A week or so ago, I shared a publication of mine (that wasn’t posted to this blog) with a friend who doesn’t really watch anime. Despite not being particularly invested in this medium, he will often critique my work bluntly and honestly which helps me strive to improve.
We discussed what I’d said in this publication for a bit, but what he was most interested in was the word ‘waifu’ and the concept behind it. I’m sure he could make the connection between the words ‘wife’ and ‘waifu’, but he was unsure as to what ‘waifu’ actually means, which is actually quite understandable because it doesn’t really make much sense at a cursory glance. Have you ever tried to explain waifu culture or best girl wars to your normie friend? It’s a surprisingly difficult task to do the topic justice and not make it sound incredibly creepy.
So that’s what I’m here to discuss today, what is a waifu? I haven’t done any specific research on this topic because I wanted this to be my personal opinions and thoughts translated into a well thought-out piece of prose.
So where to start? Let’s start with how the word ‘waifu’ came to be. If, like me, you’ve spent time studying Japanese, you will likely have come across a category of words which are known as gairaigo (外来語) which means “loan word” or “borrowed word”. If you can read kanji, then you’d know that the first character (外) means “foreign” or “external” (gaijin = foreigner), the second character (来) means “next” or “become” (mirai = future), and the final character (語) means “word” or “language” (nihongo = Japanese language). So if you put these together, you get something external becoming the local language. These are words like orange (オレンジ) and computer (コンピュータ), which are pronounced orenji and konpyuuta, respectively.
Now the interesting thing here is that there are actually multiple Japanese words that men use to describe their wives (and I won’t get into the gender politics behind some of them), but from what I understand it is not common practise to refer to your wife as waifu (ワイフ). This is why I’m not sure if the word was actually borrowed by the Japanese and then re-borrowed by the west, or if the western otaku community just made it up so it would sound Japanese; and I don’t think it really matters because the point is it could be Japanese thanks to other gairaigo words. This then lends itself to the anime community as an in-joke they can use to describe their favourite cartoon characters from Japan.
And now we get to what a waifu actually is. Typically a waifu is a female anime/manga/game character that the spectator has strong feelings towards, and this is where shit can get creepy for the people outside the community.
It is true that anime has some weird sexualisation. The most prevalent issue that keeps coming up is that with loli characters. I’m sure you know what a loli is, but just in case your weeb friend sent you this post so I could explain this shit to you in lieu of doing for it themself, a loli is a female character that either is or has features of a child (although typically it’s an 800-year-old demon lord or some shit). And let me state now that loli characters are not always sexualised and there is nothing actually wrong with these characters, which is what people commonly misunderstand. The problem arises when they are sexualised and when loli porn is made, and I’m not going any further down that particular rabbit hole in this post.
Getting back on track, there are anime characters that are designed to cater for specific and niche kinks, which may garner the sexual attraction people associate with waifus. And trust me; you get some fucked up shit, just like you do in real life.
This is where the second aspect of waifu culture comes in, and that is to fill an escapist fantasy. These characters are drawn to be attractive. When my sister (who doesn’t watch anime) and I watched Death Note together, she blatantly had a crush on Light. He’s attractive, cool, and confident… he’s also a fucked up mass murdering psychopath but love knows no bounds. The anime community is full with people who feel misunderstood and shunned by the society that surrounds them, and when the see a beautiful girl accept a protagonist they identify with, then just maybe they also feel accepted. I think this can help the development of the weird kinks I mentioned before, as someone becomes more engrossed within the medium, they may seek more radical and strange entertainment. However, once again I must state that this isn’t exclusive to anime and people do this in real life.
This last part is the most important part of this, and the part I’d like everyone to take away. As much as there might be an underlying sexual attraction between an anime watcher and their waifu, there’s actually a lot more to it than that.
These characters can be funny, exciting, dangerous, or just plain adorable. There’s an aspect to just wanting to spend time with these characters because we enjoy them for who they are, and not sexual attraction. I believe that part of the reason tsunderes are so widely loved is because of the feeling we get of breaking down someone’s walls as they become more comfortable with them and begin to show their true self.
The desire to protect these characters kicks in, and because it’s not purely sexual as people initially presume, you find that people that aren’t sexually attracted to women have a waifu.
Thank you for reading. Who’s your waifu? Also after writing this, Ayano said that she had posted something similar all the way back in 2017, so please give it a read if you’re interested in the topic! Click here to read it!
Also if you’re interested in the other publication I mentioned, click here, but know that it has nothing to do with waifus, I just say it a few times.