Hentai: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Hentai What It Is and What It Isn’t

So, we are going to talk about Hentai in this post. It is going to be an informational piece and won’t contain any graphic examples of it (there’s Google for that). However, if your senses get offended easily (especially when it pertains to things that deal with human sexuality), it’s best that you don’t read this article. It does contain sensitive information and the content might not be suitable for children. Now that you have been warned, let’s get started.

Hentai: All You Need to Know

What is Hentai?

In the Japanese manga and anime world, Hentai is as valid and relevant as shonen and shojo. While it is easy to dismiss Hentai as animated Japanese porn, there’s far more to it than that. Hentai has a long history and conflicted definitions. The word hentai is actually a compound word that describes an individual, action, or state of being sexually abnormal. Hentai describes a sub-genre of erotic literature instead of all erotic literature. The word nōmaru is usually used as an antonym for hentai. H (pronounced as etchi or ecchi) and ero represent any manga and anime with sexual content. Hentai only refers to sexual situations that are considered perverse and fantastic: bizarre partners (at times, inter-species partners) and celestial gang banging, for instance. A lot of non Japanese manga fans often use H and hentai interchangeably.

Hentai can be defined in three ways:

  • change of form or shape
  • an abbreviation for ‘hentai seiyoku’
  • metamorphosis (as within the change from caterpillar to butterfly)

Hentai seiyoku doesn’t have an exact English translation but it’s close to something like “abnormal sexual desires”. It was an integral part of Japanese sexology during the Meiji period (1857-1912). Between 1912-1925, the term started being attached to Japanese literary work that had unusual and bizarre sexual content. Prior to the advent of the term ‘hentai’, such literature was usually described simply as “erotic, grotesque nonsense.”

Hentai: A Brief History

Hentai is often traced back to the dawn of manga, which in turn is rooted in 12th Century Buddhist scrolls. These scrolls usually consisted of little political cartoons of animals making fun of nobles and clergy. These developed into ukiyo-e prints. These prints were made up of wood engravings and allowed for faster production than scrolls made by hand. During the Edo period, Ukiyo-e’s shunga engravings were used as informative guides about sex. As the 20th Century rolled along and the world started getting globalized, Japanese art started incorporating Western elements. This mix eventually produced the design of manga drawing we all know today 

After the Second World War, both manga and hentai exploded. Astro Boy and others appeared during this time. Japanese press was liberal to explore all the themes that the main target of wartime literature prevented. Nikutai Bungaku or carnal literature appeared everywhere. This was a reaction of the survivors of the Second World War to the removal of wartime press rules.

The Second World War was brutal for Japan. Everything was destroyed and all people were left with, was their bodies. This made people start appreciating their bodies much more. This was also the first time women’s bodies started being displayed in public. Petting couples and other public displays of sexuality appeared. H (etchi) came to explain sexual literature around 1952.

The 1950s saw the revival of affection suicides, a genre of affection story that was popular before the Second World War. Love suicide is considered abnormal, hentai. Homosexuality, S&M, weird fetishes and even seppuku started appearing in magazines. Hentai fetishes range from loincloth maniacs, male disembowelment, and up to the long-lasting tentacle.

What’s the deal with the tentacle in Hentai?

Ok, let’s address the most infamous part of hentai, tentacles. The association of tentacles with sexuality in Japan can be traced back to the 1814 novel Kinoe no Komatsu, and an illustration by the famous Hokusai Katsushika (which is too graphic to show here). Yes, Hokusai drew the primary image of tentacle porn. Hokusai is one of the most revered artists of modern Japan. He created a series on Mt. Fuji that showed the mountain from a wide variety of perspectives. The most famous of the lot is this one(yes, there’s even an emoji of this image).

Great Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai Katsushika’s Masterpiece

In the now infamous tentacle illustration, Tamatori, who was caught stealing jewels from the Dragon King, has consenting sex with the Dragon King and his Octopus army (google the image if you are very curious).

Toshio Maeda is taken into account the creator of recent tentacle hentai. Anthony Bourdain interviewed him on Parts Unknown. Maeda used a tentacle to signify sex acts in his Urotsukidoji manga in 1986. Penises, body orifices, and penetration were illegal. This law drove the mangaka to get creative. The tentacle became a phallic symbol. Maeda also relied on demons for his scenes. So ironically enough, we have the censorship laws to thank for the rise of the tentacle in Hentai. It would’ve stayed hidden in the pages of history otherwise.

What’s the appeal of Hentai?

The most important aspect of Hentai’s appeal is its abnormality and just how unusual it is. It creates a fantasy world of demons, octopuses, and other sexual hijinks that are impossible to perform. In Hentai, nothing is off limits. You will find all kinds of things, women with penises, furries, demons, and things from the outermost edges of imagination. Hentai is categorized as lacking personable qualities. There is a barrier between the viewer and therefore the scenes due to the shortage of realism. Hentai can serve as a good outlet for the exploration of dark, odd regions of our psyche. It provides a way to shake people out of their standard thinking as some post-Second World War advertising did. For Western audiences, hentai is often a big taboo. On the other hand, for some people, the very fact that hentai is animated fantasy allows them to approach it more readily than the usual porn.

Hentai features a reputation for being poor quality: skipping frames, poor story telling, and more. Not like other anime genres are free from these issues. However, hentai has many similarities to Baroque art. Baroque art often depicted moments of ecstasy, like the Ecstasy of Saint Therese. Saint Therese experienced various visions. She described these visions through sexual terms. Bernini shows a scene of an angel just about to pierce the saint with an arrow. A metaphor perhaps? Explains the look on the sculpture’s face, doesn’t it?

Hentai takes it a touch further with the drawing of internal cavities and other details to get the point across. Like Baroque art, the beautiful and the monstrous can co-exist. An inter-species sex scene, for example, could also be beautifully detailed. A lot of Baroque artists were masters of depicting brutal death in really beautiful ways. Hentai and Baroque art have many similarities. 

Hentai is a genre to itself. Yaoi, yuri, and ecchi are all different aspects of the broader eros genre. Yaoi and yuri likely started as a part of hentai. Over time, these genres become more acceptable and moved out of the Hentai umbrella.

Hentai: What does the future hold?

Like a lot of pornography, Hentai also has a lot of inherent misogyny. However, it can also be classified as a type of unusual fetish. In general, erotic literature has always been a very uncomfortable topic for people to discuss and Hentai is no different. This is despite the fact that sexual depictions have been made for as long as artists have lived on this earth. It is, after all, the act that leads to the creation of new life. The oldest known depiction of a man and a woman engaged in sexual intercourse are about 7,200 years old. The origins of any type of literature should always be studied before labelling it in some manner. Once underground, hentai has trickled into popular anime with the help of fan service. Hentai staples such as panty fetishes are not even considered abnormal anymore. Just like Hentai influences other genres, it gets influenced by other genres as well. Like all manga and anime, Hentai is an internationally known product now. As time passes and ideas evolve, so will Hentai. It will do so by reflecting the societally “odd and unusual” interests of people, and as long as it’s an outlet which doesn’t harm anybody else, there is nothing wrong with it. It is an art form after all. And just like any other art form, it’s appreciation is just a matter of personal taste.

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