A warning for all sensitive readers: this week’s column looks at the pervy side of anime and manga, which is such a significant amount in the industry that it needs to be covered at least once. If such subject matter disturbs you, or you are too young to be looking at such material, come back next Thursday. I’m aiming for information over exhibition, so no hentai titles today, or at least not a huge list of them. Don’t be sad; it just means you need to do your own research on what’s your kink.
Okay, now onto the H!
Hentai, Japanese slang for “perverted,” is the word attached to adult manga and anime outside of Japan. (For the purposes of this week’s discussion, “adult” means material intended for sexual pleasure, not my usual grown-up definition.) Inside Japan, the terms ju hachi kin (“prohibited for persons under 18,” the warning label on such material), ecchi (“naughty“), H anime, and the prefix ero (from the word “erotic”) are used. Outside of Japan and otaku circles, hentai as a term has grown to envelop all pornographic animation and derived artwork, from Disney fanart to Heavy Metal.
Hentai originates from pornographic shunga ukiyo-e wood block prints during the Edo Period to the Meiji Era, which often featured fantasy scenes, such as a woman enthusiastically cavorting with a giant squid in Hosukai’s “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.” It is believed that tentacle hentai in particular (women being penetrated by penii tentacles) finds its origins in Hindu and Shinto practices, as religious worship also combined sensual elements. Yoga is a form of worship, and well...so is sex. Think tantric sex.
As artwork can capture sexuality straight from the imagination, scenes that are impossible to photograph or film or which are social taboos (i.e. gay sex, bestiality, rape, tentacle sex--you know, the main taboos of most cultures at certain times) find their place in hentai. Additionally, hentai aims for extreme sex acts to push viewers’ comfort zones, leaving the soft pornography for ecchi. Of course, as directors aim for more and more explicit acts, hentai has become more and more fantastical, with acts that most everyday people will never ever experience, such as group sex, bondage, mutilation, violence, water play and bukkake (for the definition of that act, google it yourself if you’re over 18 and ready for such knowledge). Some people see hentai as an artistic criticism of what is socially acceptable sexuality, and what is not; and whether socially acceptable sexuality follows primal sexual urges. In practice, do women really want demons in their bedrooms, and is businessman-underage schoolgirl relations okay? Personally, while I think a few directors and artists have an artistic purpose behind their works, aiming for story and relationships over visual titillation, most companies are in it for the same reason as mainstream pornography: to make money.
I’ll pause here to make an important point: nudity does not equal hentai. Many children’s shows, such as Sailor Moon and Digimon, contain nudity during transformation sequences, and nudity (both partial and full) is used as fanservice in countless shows catered towards a male audience. What makes hentai is the explicit erotic content, the lack of any “accidental” shots or common sense reason for the nudity.
The Internet led to the rise of hentai in the US and aboard, as thousands of college students discovered those freaky bootlegged Japanese cartoons, labeled simply as hentai XXX; you know the file names. It also led to the popularity of H manga, as pornographic US comics have never...penetrated the US comic industry as much as H manga have in Japan, where there is no social stigma attached to working on such comics. As I said in the column on doushijin, H manga accounts for half of all self-published works and attracts a lot of talented artists. However, in Japan, hentai and H manga are not interchangeable, as H manga simply means any manga with sexual content, whereas hentai would refer to a perverted person or a manga with extreme pornographic content, such as tentacle rape.
Hentai stands apart from other types of pornography by its portrayal of women as regular people in society (as opposed to “Oh! It’s the plumber!”) that become aroused and have an earth-shaking sexual experience, or as being shy and reserved until they become aroused. Along with the typical plot of “male teaches/guides/entices woman to sexual arousal,” women are also portrayed as aggressors in the bedroom and in conventional couple settings.
There are two main categories of hentai: heterosexual pairings (“het”) and homosexual pairings. The homosexual category is divided into two groups: yuri (lesbian) and yaoi (gay). Yuri tends to focus more on the relationship between the women than the physical action, and the characters tend to look more realistic than idealized Barbies.
Yaoi often features bishounen characters, physically and personality-wise ambiguous young men. Less frequently found are hairy and muscular men (bara) and elderly and middle-aged men (oyaji) as participating characters, but there are present. Just to make things even more confusing, not all yaoi is hentai. Yaoi refers to anime and manga featuring any gay relationship. However, yaoi is not shounen-ai (“boy love”), where the male characters just express their feelings without any follow-up action. You have to have at least some sexual content!
Yaoi and yuri are both booming in the US manga market with adult imprint from all of the major publishing companies and many of the smaller ones as well. However, this has produced a slight problem in shelving these titles, as the shrinkwrapped books shouldn’t be beside kid-friendly content, and stores won’t put them in the erotica section, as their audience is manga purchasers. Hopefully, more stores will find a middle ground, perhaps creating a mature shelf in the section.
Besides anime and manga, hentai is commonly found in video games (eroge) from visual novels to sex simulations. Fanfiction of popular anime and manga characters called “lemon” (full-on sex) or “lime” (everything short of sex) is quite popular. The term “lemon” comes from one of the first hentai anime released in the US, Cream Lemon. In Japan, these terms are replaced by “lemon” and “pink.” Additionally, anime-themed figures and statues often feature sexualized poses, even for underage characters and characters who are not “sexy” in the show. Evangelion’s Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu are repeat offenders in this regard.