When you watch enough anime, the main characters’ voices all tend to blend together. They’re not always voiced by the same actor, but they might as well be. Most of the time, they all look and act the same. They usually always have black hair, not too neat but not too wild. They’re not especially bright, usually don’t even do all that well in school, but gosh darn don’t they work hard.
To be quite frank, these “heroes” of anime are quite ordinary and it’s obvious why: it’s all a lie. These pathetic males represent a part of male anime fans, but not the dominant part. Only the deceptive part, and thus they must be weak and pathetic not just so they can deceive (and I’ll get into who they’re trying to deceive), but also so they do not and could not threaten and usurp the alpha male in us that it is separated from.
Main characters of anime, especially harem anime, have a particular look and cadence, a particular whininess to their tone that really brings across that “I’m not really confident, I’m really just a spineless loser” (see: Shinji). Beyond the voice, however, the main character is also annoyingly, painstakingly pure; a “too pure-pure boy.”
You always felt, watching these hopeless dorks too afraid to hold hands with a girl–who can’t tell a girl is hitting on him if she pulled her panties down and rubbed up against his legs–that these losers are the “Mary Sues” of anime. You might object, naturally of course; why the hell would I want to be this whiny loser who needs to go through 24+ episodes with hot babes around him and yet never get laid? But it’s true. The weak main character grounds the anime in reality, what the anime viewership can identify with. The twist, however, is that the Shinjis of the world represent only half of who we are. It’s what we want women to think that we are. Most women wouldn’t fall for it, but anime women can and do. The weak male in anime is insistently too ineffectual to really be a sexual predator. This isn’t necessarily true in real life, but it works in anime.
And then the other half of us, the viewers on the other side of the screen, i.e. the male gaze, can then be the omnipresent peeping Tom, able to see all the embarrassing details of the objectified 2-D women on screen. Think of all the amazing coincidences where her skirt flies up and her ichigo pantsu stares at us in all its nascent sexuality.
Anime allows males to really be in two places. The main character is the “Mary Sue” and the viewer is the creep with no consequences. I’m really a nice guy, I really wouldn’t take advantage of you. But on the other side of the screen, the viewer watches with glee and revels in the utter embarrassment and exploitation of women. In real life, “Nice Guys” don’t really stand a chance against a lot of girls. Not just because most 3-D women can see through their acts, but simply being nice and friendly doesn’t entitle you to get in her pants. If most guys had an inkling of conscience, they’d feel some sort of cognitive dissonance. Surely they want to be a “Nice Guy” to maximize their fucking potential, natural to all red blooded males, but at the same time, that’s wrong, right?
Anime crushes that cognitive dissonance. That’s the real insidious quality of most anime, particularly harem anime, where the male gaze literally gets to become two in order to insulate itself from personal criticism. “Nice Guys” in real life have to deal with both wanting to get into a girl’s pants and lying to her that he really cares about her as a person. Anime viewership separates this duality into separate compenents: the male deception in the pathetic, seemingly asexual 16 year old on screen vs. the alpha male on the outside. The unfortunate female character who always gets her clothes torn off or wet can trust and rely on this “friend” in the screen because he isn’t trying (there are exceptions but in this case, the anime is simply shameless in its misogyny) to get in her pants; he can’t even try. The other half of us, the male gaze, gets to watch safely in the confines of the real world, exploiting and objectifying the women on screen for our own amusement. And without the slightest pangs of regret.