery was extremely important for the progress of individuals, communities, and nations. For example, the Spartans were able to have a standing army specifically because they had slaves to do their farming.

Similarly, in Shield Hero, Naofumi is able to become stronger and save people as a hero specifically because he purchases Raphtalia as a slave. Does this excuse slavery as an institution? No, but it’s an explanation for why slavery was tolerated to an extent in the past.

Raphtalia in the slave market from the anime series The Rising of the Shield Hero episode 2
Raphtalia in the slave market

Just remember, historically slavery served a purpose, and that’s exactly how Naofumi seems to see it in Shield Hero. When he first purchases Raphtalia he does say that slaves aren’t people, but we can probably chalk that up to him trying to get the slave trader on his side considering he never says anything like that again.

Later on in the series, when confronted by the other three heroes about his use of a slave, Naofumi defends himself by saying it’s perfectly legal in the world they’re in. Coming from an outside perspective that seems like a bad excuse, but what about if we think of it from Naofumi’s perspective?

He’s been brought to some unknown world against his will and is being forced to fight to save the lives of a people who have shunned and tormented him. He can’t leave unless he wins the fights ahead of him, and he can’t do that without a slave to make him stronger.

And, it should also be noted that he tends to treat Raphtalia as a daughter, not a slave, but I recognize that doesn’t change the fact that he bought her. But, this shows that even though he bought a slave, he doesn’t see slavery as something that’s right.

I’ll also point out that, like Goblin Slayer with sexual assault, Shield Hero doesn’t glorify slavery. It kind of did when Raphtalia chose to have the slave seal placed on her a second time, but even Naofumi was against her doing this. To me, that’s more of a sign that Raphtalia is mentally broken down, which I’ll get to later.

But, my final point on the use of slavery in Shield Hero has to do with the most recent episode in which the slave trader tells Naofumi that thanks to him, the slave business is booming. Nobles from across the land are buying Filolial eggs and demi-human slaves at record numbers.

The tweet I mentioned at the start of this post specifically pointed to this scene as proof that Naofumi is complicit in the slave trade. However, there are two key things to remember here. The first is that Naofumi never tries to convince anyone slavery is right, and the second is that the nobles are the ones buying slaves.

The fact that the nobles are buying more slaves is the real key factor here because they’re the antagonists of the series. Just like how the Goblins from Goblin Slayer are doing the raping, the Nobles (antagonists) are the ones buying more slaves. Ergo, buying slaves is bad because it’s what the bad guys are doing.

So, from a historical standpoint, Shield Hero is being accurate. And, from a “moral” standpoint, Shield Hero is saying that only bad guys buy slaves. The fact that Naofumi also bought a slave is just a sign that he’s an anti-hero, much like how Deadpool kills people even though killing is bad.

Mental Illness

And, let’s just briefly go over the inclusion of mental illness and depression in anime to complete the mature theme trifecta. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “but mental illness isn’t the same as sexual assault and slavery,” and you’re right, except that it’s treated the same way.

Much like sexual assault and slavery, we tend to avert our eyes from those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression. So, what better way to get people to start thinking about these things than to include them in popular media like anime?

Let’s take Raphtalia for example. When she decides to have her slave seal re-applied, it certainly seemed like slavery was being glorified on the surface, but beneath the surface I see a deeply disturbed young girl. The fact that Raphtalia believes her worth is tied to how devoted she is to Naofumi is an issue that shouldn’t be overlooked.

This is probably an effect of losing her family, becoming a slave, and then finally meeting someone who treated her half decent for once. However, where I think Shield Hero fails in this regard is that Raphtalia seems to get over everything too quickly.

By the next episode she’s no longer a broken girl, and it’s like nothing ever happened. But, this isn’t the case for all characters who suffer from mental breakdowns. I’ve mentioned before that one of the best written characters in anime is Asuka Langley from Evangelion, and she’s a prime example.

Asuka has a lot of mental issues she’s dealing with throughout the series, and the ways in which her character and the problems she deals with are presented is extremely well-done. To put it simply, she looks towards older men for recognition of her worth due to a combination of depression, insecurity, and anxiety.

And, sorry for this spoiler, but things don’t end well for her. Asuka isn’t a character that glorifies mental illness in any way. Instead, she’s the embodiment of how devastating mental illness can be without proper help and support.

Just as Goblin Slayer brought sexual assault to the forefront of our minds with its depictions of life after an assault, and as Shield Hero made us face the reality that slavery was a very real part of life for most of human civilization, characters like Asuka from Evangelion show us the reality of mental illness.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Goblin Slayer’s use of sexual assault, Shield Hero’s use of slavery, and Evangelion’s focus on mental illness are not bad. If anything, they’re good because they bring these difficult topics to the forefront of our minds without glorifying them.

I’d also like to say that if The Rising of the Shield Hero is “the most morally repugnant isekai show” that you’ve seen, you must not have ever watched Sword Art Online. Or, maybe you have, but never noticed that girls tend to get sexually assaulted an average of once per season in that series for no reason other than fan service shots.

So, although today’s topic was more serious compared to what I usually write, let me know if you found any of my points particularly persuasive by clicking the like button ❤ down below. And, if you don’t agree with any of my points, I invite you to give me your perspectives in the comments.

And, finally, I’d like to thank HeavyROMAN for supporting DoubleSama.com at the Heika tier this month. If you want to support this blog then you can do so by becoming a patron over at Patreon.com/DoubleSama, or simply by following me on Twitter @DoubleSama.

Update:

I tweeted this post at the person who was making the aforementioned claims on Twitter about Shield Hero being bad because it supports slavery. It was my hope to be able to start a discussion with him, but as is often the case when people realize they’re wrong, he blocked me.

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2 Replies to “Mature Themes in Anime”

  1. -“In conclusion, Goblin Slayer’s use of sexual assault, Shield Hero’s use of slavery, and Evangelion’s focus on mental illness are not bad”.
    Are you talking seriously?

    perhaps the protagonist does not glorify slavery, but the series itself seems to show the enormous advantages of owning slaves to the point of giving Raphtalia many advantages that would not have been achieved being free, the author is only giving the opposite message, and about the sexual assault in Goblin slayer which is a totally superficial element since it only happens to extras and the protagonist gives the same thing because in his group nothing happens to him because of the enormous plot armor they have.
    These elements would be interesting if the The same series tratrase them well, but it’s not like that.
    The story of Berserk (manga) shows things like these and much worse, but is totally against them, Guts is an antihero who knows he did terrible things and does not deserve anyone’s forgiveness. His duty is to die along with the villain, it is not in the plan of the hero of the shield where, because there are worse people than him, we must obligatorily put ourselves on his side, no matter how much he acts unacceptable.

    1. I am. Just because you can recognize that these topics are negative things doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included in a series. By that logic, any series with a main character who has ever killed anyone should be banned as well since murder is bad. What’s included in a series doesn’t matter, what matters is how it’s presented. And, even if something negative is occasionally presented as positive, does that mean we should ban it immediately? No. We should be able to use it to learn why people might think that way and then in turn create ways to convince them otherwise. Content is subjective.

      As for Goblin Slayer’s use of sexual assault, it’s pretty explicitly a major point to the series, so I don’t know what series you watched. The entire plot revolves around it and it’s the driving force for most of the plot. Just because Goblin Slayer hasn’t been sexually assaulted doesn’t mean it’s not important to his story.

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