Under Wraps: Beyond the Bandage Effect in Anime

To my dismay, Mei Misaki did not catch my eye.

One of the most powerful forces associated with sexual attraction is fetishism. The potential of a mere object or abstract concept to drive a man or woman to a trance mindlessness is a fathom to behold in itself. In Japanese culture, Kegadoru is the name of a visual fetish fad surrounding the use of bandages for fashion and cosplay, which dates back to late 2007 in Harajuku. Translated to “injured idols,” the main allures of Kegadoru centres around the apparent vulnerability of the bandage wearer despite faking injury, bringing the inner white knight out of anyone who is caught in the spell.

In anime, this visual conceptualization pre-dates that of the Kegadoru fad in Japan, and is perhaps the progenitor of the phenomenon itself; after all, the male Otaku audience fits the mould of one who would easily take to such fantasies. However, outside of the visual appeal of this fetish, the bandaged girl is a very interesting case with regards to trope and plot, taking advantage of its universal appeal to drive characters towards particular actions. Let’s take a very quick top-down look at some bandaged babes in anime who sport this fashion, and how it relates to their involvement to their respective stories.

Rei Ayanami, Neon Genesis Evangelion

A battered Rei motivates Shinji to pilot Unit 01, even though he still doesn't see eye to eye with his father.

Rei is perhaps the individual in this medium most closely associated with the bandage, and quite possibly the originator of the fetish. She is not specifically characterized by the bandages themselves, as she is only seen wearing them in select moments in the series. However, the effect that the style has on her role in the story goes a bit beyond mere fetish (though initially, it certainly helped).

When we first meet Rei in Neon Genesis, she is confined to a hospital bed due to undisclosed injuries (and for some reason, this bed is located in a hangar where unit 01 is kept). We see her through the eyes of the protagonist, Shinji Ikari, who up to this point has shown nothing but disdain towards the hero’s call. He is dragged into the bloody and destructive war between humans and angels, a conflict with an added dimension in Gendou Ikari, Shinji’s father. His rocky relationship with him at the start (which is further explored as the series progresses) adds to his reluctance to pilot the mecha. However, he comes to Rei’s side when the hangar is shaken by a battle outside, not even having any knowledge of her. All he sees is the bandaged girl, and the white knight is set free. The fetish drives Shinji to stop “running away” from his complications and he takes the first step into the world of EVA, making for a very straightforward yet provocative first episode in this highly acclaimed series.

Kanbaru Suruga, Bakemonogatari

I've got to give Koyomi credit: he knows how to keep a steady hand around Suruga.

If there’s a series that knows its shit about sexuality, it’s Bakemonogatari. With its successor series, Nisemonogatari, in full swing, it’s already rocked the fandom with spectacular visuals and imagery, wrapped in an enticing package of smut and all that delicious goodness. While not as bluntly racy as its sequel, Bakemono thrives on fetish as well, and the character who makes use of the bandage fetish is Kanbaru Suruga.

Known in-universe for her prowess in basketball basketball ace and wildly sexy spats, Kanbaru is the apex of athleticism and attractiveness, but it’s bandage that she wears on her left arm that is the source of intrigue in a world where the majority of the cast is afflicted with oddities. Protagonist Koyomi Araragi learns that the bandages conceal a demonic possession on her left arm, comparable to the mythical monkey’s paw.

The possession grants the victim wishes at the cost of their soul, which is complicated by Kanbaru’s relationship towards Koyomi’s love interest, Hitagi Senjougahara. A senjior-junior tandem in athletics, Kanbaru’s connection to Hitagi through sports grew into romantic interest, which was previously shot down in middle school. Seeing Hitagi flittering happily with Araragi sets off an anger within Suruga, causing her to lose control of her possession, which makes her viciously attack Koyomi with the strength of her left arm.

The great character revelation here is that her violent actions are not the fault of the possession, but Kanbaru herself. Her love for Hitagi, complicated by her seeded hatred for Koyomi caused the same violent act that made her injure her classmates in middle school. We see a girl who is not damaged physically, but rather emotionally. The bandage conceals more than just a curse, yet Koyomi is still drawn to help cure her of the possession, even to the point of getting ripped apart in an epic battle with Kanbaru’s inner-demon.

It is a selfless act of an undying white knight.

Ayumi Takahara, The World God Only Knows

Taking advantage of bandage fetish, Ayumi has a leg up on the other girls in Keima's lovelife.

In the most contemporary exmple, we have an up-and-coming hurdle runner in Ayumi Takahara from the wildly successful romantce comedy supernatural adventure supermashup, The World God Only Knows. In a world where runaway spirits from the depths of hell inhabit girls, Keima Katsuragi is tasked with romancing those girls in order to reclaim those loose souls. Ayumi is the first of many “capture targets,” and her first story arc is the shortest in the series, but wildly effective due to the clever use of bandage.

With a schoolwide track meet coming up soon, Ayumi aims to claim a spot in the track club’s lineup, filled mostly with senior students. While Keima cheers on in the must embarassing fashion, Ayumi sets her focus on the finish line, resulting in noticeable performances during practice. However, the day before the meet, she trips on a hurdle and appears injured and thus unable to participate, resulting in the utterly hearbreaking image shown above.

But it is not as it seems on the outside. A fantastic double reversal in the plot occurs when Keima confronts Ayumi while she is injured. He accuses her of faking injury and dropping out of the competition due to pressure and fear. Ayumi readily admits her action, but lashes out at Keima when he forgives her for her psychological misstep and claiming that she is still 1st place in his heart in an utmost cheesy fashion. Throwing the fruits at Keima from the fruits basket given to her, Ayumi discovers a pair of running shoes that Keima originally intended to give her, not only cementing his acknowledgement of Ayumi’s weakness, but also encouraging her to not give up on her dream.

Ayumi kisses Keima in response to this turn of events, and her loose soul is freed and captured by the adorable Elsie. In this case, we see the concept of faking injury played out in a romantic concept, and executed rather brilliantly. Keima uses his excellent perception of females and takes advantage of a ridiculous amount of genre-savviness and knowledge of female archetypes to win the hearts of not only the girls afflicted by loose souls, but the audience as well.

Wrapping it Up

Bandages, when used in a context that appeals to the fetishes of many, can serve as a visual aid for something that goes a bit further than sexualization. Those raw emotions and feelings that are stirred up can help aid in readily accepting advances in plot, causing audiences to appreciate characters more. The appeal of the bandage is not just the desire to protect, but also the desire to understand the underlying wounds, if they exist at all. Like the skins of an onion, the bandage is but one of many layers that add depth to our understanding of an individual. We are initially drawn to them when they are on, but we are eternally captured when they come off.

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11 thoughts on “Under Wraps: Beyond the Bandage Effect in Anime”

  1. Loll “wrapping it up.”

    This fetish feels like an extension of something we see commonly in anime and drama–the sick, bed-ridden girl in a hospital. The bandage girl is a more physical variation of that. And I guess Katawa Shoujo would be one more within this family.

    1. There are a lot of puns that I made in this post that I’m not particularly proud of.

      I agree about the idea of bandages as a visual variation on the bed-ridden girl archetype. Katawa shoujo is probably the bandage fetish taken to its logical extreme, except that the traits of disability are for the most part not faked. There’s a name for this particular type of paraphilia, but it’s in a character writing book that I keep at home, and is not avaialable to me right now at work. I’ll get back to you later on that. Thanks for reading!

  2. Like I said, I didn’t even know there’s a bandage fetish until I saw this post. Maybe it’s a man thing.

    Having said that, as you have pointed out, the use of bandage to develop the plot of the story is brilliant indeed when it’s done right. Thanks to that I still partial towards Ayumi and was hoping he and Keima get it on for real when she showed up in the second season. The impact is pretty strong.

    1. Ayumi’s relationship to Keima is dialed up to eleven in the manga, as it’s currently in the middle of a very intense arc that involves her. She is definitely my pick for the girl who is most likely to end up with Keima in the end (though Chihiro end and chaste hero end are also very likely as well), but my personal favourite girl in the series is Shiori. She has other qualities that appeal to me more than mere bandage fetish.

  3. I think out of all three Rei’s personality would be fit for such this bandage fetish, since as Yi have said, this seems like an extension of a weak female heroine (which make the male audiences want to protect that female character).

    Kanbaru is interesting, which she did show that kind of weakness within her arc and maybe even afterwards, it is usually covered doses of…I donno…SHAFT? I find it very hard for me to connect Kanbaru to someone like Rei…

    (I’m in Chihiro camp) I’m surprised that you chose Ayumi, since well…what is happening in manga pales in comparison of her arc in the very beginning. Or this time it is a social bandage between her friend and her love.

    For jokes, I will present you Abiru Kobushi for another bandage girl (but that is more as a joke of this fetish).

    And your puns, wow

    1. Abiru is an excellent example of the fetish played for laughs, due to the amount of misunderstanding revolving around the story behind her bandages. It plays off the idea of that aspect of mystery surrounding scars and whatnot, but as we find out, Abiru’s injuries isn’t the result of parental abuse but due to her own fetish towards animal tails and the resulting damage from said animals when she tries to interact with them. Completely her fault, which makes it even funnier. She is definitely my favourite character when it comes to bandages over an eye.

  4. Ahahahha yes! Great post Krizzly! And wrapping it up? AMAZING Lots of laughs bro xD

    Best girls on this list!? Rei and Kanbaru! They are great, but I think Kanbaru is more fun due to her crazy personality while Rei is silent but still very tough…

    Poor Mei maybe if she was a mummy people would like her a bit more? That and we all know what was under her eye patch so the mystery is gone T___T Still I wanted there to be another eye patch under the original one ❤ ❤

    1. Too many puns even for my taste T__T

      Kanbaru is probably my favourite girl in the show. I’d like to say Tsubasa too, but I still haven’t seen the rest of Bakemonogatari. Those delayed episodes made me not want to watch the rest of the series. I’m not even watching Nise.

      Mei is just ok. I can appreciate how the bandage prevents her from using the eye for crazy stuff, but the show is already pretty crazy as it is, so I don’t think her having the bandage really spares us from the crazy.

      And also, Yo dawg, I heard you like eyepatches…

  5. Mei… I guess perhaps it’s because the eye-patch was so obviously meant to be creepy, but never really was, and now we know what’s under it, so, um, yeah. Though, maybe if she wasn’t portrayed with as much bland pretention she’d be much more interesting and alluring, as I’m sure the other girls above are in comparison. Saying all that though, that series, especially the first three or so episodes, does very well to build up a genuinely creepy atmosphere overall, so I’ll give it props for that. (I might even write something about it too, hmm.)

    I like what you say about the bandages as not only evoking sympahthy/ feelings of wanting to protect, but also a desire to understand and heal the underlying wounds, physical and otherwise. In this sense, bandages (like scars too, perhaps), are strong symbols of hidden/ past stories, and thus make you want to discover more about characters over the course of time. I guess it might just be all about the desire to ‘uncover’ things on lots of different levels, if you will!

    1. Exactly, Hana. I think there are two human urges in play here, one is to protect, and the other is to satisfy curiosity. With Mei, my feeling is that she wasn’t really that good at covering up what she was trying to hide, there wasn’t too much of an allure. And despite having a doll’s eye, it doesn’t really look like she’s in any serious health disposition as a result of it.

      I still like how it looks, though. When it comes to asymmetry, I like things that are missing instead of being present, but different. In this case, I prefer a bandage over the eye compared to heterochromia/differently coloured eyes.

  6. Ever seen the Supercell music video Perfect Day? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ezs8kW0CQg

    One of the 2 girls in it has bandages up and down her legs, but not the wrap-on kind, rather the sticky rectangular kind:

    It’s put on as if willy nilly, without much care or delicacy. I really liked the style, and it made her appear tougher, not vulnerable as bandages often do. I’d like to see more of that kind of bandages in anime.

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