A couple months ago, I was talking about anime with some people in Second Life and a woman nearby volunteered, "You're talking about Japanese cartoons? I've been to Japan. Everyone's a paedophile there." This is of course a rather unfair generalisation and misinterpretation of an aesthetic phenomenon, but there's certainly an issue with sexualised, childlike imagery in Japanese media. I watched the fourth episode of Nisemonogatari to-day, a series which, like its predecessor Bakemonogatari, is largely a rumination on pop anime trends. The episode, which aired yesterday in Japan, dealt with the vampire little girl, Shinobu, who lives in the shadow of the teenage male lead, Araragi.
That's literally the state of affairs, but just by saying it you can see how the metaphor functions and how it comments on the use of childlike images in anime. Bakemonogatari/Nisemonogatari is based on a series of novels, the first of which were skipped over but the events of which have nonetheless transpired for the characters. Before the television series began, Araragi had been turned into a vampire by Shinobu, who had the appearance of an adult woman at the time. Somehow, events transpired that led to Shinobu inhabiting the body of a child who's trapped in Araragi's shadow while Araragi has ceased to be vampire, though he's retained some vampiric powers, most notably accelerated healing.
The latter portion of the new episode consists of a dialogue between Araragi and Shinobu, who can finally speak, for reasons unexplained, after spending the first series mute. The two seem oddly affectionate with each other and the discussion leads to Shinobu mentioning that she will never forgive him and he will never forgive her.
Like the vampire girl in the also studio Shaft produced Dance in the Vampire Bund, Shinobu is not really a child, in fact she's four hundred years old. Here, though, this is used to make an interesting comment on the nature of the childlike people who populate anime. It's not children that attract the average otaku, it's innocence. They're own innocence, in fact--the otaku seeks the solace of their own innocence revived by having it reflected in an ideal woman/child. And--here we go again--it's the draw of the Apollonian innocence to make palatable Dionysian knowledge*. It's nice we don't know what Shinobu's literally referring to, if anything, because now we can see the forgiveness she's referring to is the return to innocence that will always be withheld but the promise of which keeps Shinobu in Araragi's shadow like a carrot on a stick.
The episode is currently fansubbed on YouTube here.
*I have promised myself to avoid using the word "dichotomy" for a few weeks.