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
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
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
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.