Today I wanted to follow-up a conversation I had with Chris to try to uncover a theory he was toying with: that the spread of H. P. Lovecraft to Japan greatly influenced the form hentai presently takes. Now it’s not a long bow to draw, the idea that his weird horror fiction could have manifested itself in Japan in such a way. Just take for example Cthulhu, Lovecraft’s fictional deity, “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers…”. One blogger comments that there are many instances of creative borrowing from Lovecraft in manga overall, however “the closest the Puritanical writer came to the monsters-ravishing-women plots” is an off-screen impregnation by an alien entity. For an author that abstained from writing about sex, it’s interesting to consider how he’d feel about the suggestion that his work influenced tentacle hentai today.
Besides H. P. Lovecraft’s use of tentacles, there is an older, more telling artefact that warrants attention. The below image is titled The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (Katsushika Hokusai: 1820) and is an example of early Japanese art that appears to “celebrate female sexuality rather than simply creating an image for male fantasy” (Stockins 2009). The woman in the picture looks more as if in a moment of ecstasy than distress, and the dialogue printed in the background “expresses the mutual sexual enjoyment of the woman and the octopus” (ibid.). It is startling to consider that in my own research I have rarely found hentai that celebrates women’s enjoyment of sex. To me, this older work is more progressive and sexually enlightened than images being produced today. If I had more scope for research I would definitely investigate this regression further.
So with this historical basis to draw from, renowned hentai creator Toshio Maeda is oft credited with the proliferation of tentacles into modern day hentai manga. I was very curious to learn how how the popularity of tentacle hentai could reach such heights. Maeda said in an interview that the substitution of tentacles for the penis was more about circumventing Japan’s strict laws against depicting genitals than literary or other influences. So… with such tough censorship laws, were tentacles were simply the natural conclusion for anime and manga artists in Japan…?
The Wiki thread detailing Japanese censorship laws on pornography was most informative. What the law predominantly pertains to is forbidding the distribution of “indecent” materials. In some cases this seems to conflict with ideas about freedom of expression, which to me is particularly interesting based on many of the discussion we are currently having in Australia about what could be offensive to people vs. what constitutes your right to free speech. It seems to me that in Japan the Criminal Code is interpreted as ‘sex is ok as long as you don’t explicitly show genitals’. Though many sources appear to indicate that while this is a punishable offence, only one case has gone to trial in 20 years (according to a number of blogs who all seem to get their info from Wiki).
This train of thought also got me thinking, are these strict laws a product of a prudish or conservative aspect of Japanese culture? I don’t believe in gratuitous displays of sexuality, but it’s certainly shouldn’t be taboo or something to be ashamed about. The West is infamous for producing explicitly sexual and violent content, however we are much stricter on child pornography than Japan was up until earlier this year, as I mentioned in a previous post. To me these feel like incongruities that are difficult to navigate.
It’s definitely been enlightening for me to delve into Japan’s censorship laws, because at the outset of my study I was freaked out at just how deeply tentacles had penetrated (please excuse the pun) the hentaiscape. I thought it was merely a preoccupation and fetish for tentacles that sparked their popularity, but now I see it as a more creative way to publish content that would otherwise be restricted. This being said, I imagine that it has also sparked some real tentacle fetishes out there!
Thompson, J. 2012, ‘The long tentable of H.P. Lovecraft in Manga’, Kinja, http://io9.com/5439408/the-long-tentacle-of-hp-lovecraft-in-manga-nsfw