Ero-Anime: Manga Comes Alive

Short history of trends in Japanese erotic anime and manga, especially lolicon
anime, criticism
2011-12-232013-11-23 finished certainty: log importance: 0


This essay was pub­lished on page 262 of Manga Impact: The World of Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion, 2010-12-06, ISBN 978-0714857411, which besides its many short ency­clo­pe­di­a-style entries1, included a few short essays of which this is one.

“Ero-Anime: Manga Comes Alive”

By Stephen Sar­razin

‘Loli­con’ opened the door to increas­ingly explicit rep­re­sen­ta­tions of minors involved in all man­ner of sex­ual acts with other minors as well as with adults.

In light of how per­va­sive erotic ani­ma­tions is in con­tem­po­rary Japan, we can only won­der at the speed and urgency with which it made its way into the core of its pop cul­ture. Although Japan did not shy away from graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of sex­u­al­i­ty, notably dur­ing the Edo peri­od, much changed after the coun­try opened itself to the West, bring­ing with it an entirely new set of moral codes and pre­cepts. (And this was only exac­er­bated dur­ing the post-war Amer­i­can occu­pa­tion of the coun­try.) While under­cover pub­li­ca­tions of ‘naughty’ draw­ings and pic­tures cir­cu­lated dis­creet­ly, Tezuka Osamu was per­haps unknow­ingly open­ing Pan­do­ra’s box with his cur­va­ceous young women who never seemed to grow out of ado­les­cence. Later on, Tezuka would be the first main­stream manga and anime artist to intro­duce sex in his work, pro­duc­ing Senya Ichiya Mono­gatari (One Thou­sand and One Nights, 1969), and direct­ing Cleopa­tra (1970).

The Six­ties saw the launch of a new manga aes­thetic in the pages of Garo and Com, while the Sev­en­ties intro­duced key fig­ures who rad­i­cal­ized the use of eroti­cism in man­ga, such as Nagai Go, who would go on to cre­ate Cutey Honey in 1973, and hen­tai (porno­graph­ic) god­fa­ther Ishii Takashi, who appeared in 1971, whose depic­tions of sex­u­al­ity were far more adult ori­ent­ed. This ‘inde­pen­dence’ of style moti­vated a group of artists and sup­port­ers to estab­lish the first Comic Mar­ket, in 1975, as a way to pro­mote new fanzi­nes, new artists and new writ­ers, and intro­duced sev­eral cre­ators of pop­u­lar boy-love series.

Yet much of this con­tent tar­geted an audi­ence made up of straight uni­ver­sity stu­dents and young busi­ness­men.

Shojo man­ga, ini­tially influ­enced by the charm of Tezuka’s world, also came to life in the Sev­en­ties, with women artists empha­siz­ing the detailed cute­ness of Tezuka’s slim, wide-eyed hero­ines. This mix marked a sig­nif­i­cant turn­ing point that would lead to the ‘loli­con’ mar­ket frenzy of the Eight­ies, dur­ing which time taboos were falling left and right, com­pelling the gov­ern­ment to come up with new means of cen­sor­ship and a few arrests.

‘Loli­con’, as depicted in the pages of the first mag­a­zine devoted to it, Lemon Peo­ple (1982), opened the door to increas­ingly explicit rep­re­sen­ta­tions of minors involved in all man­ner of sex­ual acts with other minors as well as with adults. The most suc­cess­ful writer of the time, Uchiyama Aki, intro­duced one of the key Tokyo Loli icons: the soiled panties. Uchiyama avoided the usual sex fare and focused on images of very young girls in toi­lets. Loli­con would also launch the first series of truly erotic video ani­me, Cream Lemon (1987). It remains to this day one of the dom­i­nant forms of ero-anime. Even Miyazaki Hayao’s beloved char­ac­ter Nau­si­caä is shown fly­ing with­out panties.2

Another major genre finds its ori­gins in Uru­sei Yat­sura (1978), in Weekly Shonen Sun­day, with its harem fan­tasies and alien girls wear­ing odd cos­tumes. This would inspire such cre­ators as Anno Hideaki, Yam­aga Hiroyuki and Akai Takami, who together formed the Gainax com­pa­ny, to com­bine sci­ence-­fic­tion, anime and loli­con for an anime piece together for the open­ing of Daicon III (1983), a mix of giant robot, ultra­man lore and one small school­girl, for a cel­e­brated sci­ence-­fic­tion con in Japan. This pro­duced an era of alien love­fests and man-­ma­chine cou­plings. Other out­side influ­ences, such as hor­ror cin­e­ma, cre­ated an entire sub­-­genre of obsessed and demon­stra­tive teenagers who found their own harems in their local high schools, like Maeda Tosh­io’s Leg­end of the Over­fiend (1987). more recent­ly, ver­sions of this have seen the return of the convent/boarding school’ with either teach­ers or stu­dents con­spir­ing in sex and magic covenants, as in Muto Yasuyuk­i’s Bible Black (2001).

Indeed, its focus on the notion of youth has come to define con­tem­po­rary Japan­ese erot­i­ca. Few coun­tries can claim such a vari­ety of erot­ica as Japan, from the joy­ous and pas­sion­ate to the bru­tal and unimag­in­ably demean­ing, the object of which may be allowed to pos­sess all the attrib­utes of adult­hood but they must never about he/she is (way) under twen­ty. How­ev­er, there came a trend after the late Eight­ies and early Nineties, when adults returned to the fore­ground with the bishojo (beau­ti­ful wom­an) style finally tak­ing over. Mag­a­zines such as Pen­guin club and Hot Milk helped to fos­ter pen­chants for ele­gant and auteurism among anime direc­tors, com­e­dy, and oppai (large breasts) and lac­ta­tion ani­ma­tion, later a sta­ple in Murakami Taka­hashi’s art­work.

This was largely brought about by the pub­lic upheaval sur­round­ing the arrest of child mur­derer Miyazaki Tsu­to­mu, in whose home were found extreme loli­con manga and ani­me. Miyazaki came to sym­bol­ize the dark side of what is referred to as hen­tai, and which now appar­ently encom­pass­es, out­side Japan, all of its erotic ani­me. By the mind-Nineties, the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment was finally apply­ing ‘adult con­tent’ notices on ero-­manga and anime prod­ucts, as well as requir­ing shops to pro­vide dis­tinct areas for such goods.

The last decade saw a new, revamped ver­sion of loli­con con­tent, moulded by the count­less fash­ion and social trends that Japan goes through at ground­break­ing speed, from the ageha (Bar­bie) style doe-eyed eroti­cism of the 109 Gals to Xena-in­spired buxom war­riors of Queen’s Blade.

These trends have become more ter­ri­to­ri­al, intro­duc­ing in the process a clearer lust­ful geog­ra­phy within Tokyo, from Shibuya to the Aki­habara mec­ca. More sur­pris­ing­ly, a new loli writer brought unex­pected cred­i­bil­ity to the genre by estab­lish­ing a firm and devoted female fan base. The works of Machida Hiraku rein­vented the loli­ta, gave her back a sense of despair and shad­ow, and made eroti­cism bleak and unavoid­able yet glo­ri­ous, a cross between Roman porno mas­ter Tanaka Noboru and man­ga’s over­cast prince, Tsuge Yoshi­haru, prov­ing that, as the first decade of the twen­ty-­first cen­tury comes to an end, forty years after One Thou­sand and One Nights, there are few bound­aries over which Japan’s erotic imag­i­na­tion is unwill­ing to spill.


  1. I tran­scribed 32 entries which inter­ested me.↩︎

  2. Brian Ruh’s review of Manga Impact dis­agrees with Sar­raz­in’s asser­tion:

    I really don’t think erotic ani­ma­tion is in any way as main­stream within Japan­ese soci­ety as he is mak­ing it out to be. And later in the piece he repeats that old (and oft-dis­proven) chest­nut that in Hayao Miyaza­k­i’s Nau­si­caä the epony­mous hero­ine is shown fly­ing with­out any panties on.

    –Ed­i­tor↩︎