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The Big Anime Sex Talk

Hentai isn't what it immediately appears to be...except when it is.

By Nadia Oxford     September 14, 2008

© Bang Bang Hentai
You knew this was coming. After all, you've reached the age where you've become curious about what kind of entertainment anime can provide you with beyond mech battles and robot ninjas. And it's far better you learn about this kind of thing from someone you trust instead of a mainstream news soucre, most of which don't tend to scrape far below the surface when compiling information about strange hobbies from Japan.
Sex in anime and manga, much like human sexuality in general, is complicated to define. It can also lead to some potent controversy. There's more to it than saying, “Oh my God, Japan sells a vibrator designed like Hello Kitty!” That little tidbit is over ten years old and the story behind its creation isn't as straightforward as it might seem. “Not as straightforward as it seems” defines erotic anime in general.
Different Strokes
One of the problems with erotic anime is that it's very hard to define by English standards. To begin with there are multiple terms to define multiple sub-genres: yaoi refers to sex between two grown men whereas shonen-ai refers to love (usually not sexually explicit, but rather cuddling and kissing) between two men or boys. Yuri is most simply defined as lesbian erotica, but it's frequently mixed up with shojo-ai—girl love, which, like its brother shonen-ai, is usually not meant to be sexually explicit. Even the term English-spears use to categorise anime, “Hentai,” doesn't carry the same implications in Japan where it simply means “pervert.” If you ever visit the Land of the Rising Sun and need to get your rocks off, make sure you ask for “Poruno Anime.”
Nobody is going to argue that there are some weird sexual tastes out there. While certain categories are considered strictly off-limits (children), others are kind of shady (animals) and still others are completely bizarre but harmless (A Cream of Wheat mascot fetish—not joking, here). Japan has especially earned a reputation for catering to strange sexual tastes, some of which have to do with our own perception on things.
Cartoon Eroticism—and Rape
For example, it's a well-known fact that Japan and America have varying views on animation. In America, animation is mostly kids' stuff, with a few exceptions. In Japan, animation has always been for both children and adults, so cartoon pornography was the next obvious step. We giggle and roll our eyes at the idea of sexualising cartoons, but that's not to say none of us grew up with crushes on Betty Rubble from The Flintstones. It generally just wasn't considered conversation for polite company.
(There are also a multitude of websites that offer pornography of popular Western cartoon characters, and they must be getting viewers from somewhere.)
In other instances, anime pornography has little or no defence against some of the content it unleashes. Some pornography is immediately and obviously offensive, and even kind of dismaying to watch if you're a woman and an anime fan. Everyone has seen at least one clip of big-breasted women being raped by demons with reproductive organs the size of Redwoods. More distressingly, they resist at first but often lapse into a baffling sort of ecstasy within minutes.
No woman on Earth wants to be raped, least of all by something the size of an ancient tree. It doesn't mean that every single male who watches such things is going to run out and re-enact the fantasy, but the existence of these kinds of movies—especially in such staggering numbers—is saddening. What's more, it adds a very black mark against anime, which is an incredibly diverse medium. Memories of rape pornography seep into character designs and plots, meaning someone who is told about an non-pornographic anime series will either recall “that porn stuff” with a lewd smile, or else they'll be driven away entirely because they were so appalled by the pornography they've seen.
Young and Innocent: Moe
Anime also comes under fire for sexualising certain character traits that aren't always meant to be. Over at the Anime News Network (which has an excellent lexicon), the Chicks on Anime Roundtable had an intelligent roundtable discussion about the sexual implications behind “moe:” the warm feelings aroused by exceedingly cute characters, for example Chiyo-chan from Azumanga Daioh. One roundtable contributor who calls herself “Casey” summed up the controversy nicely:
“[T]he hardcore people who are real moe fans will tell you that moe is not sexualized and that it is pure love. It's not about sexual or physical love. Whether you believe that or not is under question, but that's the definition.”
Nobody can read minds, which is a shame because we might avoid a lot of conflicts. When a little girl squeals over the antics of a cartoon character her age, nobody thinks twice about it. But if a 35-year-old man did the same thing, we might suspect his intentions weren't as pure as his claims, and not without reason. Adults fawning over child pop stars and the like is kind of creepy. It's the sort of thing that doesn't surprise you when you read about a child pornography bust and friends mention about how the accused collected pictures of young celebrities.
A Fandom Divided
But the counter-argument inevitably comes: is our society so obsessed with sex that we can't look at anything with platonic love anymore?
And the other side fires back: why are you creepy people ruining anime for everyone? These misconceptions and rumours is what leads to generalising articles like the previously-linked MSNBC piece.
Arguments about the content found in anime and especially hentai often turn on themselves and run around forever. The best thing to do is to make your own arguments and judgments. and add them to the Internet pile. At the very least, it's a subject worth discussing. Nobody dislikes talking about sex. 


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LittleNell1824 9/14/2008 6:26:25 AM
I read the MSNBC article by Brian Alexander a few days ago (his column, Sexploration, can be interesting and funny.) But when I did searches using the terms he used, every website featured animated porn for pedophiles. It made me wish I had never read his article - these were images I never wanted to see. So, yeah, if you're going to do a search, make sure you use the right Japanese terms. It's just really sad, and I can't believe this type of thing is victimless when it's feeding appetites that need to be medicated into lithium-oblivion (at the very least). When you mentioned "tree rape" it made me think of the scene from The Evil Dead, which was weirdly mesmerizing. While I agree that women don't want to be raped in real life, at the time that The Evil Dead was created, there was still a lot of conflict in women's sexuality. Entertainment at the time, including romance novels, often featured sex scenes where the woman wouldn't have to take complete responsibility for her own sexual feelings. So, she is "raped" by the hero in a kind of worshipful, but violent seduction. Or in this case, by a tree. The conflict regarding women's sexuality could also be why women who were eager to have sex were always killed off in horror movies. That women in the 70's and 80's loved horror movies just as much as men, shows that women related to scenarios where their feelings of sexuality were considered taboo by others and definitely condemned by society in general. I've noticed that in today's romance novels, the women often initiate sex with the main male character, which is definitely a good thing. It shows that women in the US no longer feel they have to hide their feelings of sexuality. Perhaps in Japan, women still feel the need to be perceived as "innocents" and non-protaganists when it comes to sex, which is why tree-rape, and other types of dominance scenarios, still prevail there.
originaldave77 9/14/2008 9:05:10 AM
As obscene as the animated pornography is in Japan, it doesn't seem to be impacting their country negatively. Perhaps its teaching people that violent sexuality only should exist in cartoon form, and nowhere else? Plus they seem to be more open-minded about sex like Europeans, as opposed to North Americans. It's probably no big deal at all to them, but here we are tip-toeing around the issue.
LittleNell1824 9/14/2008 10:22:59 AM
I would disagree, OriginalDave, but only because I know that in Japan, rapists (even where rape leads to murder) are still allowed to pay "compensation" money to the families of their victims as opposed to facing punishment or being removed from society. The "open-mindedness" you might hope for, seems to be opened in sympathy for the perp, as in "rape is normal, it's normal for men to lack self-control," while a shrug is given to the victim. There are many places in Japan where they don't seem to understand what rape is. It's not seduction or love (as old romance novels seem to indicate), it's violence at its most sadistic and indicates a serious inabality on the part of the perp to feel empathy and for impulse-control. While I do agree that sex in Japan doesn't have quite the same taboo as in Christian cultures, and tentacle-rape is considered amusing and ridiculous (agreed here), rape in cartoon-form isn't a stop-gap on rape itself in Japan. I think it's still too early to tell whether mass-producing the more perverse forms of hentai feeds the desire for pedophilia and rape or sates it.
galaga51 9/14/2008 1:13:19 PM
Despite my slight introduction to anime, I've already seen that there is quite a range of sexiness in anime, from romantic to lustful, from not quite innocent to "we can't show it any more graphic than that." It is unfortunate that a lot of it gets lumped together, but I don't believe there is a well-definted system for the novice veiwer to know, "Oh, this rating may include "F-ed up tentacle rape" or "limited-nudity and partially-hidden sexual acts of love between consensual persons" or just "a mostly hidden panty-shot." Instead, it either seems to be adult or not adult - kiddie martial arts fluff or PORN! If there are well-used ratings, I've not noticed them. Sellers of movies separate hollywood films by many genres and ratings, but not anime. I suppose part of that is a relatively low demand, where the total anime section at your local box-warehouse is not even the same size as the comedy or sci-fi/horror section. And for an outsider, especially a parent, well, it's just easier to label anything that might show a panty-edge from a billowing skirt in the wind as EVIL, CORRUPTIVE PORN! Yeah, the US could lighten up about sex, but from the picture Li'lNell paints, I don't want to see it become quite as liberal as Japan.
StarlightGuard 9/14/2008 1:45:11 PM
Crazy as it seems to admit, when the last WGA strike came by, I seriously considered the idea of writing scripts for adult films. This had been compounded by the fact, well, no one here needs a screenwriter. And Hollywood hadn't come calling. So, I thought, why not? It can't be that hard. I asked a few friends "what do you think? To write smut or to not write smut?" I actually got back intelligent advice: remember, it's a fantasy. It's all a fantasy for people. Rather rational way of looking at it, I thought. It's all good.
Wiseguy 9/14/2008 3:18:28 PM
I have no problems with material meant for adults touching on any sort of topic. I still believe it should be age appropriate first and foremost. But I truly believe that anime, written and drawn mostly by men, has a certain pedophile element to it. Young girls with mini skirts, showing cleavage if not more. Japan is a patriarchal society where women still "know their places and just go along" for the most part. And people shouldn't assume that because you don't see big headlines of the crimes committed in Japan that they don't happen. Some stuff is treated totally different than here, where everyone goes to jail, while other stuff is just accepted and some may not consider it a crime. StarlightGuard, I'm still hoping you get to write that superheroine porn film and that it gets made. I'll buy a copy of that for sure.
StarlightGuard 9/14/2008 3:24:58 PM
Well wiseguy, I really oughta start considering a storyline for it then. I'll need a leading lady character, her super powers, and worthy villain (or lady villain), and so on. How campy should it be do you think?
LittleNell1824 9/14/2008 3:47:26 PM
Well, StarlightGuard, I'd love to see some porn for women where the storyline is more evolved. Do that!! I guess that's what I was hoping for when I searched on erotic anime after reading Brian Alexander's column. Something more like the paranormal romance novels I've been reading by Christine Feehan. Do a nice 1 hour to 2 hour long film, with some action, that includes flirtation, touching and tension before the first big sex scene. Then include a few more sex scenes with the same build-up as the story goes along (sometimes in dangerous scenarios). The belief in the story and the build-up is what gets most women hot, and I've never seen anything nearly that satisfying for women on film - only in books. Not on the Red Shoe Diaries or anywhere else. Obviously, I agree with Wiseguy. I may sound hard on porn, but I started reading those romance novels when I was 13 or 14 and know first hand that porn can be really hot. I think people who've watched porn have a few more creative moves and more playfullness than people who haven't. My only complaint is with hentai. When you're catering to people whose sexual needs already have an element of rage, or if the person lacks empathy, I think it may very well be encouraging them to act out their fantasies against women / children and adding to their rage when they know they know their actions are unacceptable to others.
StarlightGuard 9/14/2008 4:00:19 PM
everyone just come read my latest blog...the hunt is on for an adult film for geeks like us...
Skywise 9/14/2008 9:49:20 PM
Those do exist Nell - unlike what Nadia seems to mistakenly believe, not all adult anime contains rape. Take a trip over to the Recommendations forum in the AnimeOnDVD section and give us more details about what you're looking for. I'm sure people will be able to come up with some suggestions. The advantage to animated adult content is that there so much more opportunity for storytelling. <br /> <br /> I must say I'm rather disappointed at this article, as it falls into many of the same traps of the aforementioned MSNBC article. Moe shouldn't even be mentioned for instance, as it has nothing to do with sex, period. Going so far as to pasting the definition and then implying the complete opposite is rather reprehensible IMO.
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