Today’s guest post comes from “Dr. Steve.” He’s a fantastic writer, but, alas, not active in the aniblogosphere. In lieu of a website link, he provided us with this bio:
Dr. Steve was introduced to anime while working on his Ph.D. in literary studies, when the local anime club showed Naruto’s fight against Zabuza and Haku on an auditorium big screen. His favorite anime series include FMA: Brotherhood, Erased, Snow White with Red Hair, and Gate, and he also enjoys computer programming, playing folk music, and unusual languages like Esperanto. Where he finds the time for these, after prayer, work, and raising several children, remains something of a mystery.
With that, we eagerly introduce his article, “What Can a Succubus Teach Us about Chastity?”
Interviews with Monster Girls (IMG from now on) has been a pleasant surprise this season. The most surprising thing for me, aside from the relative lack of fanservice (compared to certain other shows in the ‘cute monster girl’ genre), is that it dispenses with the student-centric focus that is more typical for such series: The protagonist, Takahashi Tetsuo, is a teacher apparently in his 30’s, and of the central characters we’ve met so far (three episodes in) nearly half are adults (two out of five). It’s the second adult character, Satou Sakie, whom I’ve found most intriguing so far.
Three caveats before we dive in:
1) Spoilers! You have been warned.
2) The series, while definitely a comedy, treats sex very seriously. There is more explicit discussion of sex than some may feel comfortable with, and some moments do stray into “squick” territory. So I cannot recommend it unreservedly to everyone. That said, in this story, sex does not seem to serve primarily as comedy fodder or merely a tool to drive the plot. At the moment — three episodes in — the series appears to be presenting a rather mature (in the good sense!) reflection on the nature of sexuality and romance.
3) Below I’ll talk about a woman who strives not to tempt men sexually, even by accident. While this is praiseworthy, it does not mean that sexual temptation in such cases is necessarily or even usually the fault of the woman. Furthermore, if a man ever mistreats a woman in any way, he is at fault. She is not.
Now let me introduce you to my favorite IMG character:
Satou Sakie is a 24-year-old highschool teacher. She’s also a succubus, a term which requires a little definition in this context. Traditionally in the west, a succubus is a demon from folklore that inspires nighttime dreams with sexual content. Of course, a demon in the strict Christian theological sense is not identical to a demon from Japanese lore: Christianity’s demons cannot do anything other than seek to damn souls, and are themselves irrevocably damned; Japanese “yokai” are much more like humans in that they can choose to act morally or not. It’s pretty clear in most anime and manga that depictions of supernatural creatures from Western lore (including vampires, demons, succubi, and even angels) are treated according to models from Japanese Shinto and Buddhist stories.
IMG takes things in a different direction, revealing from the outset that, in this story at least, “demi-humans” or “demis” are the results of genetic mutations in normal humans. (Think X-Men.) We learn, for instance, that the story’s primary vampire has a twin sister who is a normal human. (And yes, one was born a vampire, the other a human; Hikari wasn’t made a vampire after birth, as a human being bitten by a classical vampire could be.) So too with Satou: although she is called a ‘succubus’, not only is she not a demon in the Western sense, she’s not even a demon in the Japanese sense. She’s basically a normal human being with a superpowered ability to awaken sexual desire in others.
That power is not exactly under her control, either. Touching men (and possibly women) can automatically cause them to be overwhelmed by attraction to her. And when she briefly nods off on the train, all of the men in the same train car have a momentary erotic dream. Satou has a choice about how to handle her power. It would be easy for her to throw up her hands and say, “Well, this is just who I am. I can’t help it, so others will have to put up with me.” Or she could have gone to the opposite extreme, abandoning society and heading off to live a completely isolated life. Instead, she makes an explicit choice to try to live among normal humans while trying not to affect them with her power. Satou wears simple clothes that don’t show off her body, avoids touching men or even getting too close to them, and even lives in a house isolated in the woods so that her power to influence dreams won’t affect any neighbors while she is asleep.
It’s at this point that Satou becomes a reflection of all of us called to live chastely in a fallen, confusing world. While trying to live chastely (she’s never dated, kissed, or slept with anyone), she also desires marriage and a family. And she doesn’t want to use her power to manipulate men because she knows that would not be the same thing as real love. As she reminds herself, “As a succubus, it probably wouldn’t be hard for me to build what society would call a romantic relationship. But I don’t think that’s true romance.”
Nor does she use her desire for marriage — a good desire for a good thing — as a justification for using her power. In one sense, this is an act of faith: trusting that things will work out well even if she doesn’t take advantage of the morally questionable power given to her, and that even if things don’t work out the way she wants, it’s still better than using her power to get her way.
Satou becomes that much more admirable for her choices when we realize that she still has doubts that she’s made the right decision. While she is clearly aware of the tension between her legitimate and natural desires on the one hand and her power on the other, she is not so clear on what the nature of real romance is, and on just how feelings fit into the equation. She asks herself, “When I fall in love with a man, is that feeling any different from what men feel toward me? If it really isn’t different at all…” Satou leaves the rest implied, but the conclusion is obvious.
Satou is basically asking, “Is real love more than sexual desire, or isn’t it? If so, what is it? And if it isn’t, why should I not use what I have to stir up these feelings in my pursuit of love?” She’s hardly the first person to raise these questions! And yet, so far at least, she’s stuck to her resolve. She reminds one of the Reverend Mother in the musical, The Sound of Music: “I always try to keep faith… in my doubts.”
Her faith is rewarded when a chance encounter gives her the first hint of an answer to her question. Takahashi Tetsuo, a new teacher at the same school and our main character, catches Satou’s hand when she nearly faints in the school’s hallway, and helps her up. She is astonished that, despite having touched her, he shows no sign of being affected by her power; he treats her courteously and professionally, as a colleague in need of a bit of assistance, and then heads on his way. As she muses on his apparent immunity to her power, she finds herself more and more attracted to him. She is drawn to Takahashi precisely because he doesn’t exhibit the sexual reaction that she expects. She discovers, in short, that chastity is attractive!
The point is driven home when we as the audience see what Satou does not: Takahashi really was affected by her power, but unlike every other character we’ve seen encounter it, he deliberately and gracefully exerts his self-control. Self-control thus comes off not as a neurotic repression of good desires, but rather as the manly, adult, and healthy choice. (It’s not by chance that this episode, depicting Satou’s self-controlled life, is called “Succubus-san is a Real Adult”, and features a discussion of what constitutes real adulthood and maturity in which Takahashi is held up as a model of maturity.) Indeed, self-control becomes the seed of romance.
As a final note, it’s worth observing that the entire context of the show makes this reflection on chastity occur in a non-religious setting. On the one hand, we Christians should always keep in mind that treating people and sexuality with respect doesn’t just bring them (and us) happiness, it also pleases God; on the other hand, it helps to be reminded that chastity and purity have value even outside of religion, a value that we can communicate to a non-believing world. Chastity, like any other virtue, is not an arbitrary rule God has laid down for his followers, but a principle rooted in the nature of reality that brings happiness to those who practice it and those affected by it alike.
Don’t give up yet, Satou-san!
*All images are screenshots from episode 3 of Interviews with Monster Girls.
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