Kazuya Maeda, an undistinguished high school student who can't seem to find anything to do with himself, is given his father's camera and, without thinking, decides to take it to school. He is soon roped into the workings of the "Photography Club", a group dedicated to capturing perverted pictures of girls rather than paying any attention to the art form itself. He begins to photograph various attractive girls under different circumstances, and for some reason, this makes him popular. He suddenly has his hands full of potential girlfriends, all of whom are desperately in love with him and want him to help them with their various quirky problems. In my version of the story, this is the point at which the director raised his finger and shouted "Cut! Can the production, I've seen enough of this garbage already", but sadly, it was not to be......
In many ways, Photo Kano is perhaps the most disturbing series I have watched in recent years, a dubious honor which I award it less for its content (which is nonetheless questionable) than for its problematic sociological implications and the degree to which it causes me to fear for anime's future. Over the years, more and more of the "romance" in anime has come to consist of masturbatory male fantasies in which heavily stereotypical girls, all ultimately docile and submissive regardless of initial behavior, fall madly in love with an intentionally bland protagonist onto whom the viewer, presumably, can project himself and his desires. Although dating simulations and their adaptations have been part of Japanese visual media for quite some time, the viewpoint they present has cast successively larger shadows over the anime industry, to the point where it is nearly inescapable and has crept its way into the character dynamics of an alarming number of today's shows. Photo Kano is a series that, to me, indicates that the anime industry's embrace of these fantasies has gone way too far. While structurally similar to, say, Kanon or any show carved from the mold of dating simulations, Photo Kano embraces the idea that if one wills strongly enough, women will be party to voyeurism that, in real life, would earn one a restraining order, a concept that has, disturbingly, jumped to mainstream television after having existed in pornography and fringe titles such as Colorful for many years.
It is almost redundant to even discuss Photo Kano's actual content first, as it lies in that region of anime in which characters are not really characters and romance is not really romance but both are instead akin to a product made in one of Henry Ford's factories, refitted to produce television animation rather than cars. The infantile "plot" hinted at during the first episode is quickly forgotten in favor of letting our friend Maeda have his time with each different girl, a common structure that, in an apparent move of clumsiness by the creators, does not become clear until the fifth episode or so. While the result is painfully generic, the hints we do see of the photography club's perverted nature are enough to tell us that this route was the lesser of the two evils, if only slightly. We proceed through a cycle of attractive girls with minor quirks such as an unnatural obsession with punctuality or the ability to make especially good hamburgers, but all are ultimately interchangeable and completely vapid, our "story" occasionally interrupted by the unfunny antics of the photography club members and the viewer's simultaneous utterance of "my eyes, my eyes!" at the sight of their hairstyles (a particularly bad example lies below, at the left). To say it is dull, which it is, misses the point of this clearly being directed at lonely high school boys who are just too plain scared to talk to real girls, and while the art and music are pleasant enough, there's just not anything for the rest of us. If you aren't the lonely high school youth projecting yourself onto Maeda, then he is just another bland and slightly insensitive everyman: without the experience of feeling that you yourself are the one having these girls fall madly in love with you, you are left with nothing to do besides pick apart such oddities as the fact that during the opening animation, the girls mime along to the lyrics in succession (an unsettling experience, considering that the voice in the song remains the same throughout).
Photo Kano struck an especially bad chord with me, however, because it normalizes a form of sexual harassment, with virtually every girl in this series eventually coming to be "flattered" by it regardless of their initial reaction. Though ostensibly not perverted, Maeda spends virtually all of his waking time taking photographs of girls, and while not every single picture is inherently sexual, his behavior on the whole expresses a belief that the body is his for the taking, that regardless of consent his power is his to use. In one particularly egregious part, Maeda comes upon the class president, a notorious disciplinarian who often chides him for his habits, sneaking into school by a forbidden route, apparently having played hooky and arrived at school long after the opening bell. He subsequently blackmails her, telling her that if she engages in "sexy poses" (the exact wording that the show uses) he will refrain from revealing her transgression to the school. Although the fact that she complies is bad enough, the clincher is that she later becomes one of his various girlfriends and "softens" up to him in one story, apparently having made peace with the fact that her boyfriend engaged in quid pro quo sexual harassment against her. Perhaps worse, however, are the girls that voluntarily and seemingly randomly ask Maeda if he will take photos of them engaging in such "sexy poses", a request that might be appropriate during the act of lovemaking but is mighty strange anywhere else (an example is shown at the lower left). In this world, the men really don't even have to coerce the women into performing naughty acts: the women virtually beg to do it, just as a dog would beg for a liver treat. This viewpoint, in which stalking is accepted as positive attention and eventually causes the girl to fall head over heels in love with her voyeur, is an extremely disturbing one, and in my opinion it has no place being on mainstream television, bad enough as it is that it exists in pornography as well. I can't necessarily say that a man, after having seen this, would turn into a stalker or rapist, as the debates about the psychology involved in such fantasies aren't anywhere near settled, but at the very least, such an approach serves to emphasize stereotypes of docility and submissiveness among women and worsen the ignorance of flesh-and-blood women among those who watch it.
This disturbing content aside, the show is full of standard sexism, such as repeated utterances of the belief that all men prefer women with a "domestic" personality and one girl's vow to "become cute and girlish" for Maeda, and it is riddled with perversion from head to toe. The screencap that lies below and to the right presents a pretty revealing example of what passes for "humor" in this show, and if you do chose to watch it, against my recommendation, you will soon realize how eerily well the frame angles follow the shape of the female body, though at times the focus will instead be placed on random inanimate objects in an attempt to appear "artsy" and "abstract" (as appears to be a common money-saving tactic in anime nowadays). This, however, is the least of the show's problems, and it's actually quite sad that I was, in general, grateful for moments of standard fanservice as an escape from this show's ickiest moments.
Photo Kano, though set in an ostensibly realistic universe, resides in a fantasy world far more removed from reality than even the psychological nightmares of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and frankly, this is the kind of fantasy world that desperately needs to make an appointment for a reality checkup at the first possible opportunity. Dating simulations, as they are, have already hurt anime pretty badly, but stuff like this has the potential to plunge it even further into the most disturbing parts of otakudom if it becomes mainstream. If that happens, quite frankly, I'll be out of the game and huddling off in some corner of Vermont or some other distant state, holding my copy of Monster close and quietly trying to forget what this medium turned into. Regardless, Photo Kano is a truly vile experience: a glimpse into the dark parts of the psyche that many never escape from.
This really just needs to stop. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: The fact that nobody should bother with this aside, this is definitely not for kids. The fetishized content is very overt, even if the actual sexual content is limited to fan service and no explicit scenes occur. The show also pulls an incestuous side story out of its bag during the final episode, averting legal problems with the usual "they aren't actually related by blood" trick.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll.com
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Photo Kano © 2013 Enterbrain.Inc.
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