It Bugs Me: Phantom World Episode 8

Thought I was done with these, huh?

After the first four episodes, there wasn’t a lot to talk about in Phantom World. I’d covered the setup and worldbuilding, I covered the lazy writing, I covered the characters by not covering them because there’s nothing there, but after that initial surge of terrible, there wasn’t a lot to talk about. It just went back to being generically bad. You know, the type of bad where the fact that the show looks pretty is actually able to keep the show relatively enjoyable.

But then comes episode 8.

Now, I don’t consider myself a feminist. Not that I’m against women or even feminism. I’m sure there are certain schools of feminism I wholeheartedly agree with and support. It’s just that, to me, feminism implies a sort of activism that I just don’t care enough about to participate in, so I don’t make it part of my identity. I absolutely love when female characters are written well, I think we need more of those in fiction, and female characters are the ones I usually have the most fun writing. That said, I’m also a dateless loser who loves anime partially because there are opportunities to project myself onto similar dateless losers who have a bunch of cute girls following him around. So yeah, while I’ll champion good female characters, I guess I’m not entirely opposed to the objectification of women in fiction either. But hey, let’s make it clear that I don’t want there to be double standards here. We should be given good shows that objectify men in the same way. So go ahead and watch your male idol shows and reverse harems and your Free clones. You deserve them. You go girl. Or guy.

Anyway. I’m basically just trying to say that I just don’t often care enough to get riled up about shows to throw words like “misogynistic” and “objectification” around. Which is why, when I say that I thought episode 8 of Phantom World was offensively misogynistic and objectifying, it should be clear that it must have managed to piss me off royally.

Anyway, before we begin, feel free to refresh yourself on the first four posts in this series. Since then, we’ve delved into Phones’s dumb backstory, finally added Token Loli to the team, and had an episode that was simultaneously good and bad until it was observed. At which point it was revealed to be bad. But still tolerable. The reason I didn’t write anything up for episodes 5, 6, and 7 was because I just found them kind of dull instead of infuriating. They’re the sort of thing that I can tolerate watching because the artstyle and animation are nice. No substance, but plenty of style. That sort of thing. It’s not important to know what happens in those episodes, though, because apart from Token Loli (who I will be referring to as Kuma-chan because of her bear obsession and because I can’t be bothered to remember her actual name) joining the team, nothing relevant to anything happened. But I’ll get to that in a later post. Let’s get to the actual episode before I go off on any further tangents.

So what’s the topic in Haruhiko’s Exposition Exhibition today?

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Ah, yes. Hot springs. Onsens. Looks like it’s discourse time again.

When I had the opportunity to visit Hokkaido, the best experience I actually took away from the trip was going to the onsen. The group I was with helped out around the farm during the day, and visiting an onsen after a hard day’s work was an absolutely fantastic experience. The first time, it was a bit awkward, because it entailed getting naked around some people I’d just met and a bunch of strangers. But after that wears off, the nudity is almost…liberating and unifying. You just have to let go of your shame and embarrassment. The vulnerability creates trust. There’s an implicit understanding that I won’t make fun of your naked body, and you won’t make fun of mine. There’s really nothing to do other than relax and chat, so it’s a good bonding experience.

In addition, it feels great to unwind, and the whole thing seems to be treated with a sort of reverence. I think there must be some sort of cultural connotation associated with bathing in Japan, where it’s seen as synonymous with peace, relaxation, and healing. Whenever I was at the onsen, I felt like it was almost a holy experience.

Which is of course why anime so frequently takes the “nudity” aspect of it and runs with that for the sake of fanservice. It pisses me off, it does.

Anyway, this episode is the onsen one. At least Haruhiko sets up the “healing” aspect, though.

(And yes, I will be referring to hot springs as onsens, partially because I am a disgusting weeaboo but mostly because that’s the term we used when we went to actually visit them so I’m stocking to what comes more naturally to me.)

In this episode, the school has been invaded by a hot spring filled with monkey Slowpokes and their big boss monkey man.

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The onsen is providing intense heat, disrupting classes and forcing them to schedule them over summer break–unless the students can get rid of it. Haruhiko can’t draw the Phantom to seal it because it’s obscured by the water. Reina can’t suck it up because it has to be weakened first. All the other students are failing because the Phantom is strong and also because they’re attacking him one by one like idiots instead of trying to work together.

Around the point in the episode that the “Beach Angels” make their appearance, the episode begins taking a turn for the misogynistic. First of all, there’s the Beach Angels themselves. It’s in English, so it’s clearly meant to be a play off of both “beach,” referring to their water-based powers, and “bitch,” which in Japanese has more sexual connotations. And then this happens.

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And just like that, it becomes clear that the girls are here this episode to get sexualized. Violated by a disgusting, slimy, monkey tongue.

Immediately after this, Mai tries and meets the same fate.

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Although admittedly, I got a chuckle from the banana gag that got her in that situation. It’s such a dead gag that it’s rare anyone actually has the balls to go for it anymore.

Then it’s back to the failed attempts to stop Ecchi Ape, this time by the main cast. Everyone fails, Mai insists she could do it if she could just get in close, and Haruhiko hatches a plan.

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Okay, the banana gag was all right, but two dead gags is really pushing it.

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No. That’s bullshit. You don’t have to make your Trojan horse a literal horse as an homage. The point is to disguise yourself to get close rather than convince them to unwittingly take an enemy in, so you’d be much better with a monkey disguise of some sort. This is yet another example of this show’s homage and references not having any goddamn rhyme or reason. It’s literally just a bunch of high school trivia thrown in with no purpose. But I’ve gotten on the show for that before, so just go back and read the other entries if you want to hear me elaborate.

So of course the horse fails, because all the monkeys pile onto its back (and also because of course a plan that dumb is going to fail). Aaaaaaand…

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That’s five times now. Five.

So since attacking Monklops on isn’t working, they attempt to draw him out. How? Well…like this.

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This is where the episode starts to get downright uncomfortable. Yes, I know that Reina agreed to this. Yes, I know that none of the male cast members encouraged this in any way. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is exactly what everything prior was leading up to. We establish that sealing powers won’t work on the Phantom for various reasons and that he’s too powerful to fight. We establish that he’s uncomfortably pervy, and that he’s not overly aggressive, meaning that he’s not going to be lured by just anything. So these girls have to debase themselves in order to defeat the Phantom because that’s what the plot requires.

Reina’s character is established as being a sheltered and naive girl who’s does not generally react well to anything resembling romantic or sexual advances. We’ve seen her react violently to it multiple times.

It’s the sort of thing where you can imagine Jeff Winger leaning over to the KyoAni staff and informing them that “Reina’s pretty young; we try not to sexualize her.” And yet, there she is, leaning over and sticking her ass in the air to lure out a monkey that has been sexually violating the girls who’ve approached him. And look at her. Look how uncomfortable, embarrassed, and she looks in that image. She’s clearly only doing it because she thinks she has to, not because she wants to. It’s so deeply uncomfortable to watch. And what’s more, it doesn’t work because Ecchi Ape isn’t into her. So she’s just debased herself for no fucking reason.

There are a few more attempts that fail, and then….

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And of course, he turns to the girls to redden their posteriors. Haruhiko chooses Mai as the best suited for the task. Why Mai, exactly? I mean, I get that she’s the most full-figured, but there’s no other option? She’s clearly really, really against it.

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Again, so deeply, deeply uncomfortable. Because this isn’t some great feminist narrative. This is the show going out of its way to sexualize these characters, then depicting them as clearly being against it. It feels more like the writer is violating them than anything else. This isn’t women facing adversity and either overcoming it or experiencing character growth through it. This isn’t even a shoehorned rape to create a dramatic backstory. This feels like the writer acting out his own sick fantasies. He’s not writing a story where sexual assault is a plot point. He himself is the one sexually violating his own characters. That’s what this is. This is an author forcing himself on a female character against their will. And KyoAni decided “hey, this weird fetishistic fantasy is a part of the story we should definitely adapt.”

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WHY THE FUCK IS HARUHIKO THE ONE DOING THIS?

I mean, yes, he’s established as being the guy who paints, but it doesn’t take a master artist to apply paint to buttocks. Have one of the girls do it. Sweet fucking Nayru.

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Yes. Haruhiko is fucking getting off to this. You know who else is? Hopefully nobody!

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I am convinced that half of KyoAni’s staff absolutely hates this show and is inserting cries for help wherever they can. Because no. Of course it didn’t have to be Haruhiko doing the painting. Everyone knows that whole scene was just gratuitous. But someone must have fought to include it, and someone else must have slipped this line in as a way of saying “YES, WE KNOW. WE ARE DEEPLY ASHAMED. PLEASE FORGIVE US.”

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“Please. Please watch a better show than this one.”

So after we’ve horribly debased both Reina and Mai, does this scheme go according to plan? Does Haruhiko keep his word and protect her from being assaulted by the monkey again?

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What’s more, Mai trips on the paint can and sends it flying onto Haruhiko’s sketchbook, ruining his chance to sketch the monkey now that he can see his feet. So what’s he do instead?

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CTHULU FTHAGN!

Cthulhu saves Mai (but since I’m the one watching the show, I’m the one driven to madness), and we get this line:

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Excuse me, but he totally did. The camera pans down, but you can clearly see the tongue coming out, and there’s no way all that happened in the space of time between the start and end of the lick.

And we get an explanation of how Haruhiko has a technique to summon without a sketchbook. Funny, though, how when he has a sketchbook, he’s only able to summon a winged puppy, whereas here he’s able to summon a cute (but competent) version of Cthulhu. The rules on how Haruhiko’s power works seem very vague and ill-defined. First that bullshit with the blood/red paint, and now “oh, I don’t even technically need a sketchbook to summon because I can do it without and I can actually summon more helpful Phantoms when that happens.”

Fuck this show.

So Cthulhu gives King Kong a beatdown, and Ruru delivers this story:

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Look, I’m just saying, if I had my heart broken and then went around licking girls, I would be going door to door introducing myself as a registered sex offender rather than getting married.

Their club adviser shows up with this:

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So, uh…why exactly did they not do this sooner? Why could this not be the solution in the first place, instead of having Haruhiko paint Mai’s ass?

Oh, wait, I know why. Because then the author wouldn’t be able to spank his monkey.

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And you know what? This makes me uncomfortable to. Because now it’s not just the female characters being sexually violated for fanservice. Now the male character is getting sexually violated for a joke. Because when rape happens to women, it’s sexy, but when rape happens to men, it’s funny. It’s a double standard where both sides lose. And it’s absolutely disgusting.

That’s the end of this episode. And boy did it piss me off. Up until this point, Phantom World was a bad but harmless fanservice show. This episode was a harmful one. It was hard and uncomfortable to watch, especially because all of this was being played for laughs. It was hard enough seeing this happen to characters I don’t care about. I can only imagine how rough it was for people who actually like them.

There’s more to say about what’s been happening in Phantom World. There were the three episodes before this one, and two that have come out since. I won’t be covering them since they’re not egregiously bad, but there are a few things that need to be said. I’ll be putting them up in an interlude in the near future.

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