TRIGGER WARNING: GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF RAPE, SEXUAL ABUSE, PROSTITUTION AND SLAVERY FOLLOW
Sometimes I need to heed the warnings of my better-informed peers. Had I done so, I would not have suffered through possibly the unhappiest 48 minutes of my life so far — the first two episodes of HIDIVE’s sole Winter 2021 exclusive — the miserable, perverse and offensive Redo of Healer.
As a collective, AniTAY (the site I regularly write for) deliberately did not cover this in their recent “First Impressions” article series — and for good reason, it turns out. This is not a show anyone has any business promoting. So why write about it now? I think it’s important to criticise media we find offensive or harmful, to act as a warning to potential viewers, and perhaps as a stern rebuke to those who produce and distribute it.
I’ve noticed a recent trend for certain anime to push the boundaries of acceptability in entertainment — and not in a good way. Anime has always been a niche interest in the West, with its transgressive nature a central aspect of its appeal — as capitalised by Manga Video in the 1990s with their marketing of anime as “not for kids” or “not your parents cartoons”. I admit that’s one of the aspects that attracted me to those weird, violent OVAs and movies far removed from stereotypical fairytale Disney-style animation. Some recent shows take transgression too far.
I initially avoided last year’s Interspecies Reviewers, famously dropped by Funimation after only a handful of episodes, as I have a moral objection to shows that promote prostitution as anything other than a predatory, demeaning and degrading practice. I worry that concepts once thought of as taboo become normalised in the population through repeated exposure via the media. Example: modern discourse on prostitution tends to reframe the topic as “sex work” a toothless euphemism that masks the true horror of the reality of millions of people the world over — those illegally trafficked and trapped in a hopeless life of sexual slavery.
Media often portrays “sex workers” as somehow empowered individuals, owning their bodies and their sexuality, using their assets to get a leg up in the world and stride forwards. For most prostitutes in real life, they have resorted to selling their bodies because of coercion, organised crime, drug abuse, destitution, desperation… By labelling their indentured servitude as “sex work” we minimise their suffering, in fact turning a blind eye to such abuse inadvertently legitimises the circumstances that perpetuate their enslavement.
Prostitution involves the often involuntary violation of one person’s body by another willing to pay for it. There is an immediate unequal power dynamic that does not disappear because a show like Interspecies Reviewers offers the illusion of empowerment of those prostituting their bodies. There’s no wonder that broadcasters the world over, even in Japan, baulked at the explicit content.
Despite the show’s relatively high production quality and genuine good humour, there is something inherently demeaning and dehumanising about rating sexual partners on a numerical scale. It really does scream “commodification of sex! Let’s make it as meaningless and divorced from emotion as possible!” And I don’t like that. In the real world of messy people with fragile egos and sensitive souls, such an approach causes untold damage. I know it’s just a goofy fantasy but the underlying ideology is really squicky to me.
I don’t believe you can place prostitution on an equal footing with other professions. Should my daughter tell me one day that she needs to sleep with a 50-year-old sugar daddy to fund her studies, then I would be heartbroken. There’s nothing empowering or proud about that. I find it difficult to believe that anyone’s true ambition is to sell their body. I don’t write this out of ignorance — as a doctor I have mopped up the human wreckage left behind after the sex trade spits out its vulnerable victims.
There’s something deeply wrong with such a profoundly unequal society where especially young women are so poor and desperate that to pay for essentials like food, education, childcare or utility bills they have no option but to sell their bodies to rich older males. For most, prostitution is either the very final option for survival or a form of institutionalised rape. Prostitutes are vulnerable victims, this is not merely a transaction between consenting adults. At least one of the parties usually feels they have no option but to consent, and pressured consent is no consent at all. The sooner media ceases its fascination with glamorising this, the better.
To continue the slavery context, let’s move on to The Rising of The Shield Hero, a show that generated significant controversy during its 2019 airing. AniTAY reviewed it at the time, though the link is lost to the Kinjapocalypse and has not yet been re-uploaded to our Medium site. Shield Hero featured an utterly tone-deaf portrayal of slavery. I doubt in this case the author was being deliberately provocative — merely ignorant. I’ve discussed in depth before how much I disliked that main character Naofumi relied on slaves to fill his party — and then when given a chance for freedom, his (pretty young female) slaves chose to remain bound to him. I found this absolutely maddening and screamed at the screen.
If you’re going to include such a sensitive topic as slavery in your story, you’d better have a damned good reason for doing so — in Shield Hero, it was merely an ineptly explored plot device: slavery as entertainment, as waifu-fodder. Shield Hero is not the only recent anime to mishandle a slavery theme — How Not to Summon a Demon Lord was even more upfront about its fetishisation of subjugated, submissive women and the isekai genre as a whole is riddled with these ill-considered, offensive stereotypes and tropes.
To return to the topic of involuntary “sex work”, it would be remiss to avoid discussion of another controversial show — 2018’s generic D&D campaign-a-like Goblin Slayer. In particular the first episode featured multiple brutally nasty rape scenes with horrid, ugly little goblins stripping and raping various unprepared adventurers to death. As an illustration of how evil and animalistic the antagonists were, it was effective — but as a piece of entertainment it felt lurid and exploitative.
With this show, we witnessed story elements previously endemic only to adults-only “hentai” titles reach broadcast TV mainstream. In our broken, messed up world, rape happens and we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Sometimes we need to share stories of people’s experiences, no matter how horrific. However what we should not do is make rape the focus of the material, as Goblin Slayer did, for prurient and titillating reasons. Episode 1 of Goblin Slayer crossed the line for me — it felt like a publicity stunt rather than a sensitively constructed and necessary story. Thankfully the rest of the show never stooped to such base levels of tastelessness again.
My reservations about Interspecies Reviewers, Goblin Slayer and Shield Hero shrink into insignificance next to Redo of Healer. Full disclosure: I watched the uncensored Japanese TV broadcast version. HIDIVE is currently airing a heavily censored version that apparently makes certain scenes almost impossible to follow. An uncensored blu-ray from Sentai Filmworks is likely inevitable. Please do not buy this or support this show in any way.
Redo’s main character Keyaru’s closest anime protagonist analogue is Naofumi from the aforementioned Shield Hero. Shield Hero was a revenge fantasy about a man falsely accused of rape, treated as an outcast and abused by the ruling class. Naofumi was somewhat understandably misanthropic considering his experiences. The show’s missteps concerning slavery, and general mean-spiritedness, caused it to really stumble in its attempts to coherently explore its central concept. Naofumi did not merely seek justice against his false accuser, but also revenge — and his petty actions in the final episodes reduced his character’s stature in my eyes. Shield Hero invited us to glory in his “victory” over his enemies, and to tacitly approve the gross punishment he chose for them.
Much like Naofumi, Keyaru is a support-class hero — but instead of wielding a shield, he’s a high-level mystic healer with the ability to even regenerate limbs. Because of his reluctance to use his powers (due to the not-inconsiderable personal toll), the other heroes drug and abuse him to force him to do their bidding. Years of this maltreatment simmer an overflowing cauldron of boiling hatred within his soul and he manifests a power that allows him to “heal” the entire world, rolling back time by several years. His motivation for doing so? Brutal, violent, cruel, merciless revenge.
Memories awakening in his childhood/teenage self, Keyaru plots to increase his tolerance to addictive drugs by ingesting narcotic mushrooms. When he is summoned to the palace by Princess Flare to begin hero training, he allows history to run the same course as before, pretending to be as weak and pathetic as his first time around — all the while gaining in XP by allowing the maids who attend to him every night take sexual advantage of him. It seems they want to leech his power by draining his body fluids, yet he leeches XP from them with his “corrupted healing” spell. This show takes these tired JRPG tropes and makes them extra-skeevy. This is an order of magnitude worse than The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter.
DISCUSSION OF UPSETTING RAPE SCENES FOLLOW.
Keyaru considers everyone from his previous run at life to be irredeemably evil, and because he doesn’t attempt to change his behaviour, he barely gives them a chance to prove otherwise in his second run-through — though they are all such laughably moustache-twirling villains, there doesn’t seem to be one single morally upstanding person in the entire story. He even chooses to imbibe poisoned tea that he knows will knock him out and lead to his imprisonment and subsequent (sickeningly graphic) simultaneous rape from both a male jailer and female maid. This happens every night for 6 months.
During the daytime, Princess Flare forces him to beg like a dog for vials of purple narcotic liquid that he then must lick off the floor as she stamps on his head, mushing his face to the flagstones. This isn’t fun to watch. None of this show is fun to watch. It’s relentlessly grim watching these horrible characters do cruel, depraved things to one another.
It’s not often I drop an anime show once I’ve started. Mainly this happens only if I’m bored. This is probably the first time I’ve dropped something because I felt so utterly disgusted. For the entire second half of episode two, my finger hovered over the “off” button as the show’s content literally turned my stomach. Keyaru finally sets his revenge plan into motion and there follows a leeringly-shot prolonged torture, humiliation and rape scene involving the princess that was the most revolting thing I have ever witnessed animated, with the princess screaming throughout as Keyaru grins at her suffering. It’s not even framed as unacceptable — the viewer is clearly meant to empathise with Keyaru, who by this point has veered way, way into irredeemable villain territory. Afterwards he changes her face, wipes her memory, steals her away from the palace and does it all again, pretending to her that their intercourse is consensual. It implies that he intends to keep raping her over and over again.
This is where I have to seriously question the morals, politics and personal character of the author. Even though he was raped and abused multiple times does not give Keyaru the justification to act as evilly as his assailants. This is well past the acceptable limits of viewer empathy and I can’t see how anyone could be expected to stomach watching another 10 episodes.
END OF RAPE SCENE DISCUSSION
The pursuit of revenge has been a central element of literature, history and popular fiction since time immemorial. From Cain murdering his brother Abel to Edmond Dantes exacting calculated, cold vengeance upon his enemies in The Count of Monte Cristo, there has always been an element of reader/viewer empathy with the wronged party. This stems from a corruption of the innate human desire for justice. It isn’t wrong to want wrongdoers to be punished for their actions, but Redo of Healer goes far beyond any mere corruption of justice, past revenge into mere bloodthirsty, base, evil cruelty. The viewer is expected to gain sexual satisfaction from these scenes. I doubt this would be legal in live action, and just because it is depicted with brightly coloured animation does not make it any less disgusting.
Although this extreme “mainstream” anime isn’t quite hentai, it skirts incredibly close to it. In fact I found the uncensored uber-tentacle-rape-hentai Urotsukidoji — Legend of the Overfiend less offensive than this. Redo of Healer isn’t harmless fantasy porn — this is soul-destroying and probably harmful to watch in the longer term. I for one will not subject myself to any more of it, and I hope you do the same. I worry that should this show prove popular, what further horrors might the darker recesses of the anime industry unleash upon us?