Fair warning, while I try to be unbiased to an extent in my discussions, I feel this one is a bit more opinionated than my other ones. I’m not deeply entrenched in 4chan’s /a/ or other anime communities, so my viewpoint about the terms “waifu” and “best girl” comes from a different perspective. Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading my discussion!
If you’ve ever watched Azumanga Daioh, there’s a hilarious scene where the creepy teacher of the school, Kimura, drops a picture of a beautiful woman from his coat pocket. The students pick it up and comment on how she’s very beautiful and looks like a nice woman, wondering who she might be. The creeper of a teacher suddenly appears from behind them and exclaims in deadpan, broken English that she’s “Mai waifu.” The students freak out, not only over his sudden appearance, but that such a beautiful and charming woman would be married to a suspected pedophile and scary man.
Originally, the terms “waifu” and “hazu” were borrowed from English in the early 1980s in order to better define modern marriage in Japan as the original Japanese term for wife, “Kanai”, means “inside the house” and the term for husband, “shujin” or “danna”, means “master”. Obviously outdated, “waifu” and “hazu” were adopted to show a modern expression of equal treatment. While Japanese otaku definitely would have used the term before, fans of the show Azumanga Daioh thought the juxtaposition of a possible pedobear with a wonderfully nice woman, as well as the teacher’s broken English response, were so funny, the term “Mai Waifu” came to become a meme for the people of the Internet. The term means that a female character a person enjoys is so loved by that person, they claim to be “married” to them. People have also used it to refer to their favorite character in general, disregarding gender and including male characters in a humorous, but endearing way as also their “waifus” and sometimes “husbandos”. While for some, the level of love towards their fictional character is just a fun aside to their own lives, many on the Internet latched onto the idea of having an actual love interest in their two dimensional favorite characters. This in itself is not bad as I feel we’ve all been there to certain extents. I know I personally love at least half of the main characters Joss Whedon has ever written and, given the chance, I would absolutely date Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly and I’m a hetero male. However, it’s important to note that these fantasies can be taken too far.
Many people know of body pillows in the shape of their favorite characters that allow people to “sleep” with their waifus. This isn’t necessarily bad given that you might equate it to sleeping with your favorite teddy bear, but when your teddy bear is half-nude with a come hither look and a sexy pose, that’s when I question how much that person loves their teddy bear. There’s also the obsession people start to have with celebrating their 2D character’s birthday, having dinner dates with these characters, and even going farther into the more sexual celebration of their waifus. When it’s not done as a joke, there’s definitely a pattern here of possibly becoming too obsessed. It’s not true for everyone who has a waifu, but it’s possible waifuism can show a disregard of real life and an obsession with the non-existent. This is not something limited to anime (A quick trip to Tumblr or DeviantArt will easily show that). However, anime fans can be some of the worst about this particular topic. I mean, the term “waifu”, as a meme, even derives from us anime fans. I believe a celebration of a character through fanfics or art images is fine, even if the fantasy aspects get a little risque, as long as the people know that it is just a fantasy and they don’t disregard real life, but even a quick Google image search can show people gettin’ freaky with their waifus. As such, I believe what was once a relatively tongue-in-cheek term has now turned into a rallying cry for obsession for many people in the community and, in a lot of ways, “waifu” has lost its original meaning as an ironic, but endearing term to celebrate a favorite character.
In recent years, a term similar to “waifu” known as “best girl” has become popularized by the anime community (you may have even seen it jokingly as this site’s slogan). Where “waifu” is showing love of a character and claiming them as your own, “best girl” is a declaration of a great character over all others. This could obviously mean a character is “best girl” simply because a person is physically attracted to some busty babe, and the term does seem to exhibit a certain sexism to it as it derives from harems, visual novels, and other media where women are sought after. However, sex appeal alone can’t make a character better than the rest. Many times, I see “best girl” used to describe a character that has an interesting personality or, at the very least, an intriguing persona that a person finds attractive. Focusing more on the character’s personality shows a change in focus from the character as an object, which some in the waifu camp have devolved their obsessive love into, and more of a character as a “person”.
This is why I like the term “best girl.” To be the very best, like no one ever was; you not only need the Pokeballs to take on all the other rivals, but typically a more interesting personality that trumps the others in the show. In fact, I’d argue “best girl” is a character that has a more well-developed persona than a well-developed body. This is also why you see the meme “Kaiki is best girl” and many other derivatives of the line, celebrating not just the literal “best girl” of a show, but any character people think is the best written regardless of gender. (Seriously, though, Kaiki is best girl in Monogatari. Hands down.) In fact, broadening the term to any character in the show only further enforces the idea of judging the character not on sexual traits, but the actual personality and actions they perform. I feel that celebrating well-rounded characters is great and allows the community to want better characters while also hopefully inspiring the creators to make those types of characters. This may be an optimistic idea, but I don’t find the concept of the industry catering to what fans want that far-fetched, especially when the industry keeps putting out more and more anime that try to be self-aware and depict “a typical otaku” as their protagonist.
While the optimist in me would like to stop there, the term “best girl” is not immune to the same ideas as “mai waifu” and the few that go too far with their obsessive love. There are groups that use both terms not only to say who they find sexually attractive, but those they’re ready to stick on that body pillow after making her dinner and celebrating her birthday. However, obsession shouldn’t be the point of the term “best girl” and that is my underlying hope. I feel a term like “best girl” has more potential to rally those that celebrate good characters to want more from an industry that is in love with tropes and stereotypical protagonists. I feel the major difference in these two terms is a difference in what fans want as we go forward. I feel a love for good characters does not have to dip into the dark waters of anti-social and desperate deep sea creatures, but instead can be used to better an industry and give us more and more amazing shows.
Mai waifu, the one that I am in love with, is great shows. And she is best girl.
Inspiration and References for this Discussion:
- Know Your Meme – http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/waifu
- What Waifu Means – http://www.japanpowered.com/otaku-culture/what-waifu-means
- Previous research done by users on Stack Exchange – http://anime.stackexchange.com/questions/19716/what-exactly-does-best-girl-mean-and-where-did-the-expression-originate-from
- reddit.com/r/Waifu – http://www.reddit.com/r/Waifu/comments/ygufq/answering_questions/c7pg2c
- Owningmatt93 – My personal friend, editor, and 4chan frequenter who helped me to better understand the community’s viewpoint on these terms as I was originally way off-base.