Men, Women, and Tentacles (Part Two)

For my own personal convenience, I am going to divide the enormous body of animated pornography three primary types. Since each of these types tends to follow a set narrative pattern, I will call them “stories.” The first, and I think the most common, story revolves around the trope of the osana najimi, or childhood friend. The second type of story, which I am going to refer to as the “self-fulfilling harem,” places a number of presumably heterosexual women together in an attempt to teach a sexually inexperienced teenager how to please her boyfriend. The third type of story is saturated with the occult. It usually involves demons trying to take over the world, and these demons can only be defeated by the martial and sexual efforts of a young woman.

The basic osana najimi story is as follows – a young man once made a promise to a girl when he was very little. His promise usually involves getting married or simply meeting again someday. Now in high school or college, the young man remembers the promise, but he has trouble remembering the girl. Suddenly, he meets a girl who he suspects is the one to whom he made the promise that has been guiding his life. But how can he be sure? By sleeping with her, of course. Sometimes the young man meets a host of girls instead of just one, and he must sleep with them all to discover his true love. The osana najimi story is centered around the erotic experience of the young man, but this character is often far from a marauding avatar of an imagined patriarchy. He is often presented as round-faced, puppy-eyed, innocent, and too shy for his own good. The heroine is also less of a buxom porn star than she is a friendly girl-next-door type who is just as shy and innocent as the protagonist. Said protagonist will usually be accompanied by a more sexually experienced friend, either male or female, who helps him peek at an undressed woman (who is more often than not getting steamy with herself in the shower) and thus gain the erotic courage to approach the girl of his dreams.

Despite the strong sexual content of this type of story, its narrative focus tends to be on the romantic instead of on the pornographic. No matter how much sex any of the characters engage in during the course of what is usually a twenty-five minute running time, the most time and attention of any encounter will be devoted to the finale, which involves the protagonist finally bedding the heroine. Although this final sex scene tends to be more erotically intense than previous scenes, it is set apart by the pair’s repeated confessions of love for each other, as well as by the willingness of the young man to please the heroine. Although the heroine is objectified to a certain extent, she is also respected by the protagonist for her personality (which, granted, tends to be of the male-projected Mary Sue variety) and generally treated like a human being with her own interiority. It might therefore be possible to understand the osana najimi story as almost a male-centered shōjo story, albeit one with more than its fair share of exposed breasts and panty shots.

In the self-fulfilling harem story, a sexually inexperienced girl is in love with or is dating a boy whom she wants to impress favorably once they progress beyond kissing. She therefore attempts to educate herself, often with the vigor and energetic determination of a shōnen character who wants to be the very best (like no one ever was), but fails due to her lack of experience. Another woman, who is either related to or living with the heroine, peeks in at her labors and offers to help her. Before long, more women are drawn into the situation, either because they are in love with the heroine or, more often than not, in love with the boy the heroine wants to date.

This sort of peanut gallery of attractive young women parodies harem anime like Tenchi Muyo and Ah! My Goddess; but, in the pornographic version of the story, there is little need for the male around whom the women gather, as they are more than capable of sexually fulfilling themselves with all manner of vibrators, sex dolls, bondage equipment, and roleplay scenarios. It seems like the only function of the male character, who is often shown on screen only briefly, is to assure the viewer that all of the members of his harem are in fact heterosexual. Of course, the explicit alternative, as presented in OVA’s like Viper GTS, is that the male protagonist has sex with each member of his harem individually before having his way with all of them at once. Nevertheless, in either case, it is generally the female characters who get to have all the fun, regardless of whether a male is actually present.

Finally, the occult story is perhaps the most attention-grabbing type of animated pornography outside of Japan. Several titles have become cult favorites in the West, like Wicked City, Legend of the Overfiend, and La Blue Girl, but these are more than adequately covered in Susan Napier’s Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, and so I will use the 1990 OVA series Devil Hunter Yohko to illustrate my own discussion of occult pornography. I chose Devil Hunter Yohko because it’s one of the softer titles in what is an unabashedly hardcore genre (see, for comparison, the equally cult title Bible Black). It was also one of my favorite series when I was in high school in the late nineties, the reason being that I was enthralled with the character Mano Yōko, who I thought was absolutely awesome with her red dress and her huge sword.

Yōko is what cinema theorist Carol Clover refers to as a “phallic virgin” in her discussion of women in horror films. A phallic virgin is, in short, the last girl standing in a slasher movie. She usually has a masculine name, stereotypically masculine traits like mechanical or martial abilities, and the equally stereotypically masculine ability to keep a cool head in a crisis. This character is a virgin, untainted by heterosexual contact with men, and can thus serve as the viewer stand-in character for a male audience. In an essay called “Busty Battlin’ Babes,” Sharalyn Orbaugh identifies anime characters like Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell as phallic virgins as well. The phallic virgin in anime is thus an action heroine who can boast sex appeal and kick-ass fighting abilities, both of which make her attractive to the male viewer, who is able to feel both for her and through her.

What happens to this phallic virgin, and the male identification that tags along with her, in an openly pornographic anime? As I mentioned earlier, occult porn tends to be more hardcore and transgressive than other genres. The essential plot of occult stories is that demons are trying to take over the world, and someone must stop them. That someone can be male or female; but, if he’s male, he’s going to have at least one female sidekick or major love interest, since women are at the center of this story as well. As in shōjo narratives, the women of occult-themed animated pornography hold a mystical power that allows to defeat the superhuman forces that threaten them. In pornographic narratives, however, the various battles and power plays are represented by sexual activity. Some of the staples of occult-themed pornography are the intensely sexual and carnivorous older woman, the futanari (the girl who can grow a penis or penis-substitute), and, of course, tentacles, which were original developed as a countermeasure against censorship laws that forbade the graphic depiction of human genitalia. The heroine must battle her way through obstacles such as these either with her weapon or with her body in order to save the world from disaster. Alternately, a male hero must find, protect, and then have sex with the magical heroine in order to release the magical healing energy that will protect humanity from a host of sexual demons. As in many mainstream anime, only a woman has the ability to save the world, and it is often her sex that is the key to her power.

Part One
Part Three

Men, Women, and Tentacles (Part One)

I think a lot of people in my generation go to Japan for the first time expecting everything to be covered in images of anime characters. In some places, like Denden Town in Osaka, the convenience stores in Ikebukuro, and of course Akihabara, this perception is more or less true to reality. However, the vast majority of the street scene in any given place in Japan is devoid of any sort of anime aesthetic. What a casual observer is infinitely more likely to see are advertisements for pornography. Adult bookstores and theaters can be found outside of many train stations in Japan, whether in major metropolitan areas, their suburbs, or in the distant countryside. (Occasionally, if the area is too rural for actual stores, vending machines exist to fill the niche.) In urban entertainment districts, peep shows and “health massage” parlors crowd the tiny side streets and are thus hidden from sight, but the tissues offered to passers-by outside of the district’s train station often contain explicit advertisements for these establishments, and guides to the various sex stores and hostess clubs in the area can be picked up for free just inside family restaurants like Denny’s and Jonathan’s.

So, to make a broad overgeneralization, the sex industry in general and pornography in particular are a bit more immediately visible in Japan than they are in America. Of course, this isn’t to say that the same feminist debates concerning visual (as opposed to verbal) erotica that took place in the eighties in America didn’t make their way to Japan, and it’s not like civilian groups don’t protest the racy posters that get put up in residential areas along the routes that children take to school in the morning. However, if I had to guess, I would say that the relative openness of pornography in Japan is probably due to the prominent place so-called pink films hold in the history of Japanese television and cinema.

When most people think of Japanese cinema, their minds probably jump immediately to auteuristic masterpieces like Kurosawa Akira’s Rashomon or Ozu Yasujirō’s Tokyo Story, if not to campy monster movies like the long-running Godzilla series. The truth is, however, that artistic dramas alone were not able to keep the Japanese film industry afloat after the proliferation of television sets in the wake of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; and, although monster movies pulled in their fair share of income, by the mid-seventies most major film studios had to resort to soft pornography, or pink films, in order prevent bankruptcy. With the advent of VHS players in the eighties, the porn industry really took off, and hardcore “AV,” or “adult video,” sprung up like mushrooms on the fertile ground prepared by the still-popular pink films. The concept of AV inspired the creation of OVA, or direct-to-video “original video animation,” which was not constrained by the regulations placed on televised series of work that would be released through a theater run. Not all OVA were explicitly pornographic (some, like Oshii Mamoru’s early piece Angel’s Egg, were just weird), but many obviously were, and that brings us to the topic at hand.

Japanese pornography is a many-tentacled creature, so to speak, and I think it might be useful to delineate the scope of this essay before I begin, since anime erotica is merely one branch of the huge spread of illustrated pornography in Japan. For example, the (admittedly vast amount of) animated pornography is eclipsed by the sheer volume of erotic manga released either in weekly and monthly magazines, which are openly available anywhere manga magazines are sold in Japan, from the convenience store to the train station, or in single-volume anthologies available in both mainstream and specialty. Also, girl games like Air and Clannad are dating sims which often offer the player a varying degree of pornographic content (in the eroge subgenre, that content can get quite explicit). Finally, dōjinshi, or self-published fan manga, is often explicitly pornographic, placing characters from popular titles like Naruto or the Final Fantasy video game franchise within highly erotic scenarios. Also, pornography is not the sole province of men, as women have created their own genres of erotica, such as something called BL, or “boys’ love” (which is referred to as yaoi in Western countries).

In this essay, however, I’d like to limit my focus to heterosexual animated pornography, or ecchi anime, which is primarily written and directed by men for an intended audience of men. Despite the obvious gender bias, I’d like to argue that female characters and their illustrated bodies are often privileged in these narratives. In other words, no matter how much the girl suffers over the course of the video, she always wins in the end. Also, unlike the stereotypical case of live-action pornography, female characters in anime erotica are often allowed both pleasure and agency.

Or are they?

Part Two
Part Three