Lolicon (ロリコン), also romanized as rorikon, is Japanese discourse or media centered on an attraction to young (or young-looking) girl characters. The term, a portmanteau of the phrase "Lolita complex" (rorīta konpurekkusu),[a] describes this attraction to fictional girls (see § Definition and scope), an individual with such an attraction, or the lolicon genre of media such as manga and anime, in which "lolis" (the subjects of lolicon works) are often depicted in an aesthetic of "cute eroticism" (kawaii ero). Within this context of otaku subculture, lolicon is distinct from an attraction to realistic representations of girls, or real girls as such.
The term is derived from Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel Lolita, and was first used in Japan in the 1970s to describe erotic doujinshi (self-published manga) depictions of young girls. Throughout the "lolicon boom" of the 1980s, the term was understood among otaku (manga and anime fans) to describe attraction to bishōjo (cute girl) characters. The connotation of lolicon changed in the 1990s after the arrest of Tsutomu Miyazaki, a child molester and serial killer who triggered a moral panic against otaku and otaku media. Consequently, the term lolicon has largely fallen out of widespread use, replaced among otaku by the term moe. Lolicon material, while often erotic or pornographic in nature, encompasses both sexual and asexual depictions.
Laws have been enacted in various countries which regulate explicit content featuring fictional children or childlike characters. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have made it illegal to possess lolicon, while other countries, such as Japan, allow lolicon on the basis of freedom of expression. Skeptics and supporters alike have debated if the lolicon genre contributes to actual sexual abuse of children or not. Studies of lolicon fans find that they are attracted to an aesthetic of cuteness rather than the age of the characters, and that collecting lolicon represents a disconnect from society.
Definition and scope
Lolicon is a portmanteau of "Lolita complex", a term derived from Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita (1955) and introduced to Japan with the translation of Russell Trainer's The Lolita Complex (1966, translated 1969). Despite its explicitly sexual origin, the meaning of the term lolicon as used by fans from the 1970s to the early 1980s was divergent. Akira Akagi connects lolicon desire to an attraction to "cuteness" and "girl-ness" in manga and anime, rather than a sexual attraction to young girls. Kaoru Nagayama similarly argues that lolicon is less an attraction to girls than an attraction to "cute things"; other Japanese critics describe it as desire for "manga-like" characters, "cuteness", "roundness", and the "two-dimensional", as opposed to the "real".
The connotations of the term lolicon in Japan changed in the 1990s after the arrest of Tsutomu Miyazaki, a child molester and serial killer who was linked by the mass media to lolicon (see § History). As the meaning of lolicon in the public sphere shifted away from the original meaning of "an orientation of desire toward fiction as such", and towards a conflation with desire for real children, the term was replaced among otaku (manga and anime fans) by a term lacking this connotation: moe. As a result of the Miyazaki case, the term lolicon today has taken on two divergent meanings: for critics, it indicates "pedophilia", while otaku and their advocates continue to understand the term as the attraction to fictional girl characters and not real children.
In Japanese, lolicon can mean the attraction itself, an individual with the attraction, or the genre of media targeted at this demographic. Some otaku clarify their attraction further by using the term "two-dimensional lolicon" (nijigen rorikon) to highlight their orientation to fictional characters as opposed to real girls. Some define the subjects of lolicon works (ロリ, "loli") by their age, while others define based on appearance. The terminology of lolicon in Japanese is distinct from that of pedophilia (yōji-zuki or pedofiria, more clinically shōniseiai or jidōseiai) and that of child pornography (jidō poruno).
Genre and meaning outside Japan
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Media in the lolicon genre is widespread in Japan, where it is a frequent subject of scholarly articles and criticism. Lolicon media is typically consumed by young men, though Nagayama notes that the work of the lolicon manga creator Machida Hiraku has "resonated with female readers" and "earned the support of women". Many general bookstores and newsstands openly offer illustrated lolicon material, but there has also been police action against lolicon manga.
Lolicon manga are usually short stories, published as doujinshi (fan works) or in magazines specializing in the genre such as Lemon People, Manga Burikko and Comic LO (where "LO" stands for "Lolita Only"). Common focuses of these stories include taboo relationships, such as between a teacher and student or brother and sister, while others feature sexual experimentation between children. Some lolicon manga cross over with other erotic genres, such as crossdressing and futanari. Plot devices are often used to explain the young appearance for many of the characters. Schoolgirls accidentally showing their underwear are common characters in the lolicon genre.
Akira Akagi believes that during the 1980s, the lolicon genre changed from being tales of a young girl having sex with an older man to being about "girl-ness" and "cuteness". Akagi identifies subgenres within lolicon of sadomasochism, "groping objects" (tentacles and robots in the role of the penis), "mecha fetishes" (a combination of a machine, usually a weapon, and a girl), parodies of mainstream anime and manga, and "simply indecent or perverted stuff". Additionally, lolicon can include themes of lesbianism and masturbation.
Men began reading shōjo manga in the 1970s, including the works of the Year 24 Group and the "girly" works of Mutsu A-ko. According to Dinah Zank, lolicon is "rooted in the glorification of girls culture in Japan", and therefore uses shōjo manga vocabulary. The lolicon style borrows from shōjo manga designs and has also been influenced by women creating pornographic materials for men.
According to Michael Darling, female manga artists who draw lolicon material include Chiho Aoshima (The red-eyed tribe billboard), Aya Takano (Universe Dream wall painting)., and Kaworu Watashiya (who created Kodomo no Jikan; was interpreted as a lolicon work by Jason DeAngelis.) According to Darling, male artists include Henmaru Machino (untitled, aka Green Caterpillar's Girl), Hitoshi Tomizawa (Alien 9, Milk Closet), and Bome (sculptures). Weekly Dearest My Brother is a manga and figurine series which, according to Takashi Murakami, women find cute and "an innocent fantasy", but which arouses "pedophiliac desires" among men.
The meaning of lolicon has evolved much in the Western world, as have words like anime, otaku and hentai. "Lolicon" is also used to refer directly to the products, anime or manga that contains explicitly sexual or erotic portrayals of prepubescent girls. However, there is disagreement if this definition also applies to childlike characters who are not clearly prepubescent and if it applies to material lacking explicit sexual content.
Manga (comics) emerged as mass culture in Japan after World War II due to its low cost and relatively low barrier to creative participation. Japanese animation (anime) began widespread production in the 1960s, spurred by Osamu Tezuka's television series Astro Boy. Manga and anime, being free of the limitations of existing industries, like film, saw an explosion in production in the 1970s. Despite a marked preference for young and young-looking characters, there was little resistance to putting these characters into sexual and violent situations, or to showing such imagery to children and adults alike. Kinsella attributes this trend to a weaker "compartmentalization" of pornography in post-war Japan compared to post-war America or Britain. Galbraith notes the mature tone of manga set by Tezuka, whose works were inspired by Walt Disney but featured sex, violence and moral ambiguity.
Early lolicon works emerged in 1974, with Shinji Wada's Alice in Wonderland-inspired short manga, Stumbling Upon a Cabbage Field (キャベツ畑でつまずいて, Kyabetsu-batake de Tsumazuite). In 1979, the "Father of Lolicon", Hideo Azuma, published Cybele, a lolicon doujinshi magazine in a style parody of Osamu Tezuka. Previous pornographic manga had been drawn in the more realistic gekiga style, and Azuma's work marked the beginning of a more cartoony aesthetic (marked by "round, soft" linework and characters) for lolicon works, and for erotic and pornographic manga as a whole.
The rise of lolicon was closely linked to the concurrent development of otaku fan culture around manga and anime. Early lolicon idols in anime were Clarisse from Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979) and the heroine Minky Momo (1982); Clarisse was particularly popular, and inspired discussions of her appeal in otaku-oriented magazines and a myriad of fan works, only a portion of which were explicitly sexual. The term "lolicon" rose to popularity among otaku during this period to describe works centered on the appeal of beautiful young girls (bishōjo). Anime shows targeted at young girls, which often featured young bishōjo heroines, began being watched by fans outside of the target demographic who were courted by creators to raise ratings.
The early 1980s saw a "lolicon boom" in professional and amateur art, and the creation of specialty publications dedicated to the genre, including Lemon People (1981) and Manga Burikko (1982). Other doujinshi magazines began featuring "underage or barely pubescent virgins" in erotic contexts, and by the late 1980s this "fantasy genre" had spread to some mass market magazines. Galbraith notes during the period an "increasingly small place for realistic characters and explicit depictions of sex", and a continuation of the trend set by Azuma rooted in the styles of shōjo manga (comics for girls). Frederik L. Schodt and Dinah Zank suggest that Japanese laws prohibiting the depiction of pubic hair may have encouraged the spread of "erotic manga with a rorikon flavor". Notable lolicon manga artists who published in specialty magazines include Miki Hayasaka, Kamui Fujiwara, Kyoko Okazaki, Narumi Kakinouchi, Yoshiki Takaya, and Aki Uchiyama, the "King of Lolicon". The first erotic anime was Lolita Anime, released in 1984.
Public scrutiny was brought to bear on lolicon in 1989 with the arrest of Tsutomu Miyazaki, a young man accused of kidnapping and murdering four girls between the ages of 4 and 7, and committing acts of necrophilia with their corpses. The mass media portrayed him as a "withdrawn and obsessive" otaku who enjoyed lolicon in particular, triggering a moral panic about "harmful manga" that resulted in a crackdown by local authorities on retailers and publishers. In the aftermath, the Japanese non-profit organization CASPAR was founded with the goal of campaigning for regulation of lolicon. Despite local ordinances passed against obscene manga, lolicon imagery continued to expand during the 1990s and became more widely accepted.
In the late 1990s, Japan came under increased international pressure to criminalize child pornography, culminating in the passing of a 1999 national law that outlawed its production and distribution. Since then, there have been attempts to expand the law's provisions to include not only live-action porn material that depicts real underage children, but also fictional depictions with no live models, like lolicon manga and anime. Throughout the 2000s, a wide range of groups in Japan, including feminists, lawyers, and artists defended the freedom to produce and consume lolicon. In June 2014, Japan's parliament amended the 1999 law to punish the possession of real child pornography, and decided against outlawing fictional depictions, like lolicon. The original amendment, which had included a ban on virtual depictions, was protested by industry associations involved in anime and manga, who said "while they appreciate that the bill protects children, it will also restrict freedom of expression". Manga creator and artist Ken Akamatsu states that "there is also no scientific evidence to prove that so-called 'harmful media' increases crime".
Some local laws that restrict lolicon have been enacted, particularly in Tokyo. A proposal in 2010 to amend the Tokyo law on what material could be sold to minors included a ban on sexualised depictions of "nonexistent youths" under the age of 18. The proposal was criticised by many manga artists, and opposed by the Democratic Party of Japan. The bill was put on hold until June of that year, after which it was amended to change the text for "nonexistent youths" to "depicted youths". Despite the changes, the bill was rejected by the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in June. A revision of the bill was passed in December 2010, requiring self-regulation of "'manga, anime and other images' ... that 'unjustifiably glorify or emphasize' certain sexual or pseudo sexual acts...depictions of 'sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life'". However, the bill no longer uses the term "nonexistent youth" and applies to all material that is not necessarily meant to be sexually stimulating. The bill also does not regulate mobile sites or downloaded content and is only intended for publications such as books and DVDs. In 2011, the title Oku-sama wa Shōgakusei ("My Wife Is an Elementary Student") was listed as a title to be considered for restriction due to "child rape", but was later published online by J-Comi.
The legal status of lolicon manga and anime that portray children involved erotically with adults has changed with time and is currently under intensive debate in Japan. A Japanese non-profit organization called CASPAR has claimed that lolicon and other anime magazines and games encourage sex crimes. According to Galbraith, Yasushi Takatsuki has noted that sexual abuse of minors in Japan has declined since the 1960s and 1970s, which "roughly coincides with the increasing presence of fictional lolicon". Galbraith feels that this is not an argument that lolicon "compensates for or relieves real desires", but instead that lolicon imagery does not "reflect the desires" of readers, or inspire them to commit crimes. A report by the Sexologisk Klinik for the Danish government concluded that fictional images of the sexual abuse of minors do not contribute to the actual abuse of minors. It has been suggested that restricting sexual expression in drawings or animated games and videos might actually increase the rate of sexual crime by eliminating a harmless outlet for desires that could motivate crime.
Cultural critic Hiroki Azuma said that very few readers of lolicon manga commit crimes. He states that in the otaku culture, lolicon is the "most convenient [form of rebellion]" against society. Azuma says that some otaku feel so "excluded from society" that they "feel as if they are the sort of 'no good' person who should be attracted to little girls". Sarah Goode describes the accumulation of lolicon materials as being "a medium through which disaffected men may choose to express their sense of anomie and disconnection with society". When questioning the relationship of lolicon to "finding children in real life sexually attractive", Goode presents the argument of a lolicon fan "that even if I could be classified as a kind of anime lolicon, it'd NEVER translate into RL pedophilia. This is predicated on the belief that the anime lolis I like DO NOT EXIST in RL".
Setsu Shigematsu believes that lolicon manga should not be equated to photographic or adult video lolicon materials which involve real children; instead she argues that lolicon represents an artificial sexuality, turning away from "three dimensional reality" and redirecting sexual energies towards "two dimensional figures of desire". Akira Akagi writes that in lolicon manga, the girl represents cuteness, and that it is not her age which makes her attractive, and furthermore, that lolicon fans project themselves onto lolicon characters, identifying themselves with the girl. The manga critic Kaoru Nagayama suggests that the ratio of real pedophiles among readers of lolicon manga is the same as the ratio among the broader population, or even lower.
Lolicon manga has been and is marketed to both boys and men. Sharon Kinsella wrote that lolicon manga was a late 1980s outgrowth of girls' manga, which included yaoi and parodies of boys' and adult manga. This occurred as more men attended amateur manga conventions and as new boys' amateur manga genres appeared at Comiket. Kinsella distinguished between the attitudes toward gender of amateur lolicon manga and that of male fans of girls' manga. While parody manga created by women ridicule male stereotypes and appeal to both male and female fans, lolicon manga "usually features a girl heroine with large eyes and a body that is both voluptuous and child-like, scantily clad in an outfit that approximates a cross between a 1970s bikini and a space-age suit of armour". Kinsella noted dominant British and American genres and imports of animation video in the 1990s derived from lolicon manga, suggesting women, and therefore also men, in all of these countries have gone through similar social and cultural experiences.
Sociologist Itō Kimio characterises otaku as having more affection towards the anime and manga world than for a realistic world, saying that to the otaku, the two-dimensional world portrayed becomes "more real". Itō views the preference for young girls as sex objects in manga and anime to be due to a change in Japanese society in the 1970s and 1980s. He says that at that time, boys felt that girls were "surpassing them in terms of willpower and action". However, as the boys believed girls to be the weaker sex, the boys began focusing on young girls "who were 'easy to control'". Additionally, the young girls of lolicon exist in the media, which Itō points out is a place where one can control things however they want.
Responding to the portrayal of Clarisse from Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, Hayao Miyazaki criticized the lolicon artists and fans who idolize her in what he considers a demeaning manner. He differentiates his female protagonists, labeling those the aforementioned idolized, according to The Otaku Encyclopedia, "as pets".
- Japanese: ロリータ・コンプレックス
- Nagayama 2020, pp. 118–119: "One needs to be cautious, because even today a work with a heroine under 18 years of age is likely to be automatically registered as lolicon manga in society at large, but, for manga readers, this distinction would mean the girl character is younger than middleschool-aged, and for fanatics she would be younger than gradeschool-aged. Fanatics would also probably want to include 'prior to the first menstrual period' as an absolute requirement, and more pedophiliac readers would probably say 'the zone is kindergarteners,' but, in this more general discussion of eromanga, I want to define lolicon manga as works with a heroine younger than a middleschool student."
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