Anime often explores topics that are taboo in many cultures. For example, sexuality, in general, is a very sensitive topic in the United States and is not usually welcomed by general audiences. However, there is one specific taboo that has a tendency to show up in anime more often than any other form of media: incest, a forbidden romantic or sexual relationship between family members.
Many examples exist of anime with incestuous characters, such as Kyoukai no Kanata, Kiss x Sis, Koi Kaze, Tenshi Kinryouku, Candy Boy, Fruits Basket, and many more. The purpose of the incestuous themes are varied in each of these shows, however, they all have it to some degree.
The question that many have is why? Specifically, why is incest a common occurrence and how is it a more accepted topic in Japanese culture? One thing to consider is that it might have something to do with how Japan differs in views about sexuality from most other countries.
Anime is art, and like any art form, it can be heavily expressive of beliefs. In Japan, sex is a much more comfortable and open topic that is much easier to discuss than in the West. This makes the topics that would surround it much more likely to appear in their many art forms, including anime. Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t be difficult to believe that incest is just another topic that might be expressed through art.
In Japan, siblings are usually regarded as caretakers and tend to take on more responsibilities in offering guidance for their younger siblings. There are many reasons why an incest theme might be used in an anime because of this. While it might not be as likely of a possibility in a real-world scenario, exploring the possibility of incest between siblings based off of this knowledge is something that can be entertaining or thought-provoking.
A lot of anime that have themes of incest are shoujo titles. In fact, many of the examples above are shoujo. Shoujo are anime typically aimed at a young female audience and are usually centered around personal and romantic relationships. Incest can be used as a theme here as it can be a very emotional experience, and not simply a physical relationship. When this taboo is used in a story that focuses on an attempt to find love or to explore a person’s deep desires for romance, it can generate a strong emotional response in a viewer. Whether a good response or a bad one, it still managed to get the viewer to feel a strong way. Koi Kaze is a romance anime that does this very well.
Koi Kaze is a serious romantic tale of Saeki Koushirou, a wedding planner that has many struggles with his own love life. He is the child of a divorced couple and lives with his father. He has a mother and sister, but he has not seen either of them in years. One day Saeki meets a high school girl that he develops romantic feelings for, only to later discover that she is, in fact, his sister and that she will be staying with him and his father. This is an example of a much more serious and interesting look into a possible scenario where the incestuous theme is in some ways a lot more believable.
Other anime with incestuous elements are usually within the ecchi category. While it might not be to most individuals' tastes, it has to be noted that there are those who enjoy incestuous characters. Comedy is also a genre where you are likely to have incestuous characters. The incest is almost always played for laughs and usually not taken to an extent of ever having a serious relationship. Characters like this can sometimes be referred to as having a brother-sister complex.
For example, Kiss x Sis is the story of Keita Suminoe and his twin step-sisters Ako and Riko. They both grow to have romantic feelings for their brother and wish to be with him, this sets up a lusty and hilarious tale of Keita trying to keep his relationship with his sisters strictly that of a brother-sister nature. This differs heavily from the more serious Koi Kaze.
With the fact that incest can be found in some form or another in a large portion of anime, it leads to my final point. There is clearly an audience of individuals that like seeing this subject material in their entertainment. There is a market for this type of content, so logically there is no real reason for the individuals that make such material to stop. There can be moral conflicts with a viewer's personal belief towards the subject; however, these people have the choice to not view it if they do not wish to.
I hope that I have managed to give some clarity towards some possible reasons as to why incest appears so often in anime. It is a topic that has the potential to make people uncomfortable, but at the very least it is good to have a perspective on why it exists without completely brushing it off as a sexual topic.
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