For those wishing to reform society to become a healthier, happier place for family life, few things are more discouraging than hearing that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Perhaps true, revealing an unruly lascivious bent in human nature, though it’s much easier and more straightforward to find some spots than others, e.g., easier in Angeles City, Macau, and Tokyo than in most of the United States. Thus, when the manga-based series Interspecies Reviewers (Ishuzoku Reviewers in the original) premiered early this year, running its 12 episode course just in time to avoid any COVID-19 delays, it was bound to be divisive—though, honestly, as much within the human heart as among the mass of viewers. For anyone who generally disapproves of prostitution, yet can’t resist an occasional peek at RockIt Reports, thinking “If only...” this may be the anime for you.
Human adventurer Stunk inhabits an architecturally Middle Ages world, where dungeons piled with treasure are guarded by menacing monsters, and cities are peopled by a variety of intelligent species, some wielding magic, living alongside one another, earning his keep by fulfilling quests posted on tavern walls for rewards in gold. Though a skilled fighter, employment is uncertain in this fantasy-style universe, and much of what he does make goes to companionship at one of numerous legal brothels popular with quest takers. The establishments are run by succubus girls (succu-girls); while sex work is restricted to members of their race, longtime interbreeding mean members of virtually all kinds carry succu-girl blood, and are represented.
One night, over fare at the tavern Ale & Eats, Stunk and Zel, an elf, reach an impasse in a lively debate over two whores. Seeking to reach a decision, they enlist the halfling Kanchal (Kan) and the beastman Brooz to pen tiebreaking reviews of a human succu-girl, 50 years old, and an elf, 500 years young. When that‘s settled, Stunk and Zel rescue the angel Crimvael (Crim) from a monster during a walk in the woods. Crim can’t return to Heaven until his halo heals, so he decides to join their party. After posting the reviews among the quest bulletins back at Ale & Eats, patrons flock to pore over their research, and Stunk is happily surprised with a sack of gold from Meidri, the harpy barmaid who can’t stand how gross men are, as remuneration for the evaluations bringing the bar increased traffic. A newfound source of income acquired, the party begins moonlighting as regular reviewers for prostitutes of all species, and even innocent, inexperienced Crim is roped in. The others don’t realize he has ”both parts” hidden between his legs, leading to elements in his reviews that confuse those not privy to his secret.
In each episode, after Stunk and three others, sometimes including a less frequent reviewer, visit a brothel, we hear their review, with its rating from 0-10 of 10, and see highlights. What is this anime? Visually there are some traits of ecchi, but right off, Interspecies Reviewers violates key laws underpinning the broadcast anime universe. Characters can not only have sex, it happens in every episode. Crim, timid and a virgin at the beginning, is a little like an ecchi protagonist transported to a hentai, and it feels like something important’s been violated when he gets to bed women for a modest sum and with almost no preliminaries, when the protagonists of harem series like To Love-Ru, High School DxD, and Strike the Blood are content to wait, finding endless tantalization recompense for saving school, city, or even the whole world. Something is lost in having a plot anime where sexual tension is released once or twice an episode instead of elaborately built up; of course, the finesse and gladdening fulfillment of lovemaking in shojo anime like Kare Kano is also lacking. Yet Interspecies Reviewers isn’t a broadcast hentai, either; while sex is shown in each episode, there isn’t the long focus on bodies-in-action signature to pornography. The action doesn’t even always aim to be hot or attractive: a few times, the narrator pans the visuals to something more appealing to spare the human viewer’s eyes. One of my favorite parts is when, instead of something truly grotesque, we see Meidri fluttering in the water of a sunlit lake as she bathes herself.
At its best, Interspecies Reviewer showcases how fictional intelligent species, often based on lower creatures from real life, along with beings who can use magic, might mate, and how humans and others visiting them might be in for a unique treat. Sometimes the anime pulls this off delightfully. When the reviewers visit Tiaplate the hot-bodied salamandra succu-girl in Yellow Volcano land, they’re treated to a unique combination of two great Japanese traditions, yakiniku and nyotaimori, that would not be possible in real life. The most acclaimed succu-girl, however, is the Archmage Demia, who uses her extensive powers to run a perfectly-rated brothel in the Magic Metropolis, a four-day’s journey from city housing Ale & Eats. Stunk and friends can’t find anything lacking, but the viewer learns that for Demia, her business is an elaborate intelligence-gathering operation, seemingly out of place in her serene city. She must be up to something. If Alfred Hitchcock were directing this anime, we might get a dramatic pivot away from the salacious to a high-stakes high fantasy, to something more like Re: Zero. But, despite a promise of greater action at the end of the presumptive first season, in an ongoing series of established niche that is likely impossible.
Speaking of the impossible, in watching Interspecies Reviewers, one can forget that, for the native audience, sexual services for payment are hardly “fantasy”, as Japan is home to a few kinds of prostitution. Postwar laws influenced by Christian missionaries led to the invention of the soap land; pretended as a form of bathing, it skirts a narrow ban on normal penetrative sex to provide an experience not available elsewhere. There are a few scenes in the anime paying homage to soap lands. Missing, however, is anything like enjo kosai (compensated dating), a controversial practice and inspiration for erotic manga for decades now. In fact, other than a couple of the johns saying they prefer “loli”-looking girls, children or minors of any sort are absent from virtually the whole anime—and this, from the country always getting browbeaten by the UN and NGOs for lolicon manga. What IS included, and which I would include among the grotesque parts to turn away from, is sex changing (assisted by magic) in order for males to enjoy lesbian sex; ”rainbow” is even used to denote prostitutes who specialize in gender-bending sex. And it is, of course, a show about sex between species, and like monster girl anime serves to normalize sex between races as well as catering to those interested in bestiality. Interspecies Reviewers skirts the more controversial interests, even those that are a social issue in real life, while making sure to check all the pozzed boxes. Strange, then, that Interspecies Reviewers was dropped by Amazon Prime Video and Funimation, which usually run the most transgressive series as if they were inoffensive despite any volume of objections. Yet, with sex work and pornography still unsettled issues within feminism, and some rightists now championing prostitution as a better alternative to porn addiction, the politically-minded dutifully took their battle stations, and made war over a substantially tame series, leading Meganime to pick up the series larger streamers had let go.
A late-night anime that reviewed what prostitution is actually like in Japan, for the guests and the girls, that would be brave; I hope someday one is made.