Exploring the Spectrum of Pleasure: Guilt in Narutaru (NSFW)

Shadow Star v01 c001 001 shiina hoshimaru

[NO SPOILERS IN THIS POST]

Previously I’ve talked about distinguishing the guilt in pleasure from high culture/low culture dichotomies; how one may feel guilty for enjoying say, the fanservice in shows like Kampfer, as if such a one would really prefer to watch Porco Rosso instead (or something more high-brow or culturally significant). This is not the kind of guilt that I prefer to talk about here.

I distinguished one kind of guilt in taking pleasure in empathizing or even rooting for characters who do evil and villainous things — as I have for Ikari Gendo in Neon Genesis Evangelion. This time I want to talk about taking pleasure in witnessing (via media) cruel and terrible things particularly to pre-pubescent girls in Narutaru.

Shadow Star v10 185

Shouta Trap Rape

I’ve mentioned cruelty in another Kitoh work, Bokurano. 12 year olds are broken before they are killed. Not all of them of course, some triumph in the sense of having a ‘dignified’ death, despite being subject to humiliation and perversion. While it would be easy to claim that I or we don’t take pleasure in the perversions these characters are subjected to, it’s easy to claim that we are repulsed by it– It’s hard not to say that we aren’t gripped by it.

Where do we draw the line between repulsion that begs for release (where release is the actual source of pleasure), and taking actual pleasure in the illustrations of cruelty and sex (in perverted and/or cruel contexts)?

What do I mean by this? I mean we can read or watch a rape scene. Unless we take specific voyeuristic pleasure in witnessing rape in fiction and or illustration, we are probably cringing in a state of suffering at some level. Why? We are upset at what is happening to a character we probably care about. If we don’t care about the character directly, there is some part of us that disagrees with rape and rape of a child. When the scene is over, we are relieved. When the bad guys are punished, we are relieved.

Shadow Star v10 191

But we feel guilt because some part of us perhaps enjoyed the nasty business. Maybe.

But more importantly, what if the bad guys aren’t punished in the end. Or, what if all the actions for redemption, all the effort and determination meet a nihilistic end? What was their suffering for? What was OUR suffering for?

What if we enjoyed or appreciate the manga or anime anyway despite this? What does it say about us?

Why would we want to experience something like this?

Shadow Star v10 201

I don’t think I can answer these questions satisfactorily here. I can only speculate. It’s easy enough to reduce us as human beings as biological machines, that are with needs in order to continue our existence. For the purposes of this post I include psychology as part of our biological machinery. We have physical needs such as food, water, and shelter; and we have psychological needs such as pleasure. We may take pleasure in food, water, and shelter — but we take our needs further to desire specifics like sushi, sake, and well-furnished homes.

There are needs, and then there are desires. Needs are a function of lacking something. Desires are active.

Is there a specific desire to empathize with the suffering of others? It seems yes, as I find it difficult to imagine that this is a need. Similar but different to Schadenfreude, that is the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.

Character A is a villain. She performed cruel acts against our protagonist (bullying, humiliation, violence; all done with obvious malevolence and malice).

Character A is betrayed by Character B who is higher in the food chain of villainy. He rapes her cruelly before finally killing her by carving up her intestines with a small knife.

Can there be Schadenfreude in our experience of her end? Oh yes. But how much of the rape and murder do we enjoy? None of it? Really? But how about Schadenfreude itself? Is it okay to enjoy the untoward end of a character just because such character is evil? Why should we feel guilty about this!? It’s just anime! It’s just entertainment!

Precisely! It’s the idea that we find some things entertaining that can be troubling and disturbing. In Narutaru, very bad things happen to naked little girls. The character design isn’t provocatively cute, compared to the moe loli fare that is prevalent in contemporary anime. I wouldn’t call it realistic either, though in the few months that I’ve read Bokurano and Narutaru I’ve spotted gangly, and oh-so-bony (and not in a supermodel kind of way) young females in and around schools and shopping malls.

Shadow Star v11 128Shadow Star v11 132

I’m sure some readers can get off on this sexually. People have had weirder things as fetish objects I think. In depicting sex scenes, rape scenes, and the like… the panels are composed differently as they would be in hentai doujins. I don’t even think this is fanservice. I think this is something important to clear up. This tells me that it would take effort in getting off on these. But the thresholds are different for each of us. Some of the guilt I feel involves enjoying the manga itself — in that it is something someone really perverted can and will easily get off on.

So what do I make of this Narutaru experience? Whatever high on things like this, I got from Bokurano. But Narutaru feels twice as discomforting, and if there was any pleasure I got from it, I do feel guilty, kind of. This is strange to me, because I actually got to spend more time with Shiina, who is a charming and endearing character, more than any of the characters in Bokurano. But I don’t know. I think I don’t like how it all ends. You’ll just have to make up your own minds.

Further Reading

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Œdipus (1972); specifically the foreword by Michel Foucault. Wikipedia entry [->]

My endorsement of Bokurano [->]

My interpretation of guilty pleasures [->]

Again, my interpretation of cruelty here is wholly influenced by gaguri in his post on cruel anime (gaguri2008/12/10)

lolikappa crafted this last love song for Bokurano, and Mohiro Kitoh’s other completed manga Narutaru (lolikappa 2009/07/08)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, Guilty Pleasures and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Exploring the Spectrum of Pleasure: Guilt in Narutaru (NSFW)

  1. Shinmaru says:

    This is something I think about a lot, actually. What manages to confuse (or even disturb) me most is that I don’t seem to have a cohesive value system for what is “acceptable” and “not acceptable” to me in terms of levels of violence and depiction of violence. I didn’t really bat an eye at Baccano! (which is a pretty violent series), but while I did enjoy Higurashi, the violence often repulsed me. I can’t even say there is much difference between how each series portrays violence — it’s bloody and tortuous in both, although in Higurashi I suppose it occasionally borders on the fetishistic, which I think is what got to me in the end. But overall I don’t think Higurashi is any more violent than Baccano!

    There’s a certain weird energy to fictional violence — most people have that disconnect between reality and fiction, so they look at fictional violence — even enjoy it — on a different level than they would real violence. Something Baka-Raptor wrote about Kaiji when I did a post about it for the Twelve Moments stuff is pertinent: “Anyone who likes Kaiji is a sadist. Sure, we want to see him win in the end, but until then, we want to see him struggle as much as humanly possible.”

    Your point about needing to empathize with the suffering of characters interests me. I don’t think this is true for all people, characters or stories, but many people of course have an emotional investment in the characters in whatever series they watch. And when those characters suffer, we (the royal we :p) suffer with them; we are right beside the suffering character, if not physically, then in spirit.

    But the truth is, however, that we are not — we’re just watching. Few series choose to acknowledge that, but Kaiji is one of them. It takes great pains to show that Kaiji is not like the average person. He’s a lowlife, uneducated, perpetually jobless and a borderline criminal. He’s addicted to the rush of gambling. And to get himself out of the rut in which he has dug himself, he suffers — a lot. But do we truly empathize with his suffering? We want to see Kaiji win, but we want to see him suffer for it first. We’re the voyeurs.

    I mean, that’s the very basis of fiction, isn’t it? If a character’s victory does not come with the “necessary” amount of suffering and hardship, don’t we feel cheated?

    • Great stuff.

      I sometimes indulge this thinking:

      We as a species educate ourselves with narratives. From the very beginning we’ve used stories in oral (or even visual) traditions to pass along learning, culture, and mores to descendants.

      A whole lot of these stories are very violent: stories of conquest, stories of deliverance from oppressors, stories of war, stories of quests fulfilled (monsters slain, among others). The violent elements I imagine are told very dramatically, re-enacted even, and are points of the ‘performance’ that excite, and is delivered excitedly (I cannot imagine reciters of the Illiad drone in monotone portraying how Achilles fixed the corpse of Hector at the back of his chariot and then drove around Troy dragging it).

      This suggests a fundamental, if not intrinsic entertainment value of violence.

      I watch the Animal Planet, Discovery, and National Geographic channels. I change the channel when I see lions sleeping (switching to sports, lol), but I don’t imagine myself switching when they’re showing lions tearing an elephant apart, or rending Hyena royalty to shreds.

      So to attempt to address your question, I think it goes beyond the value provided by fiction. We are entertained by violence period, and those who aren’t, are perhaps entertained by different depictions of violence (opposed to the visceral and horrific), e.g. melodramas where the characters are cruelly treated (i.e. Cinderella).

  2. ojisan says:

    And more thoughts – though I doubt I can match Shinmaru’s very apt post.

    In scenes like those above, with assailants & victims, I think people get off on (among other things) the tension of whom to identify with – I think that the flicker of identification from victim, to assailant, back to victim etc, creates a gripping and disturbing tension or suspense – especially since neither position offers any relief until the scene ends.

    Narutaru is a fascinating and horrible series. I can’t get my brain around it, nor can I dismiss it.

  3. Yi says:

    This is a theme explored in depth in many rape hentai, but no one ever really cares. However when it’s in a serious manga like Narutaru, these themes of abuse get much more attention and emote guilt from people.

    Anyway, I do feel guilty for enjoying these types of works, such as Saya no Uta.

    • The link I shared with ojisan above may be of interest to you. In the post gaguri talks about beauty to be found in ultra-cruel and violent works.

      I told him that the beauty may stand out precisely because it is an oasis from the desert of ugliness, filth, and debauchery. One may tell oneself: “I watched it for those beautiful moments.” But the guilt remains, because we needn’t go out of our way to such places to experience beauty, and part of us enjoyed the filth — or at least we’re horrified and on-guard for any sign that we might actually be getting off on the filth.

  4. Pingback: Shinmaru on Acceptable Depictions of Violence « The Ghosts of Discussions

  5. Pingback: Ojisan on the Tension of Identifying with the Assailant and the Assailed « The Ghosts of Discussions

  6. coburn says:

    I dunno if you’ve seen ‘Funny Games’ by Michael Haneke, but that kind of engages with the feeling you describe here. The film covers the murder of a family but in a way which seeks to prevent the viewer from deriving any enjoyment or even meaning from the experience; it sidesteps realism, doesn’t portray character depth, doesn’t have any sublime moments, and all of the physical violence occurs slightly out of the viewer’s frame of vision. Understandably a lot of people who watch it hate the experience, but it more or less aims to play on the watcher’s guilt and to relate it to the visceral enjoyment of horror movies/violence in general.

    Maybe the guilt reflects the gap between the meaning of a work and the content, in that the existence of meaning is proof of artifice and unreality. In which case moments of meaning in a repulsive story might carry some sort of sense of absolution for the viewer – a reward, perhaps an undeserved one if, as you say, we find out in the interim that violence is intrinsically attractive.

    I’ve been thinking about violence though, and sex obviously changes the situation. That’s more inevitably challenging to one’s identity, and, at least to me, it raises the idea of censorship, evidently a hostile concept to the anime/manga community.

    • I haven’t seen this work, and the way you describe it… it makes me need a certain set of desires (mood, etc.) to even want to watch it.

      Maybe the guilt reflects the gap between the meaning of a work and the content, in that the existence of meaning is proof of artifice and unreality. In which case moments of meaning in a repulsive story might carry some sort of sense of absolution for the viewer – a reward, perhaps an undeserved one if, as you say, we find out in the interim that violence is intrinsically attractive.

      This is very cool speculation. What a thought.

      It fits very well with the thinking that ‘meaning-making’ is intrinsic to the survival mechanism of human beings. Anything unpleasant, dangerous, — any thing that the mind ‘can’t be with’ has to be contextualized, made meaning of, for the mind to ‘survive’ the encounter without prolonged suffering.

      Hence whole reservoirs of chicken soup have been cooked, divining meaning, lessons, and purpose from just about any untoward event. This can be very sinister to me.

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  8. TheBigN says:

    Does the factor of how we feel others think about the work, or worrying about how they might think of us enjoying the work factor into those feelings of guilt? If it plays a factor, than I don’t think that this example of guilt is that much different from the one coming from enjoying say “guilty pleasures.”

    And when the work tends to have more substance than a work that is superficial through and through, if we enjoy the former in a more “perverse” way than most usually do, can that make it a guilty pleasure as well? It’s harder to admit that “yes, I did get off on the rape scenes of the characters in Narutaru” than to say “I didn’t like them, but I did read through those rape scenes in Narutaru”, at least.

    • Does the factor of how we feel others think about the work, or worrying about how they might think of us enjoying the work factor into those feelings of guilt? If it plays a factor, than I don’t think that this example of guilt is that much different from the one coming from enjoying say “guilty pleasures.”

      Very much related, hence my archiving it in a category ‘guilty pleasure.’ But in a previous post, I took note of the common guilty pleasures and I attempted to distinguish it (being more about enjoying media that is ‘low culture’), from actual ethically or morally problematic content.

      In any case, I don’t draw conclusions yet (not that I often do); I’m encountering more fundamental issues related to this subject that I intend to explore in the future.

      Re your second question, the answer is yes.

  9. vendredi says:

    I would also add that in Narutaru bad things also happen to naked little boys, not just girls. Norio is a trap but still technically male…

  10. Shance says:

    So finally, it’s out. It’s good to know someone likes Kitoh’s works as passionately as I do, partly because it’s a hardcore read, and partly because of the guilty pleasures it makes me relish.

    Psychology is a staple factor when it comes to questioning mankind’s tendencies, and their curiosity that leads to unnecessary desires. When you said something about relief from an assailant’s apprehension, it spawned a question for me: Did I feel remorse after the relief from the event because probably, I wanted the scene to continue? Of course, this will also question whether or not someone will continue reading through the rest of the other scenes because of the event.

    Is this still guilty pleasure, or just me testing how concrete my morals are?

    • I can’t say I’m a fan, tbqh — you can tell when I’m a fan of something. Part of this aversion to being a fan of Kitoh and his work is precisely the guilt I feel during and after reading his work.

  11. 2DT says:

    I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that many people who decry a work as obscene or disgusting are secretly afraid that it would turn them on if they gave themselves the chance. It’s a bit like (to use a tangentially related example) men who would literally beat up gay guys who hit on them. Why? Are they afraid of catching their gayness?

    I mean, obviously this doesn’t apply to some things. For someone who can’t stand blood, guro is nauseating for very clear reasons. But when it comes to rape scenes and the like, I wonder. Extreme feminists used to say that all sex (the heterosexual kind, presumably) is an act of violence, after all. I definitely don’t think THAT’s true. But it might tap into just a shade of truth. Know what I mean?

    • Yes. Contamination and infection are powerful fears. Anything contextualized as toxic or diseased plays on these fears. Pestilence, plague, leprosy are fundamental parts of Judeo-Christian mythology/religion, also with its notions of clean and unclean, pure and corrupted.

      Sex is violent. Look at mating rituals and such. The attraction between two creatures (of the same species) are on a sliding scale and almost never evenly matched. Often, the male’s attraction is disproportionate to the female’s. The male is pushing the sexual agenda more often than the female, who is in variable states of receptiveness.

      The imposition of the will of the male, often contextualized as ‘charm,’ or ‘seduction’ can be read as violence.

  12. animewriter says:

    Sorry I haven’t been able to reply quicker, but this topic really got me thinking, and not in a good way. While feeling Schadenfreude is a perfectly acceptable human emotion I think that Narutaru takes this to a unacceptable level. I really can’t put a coherent response together in the comment section, it would be way too long, but I think I’ll try to write a post in response to this and some other issues dealing with suffering that have been burning my ass lately. Oh, by the way, great post, I haven’t gotten this fired up about a topic in a long time.

    • Thanks man. I actually wrote this months and months ago, but I kept sitting on it because I was unsure about it. I’m glad I finally put it out because of the excellent responses. I hope you get your post out soon, because I’m possessed with another installment on another facet of this issue and I’d want to publish that after you get yours out.

      • animewriter says:

        I glad you posted this topic because it seems like people dance around the issues of rape, violence, and human suffering in anime and manga. It really burns my ass when I read comments or posts where people say something like character A didn’t suffer enough or suffered too little to earn some result, I’ll try to get that post out maybe by Monday, I need time to think.

        • It really burns my ass when I read comments or posts where people say something like character A didn’t suffer enough or suffered too little to earn some result

          Wow I have seen comments like this, and not even stated humorously. Yeah this is indeed something worth thinking about.

  13. Crusader says:

    As time goes on I can see why some senior enlisted are accused by their spouses as being emotionally unavailable. Take a journey into some of these hell holes and after a point you either break or you just stop caring. I haven’t read Narutaru and judging by what you have put up I have little inclination to since I see enough fucked up shit already. As for that bully who was raped and then killed, it was unfortunate and a undignified end for someone who was probably an undignified person. While she may not have deserved all of what was done to her its possible to just hand her the proverbial tough shit card, I may find what happened to her disagreeable but I wouldn’t go out of my way to empathize with her. To me she’s just another poor bastard who had to reap what she sowed. I might feel guilty if I take joy out of the rape, the disembowelment is by far more acceptable, but in the end my gut reaction would be “sucks to be you.” If she is still breathing I’d ask for the killers’ address and inquire if she accepts Jesus as her personal savior.

    I only empathize with villains if they seem reasonable and if the so called heroes have as much personality as plaster. Hence why Prince Ali was a hero to me because he personally killed people who generally deserved to die, and was honest about why he did it and who he was.

    • I agree that there’s really little reason to go out of one’s way to read this. I was on a streak of wanting to consume emotionally harrowing works, but I wasn’t necessarily looking for ‘fucked up shit.’ I’m generally a happy guy, so I can take bleak and tragic works with no real damage. This isn’t to say that I haven’t seen bad stuff up close, I have — though certainly not at the level of a veteran soldier, or say Special Victims Unit police officers.

      On a daily basis, I see homeless beggars BOTH wasting away and YET breeding like hamsters. It’s too terrible for me to really think about, seeing whole bunches of children begging in the streets. It’s something I don’t have the chops and inclination to write about.

      Empathy is indeed an active thing, one must actually go down and do it — though it seems that there are some works that pull it out from you.

      • Crusader says:

        Well you are living the dream, but don’t forget to count your blessings. It’s generally good to empathize however I think that you can only do so much. Some of the more broken places in the world are really tragic, but fixing them is beyond my paygrade. My line of work can get incredibly taxing and even when when off duty there are things that make me cry a little inside, my coping mechanism is largely to lose my self in work.

        It’s good that you can read this stuff and not toss it aside as a gut reaction, for me I’d rather read fiction that has a lighter take on things otherwise I’d would have gone insane long ago.

      • Marigold Ran says:

        Well, you know, when you’re a homeless beggar, what else can you do?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for identifying yourself as a freak who takes pleasure in seeing people tortured and raped. Your justifications for this are irrelevant; seek help. I’ll be sure to avoid your blog from now on.

  15. Marigold Ran says:

    Some people try very hard to succeed in life. They’re cheerful, optimistic, and like-able. But beneath it, they have a brittle psychology. You KNOW they’re going to fall, and when it finally happens….

    It’s the pleasure of a survivor, watching someone else crack.

    • And you take pleasure in that, which sounds like schadenfreude.

      • Marigold Ran says:

        It’s more than that. It’s like doing something challenging and watching others fail at it while you make it through. They cracked. I didn’t, or I wouldn’t. Therefore I’m better. The “I’m tougher than them” type of pleasure.

  16. Rakuen says:

    One of the primal impulses of us humans is violence. And since humans are more hell-bent on surviving than dying, we are more likely to take pleasure from hurting others than hurting ourselves. But then again, pain reminds us that we are alive, and hurting people reminds us that people feel too.

    Now I feel like reading stuff like this. The psychology is just riveting.

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  21. lala says:

    NORIO – the one being raped and drugged in the first few slides, IS A GAY BOY in the manga, not a girl. I dunno if that was cleared up already, but I thought that I’d point that out.

  22. Ricky Nguyen says:

    Wow, this is an insightful post. I guess we all feel guilty because a part of us likes it, so we try to be disgusted with it. Are there other posts of Narutaru that you have done?

    • Ricky Nguyen says:

      ghostlightning, I’m asking for you when I made the comment above. Hope you answer the question in it. Also, do you know what happened to the rest of Norio’s dead body? Except for his severed head, where did the rest of his body go? Did those thugs put it in a dumpster, or did they take it with them?

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