Content note: contains vague spoilers for episode 6 of ‘Sarazanmai’.
This isn’t the post I’d planned for this weekend. But it is the post my stupid brain wants to focus on at 11:45pm when I have work in the morning.
So the English dub of ‘Sarazanmai’ is out, and once again the focus is on Reo and Mabu. Specifically, the English version of ‘Kawausoiya’. Or ‘Otterly Sexy’, as it’s now known.
While I appreciate the work that’s gone into anglicising this incredibly catchy song, seeing the title instantly had me rolling my eyes in asexual despair. Not for the pun; ‘Kawausoiya’ is a pun on kawauso (otter) and soiya (a festival chant, a sort of Japanese ‘oggy oggy oggy’). I can appreciate a good pun.
It’s the ‘sexy’ part that makes me feel just that little bit more tired and defeated.
I get it. Sex is a big deal. Sexy is the new black. I just have this automatic sense of distance when anything is sold to me with sexiness as the focal point.
In the case of Reo and Mabu, it’s a mix of this and the ongoing fetishisation of gay men that fandom is notorious for. There is a big difference between positive representation of same-gender-attraction and glorifying or sexualising gay men for their appeal to straight women. But that is a separate essay, and I’m putting my gay anger aside for now.
Instead, my focus is on the insistence that ‘sexiness’ is the best quality a thing can have. Whether that thing is a TV show, a person, a song, a car or a bar of chocolate.
I fully understand that for non-ace people, associating a thing with sex evokes some sort of positive squishy feelings that makes those people want that thing. The sex feelings are fun, so the thing that makes them have the sex feelings is a desirable thing.
But can we have some things that are fun without the squishy sex feelings?
Maybe it’s the word ‘sexy’. I don’t like the sound of it. It sounds clumsy and almost immature. The awkward ‘ks’ sound in the middle of it is clunky and decidedly unattractive. It does not sound like what it’s saying. ‘Sensual’, with its soft sussuration, is a much more pleasing word. ‘Sexy’ reminds me of being eleven years old and hearing Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ at school discos, where the word felt naughty and a little too old for us. ‘Sexy’ is cheap red lingerie and page 3 girls and strip clubs. ‘Sexy’ is trying too hard. I hear the word ‘sexy’ and whatever it’s associated with immediately feels devoid of any actual appeal.
When I first saw clips of the ‘Kawausoiya’ sequence, my first thoughts were of the references to ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena’. That show, for me, was a powerful love story with big themes that went way beyond typical high school romance stories. This was Love, grand love that transcended life and death and teenage hormones. I saw the same things in Reo and Mabu, especially having read their prequel manga. They were a domestic couple, co-habiting and raising a baby and working together and being good for each other. When I watched the ‘Kawausoiya’ sequence for the first time in episode two, I didn’t see Reo ripping open Mabu’s shirt as a prequel to sex. I saw Mabu’s clockwork heart, saw the red strings of fate, saw Reo holding Mabu and Mabu trusting Reo with his very essence.
And people want to make that a sex thing?
I know someone’s thinking, ‘well, their whole deal is extracting people’s desires’. But desire isn’t necessarily a sex thing either. After all, every person we’ve seen them extract desire from has had a fetish, which by definition is a non-sexual act which replaces the need for sexual release. And in episode six, they target a child for extraction. They recognise desire as a longing for something, and it’s the feeling of want that’s more important than whatever the thing is.
It can be incredibly frustrating, at times, navigating fandom as an asexual person. We are conditioned to see the world through the lens of sexuality, even though we don’t make the same connections instinctively or have the same reactions as allosexual people. We can recognise when a thing is supposed to have sexual allure, usually because that ‘sexiness’ is telegraphed in such obvious ways. But it’s still confusing a lot of the time.
When a film or TV show gives us two characters who make googly eyes at each other, who get into a fight or dance with each other in a nightclub or flirt with each other during their very first conversation, we get what’s supposed to be happening. It’s a language we’re taught to understand very early on through practically all visual media. We (or at least, I) just don’t share those experiences. When I meet someone for the first time, even if I can recognise that they are a conventionally good-looking person, I cannot fathom even letting them touch me beyond a handshake. I don’t feel any kind of connection to someone until I’ve had several conversations with them. The thought of approaching a stranger with the intention of flirting or hooking up is alien to me, because why would anyone want a relationship with a person they know nothing about?
In the case of fandom, this can mean a real disconnection from the way romance and relationships are written about, both in fanfiction and in meta. I cannot properly enjoy a piece of fanfiction if the writer has one character lusting after the other every time they reach for something and their shirt rides up to reveal that patch of skin above their waistband (and that trope is so ubiquitous that it’s possible I’ve even written it myself – I recognise it as a thing that’s supposed to be sexy, even though it’s not a reaction I’ve ever had, ever). It’s why I rarely read ‘Yuri On Ice’ fanfiction any more, even though I love the show and Victor/Yuuri. There’s an insistence from so many fic writers that Victor fell in love with Yuuri because Yuuri is astonishingly beautiful, a god among mortals, sex on legs. Even though Yuuri is canonically average-looking and plain, so many fic writers cannot seem to fathom that Victor might be attracted to Yuuri for other reasons.
It actually saddens me a little, to think that these writers can’t imagine being attracted to a person because they’re funny, or talented, or kind. Instead, it has to be sex first, emotional connection later. In some ways, it can even devalue a character, making them seem shallow if all they care about is someone’s hot bod, instead of noticing their other qualities.
Foe-yay is an absolute nightmare for me. It honestly horrifies me to consider falling into bed with someone I don’t like. How can a character stand to be touched by someone they have no good feelings for? Is lust really that powerful? And don’t even get me started on ships like Bakugo/Midoriya.
Slow burn friends-to-lovers is my lifeline as a fanfiction reader. I live for stories of good friends gradually realising that they feel increasingly affectionate towards each other. That’s what makes sense to me.
I have no issue with people reading things I don’t like; after all, there is no single right way to enjoy something and I believe in letting people like what they like. But when content creators, particularly studios making dubs, insist that the ‘sexy’ interpretation is the sole intent and focus, it’s honestly off-putting.
I remember the introduction of the second Ray in ‘Due South’, and how lead actor Paul Gross was aware of the Fraser/Vecchio shippers and said something along the lines of “wait until [the fans] see the new guy” when Ray Kowalski was introduced. The second they deliberately started playing with the ship-tease, I stopped caring. It had stopped being about two friends who genuinely cared for each other and possibly loved each other, and had become about being ‘sexy’. And ‘sexy’ is trying too hard.
It gets tiring after a while. Constantly being told that ‘sexy’ is best, that attractive people doing sexy things together is best, is wearing me out. As an ace-spec person, it makes me feel disconnected from stories. As a decidedly unattractive-looking person, it makes me feel bad about myself, as if those ‘better’ relationships are beyond me because I’m not good-looking enough to deserve them. As a feminist, it saddens me that we’re reinforcing the idea that good-looking people are more valuable and that good looking men are the absolute top-tier pinnacle of social worth.
Can we differentiate between sexiness and sensual pleasure? Can we recognise that when something makes us feel good, that feeling isn’t necessarily sex-related? The ‘Kawausoiya’ song is a wonderful piece of music, and I say this as a musician with an ear for intricate rhythms and melodies. The driving beat is just fast enough to raise the heart-rate, and the the tune evokes traditional Japanese music while keeping a modern pop feel, reminding us that the characters singing are not entirely of this world even though they are very present in contemporary Asakusa city.
A bar of chocolate is a sensory pleasure. Dancing is a sensory pleasure. Driving a car, wearing soft fabrics, listening to music, all sensory pleasures. They can be associated with sex, but insistent fetishisation is, frankly, off-putting. Can we just un-sex these things every once in a while?
‘Kawausoiya’ is a sensory pleasure. ‘Sexy’ is Keppi pole-dancing in high-heeled boots.