Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > MM! Episodes 1 and 2 – One With the Freaks

MM! Episodes 1 and 2 – One With the Freaks

As anime geared towards fan service relentlessly strip mines the traditional fetishes of the medium more and more each season, it makes sense that some shows would turn to more mainstream kinks to shamelessly exploit for the titillation of otaku everywhere.

MM! (new readers: exclamation marks are mandatory on antiotaku) is the first show in what I hope is not the start of a trend of fan service pandering to fetishes capable of being satisfied in real life. It stars Sado Tarou, your typical blandly unremarkable but slightly geeky protagonist, but one with a terrible secret: he secretly enjoys being abused by girls.

If you think Sado’s name is a coincidence, you are probably totally unprepared for the aggressive lack of subtlety this show displays on every level. In terms of the continuum of realism and cartoon that any anime falls into, MM! is a pure cartoon on every level. Everything frequently goes frantic and super-deformed, and the level of comic brutality inflicted on Sado in just the first episode would send even the most callously violent Looney Tunes short running home, crying.

Sado's tortures become increasingly more deranged as the episodes progress

The thing is, MM! just isn’t funny. Jaded anime viewers like myself will be nonplussed by the exaggerated, over the top actions of its characters: we’ve seen them all before. Unless you find Sado’s unexplained arousal in the face of repeated torture funny after the fifth or sixth sequence of increasingly outlandish abuse, you’re not going to get much out of MM!

There’s also mercifully little fan service, at least in the first two episodes. But this poses a problem: bad comedy and scantily-clad girls are the pillars upon which shows like MM! are formed. Without either, what can they do?

The writers, to their credit, seem well enough aware of this problem. That’s why in each episode so far, there’s been a stab at character drama.

Lead heroine Mio Isurugi is what Haruhi Suzumiya would be if she were a blond sadist

The problem with that is it requires them to take seriously characters that are poorly thought-out ridiculous stereotypes of fetishes and psychological problems the writers have absolutely no understanding of. Take series star Sado, for example. Sado is sexually aroused by pain, but hates it.

Now, self-loathing for something you like but think you shouldn’t is a common reaction to a situation like this. The thing is, that would require Sado to appear to like it.

Other than the physiological reaction he gets from it, which is so far completely unexplained, there’s no sense at all that this is part of him. It’s just a ridiculous quirk thought up by some sick-minded writer to form the base of a comedy anime.

This raven-haired maiden is Sado's first crush. Little does he know...

I’ve long since given up on expecting anime writers to have a basic understanding of what they’re writing about, but if you’re trying to wring pathos out of your characters, it’s probably best to treat them like human beings rather than a laundry list of fetishes.

Every character in the show suffers from this, to some degree. Sado’s best friend, Tatsukichi Hayama, is a closet crossdresser who inexplicably turns into a maniacal, spoiled princess when he dons a wig and woman’s clothing. Mio Isurugi, Sado’s primary tormenter, is the most interesting character thus far, since she seems to genuinely want to help people, just by being as brutally violent as possible, but it’s hard to take seriously anyone so ridiculously contrived.

...that it's his best friend, Tatsukichi, crossdressing. (The show lists an 'M' or 'S' next to each name in the credits, presumably to indicate whether they're masochistic or sadistic)

The one whom I’m reserving a special spot for, though, is Arashiko Yuuno, a violent androphobe, and the girl whose slap turned Sado into an ersatz-masochist. Arashiko’s fear of men stems from a sexual assault back in middle school, which means she has the most plausible grounding by far for her psychological issues.

The way the show uses assault is, of course, tugging on the audience’s heartstrings with a gigantic robot power arm, but I’ve already made it clear that MM! is not subtle. My problem is the glaring hypocrisy of it.

The point is to elicit sympathy for the character through the act, but it feels too contrived. It’s so blandly PG-rated, because heaven only knows the outcry among fans if it was insinuated someone else had sex with her, or even kissed her.

Arashiko, like Ookami-san's eponymous heroine, has a history of sexual abuse engineered to evoke the pity and sympathy of the audience

The problem is that this sympathy is only a means to an end: to make the character more attractive to the audience. Anything about the act arousing that sympathy that conflicts with this goal must be purged. It’s not about establishing the character as an individual, but finding a way to fetishize her, to make her an object of desire rather than a person.

And there’s the real issue: the boy in middle school who tried to kiss her violently was attempting to force her to perform an act of intimacy against her consent. But think of the fantasies her character was designed to stimulate, to say nothing of the fan-made comics that will undoubtedly depict her every orifice being violently penetrated.

Arashiko's androphobia is usually evoked as yet another means of comically abusing Sado. As a result, it's harder to take her seriously.

Everything about her character and backstory, like most females in these kind of anime, have been designed to generate feelings of intimacy, but intimacy without any concern for relationship or the desires of the character. It’s crass and exploitative; not of a real person, but of a character in a work of fiction.

But does that make it any better? Is it okay to conceive of a fictional character in a way that would be abhorrent if we were to think of a real person in the same way? When/if the audience fantasizes about Arashiko, are they any better than the fictional character who assaulted her?

To make it easier to be around Sado, Arashiko imagines him as a dog. Sado, ever eager to be abused if it suits the writers, is happy to play along. I guess that makes him a sub-woofer. I'll...stop now

I hope you won’t think it a cop out if I say that I don’t have a definitive answer yet, or that this article has gone on long enough already. I will say that I definitely think the way we respond to fictional characters informs our understanding of actual people, which is one of the things that makes fiction a powerful method of expression. And that is one of the reasons why I find the crassly exploitative attitude of shows like MM! abhorrent.


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