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A (short) essay analysing why people watch hentai

A (short) essay analysing why people watch hentai

This was originally written over a year ago for university, but upon hearing that my lecturer hands it out for reading in her class, I’ve decided to publish it here. I have’t modified anything from when it was originally published, perhaps to its detriment.


There have been many studies into why people watch pornography. But the market is oversaturated with neuroscientists telling of how it is damaging the brains of young boys with the internet and empty hands. But what is often not talked about is a niche that could only exist in the age of high-speed internet, a niche within a niche. Hentai (From the Japanese Pervert), Japanese animated characters having sex at its core. Like all pornography, hentai is a touchy subject. While most porn carries taboo due to its intimate nature, hentai goes one further by having drawn characters having sex, going beyond the intimate and taboo nature of traditional porn into a fetish. However, it is incredibly popular, the most popular pornography website on the internet, PornHub, has 4043 hentai videos on it at the time of writing. Doujin, fan and amateur made products sometimes leaning towards the erotic, is translated tirelessly by translation groups around the world. But why would someone make animated characters doing the do, and why would people get erotic pleasure from it?

This research project was based on an online survey conducted in Typeform. From this, a certain number of themes were observed from the answers provided. Some people watch hentai because they are more socially aware of the issue surrounding traditional pornography and are using hentai as a kind of rebellion. Others watch it for the suspense of disbelief the medium brings. Others watch it for the extra added themes that cannot be given in real life (Tentacles .etc). All the answers quotes in this essay are quoted as they were submitted

Sexuality in Japan and Hentai

Hentai is paradoxically something that is both old and new. The term itself is Sino-Japanese and means anything that is perverse or weird, not limited to the sexual content we associate the word within the West. Just like the history of anime, before it was called anime the roots of what would later become known as hentai goes way back. The earliest example of what we would call hentai is known as Shunga”, and were erotic woodblock drawings (Sterling, 2016). Everyone of all classes enjoyed them and were often carried by samurai as good luck charms. What we call hentai in the West, erotic animation meant for sexual pleasure is more likely to be known as H’ (pronounced Etchi/Ecchi), meanwhile, hentai would be used to apply to them more extreme and perverse erotic anime (Tentacles etc).

To understand why Japan creates hentai, it is important to know that the Japanese have many different values to what we have in the West. In relation to hentai, they have a very clear understanding of what is real and what is fiction, a detachment from the medium which is sometimes absent here in the West. A prime example of this detachment is when the UN specifically asked Japan to ban anime, games and manga involving sexual violence towards women. From a Western view, the perspective makes sense, some of the content produced was horrible. But Japan rejected this, with this statement to the UN:

We are absolutely in agreement that the protection of the rights of women in Japan is important. On the other hand, we think it should be carefully and seriously evaluated whether the measures taken to ensure those protections are valid ones or not. If we are asked to consider whether Protecting Women’s Rights in Japan” requires us to Ban the Sale of Manga and Video Games Depicting Sexual Violence,” then we must reply that that is an absolute no.”

Reasons for Our Opinion: Reason #1 — The so-called sexual violence in manga and video games is a made-up thing and as such does not threaten the rights of actual people; therefore, it is meaningless in protecting the rights of women.

Reason #2 — In Japan, and especially when it comes to manga, these are creative fields that women themselves cultivated and worked hard by their own hand to create careers for themselves. If we were to ban the sale of manga that includes sexual violence,” it would do the opposite and instead create a new avenue of sexism toward women.”

Another example of their detachment between what is real and what is fake is with Yaoi (Boy love) anime and manga, which depicts romance between boys and is often produced by women. While from an outside view, with yaoi and yuri (Girl love) manga Japan seems like a very sexually open society. In reality, LGBT relationships are looked down upon in Japan, and the women who produce them are known as Fujoshi (Rotten women)(Mona Lilja & Cathrin Wasshede). Some people, in response to my survey, watch hentai to see …how a different culture views sex and porn.”

Research and a huge amount of responses

There is a surprising amount of academic writing on hentai in academic libraries and on the internet, but that wasn’t enough for me. I needed to do my own research. And with such a touchy and behind doors subject, the only way to do it was with the internet.

A survey was created with Typeform, asking two multiple choice questions, and one word question:

  1. Do you watch hentai on its own or with normal” pornography

    1. Hentai

    2. Normal + hentai

  2. For which of the following reasons do you watch hentai?

    1. For the sense that neither men or women are exploited

    2. For the sense of disbelief the genre offers?

    3. That some of them have some story to them to accompany the pornography, and therefore provide more lifelike characters?

    4. The occasional humour that is provided

    5. Occasional romance, absent from most modern pornographic?

    6. Other

  3. Would you care to elaborate on any of the reasons above?

At the time of publication, the survey is sitting at 8636 responses to the survey, which is a huge number more than I expected. A lot of these answers were memes,(2D > 3D1 Saying that 2D animed girls are greater than 3D real girls, 3DPD2 3D Pig Disgusting, used ironically to say that animated girls are better than real girls, Navy Seals Copypasta), which didn’t surprise me much. But what surprised was that the obvious pattern that showed up in nearly all the answers. The first one, and the one that struck a cord the most was one about how some people are using hentai as a rebellion against more traditional forms of pornography. In recent years there has been a trend of understanding the fakeness behind traditional pornography. The emotions, the movements, all of it are fake. It is something fake that is trying to look real” was one of the responses I got for my survey. However, this is not the limit in the responses I got in relation to the growing consciousness of the realities of porn. Some of them dealt with the severe abuse that is happening in the pornography industry right now. One such response dealt with how they saw hentai as soothing compared to traditional porn:

After having an extremely painful childhood involving physical and psychological trauma (to the point of hospitalization), I find hentai… soothing.

For me, the thought of non-consensual relationships are something of a bad place in my mind. Frankly, one that I’d never like to delve into again. Personally I find that typical pornography, even when just one person, seems painful. Or at the very least, I feel pained watching it. The expressions displayed by both parties feel forced, almost as if they’re trying ever so hard to not imagine what’s actually going on.

So, I often take solace in the vanilla” genre of hentai. Specifically doujins, as the art style and text is more stimulating to me than the flamboyant usage of the human figure” in animated hentai. If you even want to call it that.

I’m still a human and I have needs to take care of, which is why I don’t stray from pornography entirely. Yet, I can’t bring myself to think of any pleasure when watching typical pornography. Just distaste. Perhaps that’s what lead to my interest in doujin. Maybe it’s ability to sort exactly what I want to see with no chance of bad thoughts”. It might be the fact that there’s no other real person to interfer or hinder the experience in any way. But it’s probably due to my attraction to escapism. Doujins aren’t real in any sense of the word. They do, however, provide an entire world different from our own. A place for me to visit, even if it’s just to sate a natural urge for a bit.

This is not to say that all hentai is perfectly clean and romantic. The word hentai in Japan applies to the genre of erotic anime which is especially perverse or weird, such as the ever-popular staple of hentai tentacle porn, which evolved out of Japans law censoring genitalia and a penis entering vagina (Sterling). However, even this genre of hentai, often associated with rape, is evolving into a much more romantic establishment in the form of consentacles’, tentacle hentai which gets consent from the other participant. Hentai allows for the exploration of new fetishes in a safe space where no real person is harmed. And some people just like it for the pure romance that is not available in traditional pornography. The story goes beyond Hot guy comes to fix the drain pipe of a lonely housewife”, to a legitimate romance between couples and romances, as someone responded to my survey The background stories are more in depth [that traditional pornography]”. It is A more emotional kind of escapism than traditional porn.”

After this was the responses that it was fake is what made it seem more appealing that regular porn, in that it was not putting up a facade to try and look real, it was fake from the get go. It can even be self-aware in some scenarios in how fake it was. While this may seem weird, taking pleasure in some things fakeness, when applying a psychological model to this, it makes sense. Possibly that the reason these people watch hentai, or any kind of animated porn compared to regular porn is that it reduces the act of sex to simple erotica, and doesn’t have the normal performance anxiety’ that normal porn offers, as Jack M. Beckham II (2007) writes:

…I suggest that [sexual interactive DVDs] operate in several different ways that are in direct opposition to virtual sex CD-ROMs, including belyng castration anxiety, reducing performance anxiety, maintaining a proper distance between the subject and fantasy, and allowing the subject to experience pleasure through interpassivity.

If we take this as true, then indeed one of the reasons people enjoy hentai for its obvious fakeness, is that it helps reduce performance anxiety that can be present in normal porn because they are fake, and the girls will not reach orgasm until the narrative dictates it, not simply when the moneyshot’ is fired. No one takes pleasure, but also no one has any suffering from the scenario. Another possible way to view its fakeness as a plus is for people in relationships.

The third was to do with the fact that it’s fictional nature allowed it to do things the real porn could or would never do. As discussed above, tentacles are one such form of abnormal, impossible porn presented in hentai. As discussed by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam (2011) in their groundbreaking book on internet porn, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, hentai can break past the bounds of gravity and biology to produce a new kind of porn that could never exist in real life. As they say, …Japanese anime offers the greatest creative freedom for erotical illusions that titillate the male brain…”. It is a medium without any limits upon which the artist or actors can be. Throughout their book, Ogas and Gaddam make note of the impossibly large penises held by both the men and the women. Indeed, women. Futanari (Japanese for hermaphrodite), women with male genitalia is a popular form of hentai, just as how Ogai and Gassam touch upon straight men watching transsexual pornography. And then there are monster girls, girls with female upper torsos but with animal parts to them (Like wings, or their lower torso being that of a spider). As someone said in response to the survey, There is so much you can do when not limited.”

And then, it must, of course, be considered that hentai, just like traditional pornography, is a genre of film. For films, we look at directors. With animation Meanwhile, we often look at the studio that makes the film. Studio Ghibli is a huge and famed studio, well known for their Academy Award-winning films such as Spirited Away (IMDB, .n.d). There are similar studios which work to produce, such as Bootleg, as one response gave:

As a big fan of anime it’s interesting to watch the development of the animation and art sides of Hentai production like when a big name in anime animation does a freelance OVA for a hentai its cool to see the style translate between the two.

I’ll give you an example. The studio Bootleg, who are responsible for the adaptation of the erotic manga Kowaremono” which has 3 episodes and is fairly average in my opinion when it comes to art/animation/writing, have an original work by the name of Iizuka-senpai x Blazer”. In this 15 min OVA of sorts all of the art/animation/writing is done in house by the studio and what they produced is a wonderful short story about two high school kids sharing their first sexual experience. The art and animation blow Kowaremono out of the water and the writing feels like a love letter to the viewer versus your average smut writing. The characters have real motive for trying to wait but also succumb to real urges despite them.


Being such a niche, underground topic, there are very few essays written about hentai and why people watch it. The few that were seem to be all written by people who have a very detached view of it, a very academic but boring and unenthusiastic research. And they were old, talking about horrible animation when hentai today has quite good information As an avid fan and writer, I felt it important in order to delve into this issue and write about it from a fans perspective. The hentai industry itself, the writers, animators, doujin artists, shows no evidence of slowing down. The Fate/Stay Night, which started as a popular hentai visual novel, has become a worldwide phenomenon, showing just what a few anime characters having sex can achieve.

References

Beckham, J. M. (2007). From seedy ROMs’ to DVDs: Virtual sex and the search for control. Quarterly review of film and video 24:3, 225–231

Billy D. (2016) JAPAN RESPONDS TO U.N. GAME BAN REQUEST: FICTIONAL CHARACTERS AREN’T REAL Retrieved from: blogjob.com/oneangryg…

IMDB (n.d.). Spirited Away awards. Retrieved from www.imdb.com/title/tt0…

Lilja, M., & Wasshede, C. Subject Positions and Desires Emerging From Engagement with the Manga Boys Love and Yaoi. Culture Unbound 3, 284–305

Ortega-Brena, M. (2009). Peek-a-boo, I See You: Watching Japanese Hard-core Animation. Sexuality & Culture 13, 17–31

Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2011). A Billion Wicked Thoughts New York, America. Penguin Books.

Pornhub (n.d.). Retrieved from www.pornhub.com/categorie…

Sterling, N. (2016, May 23). The History of Tentacle Porn Animated! (SFW) [Video file]. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch_KO_Xhi9o&t=1s

Posted on 21/8/2018





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