‘Metamorphosis’ and the Meaning of Hentai

“In many ways, it was both a tragic and a preachy story, but I wanted ‘Metamorphosis’ to be about seeing the charm of a girl who is going through genuine misfortune” – ShindoL, ‘Afterword’ to Metamorphosis

People like to uphold a firm line between ‘art’ and ‘porn’; there is a difference, they will say, between ‘erotica’ and mere pornography. The former is sexually explicit in a way that conveys some kind of recognizable artistic merit; the latter has no such merit to speak of. But in the maelstrom of stories and drawings and bits of film that seem to serve little other purpose than titillation, like needles in haystacks, we often come across works marked ‘porn’ that strike us as something else by the end.

Pornography occupies a space in media that rebels against the idea that a story needs narrative themes and fleshed-out characters. In traditional narratives, every element combines to serve the audience’s immersion into what will happen next, and the possible greater meanings of what’s happening now. In porn, we know what will happen next – characters will fuck, or be fucked, to engage in some other activity to stimulate the voyeur and make them satisfied with their fantasy. Everything is supposed to serve this end – any narrative matter is just foreplay, or something to encourage the viewer to seek out this kind of fictional fulfillment again. These are the rules, the patterns we trust when we come to enjoy some ‘me time’ with this material.

ShindoL’s Metamorphosis doesn’t play by the rules. Continue reading →

Is Your Anime Illegal? The Trouble With the Miller Test

Amidst memes of the FBI raiding your house for watching a cartoon, there’s a general anxiety about the place of lolicon media in the West. In some states of America, being in possession of ‘obscene’ doujnishi can land you with a prison sentence, as Iowa resident Christopher Handley discovered after he was put on trial for ordering ‘drawings of children being sexually abused’. Neil Gaiman spoke out against Handley’s imprisonment in his onine journal:

You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

Continue reading →

Peepoodo & The Super Fuck Friends: How To Talk About Perverts

“An educative series for children over 18 years old, Super Fuck Friends explores sexuality without taboos and in all its forms, including dicks and nipples. A positive sexuality, that is unrestrained and totally ignores prejudices… culminating into one single message: tolerance.” – Bobbypills

There was a time when suggesting Boku no Pico to someone looking for anime recommendations was considered comedy. Nowadays it’s hard to make anyone on the internet surprised by the depths of depravity that media can go to. The idea that Japan produces, shall we say, ‘questionable’ content is more or less common knowledge: streaming services like Crunchyroll have helped this further by listing popular (mostly-)safe-for-work anime alongside bizarre farces like Eromanga-sensei. But as much as the average person knows more about the existence of taboo pornography, when it comes to talking openly about it there’s been a lot less progress.

Some shows have tried to tackle the silence around sexual taboos: Shimoneta’s liberal stance on pornography, and its criticisms of what censorship can do to the knowledge of sex, made its comedy strong. But when people see the perversions of otaku – particularly those who choose to devote their lives to virtual characters, because they’ve lost hope in reality – there are far more judgements flung around than attempts to understand matters from the perspective of the ‘pervert’. That’s why the sixth episode of Peepoodo & the Super Fuck Friends, a French parody cartoon directed by comics artist and animator Yves ‘Balak’ Bigerel, is a breath of fresh air. Continue reading →

Censorship: Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Pixels?

Life is much easier for artists who don’t even think of venturing into obscenity.  As popular as pornography is to the masses, so too is the public sentiment of moral outrage. Opinion columns, comment threads and social media echo chambers will never cease to be free of reams of outbursts against the latest film that went too far, or how a certain video game has sexual content that isn’t completely consensual between the characters. What is permissible in fantasy seems too often down to what people will be willing to shout about, rather than the taboos in question being examined with care.

The forces of censorship acting on different forms of media – books, film, television, anime, video games, online spaces – are not disparate: they are connected by common threads of government pressure and moral panic expressed by the public.  Those who choose to perform thorough research on the value of prohibiting the sale of ‘obscene’ films, images and video games are more often deemed suspect rather than significant. But while lines of acceptance can be easy to draw for one’s self, drawing them for a community requires an appreciation of everything that’s at stake. Continue reading →