Enter The Unspoken World of Hentai

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hentaiii

Exploding breasts, tentacles and occasional misogyny.

WORDS || Sarah Basford

I met with Clarence on a Tuesday evening. That’s not his real name, though, given the topic of today’s discussion I can understand why he’d rather file it under a pseudonym. Clarence goes to university, he shops at his local grocer, and he plays online video games with his friends. On the surface, Clarence is your regular, young male. But, like many, Clarence has a few discreet hobbies that he reserves for when he is alone. Clarence regularly watches hentai.

“Hentai is cartoon pornography,” Clarence explains to me. “There are two forms: there is the animated type which is called hentai anime and then there is hentai manga which is drawn and is more prevalent and generally higher quality.” The latter has the potential to depict acts that transcend the limitations of human pornography. “People are into weird shit that doesn’t exist in real life” he sniggers.

Hentai is a Japanese word translating to something along the lines of ‘perversion’ or ‘abnormality’. It is only a relatively recent phenomenon with its beginnings traced back to Japan during the post-World War II period. Manga artist Hideo Azuma’s White Cybele is widely-regarded as being one of the first of the hentai you would typically see today. He is also the founder of the genre lolicon, which is a genre of manga revolving around the attraction to pre-pubescent girls inspired by Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

However, not all hentai revolves around these themes. “There are thousands of genres. More than you can imagine,” he explains. A quick Wiki search confirms that. These genres range from bakunyū which focuses on depictions of women with abnormally large — and sometimes exploding — breasts to tentacle erotica which shows tentacle-d monsters engaging in both consensual sex and rape with their victims (most commonly, women). One thing becomes very clear: none of these depictions are really interested in portraying the ol’ missionary.

I ask Clarence about the ethics of these depictions as it kinda seems like watching a woman’s breast explode while she’s being raped by a giant octopus is just a little misogynistic. Clarence seems divided on this question. “I have a problem with the massive amount of rape porn that’s on these sites. It’s very disturbing,” he begins. “But I also believe it’s their expression for these certain desires. It’s possibly a safe way to express them.”

He speaks about hentai as being an avenue for people to explore areas which can appease certain sexual fantasies without leaving behind a human victim. This isn’t an argument I’ve really considered as most of the violent representations have left me shocked. For the moment, however, it does seem to make sense. A victimless crime, perhaps? But I wonder if it encourages an audience to enact these fantasies beyond the screen or at the very least, think these acts are suitable in real life? “It’s like violence in a movie. Just because someone watches Die Hard, doesn’t mean they want to go kill a hundred people,” Clarence argues.

One thing becomes very clear: none of these depictions are really interested in portraying the ol’ missionary.

I ask him if it’s a type of pornography that females might be interested in. All he’s told me so far seems to suggest that its audience consists predominantly of heterosexual males. “There are some genres that are more focused on a central romance than intense sex scenes,” he says. “There are also some others that focus on homosexual and lesbian sex scenes.” He’s speaking about the genres, yuri and yaoi which depict same-sex relationships, but aren’t always necessarily pornographic.

I start to wonder how popular the consumption of hentai is. I never really hear about it or see it anywhere aside from the odd joke here and there. Then again, it’s not really a thing that is openly and honestly discussed. The online news-site, Mic, revealed some interesting statistics on general viewing and search patterns from Pornhub in July this year. Besides a whole bunch of other interesting things (look it up, I know you want to), search patterns revealed that ‘cartoon’ and ‘hentai’ came in at thirteen and seventeen on the most-searched tags. It also suggested that young adults were more into hentai and were 190% more likely to search it over the 35+ crowd of Pornhub consumers.

It’s no secret that hentai is taboo. It exists in the shadows of the internet or in the dark corners underneath someone’s bed, available only to those willing to search. Allusions are made and rumours are snickered between flat mates about the new guy living across the hallway. “I caught him watching hentai!” says one person.

“A lot of men might talk about what they watch, but hentai… I don’t think anyone would admit it” Clarence acknowledges. “It’d be considered weird, but I think more people do than they admit”. I ask why that might be, knowing what the answer is likely to be. “Cartoons are still considered a child’s realm so hyper-sexualised cartoons cannot be seen in a positive way. The idea is too far from the norm.”

Our chat finishes and I thank him for even giving thought to being interviewed. Still not swayed either way, I’m stuck in an uncomfortable space where two separate trains of thought connected by an imaginary rubber band (hint: that’s my mind) are heading in separate directions. One train is okay with the idea of hentai allowing for the expression of sexual fantasies including those that are usually considered ‘sick’. No one gets hurt and I guess everyone’s happy. The other train is knocking me down and telling me that these representations are problematic as they can depict obscene violence against women or paedophilic imagery.

Clarence has assured me that it’s just an expression and no different to an erotic novel and while I believe him, it still gnaws at me. Then again, it’s not really too dissimilar to human pornography where depictions can be equally as troubling.
I’m all for hentai and self-expression, just, until someone actually gets hurt.