The Dying Art Of Japanese Hentai.

“People get the wrong impression of Japan—it’s a conservative country,” said Peter Payne, Skyping me from Gunma Prefecture, 60 miles north of Tokyo.

The hentai cartoon porn I’d been looking at didn’t seem to support that statement: There was a naked girl lying on the ground with four guys standing over her; a boy fondling his stepmother’s double-H breasts over the breakfast table; and a boy dressed as a girl with a huge erection bulging through his pants.

Seems pretty liberal to me, and also fairly bizarre. But I was prepared to take Payne’s word for it—he owns the online store J-List, which sells hentai DVDs and comics as well as plenty of non-adult anime products. An American who’s lived in Japan for 23 years, Payne originally moved there for a year to be a teacher—but “that didn’t work out” and he ended up staying.

When the internet boom began in the late 90s, he told his wife he was going to start up an online international mail order company for fans of sci-fi and anime, and the business grew from there.

A collection of hentai magazines. Photo by Miki Yoshihito via Flickr

In a display cabinet over his shoulder were a bunch of Star Wars figures. He seemed excited about the forthcoming films, as only a genuine sci-fi fan could be. But hentai (the Japanese word for “perverse” or “bizarre”) isn’t like other sci-fi or animated popular culture; it’s been accused of both promoting the sexualization of children and being aggressively misogynistic.

That’s because a good amount of hentai involves cutesy schoolgirls (drawn to be more European-looking than Japanese) with unfeasibly large boobs and big doe eyes who are inevitably sexually assaulted by bad boys with anger-management issues and deep-rooted psychosexual problems—or by actual demons or alien, ogre-type characters from other planets who use phallic tentacles to penetrate the girls’ various orifices while they squeal and beg not to be penetrated by tentacles.

Hey Japan, what’s up with all the tentacles?
“Tentacles exist because you can’t draw a penis without censoring it,” Payne explained, citing the 1907 censorship law that still holds firm. “It’s the same thing with bukkake—you can see it as either really sick or really artistic, but here it’s kind of passé.”

Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife

 That multiple men ejaculating all over a woman’s face is old hat in Japan isn’t particularly surprising, considering tentacle sex has been depicted in Japanese art for more than 200 years. Last year’s shunga exhibition at the British Museum, for instance, featured an 1814 print, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, in which a couple of octopuses are making love to the titular wife.

But classical Japanese art is one thing—a thing to be enjoyed by men and women who own personalized wax seals and imported antique katanas. Cartoons, however, are for kids—surely?

Tell that to Toshio Maeda.

In 1986, Maeda introduced tentacle porn to Japanese anime, which had always featured titillating shower scenes but nothing overtly explicit. His creation Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend, invented the hentai genre.

Toshio Maeda. Photo by Yves Tennevin via Wikimedia Commons

I tried to contact Maeda while researching this article. In fact, I contacted several Japanese hentai illustrators, but they never got back to me. Payne explained why.

“First, the idea of contacting a Japanese person, because I do this for a living… almost every Japanese person will say: ‘An email from a foreigner… I can’t possibly reply to that.’ Even though they’ve spent six to ten years learning English, they’re just too embarrassed they’ll get something wrong. It’s very difficult to talk to them except at a convention. It’s a major barrier.

“Second, hentai and anime in Japan is kind of a dying industry—animators earn so little here; their salaries are around $9,000 a year on average—that nobody does it as a career anymore, so all the illustrating and production gets outsourced to companies in Korea, China, and the Philippines.”

Payne showed me a graph of the wage structure. Animators are right at the bottom of the pile, even though their job requires real skill and a ton of work. Meanwhile, at the other end of the food chain, the hentai voice actors (often stars from the film industry) are paid six-figure incomes.

I’d set out to find a Japanese hentai illustrator to interview so I could ask them whether this was the career he’d envisioned while studying at art school, and whether he had any moral issues about the work they do. But as my search went on it became clear I would have to look to Korea for answers. Eventually, I found an animator working for a tiny graphics company just outside Seoul, who agreed to talk to me on the basis that he would remain completely anonymous.

“My parents don’t know I do this,” he told me in broken English on a long-distance phone call. “They think I design posters. I do design posters, but I like doing this, too—it’s a bit of an obsession for me.”

It sounded like it was as much a hobby for this young man as it was a profession.

“This is better than real porn,” he told me. “Some of the things I get to draw are really beautiful and sexy, and some things are kind of… not OK, you know?”

I asked whether it got boring doing hours of monotonous production work, drawing frames and sending them to Japan to be assembled. He admitted it was repetitive, but added, “The scripts and trends are so strange that you can’t really get that bored with it. The Japanese are a little bit crazy.”

When I put it to Payne that even Japan’s neighbors believe their popular culture to be a little bit odd, he said, “One problem is when you look at a thing and you don’t really know it yet, you just know a few key things about it. Like the Netherlands: People know about the cafés, pot, the red-light district, and tulips. It’s not logical to assume that tulips are everywhere in the Netherlands. It’s the same with hentai. You’ve noticed the tentacle monster porn more, but that’s what I call distortion based on the lens of the internet. The really weird parts of Japan are often made to push our buttons.”

So why are the characters so young-looking? In Sweden, in 2011, Simon Lundstrom, whose job was translating hentai comics, was convicted of 39 counts of possessing child pornography. Despite the images being imaginary cartoon characters, the Swedish supreme court upheld the decision in 2012, rejecting his appeal, and ruling that the images depicted underage children having sex.

Payne didn’t have much of an explanation. “It’s not seen in that light here,” he said. “They would tell you all the characters are over 18. There’s creative license taken. There are standards in the industry and a morality standards group, which bans incest and things like that. It’s just that high school, for some reason, is the setting for most stories.”

He was keen to stress that there is a hugely diverse range of hentai, not just the stuff on porn aggregator sites.

“There are hentais you probably haven’t seen,” he told me. “There’s yuri, meaning ‘girl’s love’, which are stories about two girls falling in love—and it’s not even very sexual. There’s an amazingly rich set of gay hentai porn called yaoi, ‘boy’s love,’ which is not for gay guys at all—it’s almost entirely watched by straight girls who like the drama. There’s another type of gay hentai, enjoyed by girls and guys, called bara—’rose’ in Japanese—and that’s basically muscular gay ‘bear’ porn.”

I stumbled upon the latter on the website of an artist called Gengoroh Tagame: big gay men with rippling muscles and veiny dicks choking each other or tying each other up in bondage ropes.

I emailed Tagame but, unsurprisingly, got no response.

Is being gay accepted in Japan?

“It is in the cities,” said Payne, before telling me about another style of hentai, otonoko (“trap”), which is sort of like transvestite porn: pretty, effeminate boys drawn to look like girls, but when their skirts are ripped off their massive cocks are revealed.

And what about the rape-y aspect of hentai?

“They definitely go overboard with that more than in other genres, but it’s not really typical—there are fetish shops for that stuff,” said Payne. “Usually porn here has pretty girls being treated like idols, or weird things like putting her in a tanning salon.”

Finally, how does conservative Japanese society respond to all of this?

“They have a phrase they like to say: shikata ga nai, or, ‘It can’t be helped,'” Payne replied. “The number of people who would object to a breast scene in a cartoon here would be zero. The attitude is: Of course guys like boobs and panties.”

By Joshua Surtees for Vice

http://www.vice.com/read/the-dying-art-of-japanese-hentai-735?utm_source=vicefbus

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