It should go without saying that this column involves discussion of spoilers for the series Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. If you don't want to be spoiled, go check out the series!
In my previous column on the series Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, I mentioned that it might be interesting to examine the relative popularity of the main characters of the series, and what implications that may have to the way certain kinds of characters (and, by relation, certain types of women) are perceived by the masses. Before I do, please enjoy this disclaimer: the majority of what I'm about to talk about is based on anecdotal evidence I've seen and experienced as a fan of this series. I'm sure that there will be several people chomping at the bit to refute the points I'm trying to make and explain that their personal favoritism isn't based around any sort of misogynist tendencies. I am not accusing anyone of anything here, I'm just attempting to analyze some fan reactions based on my own experience and a generalized understanding of some common societal attitudes. Please don't interpret this as finger-pointing at anyone specific, I'm not judging you!
Anyway, on with the column.
While there are lots of anime floating around out there (most of them like turds in toilet water) that I'd describe as being focused on the more sexual aspects of human nature, there are very few which actually deal with sex. Most of them are in the business of providing passive titillation to a very specific type of anime fan rather than portraying an act that quite a few (I would even venture to say most) human beings endeavor to participate in. Panty and Stocking is nearly unique in that it not only has a sexual focus, but also stars two heroines who I would personally describe as being in pursuit of their own orgasm, and are at various times even aggressively-sexual. However, the two characters are dissimilar in the ways that they carry themselves and the ways in which they pursue their, *ahem*, interests, and I've personally noticed that this seems to have a pretty large effect on their popularity relative to one-another. I'm speculating, but I believe that this discrepancy also says something interesting about the ways in which we, either consciously or unconsciously, judge women based on their perceived promiscuity.
For those of you out there who aren't familiar with the anime (and I suspect there may be a few of you, considering how the show was panned by quite a few prominent critics), the gist is that Anarchy Panty and Anarchy Stocking, two angels, have been kicked out of heaven for indulging in earthly vices. Panty is single-minded in pursuit of sexual pleasure, and Stocking has an affinity for sweets. Their adventures involve trying to earn their way back into heaven by defeating ghosts - demonic beings whose forms are usually representative of some other human vice. Both characters are similarly foul-mouthed, and both of them (at least at the outset of the series) tend to be very lazy about accomplishing their task.
Despite the fact that both characters tend to thumb their noses at authority and have decidedly more confrontational attitudes than most anime heroines, my research and experience has demonstrated to me that there's a pretty large discrepancy in how the two characters are perceived. In almost all cases* I've found that audiences tend to prefer Stocking over Panty, and give various reasons for having that opinion. Some friends of mine told me that they like Stocking better because of her clothing style (there are a lot of people out there who enjoy gothic lolita fashion, obviously) and the fact that her vice seems more generally relatable. A couple people commented that Panty was simply too obnoxious for them to find appealing, whereas Stocking is much less so. These are some of the more civil responses, but I've also seen several forum posts that refer to Panty's promiscuity as a major turn-off - sadly, the term "slut" is thrown around more often that I'd like to admit. In any case, Stocking seems to be the winner of the popularity contest in most (if not all) cases.
A friend of mine mentioned that Stocking's sweet tooth made her seem more relatable as a character, and I found that to be an interesting point. I think most of us would consider a sweet tooth to be a pretty endearing character fault, and one to which we wouldn't be ashamed to admit. On the other hand, an unabashed enjoyment of sex, within or without the context of marriage or other monogamous relationship, is something that I'm guessing most people, and especially many women, wouldn't feel comfortable admitting to a mixed group of people. The problem, as I see it, is that we still have a lot of cultural baggage surrounding the sexuality of women, and it's partly this baggage that causes us to judge, often harshly, women who go against our expectations of what constitutes propriety. This can be seen anywhere and everywhere - within certain religious contexts, the virginity of a woman prior to marriage is held up as an indication of her value as a human being. In pop culture, we tend to blame and then punish women who express their sexuality or preference that falls outside a monogamous relationship (for a recent example, read an article or two describing actress Kristin Stewart's affair with her Snow White and the Huntsman director, and how she's been summarily dropped from the potential sequel while her "partner in crime" has suffered little ill effect). For a more Japanese-centric example, Christine Marran (a former professor of mine) in her book Poison Woman describes how female sexuality has traditionally been linked with acts of criminality by the Japanese media.
Without delving too deeply into it (because I'd love to save more of this discussion for a later column), I think that Panty's and Stocking's individual character storylines serve to explain some of this discrepancy. Fundamentally, Stocking's storyline is about falling in line with the rules; there's a point at which she gives in, begins earning her Heaven Coins, and makes her way back into Heaven without her sister. Panty, on the other hand, remains a rule-breaker to the bitter end, despite the fact that it would be exponentially easier for her to fall in line, to conform to a certain expectation of proper behavior.
As a condition for getting back into Heaven, Panty is expressly forbidden from having sex with anyone. She's tailed by Garterbelt, who puts the kibosh on any and all of her attempts to complete her "one-thousandth sexual conquest." When she escapes to the countryside and attempts to have sex with Brief, she discovers that she's become a victim of "revival virgin syndrome:" in essence, her heavenly hymen has been reconstructed, which literally prevents her from having sex. Here, both literally and figuratively, there's a huge emphasis on Panty's sexual purity as a condition for her salvation, to the point that she's physically prevented, both by Garterbelt and the "act of God" affecting her body, from having intercourse. Judging by the way the storyline eventually resolves itself and how Panty remains a "bitch" who doesn't succumb to the pressures of society to become a "good girl," I'm going to be optimistic and go out on a limb to say that the creators were using this as a direct commentary on our obsession as a society on women's virginity. We still, in the twenty-first century, are minutely concerned with the "where and how" of women having sex to the point that we often find ourselves passing judgment on women with that as the sole or overriding factor.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that the predominance of moé fandom and its character ideals play a large part in why Panty perpetually seems doomed to receive the, eh heh, short end of the stick. My outsider's perspective on moé fandom is that it places a lot of worth on character passivity and how receptive characters are to male attention (even if that attention is limited to the "brotherly protective instinct" that is so often cited as the movement's inspiration). Stocking fits well within those ideals; despite the fact that she's often standoffish (tsun tsun), she demonstrates a cute vulnerability when forced to confront her one weakness - sweets. She's also shown falling in love once, and the relationship doesn't work out for plot-related reasons, thus she remains cute and available to those who appreciate her type of character. On the other hand, Panty is seeking and receiving hot dickings across town and is unapologetic about it; in making herself sexually-available to just about everyone she finds attractive, she in turn becomes unavailable to certain fans, who find themselves unable to immerse themselves in the fantasy that the character is there solely for their consumption, sexual or not.
In so many different contexts, sexuality and how well women adhere to a certain version of it are used as shorthand to describe their worthiness as human beings. While I certainly wouldn't presume to accuse all or even most fans who like Stocking over Panty as trying to dictate people's worthiness in this way (I mean, there really are plenty of people who prefer Stocking's gothic lolita style over Panty's more form-fitting attire - I know I'd personally rather wear one over the other!), I think there are plenty of anecdotal instances to suggest that there are fans who judge characters (and people) based primarily on their sexual behavior. The relative favoritism of one character over another is just one reflection of the way we're trained to judge and assign morality to certain behaviors.
Personally, I think the major lesson to be learned from these two characters is that judging someone's worth based on their habits (habits which only affect their own well-being rather than the well-being of others) is, in fact, a bad habit from which we all should try to wean ourselves. In the end, things like the enjoyment of sex (in consensual ways, of course) or a penchant for eating sugar should have zero bearing on a person's moral standing.
Oh, and for the record? I'm definitely a Panty fangirl. Of all the characters in the series, I feel like she's the one most active in battling against unfair expectations and fighting to live her life the way that she wants, and that's something I've grown to admire.
Next time, I'd like to talk more about how confrontational and ubiquitous sexuality in general has made this series a tough pill to swallow for some fans. Stay tuned for my next update!
*Some online polls I found (many of which are Deviant Art polls, go fig):