The Trouble With Definitions; or, Not All Anime Fans Watch Hentai

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[Author’s Note: The following post discusses hentai, which is a type of animated pornography.  No lewd images are present; however, there is a link to an erotic woodblock print.  The author asks that readers use their discretion.]

Last week, my roommate posted this Nerd 101 video on my Facebook wall and asked, “How did they do with their explanation?”  The video, for those of you who don’t care to watch it, sets out to define anime for people who are unfamiliar with it – an admirable goal, and difficult to achieve, especially in under four minutes.  Now, I have a lot of nitpicky criticisms of this video, but I don’t actually want to bash the creators for taking a brave stab at aiding the uninitiated.  But I do want to talk, once again, about how anime (and otaku) are perceived – both in Japan and in Western society.

The video defines four major genres of anime: shounen, shoujo, mecha, and hentai.  And while I’m skeptical of the definitions given (I would call mecha a subgenre of shounen, for example), the thing that irked me the most was how played-up the discussion and importance of hentai was – it’s even referenced in the video’s title (“Anime 101: Are Those Tentacles?!”).

Hentai is, at its very basic, anime (or manga) pornography.  It is certainly a large and sprawling genre that seeks to sate all kinds of lascivious appetites.  In and of itself, I don’t think that animated pornography is a bad thing (how women are portrayed in it is a different story altogether).  But it is not at all uncommon for people to assume that one’s interest in anime means that they are interested, automatically, in weird porn involving tentacles [interesting side note, copulation with cephalopods is not a 20th-century invention; the first depiction of a woman and an octopus engaging in sexual acts is from a Japanese woodblock print (click at your own risk), dating back to 1814].

I, personally, do not know anyone who has gotten into anime because of hentai (at least not that they’ve told me).  And I don’t know anyone who watches exclusively hentai anime.  Yes, it is widely available.  Yes, most people who like anime eventually and inevitably get exposed to it, often times by accident.  But the attention that it gets is, I believe, inconsistent with the truth.

All too often, otaku – and geeks/nerds in general – get lumped into the “pathetic loser pervert” category, and it is still widely assumed that cosplay, crossplay, LARPing, etc., all have to do with sexual fetishes.  For certain individuals, this may very well be true.  But it is not by any means the overwhelming majority.  And for a video like this to use the word “tentacles” next to a title like “Anime 101” definitely insinuates that anime = kinky porn (and also that all anime porn involves tentacles, which it does not).  To people within the scene, such a thing would be overlooked because we know better.  But again, because the video is intended for people on the outside, it perpetuates the idea that’s already implanted into society’s hive mind.

On a more positive note, anime is becoming ever-more ubiquitous in American society, so I like to think that most people who are at least paying a little bit of attention have noticed that Pokemon isn’t obliterating their children’s innocence, and that Japanese cartoons and comic books are just as varied as Western ones.  I have a hard time lumping things into boxes and categories, especially a whole type of media that runs the gamut.  So for those of you trying to learn more about anime through videos like this, or through Wikipedia and Google searches, good for you!  I’m glad that you’re educating yourself!  But make sure to take all the information with a grain of salt – as we all know, just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s true.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting article, Morgana. Personally, I thought the woodblock was pretty tame, but I’m non-reactive to most such things. I like erotic art and usually don’t think of it as pornagraphy unless it lacks all grace and sutlety.

    I think I’m missing something with the whole tentacles thing. Must be a cultural thing about octupii in Asia that I’m just not grokking. I’m now curious if some of the imagery I’ve seen in some science fiction flicks is a nod to the Japanese penchant for octupii. Not that I think the tentacles in Galaxy Quest is NECESSARILY a nod, but I’m now wondering how far the influence has gone into other media or cultures.

    • I also like erotic art and don’t really think of that woodblock as being particularly extreme, except for the juxtaposition of the woman with an octopus as opposed to, say, a human. But it’s a good example of how the 20th century didn’t suddenly usher in radical sexuality; it’s always been here, and it will always be here.

      And yeah, I’m not entirely sure what it is with octopi, either. I assume it has something to do with having long wiggly appendages, and since Japan is an island country, they are very prevalent in cuisine. So I guess it’s just part of the cultural aesthetic or something. I’m sure there have been nods to this imagery in Western media, but I can’t think of specific examples. I know that fans in the West are definitely aware of the existence of it, anyway.

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