Why Don't Anime Characters Have Pubic Hair?

by Justin Sevakis,

Hentai Tenchi asks:

Why has there been so few non-hentai anime with pubic hair? I doubt TV stations would air it without it being censored, but couldn't it still be added to the home release versions? I assume there isn't a *huge* demand for it, but with so much adult manga/artbooks (and some adult anime) that have it and with Japanese women in general seemingly not bothering to shave as much as Western women, one would think that some companies would have broken the trend and did it by now.

While there have been a handful of anime that draw pubic hair on women (and an even smaller number that do so on men), anime characters are, by and large, body hair-free. The original reasons for this, of course, have to do with Japanese censorship laws. The first laws banning pornography -- which were incredibly vague and didn't go into any detail whatsoever about what was banned and what wasn't -- came into effect in 1907. Depictions of genitalia and intercourse were off-limits, of course, but censorship of sex took a back seat to other forms of censorship during the propaganda-heavy wartime years.

Pubic hair tended to be something of an unofficial line. There were never any actual rules about it, but that was what was decided. Anything that showed pubic hair, or anything else that was banned, were sold almost exclusively by illegal backwater channels, often controlled by yakuza.

When the new Japanese constitution was drafted in 1947, with freedom of speech being a central tenet, the censorship law of olde (article 175 of the Penal Code) remained in effect. It's been challenged in the courts ever since, with a landmark ruling surrounding Nagisa Oshima's 1976 graphically erotic film In The Realm of the Senses (Ai no Korrida), which was shot in Japan but then edited in France and then denied entry back into Japan -- even after Oshima cut about 1/3 of the sex and nudity even to remove all traces of genitals and pubic hair. Oshima won his case, but he sought a clear line in the sand as to what would be permissible and what wouldn't be -- and the courts declined to do that, leaving the matter still frustratingly blurry.

Regardless, pubic hair continued to serve as an unofficial line that just wouldn't be crossed. For years, it was one of the red flags that customs officials would look for in determining whether foreign media could be imported, a rule that was only ignored when it became a big public debate. (For example, in 1985 several international incidents arose when French surreal photographer Man Ray's work, as well as a film festival screening of Kiss of the Spider Woman and 1984 were threatened with censorship, and the censors eventually relented.)

Finally, in 1991, a number of photos were published in books and magazines that included artistic depictions of well known models, actresses and porn stars, photographed by well known artists. (One of these was Madonna's infamous Sex book, which made it through with only four images censored.) Suddenly, even major publishing houses and newspapers felt comfortable pushing the boundary, and in doing so, the government mostly relaxed a little bit. (There were small dust-ups -- for example, a travel agent decided to test these restrictions by bringing these publications out of the country, throwing them in a pile with American issues of Penthouse and Playboy, and then re-entering the country only to find they were ALL held back by customs.)

Since all that came to pass, things have lightened up even more. Japanese pornography now only bothers to (barely) censor very specific parts of the anatomy. We got pubic hair in many hentai anime, as well as in more artistically minded anime like Perfect Blue, the Berserk movies, and some Animator's Expo shorts. But these are the exception, not the rule. I wonder if the aesthetics of the fans have, to some extent, adapted to the censorship: that despite its frustrating and arbitrary execution, that it's simply something that everyone has gotten used to. I remember an interview with Urotsukidoji creator Toshio Maeda, saying how even he was kind of shocked the first time he saw anime adaptations of his work without the mosaic censorship it had in Japan. "Wow, is this what it looks like when it's all hanging out?!" was his reaction.

Also, there's the fact that most anime don't show any body hair at all -- nobody has armpit hair and guys almost never have chest hair. Leg, arm and nose hair are only shown for comedic effect, and usually seem to be going for a slight gross-out reaction. The heavy-handedness of having to show hair with an ink line, when such things are often whispy and barely noticeable in real life makes them stand out more than they should, and they can be difficult to draw in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Then again, most Asian people just don't have much body hair. You should see me when I try to grow a beard. It's not a pretty sight.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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