Dec 3 2008 12:48pm

Yay Hentai!

A private comics collector is being charged with possession of manga depicting underage sex deemed “obscene” by the United States government.

On his blog, Neil Gaiman succinctly argues even something as “icky” as manga depicting sex with minors should be defended because, to protect the First Amendment, all speech has to be defended, even if it is on the surface “indefensible.” (He also neatly deals with the canard that banning deviant pornography in some vague way protects children from rape).

Gaiman is talking about defending smut in general. He alludes to, but doesn’t really explore, how deeply upsetting pornography has a natural home on the comics page.

Comics, like books and animation, but unlike film and photography, can tell stories of things that can not be (i.e. supernatural powers, alien worlds, mythical creatures).* That is well known. Less well explored is comics as a place for stories of things that should not be, things that would be illegal, unethical, or just plain morally reprehensible to do with actual actors and models.

Or rather, less well explored in this country. In Japan, pornography involving actual humans is very restricted, so much so that a large percentage of Japanese erotica are comics and cartoons (building on a tradition going back hundreds of years).

Freed from the real, Japanese pornographers have let their imaginations run wild over the years, telling stories of fantasy sex (such as demons and aliens with imaginative genitalia) as well as culturally offensive sex, such as incest, rape, bestiality, and so on (as in this story, which is EXTRAORDINARILY unsafe for work. Also it reads right to left.) Though there is plenty of “normal” pornography in Japan, Japanese sex comics and cartoons can be so kinky that the Japanese word for “perverse” has become the American word for Japanese erotic entertainment—“hentai.”

And hentai serves many purposes. Beyond the obvious prurient interests, hentai allows readers to explore their own sexuality and better understand what turns them on and what they enjoy about sex. For instance, even if you would never really want to copulate with a multi-tentacled hell-lord, seeing a character taken by a demon king might help you understand your own submissive nature (or possibly dominant nature, depending on with whom you identified). It also allows people to talk about and read about important issues, such as rape or youthful sexuality that would be uncomfortable to recreate using real people.

Prose fiction in America has certainly explored kinky sexuality too, from the BDSM of the Kushiel’s Dart series to the horror erotica Anita Blake or Twilight series (ooh, spoiler). But it’s one thing to read about a werewolf gangbang, it’s another entirely to actually see it, making hentai uniquely powerful.

If comics is a place where creators and readers can explore the boundaries of what is physically possible, it can also be a place to explore the edges of what is psychologically possible, even when that edges into the uncomfortable arena of sexuality. But to do that, readers can’t be afraid of being arrested for having comics that “offend the community,” even if those comics are enjoyed solely in their own home.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has taken up the case, and you can go to their page to learn more about what you can do to protect free speech and dirty pictures in this country. Because if we can’t talk about tentacle rape in our own homes, where can we talk about it?

*Yes, there’s obviously plenty of live action fantasy, but special effects are just puppetry and animation pretending very hard to be real.

Chris Bridges
1. cabridges
I was with you until you included "Twilight." "Twilight" isn't horror-erotica at all, it's supernatural-romance, and young-adult romance at that. There's very little actual horror in there, and no explicit sexual anything.

No sense getting people interested in reading something if they're only going to be disappointed...
2. ArtfulMagpie
@ Cabridges: MOST of Twilight is pretty asexual, yes. But (***SPOILER WARNING***) in "Breaking Dawn," there is a scene that, while not explicitly detailed down to the last sweaty gasp, does leave the reader certain that some very kinky, very VIOLENT sex has just occurred. Beds are shattered, whole-body bruises are incurred. Etc. And the one who got the bruises...well, she wants to do it again!! So, while not as explicit as true erotica, it definitely does deal with kinky sexuality.
3. ariel awake
Cabridges and Artful Magpie:

Sorry to say that I disagree with you both. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the Twilight series *mayhap I ended up with a vampire crush*, I found all the books to be incredibly sexual.

Sounds strange - there is no actual sexual activity until breaking dawn - right? But the threat and desire for said activity is a strain that runs throughout all of the novels - which was what for me, made even what should have been a tame kissing session described incredibly exciting. It was dangerous, sensual and erotic - which, is what vampires have come to represent.

Meyer, IMO built a very smart device in the Twilight series - that powerfully retained the innate sexuality of the modern vampire, yet without it turning into 4 books of smut.

For this one reader, it became a much more powerful sexual infused love story. Indeed, I would rather read the Twilight series than Anne Rice's Beauty series anyday.
Jeff Soules
4. DeepThought
Regarding Twilight:

It's absolutely sexual--it's holdout porn. The obsessive elevation of abstinence is essentially equivalent to the BDSM practice of orgasm denial.

Seriously, if the folks preaching abstinence in America realized just how kinky it is...

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