There is an inescapable, toxic sect of the anime fandom community. As recent developments with the Reddit backlash to the r/anime page banning the word “trap” has shown, hate and ignorance manifests itself deep within the ranks of anime fans. The bulk of this attention, it seems, has been surrounded around one of the most infamous examples of a character that those who make “trap jokes” rally around: Astolfo from Fate/Apocrypha. I have two things to admit to with this. The first time I ever heard the term, I was far less cultured than I am now and was just as guilty as anyone else when I brought up Astolfo. I was lucky enough to have someone pull me aside and educate me. I edited my article and swore to do better as a person. The other thing I need to admit to is that I know this is my third article related to this particular anime, but I wanted to focus more on the character of Astolfo and how they are much more than the meme that has been used as a rallying cry for slurs and hateful “comedy”. Indeed, I will look at the social issue of “trap” verbiage and how this slur harbors hateful meaning at all levels of its use. From here, I would like to address counterarguments to the character of Astolfo by calling attention to the problematic ways that Fate/Apocrypha utilizes this character and how this feeds the ignorance/hate. Finally, I will highlight just how critical Astolfo is to the anime as a character and how they are important in delivering the messages of freedom and living with purpose.
Unquestionably, the most perplexing part of this entire topic has to come from the excuses people push out to justify their use of the slur “trap” so adamantly. As some would call it, this falls under their freedom of speech because they Googled “is hate speech against the law???” and the first result told them that they are “protected” under the First Amendment to say whatever they want. Some might scream “censorship!” at the face of a Reddit board making a rule that shows their management is in agreement that the slur is inappropriate. Others might try to flex those big ol’ brains of theirs (read: Google some stuff for five minutes and then spout out like they are subject matter experts) and point to the likes of Snyder v. Phelps to show that hate speech can only be criminalized if it incites criminal activity. Maybe, just maybe, someone will try to justify their hateful speech by outlining their religion protects them to say so. Finally, there is the pathetic stance some folks take where they turn their heads to the speech by saying something to try to diffuse the situation, minimalize the discussion, or subtly suggest they are inconvenienced by the discussion. These are all real, convinced arguments that have been made in the last few weeks since the r/anime decision happened and I implore you to seek such responses out from almost any corner of anime fandom social media.
Let’s address this at the most raw, uneducated level first, and then build our way back up, yeah? Point blank: If you’re arguing this kind of stuff, you’re being a bigoted asshole. You might be twirling your beard around and nodding that you are protected to partake in hate speech, but let’s back up there a second. Look at that again. Hate speech. To argue for the use of a hateful slur as appropriate is, fundamentally, poor optics. Not because of the way “society is censoring” you for saying it, not because you have freedom of speech, not because your religion might make you feel like you’re in the right. None of that. To argue in favor of hate speech outright makes you sound like a total asshole.
“It’s not a slur or even hate speech...” someone might be uttering to themselves right now. Well, let’s look at what the United Nations defines hate speech as for a moment:
“...the term hate speech is understood as any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor. This is often rooted in, and generates intolerance and hatred and, in certain contexts, can be demeaning and divisive.”
-United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, 2018.
Refusal to see making jokes at the expense of persons/groups based on their identity as hate speech only further indicates a disconnect from reality. This is not a “sheeple” situation- it is a matter of ethics.
Let’s add another layer into this, shall we? If someone really wants to continue on their warpath that saying “trap” is okay, consider this. At some point, all of us will, hopefully, be in a position that requires professionalism. Maybe someone is the outlaw who doesn’t need to work, are against “working for the man”, or blame a lack of employment on a myriad of other reasons. People have comfort with slurs like this or an indifference to their use could, reasonably, be presumed to have their discretionary abilities at a professional level in question. Expression of this slur can create a toxic work environment, but the individual does not have to be the one saying such hate speech for it to become a problem. Being a bystander means maintaining a culture of harassment in a workplace. If someone thinks so little of a group of people online in their most protected state (online expression), surely there are psychosocial issues they might have in the workplace. This is not to generalize, but I can’t help but challenge professionals who do not see “trap” as an issue. It might be a Reddit forum today, but it might be ignoring an anti-Sematic comment or offensive joke tomorrow.
Another thing that surprises me with how vocal employed people are on their social media pages regarding hate speech is just how much they are putting a public record of their hateful stances out for all to see. Online hate speech can be viewed as offensive conduct. A person who partakes in offensive conduct attracts attention to their workplace, gives negative optics to their place of business, and, ultimately, becomes a distraction to both their own work and that of their co-workers. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (n.d.) defines “offensive conduct” as:
Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following: The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee. The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim
Still not convinced saying slurs online can affect work? The Society for Human Resource Management had an excellent article last month (right about when this whole controversy began, incidentally) detailing how private-sector employees can be punished or fired for hate speech of any kind, speech that fosters a hostile work environment, or speech that may damage company clients/customers or community. So long as employees are educated regarding their responsibilities to conduct themselves appropriately (usually at initial employment/orientation), these policies may be strictly enforced (Smith, 2020). It doesn’t take much deep thought into the matter to realize that fighting for the use of a slur online is not worth your job.
I don’t usually don’t comment on religion, but it is disgusting to me that this Reddit debate has taken to the anime community in a way that some individuals want to express righteousness into their justification for hate speech. I am a religious individual (devout Catholic), and yet I am not an asshole. Maybe people will see differences in how they interpret the Bible, but let me pose this counterargument to the few of the folks still throwing holy water at folks over saying “trap”- I’ve laughed at how many different scriptures that have been used to try to justify hate speech. Let me offer one in response- James 4:12. If you don’t want to Google it, let me share: “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” If you really practice what you preach, then you are not in any position to declare what is right. I’ve had to go to the plate more than I care for because my mother is Jewish. Hearing anti-Sematic commentary/jokes/slurs justified by Christianity is not only wrong morally, it betrays the very religion people claim to be enforcing.
Finally, I have a few words to say to those who turn their heads because they don’t want to see/hear this discussion. Trying to take the “you’re both annoying, stop fighting” stance or just sharing some stupid meme to serve as a diversion. By being a bystander or trying to take some moral high-ground by commenting how you don’t like the debate or think both sides “look stupid”, you are as much of a problem. You are letting the cycle of socialization continue and preventing any meaningful change from occurring. If you are so bothered by it, just walk away. Expressing you don’t want to hear either side is not a “reasonable, mature response” to have, it is complacency. It also minimalizes the importance of the issue and the feelings of those being oppressed. Between this and other hot topics in the anime fandom community this year, the individuals who post that stupid Kaguya “breathing is fun” picture are just as frustrating as those fighting for the use of “trap.”
I mentioned that there are problematic factors to Fate/Apocrypha, and, while brief in noting, they feed the hate. More specifically, there are three instances where Astolfo’s ambiguous identity have been utilized by individuals arguing for the “fair” use of the word “trap”. The first of these examples comes from how the character is identified in Fate/ lore. The complete works for Fate/Apocrypha lists Astolfo as “male” while Fate/Grand Order corrects this to “???” after much debate. I want to return to this in a moment.
While much less cited, the first half of the anime has a “cult favorite” moment where Astolfo is in a dungeon against their will with their master, Celenike. This master harasses and abuses Astolfo in a rather disturbing fashion that is played like a joke in the anime. This objectification of the character is considered “endearing” by a sect of Fate fans, which is troubling.
Perhaps the most difficult point to bring up regarding how the anime handles Astolfo comes from the infamous gag where Ruler returns to their hotel room and sees Astolfo come out of the shower. This, of course, plays as a joke as Ruler finds out that Astolfo has a penis. An overwhelming amount of justification for the use of the phrase with this character comes from this singular scene. It is highly problematic and gives individuals the delusion that it is acceptable to “call it how it is.”
So let’s combine two important things here: the indecisiveness of the gender identity by official Fate/ sources and the problematic shower scene in the anime. If we were to even to admit that these exist and are reasonable cases for Astolfo to be a boy (which, to be very, very clear, I am not), this is not “fair game” or a “get out of jail free card” for the use of a slur. The problem is that, as many have shown, the interpretation of this phrase has been used to ridicule/insult/discriminate any individual who wishes to dress/behave like what they identify as. The resistance to this that “not all people who use ‘trap’ are saying it it as an insult” is completely ridiculous because it is about as valid as saying “not all people who use ‘f**’ are saying it as an insult.” It is still a slur and an insult. Just because you think an anime character fits your criterion for the slur, doesn’t mean it is okay to say it. You don’t call gay characters in creative works “f**s” or characters on the spectrum “r*****s” and try to argue that it is “meant as an endearing phrase”, do you? Why use that for the word “trap” then?
While not nearly as important as the rest of the discussion to this point, I want to take a moment to reiterate that Astolfo is a deep character to the story of Fate/Apocrypha despite the problematic way the story utilizes the character. Indeed, I find Astolfo to be the shining representation of the core message to the story. Through their journey from being an enslaved servant to having the freedom to explore the world and prove they are not a failure, Astolfo represents the message that we hold the power to make changes for ourselves and others we care about.
While not as overt as Astolfo, many characters display this development in their own ways- Mordred realizes the wishes their father had for the good of others at the cost on oneself, Kairi finds solace in helping Mordred reach their maturation in place of the fleeting hopes he had to see his deceased daughter, Jeanne challenged her past and reached the conclusion that her sacrifice was necessary, and Sieg sacrificed himself because he found meaning in protecting those he had grown to love.
All throughout this journey, Astolfo is undoubtedly the engine, the heart of this story. They are the joy and all of the excitement that comes with developments in the narrative. I argue that, as the ending of the anime may suggest, that Astolfo was the real main character of it all. Not Jeanne, not Sieg, and not Mordred. The last shot of the anime is Astolfo looking at a map full of wonder and taking off into the unknown, free as can be. This spirit and wonder is squandered due to the fact that the character has been rallied around unsavorily as a mascot of a slur.