“Isn’t anime just cartoon porn?”, my best friend once asked me when I first started getting into anime. I wasn’t offended then, nor would I probably be offended now if he asked, (after all he doesn’t know to much about animation). However, it’s definitely a testament to the reputation of anime and it’s depiction of sex and sexual activity. I have heard a lot of people say that we need less ecchi anime, that ecchi anime is always done wrong, or even that it has a negative impact on anime. I recently found a different perspective that I haven’t seen enough people fight for. I would argue that we can have less sexual stuff in anime, but the stuff we have should be artistic.
Sex Sells. I doubt this will ever not be the case. We as human beings are driven by a carnal
desire to spread our genes to future generations, and we have to have sex to do this. This is why art has been portraying sex since forever, because art is an expressive medium and sex is an expressive act (for the most part). Popular music has had sexual themes in it for decades now, old paintings have always featured naked people, and camera’s have been used to portray risqué actions ever since their invention. When anime became as big as it did, it would make sense that it would one day be sexualized. Of course we have hentai, (anime porn) but what about the anime that doesn’t go all the way?
In modern anime, we see a lot of inherently sexual stuff everywhere. Any and every fetish has an anime or two that cater to it, and this will continue as anime grows. When it comes to most niché fetishes, there comes a very negative stigma. Even in anime communities, we see negative stigma run rampant. Ecchi in general has a fairly negative stigma on it’s own that is very detrimental. The problem is people don’t really take it seriously.
Consumers typically think of ecchi’s as simple fetish-pandering media consumed to “make cheap quick bucks off of suckers who will eat this trash up”. When people treat it this way, and then it makes good money, creators have little reason to take it seriously. If creators get in the mindset that they don’t have to work to get people simply aroused, then they won’t try to mentally stimulate you. This is to say that media will be created specifically to turn you on, as opposed to make art. The weird thing is that porn and hentai are still art. But people don’t really treat it that way because hentai is more concerned with immediate arousal as opposed to treating it like art, in a way that anime outside of hentai (usually) is trying to make art. To phrase it even more specifically, people treat porn and hentai as a business as opposed to art. If no one treats it seriously, people are going to love creative respect. This isn’t to say that we should necessarily watch hentai for story. It’s to say that it’s problematic when ecchi gets the same lower-tier treatment as porn because, it destroys the reputation of ecchi (best case scenario), and even all of anime (worst case scenario).
Either creators need to train audiences to take sexual anime more seriously, or audiences need to make this change. If both parties don’t make any changes, the cycle repeats and we won’t see any change or innovation. We may not be able to change the stereotype of erotic art, but we can at least allow artistic mediums and genres to be taken more seriously. If by chance you still aren’t sure what I mean, allow me to provide examples.
When we think of negatively stigmatized sexual anime, the easiest place to look is harems. Whether it be battle action school shows like Absolute Duo, or a more niché audience with Monster Musume. The problem I think with these kinds of shows has nothing to do with subjective quality. I think the issue is how they treat sexual activities and even relationships. Ecchi/Harem’s are plagued by so much sexual tension being built up, but never doing anything with it. This sort of arousal becomes treated like a joke. Like if the
girl crawls (possibly naked) into the main character’s bed. He’ll overreact uncomfortably and we are supposed to laugh at his over-the-top reaction. They don’t address any romantic or emotional undertones, which can lead to great story developement. Admittedly, I don’t usually hate these, or other ecchi clichés. I do like some ecchi, (Monster Musume, Rescue Me!) but it’s never because I take them seriously as art, because sometimes the over-the-top craziness actually makes me smile. The problem is an over-reliance on craziness, and not the human emotions or connections that create the sexual side of human nature. But, I think sexual comedy can work. I love Golden Boy’s perverted humor, but it doesn’t place a heavy focus on erotic romance that they never do anything with. On the other side, I enjoy Okusama ga Seitokaichou because it’s ecchi is an extension of romance as opposed to just slapping on superfluous sexual jokes. Shimoneta is such a
weird show to talk about in this regard. It’s sexual humor has a good place in the story, (as it is the narrative focus, so the jokes don’t come out of nowhere) and is usually funny. Yet, they try discussing the politics behind sex and censorship, while never actually addressing emotions behind sex itself, (which I think hinders the whole of the show). Like how they play off Anna (very much) trying to rape Okuma as comedy. Blue Snow is an erotic terrorist and a very dirty minded person, yet when she sees an erection in person she is shell-shocked and becomes kind of oddly uncomfortable. It was never resolved, or even addressed throughout the next 2/3’s of the anime. Sex is usually a product of romance. I think if arousing moments happened more to develop and/or help a romance, (as opposed to worthless comedy) then people would take it more seriously. Ecchi for the sake of ecchi is the problem. But giving it a good reason to exist could be the answer to the issue.
If you’ve been disagreeing with me throughout this writing, you may be wondering if I have positive examples of the kind of ecchi I am looking for. The closest I can get to that is Nozoki Ana.
When I first watched the OVA of Nozoki Ana, I was saddened by how much more they could have done. I found out later that it was adapted in a manner exclusively designed to
interest people in the manga. Because of this, they left out plot points and rushed parts of the story. With just the OVA, I felt that there was so much lost potential because the story was perverted, and erotic, but unfinished. However, the emotional and expressive critic in me was even more stimulated than I was aroused. I was interested in the dynamics and relationships between the characters more than I was with the sexual acts and the perfect bodies of the whole cast. To ease my curiosity, I started the manga (which I don’t do since I’ve never been a very active reader) from the beginning to truly experience the story. To put it bluntly, it is one of the best romance stories I have ever consumed, and (it must be obvious that it) became the basis for this post. I was in love with the way Nozoki Ana treated sex. The sex scenes didn’t just serve as fap-fodder, but instead as ways characters expressed emotion and dramatic changes in dynamics. For the first time ever, I was in tears because I was so happy with the way the story progressed, (I usually cry just because of sadness and feels). I feel that Nozoki Ana was more concerned with telling a story, than selling its sex. One thing that has put me off from ecchi’s before is that it feels like shows try and slap a gimmicky story on top to make it seem like it has more going for it, hell some series or OVA’s skip that and just try to arouse you without any deeper reason. I am saying that ecchi does not always equal hentai, and that there is a fine line. I believe that hentai could do something like what Nozoki Ana did for me, but I think ecchi, (as a sort-of style of storytelling) is in a better position to do that. It is also the position I am trying to fight for.
I don’t feel it’s just a matter of “doing ecchi right versus wrong”, and more of a “using ecchi as an extension of romance, and telling more serious stories with it”. I don’t think adding a visible story cuts it if we still treat the sex and arousing actions the same as one’s
without it that do it without regards to how people actually react to sex emotionally. Even though I have no issues with hentai, I feel grouping the negative stigma of both of them together drags down anime into a lower level of respect that it does not need. Ecchi for the sake of ecchi may have it’s place in anime (and I think that’s fine), but for the most part it has a negative impact on anime. Poorly handled stories slapped on top of over-the-top does not help, and usually causes more problems. I think if erotica was used more as to be artistic than comedic or simply arousing, than it could help make anime look better.
Or at least make ecchi look better, unless too much damage has been done at this point, in which case we might as well keep animating more Monster Musume.
This has been Animated Monologues, slicing into animation in every post. Thanks for reading, and have an animated day.