So it appears I’m taking a bit of a break from the steampunk/cyberpunk/dark-Victoriana stuff I’ve been doing, and turned my attentions for the moment to anime. But some things don’t change, and just like I corrupted steampunk by inserting handsome, muscular models into scanty steampunkage, I’m doing the same with anime.
Anime is challenging, at least for me, in the way its characters are sexualized. Speaking broadly, both men and women are generally depicted as very young–unless they’re clearly balding or gray-haired or comic. Often the characters themselves are very young: even in anime that is clearly aimed at an older audience, the protagonists can be in a sort of junior-high equivalent, and in those cases in which they’re college-age, they still look more on the junior-high end of things. At least to me. And despite their youth, the characters are often highly sexualized, either overtly through an emphasis on remarkably-developed secondary sex characteristics, or more subtly, through artfully-achieved glances, attitudes, poses, and dialogue.
This tendency is most pronounced, obviously, with female characters, but it’s also very much a thing with male characters as well. Even outside of the gay yaoi (“boy love”) or bishonen (“beautiful boy”) genres, male anime characters are often subtly–and not-so-subtly–sexualized through both art and dialogue.
Anyway, all of this causes a serious sort of cognitive dissonance for me, and no small bit of guilt and anxiety as I realize that the extremely attractive young animated gentleman I’ve grown so fond of is, like, twelve years old. And that is most definitely not OK. Now, anime has an answer: biseinen refers to “beautiful men”–grown male characters who are attractive through their handsomeness, elegance, attitude, intelligence, or even humor. [I’ll refer you this breakdown of the various types: http://blog.honeyfeed.fm/what-is-bidanshibiseinenikemen-definition-meaning/] But that doesn’t help when the protagonists of most more-or-less popular anime, or at least the ones I find interesting, are clearly not grown men.
So to assuage my guilt, I’ve undertaken a new photographic series that takes the inherently sexualized nature of (male) anime characters and–in sort of anime dialogue fashion–melodramatically (and shamelessly) pumps up the bishonen into biseinen. Like my Gentlemen of Steampunk, though, and perhaps even more so, the “Gentlemen of Anime” are not really cosplaying. The anime biseinen, in fact, have been stripped down to the barest prop-and-costume elements necessary to tie them to their bishonen roots, but all suggestion of little-boyishness are gone; these are grown-up versions of the characters they portray.
I decided to do a selective-color approach in most cases, in which the models are rendered in monochrome and their props, costume items, and other key character-identification pieces are color-saturated. My thinking is that this helps pull the models out of the “real” and is more suggestive of an anime or fantasy character.
As I said, this is an ongoing series. I’ve worked with only two models so far, and there will be many more characters and versions of characters to come. The gallery is accessible at EButterfield Photography, and you can see more there. Here, though, are some early samples of what this is all about.