Hentai (変態 or へんたい?) is a word of Japanese origin which entered usage in Meiji era scientific and psychological journals. While it literally means a change of appearance or strange condition, its association with perversion stems from popular sexology. With the sexualization of Japan, a renewed interest in perverse publications led to normalization of the word in everyday life. The term entered English usage in the 1990s, as a catch-all term to describe erotic anime and manga pornography. Due to its ambiguous and broad attribution, the hentai genre is often superseded by the classification and categorization of specific themes and acts into sub-genres.
Hentai (変態 or へんたい?) is a kanji compound of 変 (hen; “change”, “weird”, or “strange”) and 態 (tai; “appearance” or “condition”). It also means “perversion” or “abnormality”, especially when used as an adjective.It is the shortened form of the phrase (変態性欲?, hentai seiyoku) which means “sexual perversion”. The character hen is catch-all for queerness as a peculiarity, it does not carry an explicit sexual reference. While the term has expanded in use to cover a range of publications including homosexual publications, it remains primarily a heterosexual term, as terms indicating homosexuality entered Japan as foreign words. Japanese pornographic works are often simply tagged as 18-kin (18禁?, “18-prohibited”), meaning “prohibited to those not yet 18 years old”, and seijin manga (成人漫画?, “adult manga”). Less official terms also in use include ero anime (エロアニメ?), ero manga (エロ漫画?), and the English acronym AV (for “adult video”). Usage of the term hentai does not define a genre in Japan.
Hentai is defined differently in English. Oxford Dictionary defines hentai as “a subgenre of the Japanese genres of manga and anime, characterized by overtly sexualized characters and sexually explicit images and plots.” The origin of the word in English is unknown, but AnimeNation’s John Oppliger points to the early 1990s, when a Dirty Pair erotic doujinshi (self-published work) titled H-Bomb was released, and when many websites sold access to images culled from Japanese erotic visual novels and games. The earliest English use of the term traces back to the rec.arts.anime boards; with a 1990 post concerning Happosai of Ranma ½ and the first discussion of the meaning in 1991. A 1995 Glossary on the rec.arts.anime boards contained reference to the Japanese usage and the evolving definition of hentai as “pervert” or “perverted sex”. The Anime Movie Guide, published in 1997, defines “ecchi” (エッチ etchi?) as the initial sound of hentai; it included that ecchi was “milder than hentai”. A year later it was defined as a genre in Good Vibrations Guide to Sex. At the beginning of 2000, “hentai” was listed as the 41st most popular search term of the internet, while “anime” ranked 99th. The attribution has been applied retroactively to works such as Urotsukidōji, La Blue Girl, and Cool Devices. Urotsukidōji had previously been described with terms such as “Japornimation”, and “erotic grotesque”, prior to being identified as hentai.
The history of word “hentai” has its origins in science and psychology. By the middle of the Meiji-era, the term appeared in publications to describe unusual or abnormal traits, including paranormal abilities and psychological disorders. A translation of German sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s text Psychopathia Sexualis originated the concept of “hentai seiyoku”, as a “perverse or abnormal sexual desire”. Though it was popularized outside psychology, as in the case of Mori Ōgai’s 1909 novel Vita Sexualis. Continued interest in “hentai seiyoku”, resulted in numerous journals and publications on sexual advice which circulated in the public, served to establish the sexual connotation of ‘hentai’ as perverse. Any perverse or abnormal act could be hentai, such as committing shinjū (love suicide). It was Nakamura Kokyo’s journal Abnormal Psychology which started the popular sexology boom in Japan which would see the rise of other popular journals like Sexuality and Human Nature, Sex Research and Sex. Originally, Tanaka Kogai wrote articles for Abnormal Psychology, but it would be Tanaka’s own journal Modern Sexuality which would become one of the most popular sources of scholarly information about erotic and neurotic expression. Modern Sexuality was created to promote fetishism, S&M, and necrophilia as a facet of modern life. The ero-guro movement and depiction of perverse, abnormal and often erotic undertones were a response to interest in hentai seiyoku.
Following the end of World War II, Japan took a new interest in sexualization and public sexuality. Mark McLelland puts forth the observation that the term “hentai” found itself shortened to “H” and that the English pronunciation was “etchi”, referring to lewdness and which did not carry the stronger connotation of abnormality or perversion. By the 1950s, the “hentai seiyoku” publications became their own genre and included fetish and homosexual topics. By the 1960s, the homosexual content was dropped in favor of subjects like sadomasochism and stories of lesbianism targeted to male readers. The late 1960s brought a sexual revolution which expanded and solidified the normalizing the terms identity in Japan that continues to exist today through publications such as Bessatsu Takarajima’s Hentai-san ga iku series.
Most analysts agree that precursor to erotic manga originated in the Edo period (1600-1868), with a new direction in ukiyo-e art. The erotic prints were called shunga, these prints were banned after the Meiji Restoration (1868). Despite the ban the works were produced secretly and resulted in great influence on visual imagery and themes of modern Japanese pornography. While explicit themes in manga have been around since the 1940s the first erotic mangas would be was developed in the 1970s and 1980s. A pioneer in the world of erotic manga was Go Nagai, whose humorous work Harenchi Gakuen (1969) was subjected to harsh criticism for its vulgar story and resulted in the protests from women’s associations and parent committees. Also in 1969, the first erotic anime – Senya Ichiya Monogatari was released. Erogekiga increased in popularity throughout the 1970s. The distinct shift in realism to the cartoon-cute characters is credited to Azuma Hideo, “The Father of Lolicon”. The first hentai anime appeared in the 1980s with OVA-series like Lolita Anime and Cream Lemon. Erotic video games first appeared in the 1980s and would evolve from simple sex driven works into various genres including dating sim games like erotic visual novels like Kanon.
Japanese laws have impacted depictions of works since the Meiji Restoration, but it the obscenity law has actually affected depictions of erotic and explicit acts in the anime and manga artform. Since becoming law in 1907, Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan forbids the publication of obscene materials. Specifically, depictions of male-female sexual intercourse and pubic hair are considered obscene, but bare genitalia is not. In 1986, Toshio Maeda sought to get past censorship on depictions of sexual intercourse, by creating tentacle sex. This lead to the large number of works containing sexual intercourse with monsters, demons, robots, and aliens, whose genitals look different from men. While western views attribute hentai to any explicit work, it was the product of this censorship which became not only the first titles legally imported to America and Europe, but the first successful ones. While not cut in America, much of the violent and tentacle rape scenes of Urotsukidoji titles was censored in the United Kingdom.
It was also because of this law that the artists began to depict the characters with a minimum of anatomical details and without pubic hair, by law, prior to 1991. Part of the ban was lifted when Nagisa Oshima prevailed over the obscenity charges at his trial for his film In the Realm of the Senses. Though not enforced, it did not apply to anime and manga as they were not deemed artistic exceptions. Though alterations of material or censorship and even banning of works are common. The U.S. release of the La Blue Girl,altered the age of the heroine from 16 to 18 and removed sex scenes with a dwarf ninja named Nin-nin, and removed the Japanese censoring blurring dots. La Blue Girl was outright rejected by UK censors who refused to classify it and prohibited its distribution.
As a medium, the most popular consumer are men. Eroge games in particular combine three favored media, cartoons, pornography and gaming into an experience. The hentai genre engages a wide audience that expands yearly, with that audience desiring better quality and storylines, or works which push the creative envelope. The unusual and extreme depictions in hentai is not about perversion so much as it is an example of the profit-oriented industry. Normal sexual situations don’t sell as well as the more unusual situations, such as depicting sex at schools or bondage.
Dr. Megha Hazuria Gorem, a clinical psychologist says, “Because toons are a kind of final fantasy, you can make the person look the way you want him or her to look. Every fetish can be fulfilled.” Dr. Narayan Reddy a sexologist, commented on the eroge games, “Animators make new games because there is a demand for them, and because they depict things that the gamers do not have the courage to do in real life, or that might just be illegal, these games are an outlet for suppressed desire.
Hentai, as a genre, is capable of being divided into numerous genres, the broadest of which is heterosexual and homosexual acts. Hentai that features mainly heterosexual interactions occur in both male-targeted (ero) and female-targeted (“ladies’ comics”) form. Those that feature mainly homosexual interactions are known as yaoi (male-male) and yuri (female-female). Both yaoi and, to a lesser extent, yuri are generally aimed at members of the opposite sex from the persons depicted.
Yaoi commonly features males of ambiguous gender—in both physical appearance and, frequently, mannerism—called bishōnen, literally “beautiful boy”. Some feature biseinen (“beautiful man”), males of more adult or masculine appearance than bishōnen. Less common are bara—larger, often heavily muscled and sometimes hairy males, the yaoi counterpart of the “bear” in gay pornography—as well as oyaji (meaning “daddy” or “uncle”), featuring middle-aged and elderly men; these types are mainly found in material aimed at gay men, which may be called bara or ‘men’s love’ (ML), and is considered to be distinct from yaoi. Yaoi also extends beyond the hentai genre, since it applies to any anime/manga material that includes male homosexuality, except for that actually aimed at a gay male audience. In Western usage, yaoi is distinguished from shōnen-ai (literally, “boy-love”), in which two males merely express romantic feelings for each other without actually having sexual relations; however in current Japanese usage this term most commonly refers to pornographic shotacon for men. Women interested in Yaoi are called “Fujoshi” (腐女子), a pun which translate loosely as “rotten girl” or “rotten woman”.
Yuri is very similar to yaoi, except that the focus is on female homosexual interactions. The characters in yuri are typically “bishōjo”, meaning “beautiful girl” (this term is not specific to yuri but is applied generally to depictions of attractive women for a male audience; for example, in the term “bishōjo game”). Shōjo-ai (“girl love”) is a western term for the female equivalent of shōnen-ai; in Japan these works are also called yuri. Yuri may be aimed at (presumptively heterosexual) male, heterosexual female, or lesbian female audiences.
Hentai is perceived as “dwelling” on sexual fetishes. These include fetish and paraphilia related genres that include dozens of definitions and sub-genres that contain their own sub genres. These sub-genres can further be classified with additional terms, such as heterosexual or homosexual types.
These creative works are based on focused on depicting the mundane and the impossible across every conceivable act and situation no matter how fantastical. The largest sub-genre of hentai is the futanari works. The iconic depiction of a futanari is that of a female with a penis or penis-like appendage in place of, or in addition to normal female genitals. Such characters and depictions are rooted in distinctly different cultures and values rooted in masculinity and sexuality, with Naruto’s Fifth Hokage Tsunade being subject to such portrayal in doujinshi works due to her feminine beauty, commanding leadership and superhuman strength. Futanari characters are primarily depicted as having sex with other women and will almost always be submissive with a male; exceptions exist such Yonekura Kengo’s work which features female empowerment and domination over males.