Last time, I talked about how High School of the Dead (HSOTD) made me reconsider the way women are portrayed in anime. Had I been a little sexist before? Was this even a problem? So now I go back to examine one of my favorite anime of the past, CUTEY HONEY, to see if these critiques of myself hold true.
What I found was oddly one of the most positive examples of female sexuality... if you look past the stripping. Read on!
For those not familiar, Cutey (or Cutie) Honey (created by Go Nagai) is a female android who transforms into different armors and costumes (mainly fetish related) to combat the evil forces of Panther Claw, headed by her opposite number Sister Jill. Usually accompanied by a male ace reporter and perverted scientist grandfather figure, she often deals with issues relating to her humanity, purpose, and sometimes falling in love.
Each series of CUTEY HONEY are wildly different in their portrayal, reflecting the times in which they were made. The original Honey was very much a sexploitation comedy reflecting the trippy 1970's spy vibe. Despite the limited animation, it was one of the first uses of sex as a selling point in anime.
With it’s next incarnation, CUTEY HONEY FLASH, the tone shifted to reflect it’s magical girl roots as much as possible, including two different love interests for Honey and increasing Honey’s appeal to young girls. The OVA version, NEW CUTEY HONEY featured a much more voluptuous lead more in the vein of a female pro wrestler. This series was seen as a tribute to Go Nagai’s previous works, and has more horror and action elements. It is also a terribly 90's anime with a less than stellar English dub.
So why does CUTEY HONEY get a pass from me, HSOTD didn’t? Well, it’s all about the tone.
Kisaragi Honey’s main purpose might be to titillate in these shows, but I always felt she was funny and strong and appealing as well. While she might fall pray to stupid traps and being written pretty airheaded in some cases, she always ends up on the winning side by utilizing her special powers in a come from behind victory. It’s also a comedy, which HSOTD was not, though I found their flip-flopping of the female characters very laughable.
But looking back at the series, however, I can now see what CUTEY HONEY really was: a sofcore parody of hentai.
Honey attended an all girl Catholic prep school, and was essentially the lustful idol that boys and girls alike went after. And every time her alter ego would show up and start changing into costumes, they’d often conform to some kind of sexy stereotype. And when Cutey Honey would fight Panther Claw, they’d often put her in risque situations where the threat of being violated was ever present.
The only thing the show was missing was sex scenes, and that would be a totally different show altogether!
I am fine watching hentai, but if CUTEY HONEY crossed over into that, it would cease to be the kind of show that I could really get behind. While it does play into broad characterizations of women it does so with such tongue in cheek it’s hard to take it very seriously. Which is why that attitude didn’t work for me in HSOTD because I was meant as the audience to take their plight and drama very seriously, so the violence against women really stood out.
If you do something with a comedy bent, that infuses irony into the situation, distances you from the action, and acknowledges its inherent absurdity. Everyone gets in on the joke. That’s why Saya getting attacked by Takashi in HSOTD because she’s a hysteric woman is upsetting, but Cutey Honey gleefully having her clothes explode-- by her own choice-- is positive and amusing... if definitely skewed towards the male audience.
Cutey Honey is not a show for everyone... though my mom and fiancee might find it amusing, if only because they know me so well. I still remain an avid fan of the show, and think that despite her oversexualization, Cutey Honey shows agency and effects her world by using her sexuality rather than being a victim of it. Some of her issues might be simplified but at least they are acknowledged, and the action comedy tone keeps it outside the realm of offensiveness.
I guess teenage Sam wasn’t a sexist after all! Maybe a bit of a horndog... but that hasn’t changed much either, since I am a self-proclaimed “sex expert” on the Vice Pit.
Let me know in the comments what anime you think skirt the line between “fanservice” and hentai. And which ones do you think use women’s sexuality in a positive light?
NEXT TIME: REAL TALK ABOUT HENTAI
Sam Weller is a writer and actor who's scribed for shows like FIRST EDITION, GEEK THERAPY, and most recently BATGIRL: SPOILED. He also really likes anime. To know what is going to happen next, follow @cravesam