Diabolik Lovers: Basically porn

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Meet Diabolik Lovers. The screen capture above is a regular occurrence throughout the anime. By that, I don’t mean that the show literally recycles the same scene over and over, but it is very much true that our heroine Yui seemingly spends all her waking moments stumbling from one quasi-rape scene to the next. It’s one of those anime where the girl will walk into a room, gawk at something, then turn around to find one or two or three male characters… or maybe all of them have decided to also join her in the same room to gawk and stare at her. They’ll often back her into a corner, grab her wrists, randomly lick one of her limbs, and while the lady doth protest each time, any transgressive acts are quickly forgotten as soon as we transition to the next scene. Quite literally.

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As the second screen capture would imply, Yui often finds herself falling unconscious in the presence of our less-than-upstanding gentlemen, but this very fact never seems to be any part of her nor the anime’s greater concerns. To parlay this into a related issue, I can’t quite pinpoint just what exactly Yui does in her spare time. That might sound like an inconsequential worry, but think about it. Take any well-crafted, well-written story and you’ll often notice that the author will have given you just enough tools to fill in the “gaps.” What I mean by this is that even when a character isn’t onscreen, you can probably imagine what the character is doing. Let’s use Dumbledore as an example (I don’t even particularly like Harry Potter). Certainly, he’s not always “onscreen;” he’s a major character in the plot, but hardly a main character. Even so, when he isn’t around, you can sort of imagine what Dumbledore is doing. It’s probably administrative stuff pertaining to the school he runs in the early novels, and yeah, that sounds boring, but my point is that such a thing is possible. Can you imagine what Yui is doing when she isn’t searching the one room over and over for clues about her dad (who might not even be her dad but I wasn’t interested enough to find out the truth) in between those quasi-rape sessions with the pretty boy vampires in her life? We’re told she has to attend school, but uh… this in actuality is more of a footnote than a development with any actual weight on the narrative.

The same holds true for the male characters within the show. I’m not even going to bother identifying these guys by name, a pointless gesture I can assure you. Like Yui, however, it’s hard to imagine what these guys actually do when Yui isn’t around for them to prey upon. Rather, every single time she goes somewhere–anywhere–, she inexplicably runs into one or more of them. What we seemingly have isn’t an actual universe, but a stage whereupon the guys are all actors waiting for the scene to transition to their part of the script. But even then, this doesn’t quite explain the WTF-ness about the show that made me initially find it so oddly amusing (amusing enough to watch four episodes). Here’s one sequence of events early on in the series:

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On our heroine’s first day of school, one of the pretty boys demand that she makes him takoyaki. Well golly, let’s not worry about the logistics of how such a thing might be accomplished. We’ll just get right to making the takoyaki after putting up barely a fight as anime heroines are wont to do.

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Then when Yui goes to clean up the mess, the guy bluntly demands to suck her blood. Well, what can you expect; he’s a vampire. Cue quasi-rape scene, which naturally results in our heroine falling unconscious, but when our heroine comes to, she finds herself in an entirely new location (par for the course in this anime). Our pretty boy then picks her up and throws her into a massive indoor pool for her impertinence of, uh, quibbling over his bizarre actions.

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Somehow, the sight of our heroine drowning stirs up memories from deep within the pretty boy, prompting him to jump headfirst into the water to… well, suck her blood some more. I’m not a girl, so I can’t quite say how a girl should or would react to such a sequence of events. I do know, however, it’s probably silly to…

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…sit there with a contemplative look on one’s face as if something deep and poignant had just occurred. Basically, the show is one giant red flag after the other, but instead of high-tailing it out of there, Yui just passes out constantly like a glossy-eyed narcoleptic.

If you all you wanted to do was scoff at the show’s idiocy, you needn’t read on any further, because here’s where I start rambling pretentiously.

So yeah, the show’s a bit rapey. But, I wonder, if the show’s “rapey nature,” as one might put it, the proverbial elephant-in-the-room? Or is the elephant-in-the-room something else entirely? After all, there’s absolutely nothing subtle about the show’s rapey nature. Surely, few would question the sexually aggressive atmosphere that permeates every single scene within Diabolik Lovers. Alright, then, the show’s reprehensible core isn’t the elephant-in-the-room, but then again, who’s to say there is one? Why am I so insistent on this particular angle of approaching this anime? Maybe I don’t know–it has been a while since I’ve last updated the blog, so I’m sure I will need a couple more entries before I get my bearings–, but to be honest, it would be entirely too easy to simply dismiss Diabolik Lovers as another empty, trashy show. We could do that. Certainly, we’re not obligated to even give the show the time of day. Buuuuuut… I have to admit: the show’s kind of funny.

First and foremost, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Rape is reprehensible (if you don’t agree, just stop reading here); we don’t have pretend that there might exist some magical, elusive cultural context wherein rape is somehow justified. So now that we’ve got the boring part out of the way, the first thing to admit is that these rapey scenes are not meant to be some sort of PSA. By that, Diabolik Lovers is not a warning to young women to stay away from mysterious, fancy mansions full of trendy, metrosexual young men with raging libidos and no respect whatsoever for one’s personal space. Well, I mean, if you wanted to argue otherwise, you could try. I don’t think it’d be very successful, but it might even be an interesting argument. But for our purposes, let’s just assert that it isn’t a PSA.

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What is it then?

Is it wish fulfillment? Is the show’s target audience titillated by what they see? Do they want to be in Yui’s position? Would they want a bevy of hyperaggressive guys to seemingly invade their personal space at a moment’s notice? Do they want their wrists constantly restrained and pinned against a hard surface? Does the audience wish they could feel the uninvited tongues of attractive strangers? This would seem to be the case, and if the show exists to be wish fulfillment, then you would have to start wondering about Yui’s role within the narrative. You might say Yui isn’t so much an actual character, but an empty shell to which the target audience can project their desires into. What she experiences is what the target audience, supposedly, wishes they could experience. So does that change anything? I guess what I’m hinting at is that if Yui isn’t actually a substantive character–if she’s merely a placeholder that gets abstracted away once our wildest fantasies start to churn–is the show still as rapey? If it’s wish fulfillment, then is there some sort of implied consent for the male characters’ actions? I mean, it’s a bit different from the usual anime antics, isn’t it? Usually, this sort of discussion involves a wish fulfillment character violating another character. Does it matter, however, when the situation is reversed (when the wish fulfillment character is the one being violated)? As the audience, after all, we have the choice to opt in or out.

But we’re treading dangerous territory now. Am I inviting the suggestion that Yui was, so to speak, “asking for it?” Before you grab your pitchforks, I’m not saying that… because I don’t think Yui can ask for anything; she’s not real. And I don’t mean that in the “It’s just anime, so we can do whatever we want with the fictional characters therefore I’m going to go fap to some loli fanart” sense. I’m talking about Yui’s function within the narrative universe of the show. Something has to exist in her place, unless the show adopts some sort of first-person perspective. In that case, it might as well be an eroge, but it can’t be; it’s a TV show. So again, something has to exist in Yui’s place. The seemingly unwanted attention that she receives from the male cast members are really directed at the target audience instead, but for narrative sake, something or someone has to exist conceptually where Yui currently exists in order to receive and react to said attention. So in that sense, it’s difficult for me, personally, to see Yui as an actual character wherein ideas of consent and personal space applies. She’s just a tool. Can one rape a tool? Yeah, she looks like a human girl, talks like a human girl, acts like a human girl, but she’s not. It’s the target audience that’s supposed to insert themselves in her place (if they so choose), and in that case, is the target audience being sexually harassed? This seems like a ridiculous question.

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I guess you could argue, however, that Diabolik Lovers sets a bad example whether it wants to or not. Even if we grant that Yui isn’t real–even if we grant that implied consent exists between the male characters and the show’s target audience–the show cannot guarantee that its target audience, composed of women (and I suppose there’s no reason to rule out men as well) with the proper mental faculty and aptitude to consent to this sort of masochistic roleplaying, will be the only audience. After all, isn’t it possible for any misguided person–male or female–to watch Diabolik Lovers and mistake what they see as tacit approval to do what the male characters do without at first acquiring that much-needed consent? I guess this is where we might make the claim that the show promotes “rape culture,” i.e. it makes normative what should be frowned upon except behind closed doors between two or more consenting adults. But the same thing could be said about porn. We don’t make porn illegal though (well, most of us don’t); we simply restrict it (let’s not get into the quagmire of whether or not this is enough). So in that line of thinking, is Diabolik Lovers porn albeit of a less explicit nature? Should we restrict who should be able to view it lest they start imitating the actions of the male characters without a proper grasp of what’s fantasy and what’s appropriate in the real world?

I don’t know where this post is going anymore or what I’m grasping at. To some, this is probably a cop-out in order to end the post before I force myself to arrive at some sort of tortured conclusion. I suppose after so many years, I’m simply losing my edge. I certainly didn’t set out to write an apologia for rape fantasies or anything; I certainly don’t like what I see. But at the same time, after all that I have written above, I think I’m left in a very strange place with regards to how I should judge Diabolik Lovers. Maybe I should just leave it as is: porn for a certain audience.

Yeah, I’ll admit this is a strange show to begin blogging with again. So what should I watch next (don’t say Kill la Kill)?

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27 thoughts on “Diabolik Lovers: Basically porn”

  1. Ah Diabo”lick” lovers. The epitome of everything that’s wrong with the Otome/Reverse Harem genre, and a worthy successor of terribad reverse harems of recent season, such as Amnesia. I would love to see an unholy crossover between the Harem and Otome genres, where the female protagonists in the harem are all Otome game female protagonist fodder, while the Harem MC is plucked straight from one of those Otome Game male, silent, brooding protagonists.

    Then again, a poorly written Otome Male Protagonist is more or less a Kirito Clone, so maybe not…..

    Actually, I would like to see you take a swipe at Little Busters . Or, you could cover Attack on Titan, but maybe it’s old ground. Or you could go back to the insanity that is Valverave Season 2, and how the Mecha genre has more or less given up the ghost, and is resorting to parodying itself.

  2. Welcome back.

    Hmm— I admit I only managed to watch ep. 1 before giving up. Something about the poor animation quality and LQ storyline. Apparently, the game it’s based on is popular enough to create sequels and spin-offs, so I’ve heard. I kept thinking it wouldn’t be *that* bad since well, I don’t know what they were thinking.

    For possible shows there’s Samurai Flamenco,,a superhero drama, and Gingitsune, a slice-of-life show based on running a shrine, which is more entertaining than it sounds.

  3. Interesting stuff. You meandered a bit, but I see what you’re saying. This is the polar opposite of something like BTOOOM! where the target audience who tunes in not only expect the “rapey” scenarios but desire them, and the show cycles through these scenes but it’s never really made to be frightening or traumatizing to the “protagonist”.
    BTOOOM! on the other hand was almost nothing but rapey scenarios too, but they come unexpectedly (unless you read the manga) and always carry a filthy, grim, ugly air to them. In comparison to a show like this it’s almost as though those plentiful scenes in BTOOOM! were never meant to be dark titillation, because it never had the pseudo-allure that something like this does.
    In that case, I wonder what those scenes were even for in BTOOOM!? Here they’re for enjoyment of the self-insert audience, but there was none of that in BTOOOM!. The girls were terrified and traumatized and the men were either sweaty/obese or cruel-looking/ugly. So what was the point?

    Anyway, good to see you’re still around, E-Minor. If I’d suggest a show either be “Coppelion” (post-nuclear world, 3 SDF girls venture out for survivors without armor), “Galilei Donna” (three sisters are decedents of Galileo…or something) or “Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova” (Fleet of Fog (?) wrecked mankind in the sea so there was no navy. Some teen and his friends commandeer a Fleet of Fog naval ship and set out to wreck them back). Their premises alone seem to have some potential for you, but only you would know if they’d make good candidates.

    1. I tried Galilei Donna. Well, for three episodes anyway and it seemed really goddamn vapid. And I usually hate the word ‘vapid’ because it’s overused especially with regards to female subjects, but that show is just really, really goddamn vapid. I might give the fog show another shot (I’ve only see a few minutes of it).

      As for BTOOOM, uh, I’ve forgotten almost everything about it but the premise. But…

      The girls were terrified and traumatized and the men were either sweaty/obese or cruel-looking/ugly. So what was the point?

      Well, I don’t know if this really gets to the heart of BTOOOM, but I do think sometimes in modern pulp fiction, fans get a major hard-on for grim realities. It’s like grimporn… everything is gritty and cynical. As much as I enjoyed the Nolan Batman, I feel it fell a bit victim to this. Could the same thing be said about BTOOOM? Are modern audiences obsessed with a sort of grim realism where death lurks at every corner as well as sexual assault?

  4. Hm.. its also interesting that we have this “rape trend” mainly in anime and literature (thinking of those thriller erotic novels which are always top sellers in amazon… or 50 shades of gray) because there doesn’t seem as “real” as it would in a live action movie. You never (or not as often) see the same trend in romance series or movies (or maybe I am missing some?).
    Maybe that’s also the reason she is an empty character: not just to act as a placeholder, but also so that we don’t feel bad for her, or else she would ruin the fantasy.

  5. To the question if we should restrict it: I’ll admit that if I could I would. Censoring is bad an all that but I remember being 12 going to a bookstore to the children section and picking up Honey honey drops I think, were the girls get raped by at least 2 people. But it’s okay because she somewhat starts to enjoy it and one the rapist is her boyfriend in the end. It was one of the few things with sex me and my friends had access to at that time (Internet wasn’t really popular then and as a girl you don’t really buy a playboy) and to be honest I don’t think thats something that should shape your earliest impressions of sex. Heck there are tons of pornos that are more ok in terms of consent for a teen to watch than this crap.

    1. Censoring is bad an all that

      Is it? I feel like there’s no natural right to, well, I dunno how you would put it… “freedom from censorship.” We can generally agree that too much censorship is awful. I’m not some book-burning fool nor am I a gunkata-practicing destroyer of the arts. But having said that, all we can really conclude is that most censoring seems bad, but there are exceptions… whether or not this statement applies to Diabolik Lovers though is beyond me.

  6. Welcome back.
    You know, this anime is based on an otome game, so Yui being an insert character was to be expected.
    You should give Kill la Kill a chance…

  7. I stopped watching after the first episode because yeah, this anime is just for masochists.

    Would you try Kakumeiki Valvrave S2 please? I love it so much and it’s really fun to watch!

    1. Kinda hard to do Valvrave. I’ve missed a lot of episodes. I tried jumping in at the start of the second season and I had no idea what was going on.

  8. Think Kyousogiga might be worth a shot. I personally think it’s a genuinely touching story of family and loss, except set in Wonderland and with neat animation tricks and cool symbolism. Considering I’m usually not one for those kinds of stories, that says a lot.

    On a side note, did you ever get to looking at the new Genshiken last season? If so, what did you think of it?

    1. I have some thoughts on Genshiken that might be interesting, but at the moment, I’m focused on getting a post on Samurai Flamenco out the door as well as covering other fall series.

  9. I agree with you about this show’s purpose, but I’m on the side of it not getting a free pass because it’s giving the target audience what they want. Normally the answer here is just critical condemnation, but as you say, that’s somewhat silly when applied to a show that’s overtly designed to act out a fantasy it’s not trying to normalize or imply is okay anywhere outside of this fantastical space. But to let young people see this as normal without the very specific context it’s intended for… I dunno, it’s strange to me to find myself questioning what speech is actually worth protecting. Maybe stuff like this should come with a Surgeon General’s Warning.

    As far as shows to pick up, I’ll echo Kyousogiga, which I think is easily the best-written, best-directed show this season.

    1. I dunno, it’s strange to me to find myself questioning what speech is actually worth protecting.

      When I was younger, it was all rah rah libertarianism and absolute free speech. While I wouldn’t say I’ve become a fascist as I’ve aged, I have to admit you shouldn’t be allowed to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. So a Surgeon General’s warning for stuff like Diabolik Lovers? Why not… I mean, everyone’s always afraid of slippery slope possibilities (“Oh dear, what will we censor next!”) but isn’t that what an open forum is for? Isn’t that why we discuss these things to determine whether or not X or Y should be restricted? I’m not disagreeing with your post in anyway; I’m just spurred on by what you said in the quoted passage.

  10. I have instances where I recognize a piece as “low art” and be okay with evaluating it in that way. Meaning, if I’m able to accept something for what it is or what I feel it’s trying to do, my priorities for it change as well. I end up judging it by a different standard. Watching To aru Kagaku no Railgun S left me with this exact feeling, as I applauding it for its brief moments of above-adequacy while slogging through the rest of the anime tight-lipped, thoroughly satisfied that I did not expect greater things out of the experience.

    So what makes that feeling different from, say, being disappointed in series such as Gargantia or Galilei Donna? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that I became disappointed in the first place. Unknowing of the mediocrity to come, I expected more than just good; I expected the great, possibly the excellent, but was given something inferior. A difference in themes is perhaps the culprit. You’d expect a story involving war mechs and culture clashes to be poignant in some way, wouldn’t you? Or a story where a once-estranged family is forced to work with each other once more, even if it meant being stuck in a Dan Brown novel? I certainly would.

    Maybe what I’m saying is that Diabolik Lovers might be put under more intense scrutiny if it had themes like, say, human trafficking or something, rather than being rationalized as some dumb otome adaptation of questionable harm to the general public.

    1. Maybe what I’m saying is that Diabolik Lovers might be put under more intense scrutiny if it had themes like, say, human trafficking or something, rather than being rationalized as some dumb otome adaptation of questionable harm to the general public.

      But it becomes so arbitrary. People are quick to just dismiss Diabolik Lovers, but are always frothing at the mouth to condemn something like Twilight. I guess it comes down to popularity: tearing down Twilight because of the influence it has. Still, it strikes me as something of a double standard to ignore Diabolik Lovers just because it’s not popular.

      1. Well, they are really not connected. WA2 just mention some of the songs of the first season. Just give it a chance, it’s a great drama. Nothing to do with its downhill terrible precessor.

  11. I feel conflicted about saying anything, because a typical otome show is not the hill I want to die on defending lack of censorship, but I have a strong negative reaction to the idea that no rape fantasies should exist in fiction because they are supposedly promoting rape culture. Not sure if you’re saying that, but I’ve seen the argument thrown around and it bugs me. It’s patronizing, for one, to assume that the female viewers are stupid, unaware or ignorant enough not to understand that this kind of behavior would be absolutely unacceptable in a real relationship. It would serve to further pathologize the sexuality of women who entertain masochistic and rape fantasies, and frankly women get enough sexuality policing as it is and don’t need any more well-meant finger-wagging for getting turned on by the “wrong” things. It would also be ineffectual while so much “mainstream” media contains (quasi)rape where the (male) viewer is supposed to self-insert into the rapist’s role. Basically, I think shows like this one are your last problem if you’re out to battle rape culture.

    1. Not sure if you’re saying that,

      I did not say this. I said that it should be treated like porn, i.e. restricted to the degree that its access is limited to only an audience that, as you’ve said it yourself, “understand that this kind of behavior would be absolutely unacceptable in a real relationship.” Which, to be honest, is a pretty mild thing to say. Plenty of movies are “restricted,” so in the end, Diabolik Lovers ends up right back where it started. I actually argued in the post that I don’t even think it’s really all that “rapey” when we consider Yui’s function within the show.

      Basically, I think shows like this one are your last problem if you’re out to battle rape culture.

      I don’t think I’ve ever set out to battle rape culture specifically on this blog nor have I made Diabolik Lovers my personal battleground. I mean, I think I’ve talked about rape in plenty of other spaces.

      But don’t get me wrong, I understand your overall point. I think what you’re saying applies very well to a certain book series that exploded in popularity in the West. That’s right, I don’t think people give Twilight fans enough of a credit. In fact, I think people get the entire story wrong: Bella is in complete control. But we’re so accustomed as a society to see women as always being the victim that most people are blind to Bella being the actual predator in the relationship. But whatever, this is an anime blog so I won’t get into it any further than this.

  12. I think some things are more appealing when put into a fictional scenario. The majority of the audience probably wouldn’t want to actually be put in Yui’s position, but when it’s fictional I think that it makes the whole situation into more of a taboo fantasy type of thing. Then again, some of the audience might actually be masochists and would want to be in a situation like this. Who knows? Either way, I think the main appeal of this show is the situation of the main character being put in a mansion with a bunch of pretty boys fussing over that main character.

    I just wish that they had focused more on the actual storyline. I read into the characters’ back stories and the overall story by looking on a few websites. It was actually pretty interesting to me. If they had made the show about that rather than whatever fantasies the viewers were having, it could’ve been great. Even after watching the first and second series I still didn’t have any proper answers to a lot of questions I had until I went and looked it all up.

    Another thing that would have made the show more interesting is if they had made the main character less submissive. She sort of just tells the vampires to stop but doesn’t actually DO anything to stop them and protect herself. Small spoilers ahead btw —> Even when one of the characters gives her a knife that has the ability to kill vampires, she doesn’t end up using it to protect herself AT ALL. It never ends up being something that actually helps her, so I don’t see the point of putting it in the story at all. She was also given a one way ticket to get the hell out of the mansion by that same character and she didn’t take that opportunity either! Once again, what’s the point of putting that in the story if it doesn’t effect anything? Filler I guess? Oh well, overall there was a kind of cool story but they wasted that and didn’t actually use it in the anime, or at least in a way that actually made sense or answered viewers’ questions. I would say this is one to skip unless you read the story as you go.

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