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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.
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.