“Good” and “Interesting” are not necessarily the same thing; I wouldn’t waste my time trying to defend Astarotte’s Toy as a quality anime, but I also can’t deny that I found it interesting. Sometimes, the joy of watching a show is to see just how the writers will dig themselves out of this incredible mess they’ve created, and that’s this thing in a nutshell.
It seems that while basically treading water until the two leads decide to hook up in episode 12, the show has, perhaps inadvertently, done some interesting things with mother-daughter relationships and sexuality that I don’t see a lot- and maybe there’s something to be said for that.
AT centers around a relationship between Naoya, a 23-year old man, and Princess (Astra)Lotte, a 10-year-old girl- an immature succubus, to be exact, in an alternate dimension called the Monster Realm. Naturally, that age difference is creepy to begin with, but the real defining characteristic of the show is that the creepiness of Naoya and Lotte’s relationship is actually dwarfed by the creepiness of the past relationship between Naoya and Lotte’s mother, Queen Mercelida, who- if my calculations are correct- sought out Naoya as her lover, and conceived a child with him, when he was 12*. The plot of AT is like one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls, only nested with increasingly disturbing degrees of pedophilia instead of…umm, dolls.
With all the “loli” characters in anime in recent years (which is disturbing but normally no more than a tease), it’s kind of mind-blowing to me that plot of this show completely hinges on this sort of thing, and it kind of slipped under the radar. I don’t know about the reception in Japan, but everyone I’ve talked to about the show on ZE INTERNETS has been pretty shocked by the background story of this show when I explained it.
And yet, I’m not writing this post in some sort of righteous indignation, in part because I kind of respect the show for actually sticking to its guns; if, for some god-forsaken reason, people want to watch shows about these kinds of relationships, then by all means, write a story about it; enough of these shows where the potential pedophilia is dangled like some kind of fragrant, low-hanging fruit, then snatched away because that would be wrong.
To put it another way, I tend to resent it when a lot of these things are thrown in as subtext to titillate people, but are then rationalized away with “well nothing REALLY happened, so it’s okay.” Even if it’s more disturbing, at least when the subtext becomes the text, the writers are taking some responsibility for what they’re actually doing, and that’s more interesting to me.
Furthermore, if anything, this show actually comes down in favor of pedophilia, if you can imagine such a thing. Asuha, Lotte’s sister and the product of Naoya and Mercelida’s affair (or his rape by her, if you want to get technical), seems to be the happiest, most well-adjusted character on the show. At the end, Naoya and Lotte admit they love each other and go off into the sunset together; I believe it’s implied that he’s going to wait for her to mature (which should happen soon enough, with her wings shown to be growing in- kind of like getting-your-period for succubi), but still, the ten year old and the 23-year-old do hook up; that’s kind of messed up.
This should all be really disturbing, and yet, there’s this strange fact that about 95% of Astarotte’s Toy isn’t actually disturbing or offensive; at heart, the show seems to be about two sisters who miss their absent, career-driven mother terribly. And that’s the part where I honestly just get really confused about how I feel about it.
Specifically, I found the situation with Lotte and her half-sister, Asuha, one of the more interesting character dynamics I’ve seen in a while- especially considering that it’s a relationship between two children. Lotte is a dead ringer for their mother, but it’s the half-human Asuha who seems to be truly her mother’s daughter- gutsy and vivacious while Lotte is always prim and tentative.
And yet, Asuha was abandoned into her young father’s care in the human world at the age of three, because Queen Mercelida didn’t want her two daughters to kill each other fighting over the throne (as she and her sisters apparently did.) I don’t see how Asuha could ascend to the throne in the Monster Realm when she has the appearance of a human and no apparent succubus powers (that we know of), but that’s probably attempting to probe too deeply.
Anyway, Lotte doesn’t know that Asuha is actually her sister, because then she would have to be told that Naoya actually had an affair with her mother, something everyone seems to feel she’s better off not knowing. So it’s kept secret from her, while Asuha knows everything; abandoned by her mother, left to live in the mundane human world with a (at that time) teenaged father while the rest of the community looked down on them in scorn, Asuha seems to take it all in stride, and becomes Lotte’s biggest supporter- the point where Lotte says she feels almost like Asuha is her big sister.
To compound all of this weirdness, the Queen apparently still has feelings for Naoya, so Lotte doesn’t know that she’s actually in competition for her love interest with her own mother, but I guess that’s neither here nor there.
The thing that I kept wondering while watching this show is, how can Asuha not resent Lotte and this entire ridiculous situation she’s in? If anything, going back to being her mother’s daughter, Asuha seems to intuitively understand how the ridiculous politics of the Monster Realm work, and it’s Lotte who sticks to “human” ideas of what should be appropriate behavior- in fact, Lotte’s outright disgust about what succubi have to do drives forward most of the action in the story.
There’s a certain nature vs. nurture thing going on here, with Asuha’s monstrous heritage leaving a much stronger mark on her than her appearance would suggest. Lotte isn’t part-human, but her desire to rebel against her mother, who she resents for putting her “career” as queen ahead of motherhood, leads her to practice a kind of human morality almost out of spite.
And yet, the show seems to side with Asuha: casual sex, which is basically what succubi have to do just to stay alive, isn’t any more dirty or degrading than you think it is. Lotte’s eventual acceptance of Naoya as member numero-uno of her “harem” is her making peace with her nature and accepting the whole Monster Realm view of sex.
Furthermore, the succubus race is held up as not only healthy and natural, but downright holy– they have a kind of divine power apart from everyone else in the realm. Usually, this kind of ability is reserved for “pure” characters (see “Virgin Power” on TVTropes), yet in this case it’s inverted; either the succubi have this power because of their sexual nature, or because it doesn’t matter one iota- they can be holy and promiscuous at the same time, because the two concepts are unrelated in this universe. It’s not so much feminist as it is reverse-sexist; the whole “virgin purity= holy power” ideal being either turned on it’s head, or rejected outright.
So in short, AT is a show that embraces the reality of pedophilia so it can put forward a kind of subversive, and arguably progressive, view of female sexuality. Is this show, like, harmful to our society or not? I honestly have no freakin’ clue anymore. Strangely, at the very least, it’s better than many romantic comedies just by virtue or reaching any sort of conclusion at all, whatsoever. Now, how weird is that?
*Many would assume that Naoya was 13, but if pregnancy for succubi is anything like humans, it likely took close to a year between Asuha’s conception and her birth, meaning that Naoya wasn’t even a teenager yet when he and Mercelida first got together. Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, I consider the Naoya/Mercelida relationship much creepier than Naoya/Lotte because we know it was consummated.