Often presented as geared towards a lolicon demographic, the outwardly cute and reverse-tsundere themed Anime series Kodomo no Jikan originally by female mangaka Watashiya Kaworu (私屋カヲル) deals with many serious issues of postmodern society, culminating in the simultaneous occurrence of a number of taboos in the plot. The taboos, which are not unique to Japanese society but possibly even stronger in the west, are presented as the inevitable outcome of being human, instead of being ridiculed or condemned; in some cases the plot persuades the viewer to view these taboos in a positive light, detaching the viewer from the usual moral frame of reference. This can be interpreted as criticism of moral double standards present in contemporary society.
As a quick introduction, the main plot roughly circulates around the interaction between elementary school homeroom teacher Aoki Daisuke and third grader female student Kokonoe Rin. While Aoki is a 23 year old recently graduated teacher (with little experience of both teaching and women) trying hard to live up to the expectations of Japanese society, Kokonoe has an obsessive crush on her teacher and often performs openly sexual advances on him only to be met with confused rejection. Kokonoe lives with the young foster father Reiji – her deceased mother’s cousin and lover. The adult male characters in the series appear to be rigged for self-identification by the archetypal lolicon otaku viewer.
A recurrent theme in Kodomo no Jikan (lit. A Child’s Time) is the subjective experience of simply not being enough. This dysphoric and often hopeless feeling is expressed in numerous ways, ranging from Kokonoe’s anxiety over not being the mature woman she wants her teacher to view her as, to Reiji’s worries of not being able to fullfill his duty as a young single parent to the adopted Kokonoe. Depressing metaphors are drawn from these taboo situations, to Kokonoe’s uneducated disregard of social conventions in male-female interaction and Reiji’s inability to protect Kokonoe’s deceased mother Aki (to which Reiji sees much semblance in Kokonoe) from the inevitable fate of terminal cancer. The plot even continues to rub the viewer’s face in the hopeless conditions in which this all started. The meaningful message the series conveys in the midst of all this emotional turmoil bubbling beneath the surface, is that despite the topics being taboo, they are all part of our reality. They won’t disappear by being ignored.
The series hosts a multitude of social issues, some of which the viewer will identify more with than others. The male protagonist, homeroom teacher Aoki Daisuke, faces many challenges trying to balance his naïvely caring and encouraging relationship to his class with the cold realism of competitive contemporary society. Reiji is a runaway from his abusive parents and heavily traumatized thereof, and is constantly plagued by the loss of his former guardian, cousin and lover – Kokonoe’s deceased young mother – which he apparently attempts to regain in Kokonoe.
Kodomo no Jikan is certainly not the run-of-the-mill lolicon-ecchi it first pretends to be. After the first few episodes, the series takes on a very serious undertone and becomes a meta-criticism of the lolicon genre, stopping the genre’s stereotypical suspension of disbelief in it’s tracks. Still, due to the story writing genius of the series, the plot continues like nothing happened and leaves the viewer yearning for more.