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Ero-Anime: Manga Comes Alive

Short history of trends in Japanese erotic anime and manga, especially lolicon

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 Hideaki Anno, 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) [videos], 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.


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