The History of Hentai Manga – Review

If there is a form of media, no matter how maligned, there is a scholar or critic (or both) dedicated to examining it. In the case of hentai manga, there are actually quite a few, but Fakku‘s translation of Kimi Rito’s The History of Hentai Manga is one of the few to make it to English-language readers. Since nothing says that a publisher of eromanga translations has any obligations to also provide academic works on the subject, it’s a treat for those curious about the history of the genre, as well as a marker of how seriously said publisher treats their product – or at least how seriously they’d like it to be taken as a legitimate form of media. And since there is a decent history of scholarship in comparable fields (the language used to discuss eromanga, romance novels, and erotica is strikingly similar), this makes a nice addition to serious studies of pop culture.

This volume by Kimi Rito, who is perhaps better known for his work with bishoujo manga criticism, is ambitious. He makes an attempt to pinpoint the origins of encoded expressions, whether that means tracking down the first manga creator to use them or going back even further to the shunga of the Edo period. It is worth noting that, as said on the cover, Kimi is using Expressionism as the primary method of literary/artistic analysis, a term which he doesn’t ever fully define, which does make sense for the academic audience he seems most interested in courting. Expressionism is a style of writing or drawing that relies on exaggeration and symbols to represent emotions, and while we might not immediately think of eromanga when the term is used, Kimi does make a compelling argument for why it is the best lens through which to examine the genre by tracking a variety of facial and bodily expressions within it.

To that end, each chapter, with the exception of the last, is devoted to a single body part or expression. This manner of sorting things out works for the most part to avoid overlap, although there doesn’t seem to be a particular method to why the chapters are organized the way they are. In fact, the afterwords (one original to the Japanese edition and one written for the English edition) and a couple of appendices would have worked better as forewords, since they lay out the author’s methods and reasons behind the book as well as some definitions that are useful to have before diving into his analysis. All of the chapters, however, come with copious black-and-white illustrations that help clear up some of the terminology used in the text; it goes without saying that absolutely none of these are SFW and it’s worth noting that a few wander into lolicon territory – necessary within the context of the analysis, but if that’s a subject that makes you uncomfortable, be aware that it’s in there.

In fact, the word “lolicon” is an interesting piece of the history presented in the book; the way we use it today is not, according to the author, its original usage, which was more similar to what we call “moe.” While many readers are familiar with the fact that tentacles are thought to have originated with the early 19th century shunga print “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife,” the origins of “lolicon” as a word are a bit more obscure, and it’s in digging up This sort of information that the book really succeeds. The text mostly tracks eromanga from the 1970s through today, looking at trends, emerging expressions, and the ways that censorship and international attention and translation have affected the genre, and in this it is fascinating. Censorship gets an entire chapter to itself (and the discussion of the various ways to censor a penis is entertaining), as does international appearances of hentaiwith a discussion of why eromanga is more commonly called “hentai” in English. This chapter is heavily tilted towards American editions and reactions, which is interesting, but a bit of a shame, since there’s a lot to talk about in other countries as well.

If there is a major stumbling block here, it is Kimi’s attempts to also include female-oriented eromanga. While it is both admirable and important, there’s a clear disconnect for him when it comes to really understanding why women might read erotic content and what they seek from it. It is obvious that he’s trying, and the appendix contains an excerpt from a roundtable discussion he had with eight women who read eromanga. The women are very frank about what they like, don’t like, and masturbatory practices related to eromanga, and the discussion is one of the highlights of the text. It is, unfortunately, not helped by Kimi’s remarks about the so-called “lightsaber penis” method of censorship being the “most appropriate” for female-oriented content, or some of the cursory remarks he makes about BL and TL manga, which feel like he did the bare minimum of research in order to include it in the book. Again, the inclusion is important, but it feels very much like he should have mentioned that his focus was on male-oriented works rather than trying to include everything.

The other element that may be difficult for some readers is the way that tentacle stories are discussed. They are almost always framed as “tentacle rape,” and while that is true of many tentacle stories, Kimi makes no effort to note that there may be issues with this particular storytelling method. While stories of nonconsensual romance abound across languages ​​and cultures, most scholars in my experience do mention that this is a very specific fantasy; In fact, the first woman to speak in the roundtable mentions that she really hopes that rape fantasy (tentacle or otherwise) is phased out of eromanga, as she finds it unhealthy and unsettling. Kimi doesn’t respond to that, following up instead on her dislike of ahegao, a specific type of orgasm expression. None of this is to say that he shouldn’t have included tentacle rape in his analysis; it’s valid and an important piece of genre history. But there seems to be a disconnect between his enthusiasm for all things eromanga and the fact that rape fantasy does have its issues, even if it’s tentacles rather than actual human appendages.

And Kimi’s enthusiasm does come across very well. The language can be overly reliant on passive voice constructs, which at times make the book too dense for its own good, but the glie with which Kimi discusses breast expressions, tracks down who first drew the blurred nipple to indicate movement, and other eromanga staples is amply evident. Attempts at joviality sometimes mar the otherwise academic tone, but for the most part, this is an interesting read, full of information, anecdotes, and interviews that allow the author’s passion for the subject and the Expressionist analysis to shine through. It may not be a casual read, but it is a sound work of analysis on a genre that doesn’t always get much respect.

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