House of 1000 Manga 64 Pounds of Porn
by Jason Thompson,
I recently talked to someone who didn't believe that men share porn. I told him that, while I've never gathered in a huddle around a porno mag like in pre-Internet shonen manga (unless you count once in elementary school, but we were only 8 years old), let alone been invited to sit down and watch porn with an extra-close friend like Greg Kinnear and Willem DaFoe in Auto Focus (unless Devil Hunter Yohko counts, but I said no anyway), there seems to be a "gentlemen's agreement" that you don't breach the homosocial-homoerotic barrier by showing other guys porn "because it's funny." The very first JPEG and the very animated GIF I ever saw were porn that other dudes showed me, both times supposedly for lulz—"It's a joke, 'cause we're all straight!" to quote the Lonely Island song. The intent (I think) wasn't to provide titillation, but to show how weird porn was, to show what unshockable, worldly men you are, yea verily, fearing no laws of God nor devil!
On that note, today's column is about a 64-pound box (actually, two boxes) containing 90% of the output of straight-male porn manga translated and printed in the US. The section on adult manga (hentai, ecchi, adult, whatever you call it) in Manga: The Complete Guide was the only part where I didn't write most of the reviews myself. This was partly for time reasons because I knew I'd have to delegate something, and partly because I was single at the time and thought it would be psychologically scarring to have so much porn around the house. Instead I gave that duty to Derek Guder, one of my favorite manga reviewers, while I myself reviewed most of the Boy's Love section, which tells you a lot about me. But now after six years, Derek has returned all the manga, and the box is back, taking up too much space in my office until I return it to him or get arrested trying to donate it to the library.
I had to fight a bit to include the adult section in Manga: The Complete Guide, but I felt it would be unfair to include yaoi and not include the straight stuff; but in retrospect, I sometimes wonder if that space wouldn't have been better spent on manhwa. Straight porn manga, being invariably X-rated, isn't found in libraries (unlike BL which varies from PG to X, sometimes from volume to volume within a series); book and movie reviewers usually keep it in a separate ghetto and rarely review it, unless it's super-popular like Fifty Shades of Gray (in which case it evolves up from lowly "porn" to classy "erotica"); it isn't/wasn't even easy to find in bookstores and comic shops, usually being hidden in the back in some foul alcove, with even the covers being too explicit to show. (To compare it to BL again, why can't porno manga artists keep it in their pants while they're drawing the covers? Isn't it nicer to have the outside be some cute girl or some happy couple and some green & pink floral displays and just save the throbbing gristle for the inside of the manga?) Furthemore, since porn is usually, shall we say, an impulse purchase, hardly anyone seeks out "classic" porn except for the most dedicated hipsters, historians and weirdos. ("I do declare! Today I desire an illustrated narrative about she-males! I must promptly order Hiroyuki Utatane's Countdown: Sex Bombs at my local bookstore!")
For most of the '90s translated, printed porn manga was a thing. Although it's not mentioned on their wikipedia entry, Antarctic Press was the first publisher to create an adult manga line, Venus Comics, which brought the world Bondage Fairies and the playful R-rated sex comics of Ippongi Bang (perhaps the only mangaka to ever use the sex sound effect "FINISH!"). Antarctic left the manga business shortly thereafter but other companies soon jumped into the adult manga pool: Studio Ironcat's "Sexy Fruit" line, CPM Manga, Radio Comix, Blast Books, Glenn Danzig's Verotik and others. (OTOH, the bigger manga companies stayed away for their image's sake, with even stuff like Viz's Dance Till Tomorrow being explicit story manga rather than full-on pornography.) The most successful adult manga line of all was Fantagraphics Books' "Mangerotica", produced by Studio Proteus as part of Fantagraphics' international Eros Comix adult line. It was a strange world where you might find an ad for Colleen Coover's Small Favors on the back of an issue of Mashumaro Jubaori's Voice of Submission. Later, in the 2000s, Icarus Publishing became the new porno kid on the block, but by that time the inevitable domination of the Internet was shutting down printed porn manga for good.
My first thought upon receiving the 64 pounds of porn was to do a database listing every instance of every sexual fetish contained within and crunch the data for a word cloud. Unfortunately, as happened in my several previous failed attempts to write about the boxes of porn, the sheer numbing repetition and pointlessness of it all made me give up about 1/4 of the way through, although not before compiling one of the most incriminating Word documents ever created (sample: "MILK MAMA: mom, bakunyu, breastmilk, mom, bakunyu, breastmilk, mom, bakunyu, breastmilk, school, rape, sextoys, voyeur, sleeping with your brother's wife, lesbian, sextoys, lesbian, sextoys, threesome, threesome, cousin, bathtub, serial incest…SEX WARRIOR ISANE EXTREME: publicsex, rape, tentacle, brainwash, grouprape, rape, lesbian, tentacle, rape, shemale, grouprape, maid, grouprape, grouprape, tentacle, tentacle…") I read somewhere that the average time people watch pornographic movies in hotel rooms is 11 minutes, and clearly porno manga is also meant to be read in small bursts and not for 8-hour stretches in a coffeeshop. The fun of reading it, like absorbing any big quantity of media, is to spot trends. Nonconsensual scenarios…the old "having sex instantly turns women into demented sex addicts" trope…male dominance, female dominance…the rare man-on-man scenario…childhood friends, "practice sex," student-teacher relationships, transsexuals, remote-control vibrators hidden under clothing, voyeurism, the occasional dip into bestiality, chikanand reverse-chikan situations…with sex guaranteed to happen in every chapter (the crucial difference between porn manga and the hardest-R seinen manga), even the most imaginative, open-minded porn mangaka gradually drifts into a particular niche through sheer repetition. As Yoshitatsu Kiichigono writes in the afterword to the (unfortunately horribly-drawn) exhibitionism/shaming manga Flash Bang!, "As for the reason why all the stories in this book are the same…this is done on purpose. Something that I've often felt as reader of these books is that there would often be a book where I only liked 1 out of the 10 stories that was included. That's why I decided to make them all the same. The book feels a little heavy handed because of this though (sweats)".
The best porn manga is just amazing weirdness, the kind that comics are made for. People have sex with robots, with motorcycles, with the family dog (who then faithfully saves its lover/mistress from ninja assassins), with astral projections and demons and living-music beings. Oh! Great, whose porn comics somehow seem much less obscene than his 'mainstream' work like Tenjo Tenge, brings his gorgeous art to a variety of science-fiction stories, some of which have almost as much fighting as ****ing. ("World's fastest secret technique—super clitorial vibration! Just now, at the same time I ripped away your clothes, my fingers sent a 57hz pulse wave into your clitoris This wave from my two fingers will continue to resonate in your clit and no one beside myself will be able to stop it!") Koh Kawarajima's Fantasy Fighters is 30% rape-domination, 30% sci-fi action parody, and 20% tongue-in-cheek political diatribes: a poor girl is kidnapped and used as a sex slave by an evil rich kid, until she is rescued by her dad, an elderly construction worker who has also been experimented on and turned into a slave-cyborg for the bourgeois (a "bourgeroid"). ("You impose pain on the masses through classes and discrimination! I will uplift the oppressed proletariat! Now you will face the power buried in my fists!") Speaking of political content, it's a shame that Toren Smith (Mangerotica) never got his wish of publishing Tuna Empire's political satire porn manga Manga Nazenani Kyôshitsu ("Manga What-and-Why Classroom," aka the English subtitle "Viva Freedom"), which someone on the Internet described as "the only manga I've seen to have Bush and Saddam Hussein having gay sex."
Bondage Fairies is perhaps the best renamed porno manga of all (the original Japanese title was Insect Hunter), and also one of the most inventive: the heroines are two tiny winged fairies who fly around having sex with all the other little animals in the forest, a nice way to get around the straight man's hypothetical dislike of having to look at other naked men—it's hard to feel too sexually threatened by talking stag beetles and snails with huge wangs. Of course there's tentacle sex, like in Sex Warrior Isane, whose hero has a special arm which can transform into a mass of tentacle-penises, to punish evildoers or to please his girlfriend ("Your arm! Give it to me! Please! I want armsex!") This is what D. Gray-man and all those other "magic arm" shonen manga secretly want to be about. The great 1980s father of tentacle porn, Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend creator Toshio Maeda, was published in English by CPM (leading sadly to one of the few major U.S. legal cases involving porn manga), although his work has more plot, fighting and action-horror and less pure sex than his reputation may lead people to expect. Still, there's many images of women hoisted in the air by slimy, orifice-invading tendrils, all of it drawn in a disturbingly realistic, detailed, gekiga style. (On a random note, there's plenty of porn manga involving pregnancy tests, but Demon Beast Invasion is the only one I've read to have a scene set in an abortion clinic. But it's not Maeda who used one of the unsexiest lines ever to appear in a porn manga: "Just thinking about having a C-section done on me gives me the shivers!")
Art-wise, translated porn manga mostly reflects the styles people like in non-porn manga: big eyes, small mouthes, with bodies that are rounded and chubby in the '80s, gradually becoming more angular and skinny from the '90s to the present day. Realistic styles are rare, with exceptions ranging from the blah photorealistic-bodies-and-gag-manga-faces of Chiyoji (Miss DD) to the attractively realistic color art of Torajiro Kishi, whose college-girls-at-play manga Maka Maka is a favorite of both male and female yuri fans. Those who think manga only depicts skinny, anemic bodytypes might want to check out Kozo Yohei, creator of Superfist Ayumi (about a short-haired, butch karate champ who drives all the girls wild) and Spunky Knight (a fantasy manga about a very healthily rounded warrior woman with big thighs and a big tummy and, oh yeah, she also develops severe cliteromegaly). Of course, even in such a visual genre and among those hopefully-cream-of-the-crop series selected for translation, the art is not always good; whenever you think "this art is so bad this story can't possibly turn pornographic," horrifying disappointment, if not a trip to the emergency room for bleeding eyes, is sure to follow. It would be nice to give a prize for "worst drawings of genitals," but I wouldn't want the artist to turn around and get popular because of it. And every artist must make the important choice for "penis-inside-vagina" (or inside wherever) shots: ultrasound-style see-through or tiny laproscopic camera? By default, everyone generally looks young, and often the characters are teens; however, like with adult anime, English translations of adult manga tend to raise everyone's age to 19 or 20 and change "high school" to "college" (sometimes the rewriters don't even try, though, like in CPM's Demon Beast Invasion when a teacher admonishes a student "Sasaki! Why didn't you show up for college?").
Of course, not all porn manga involves monsters, sci-fi or George Bush Jr.: most are just like ordinary romance/rom-com manga that suddenly turn explicit. There are harem manga about nebbishy guys inexplicably surrounded by hot girls; one of the best is Isutoshi's well-drawn Slut Girl, about a conniving businesswoman/entrepreneur/crook/prostitute who ends up hanging around an (initially) virgin loser, but who never loses her edge ("Just lie back and enjoy it kiddo. Keep whinin' and I might change my mind.") ("Every time you show up, you kill my budget! I'm flat-ass broke!" "Poor damn baby! When I visit, you get the All-You-Can-Fuck Pussy Buffet. If I was a whore, I'd be a steal!") There are incest scenarios (something I've written about before), no longer just the stepsister-stepbrother teases and crushes so common in mainstream manga, but full-on brother-sister and mother-son sex like in Wolf Ogami's cutesy Super Taboo (original Japanese title "Super Famicom," perhaps my all-time favorite porn pun). And among a genre dominated by stories where everyone does everyone in every possible combination, there's even the rare (mostly-) happily monogamous love story, like Makoto Fujisaki's Co-Ed Sexxtasy, a college romance which handles the "needing to show different combinations of people having sex" mostly the same way it's handled in Futari Ecchi, i.e. by "it was all a dream" sex fantasies. Oh, uh, and partner-swapping. Jiro Chiba's Sexcapades is like a porned-up version of a Shonen Sunday magical love comedy: a story of an accident-prone girl who falls happily in love with a married man, thanks to the spiritual guidance of the ghost of her dead dog, which only her lover can see.
About Sexcapades, it's just too bad there's a totally jarring subplot about how the girl was raped when she was younger!…in fact, it's too bad rape plots, sub- or otherwise, are so extremely common in porn manga. Of course, it's porn, and this alone makes it beneath the notice of most people who write about media; a better use of one's time, perhaps, to criticize the scene in My Little Monster when the boy drags the girl suddenly into a dark alley and says "If you scream, I'll hurt you" (but then it turns out he just wants to show her a puppy) than to criticize the existence of entire manga devoted not just to making jokes about rape, but to actual rape. BL and Harlequin manga fans will be familiar with porn manga's countless ways of blurring the lines of consent, but more often than not there's no blur (or mosaic) at all: there are many translated porn manga explicitly dedicated to rape and domination, the kind of stuff the Marquis de Sade made his name for, but without de Sade's wordy digressions on philosophy. Unremittingly dark and disgusting, capable of causing gut reactions in even the most porn-positive readers, such stuff does exist in print, although Jun Hayami's infamous torture-porn Beauty Labyrinth of Razors had to be published online after the publisher, Creation Books, was unable to find a printer willing to print it. In a slightly more tasteful vein, it segues into the ero-guro horror/art-porn of artists like Suehiro Maruo.
While it's possible to detect changes in the porno manga published in the US over time, I don't know how much this reflects what was hot in Japan, or just the tastes of US publishers. (The biggest glaring absence from published manga, of course, is the lack of translated parody dôjinshi, since you can't legally license something that isn't legal to begin with.) Toren Smith (1960-2013) was a great translator and manga fan and also a man who was proud of his porn; the first time I met him in a café in San Francisco, he brought me a copy of Kengo Yonekura's Pink Sniper as a sample of his new unflipped right-to-left Mangerotica line. At the time it started in the mid-'90s, Mangerotica used Smith's connections to the Japanese artists to do something no publisher had done before: hiring the original mangaka to draw in the slightly censored penises and vaginas that Japanese censorship laws then required. Smith also told me that he and his rewriters sometimes tweaked translations slightly to make scenarios seem more consensual, altering the everpresent "Iyaaaa! Dame desu!" of adult manga dialogue. (Smith also reminded me that a significant amount of straight male porn is drawn by women, such as Yonekura.)
As Mangerotica and the other porn publishers left the scene due to declining sales, Simon Jones stepped in, founding Icarus Publishing in 2002. One of Jones' innovations was to publish an adult anthology magazine, Comic AG, a sort of adult Shonen Jump whose stories were later collected in graphic novels—a nice idea since porn is episodic, and the magazine always had good cover art. Jones shared Toren's passion for free speech and blogged extensively about censorship in both the U.S. and Japan. However, if this article seems weighed towards Mangerotica stuff, it's because I think Mangerotica picked the best titles. After Mangerotica, it felt like translated adult manga offerings had worse art, more rape, more harems, less story, more dehumanized women and faceless guys. (The one taboo which American porn manga never violated was lolicon; although character designs have become more and more neotenic over the years, no one has ever dared publish something like a title from Comic Lo. Shotacon in BL, on the other hand…) After Icarus went out of business, emanga's Project H has emerged as the latest attempt to sell porn manga, this time focusing on ebooks and cellphone manga, the same format that boosted BL in Japan, since no one except your credit card company knows what purchases you make on your phone, late at night.
It's going to sound like a total lie since I just spent 3,000 words describing it to you, but the other reason I didn't write about porn manga for Manga: The Complete Guide is I just don't really like it. Of course, I'm TOTALLY fine with just plain PERVERTED manga, with shonen rom-coms and Mayu Shinjo Shojo Comic titles and all that; it's the tease and kink and the weird borderline scenarios that interest me, which to me are so unique to manga and anime, compared to American media where there's precious little stuff in the middle ground between "family-friendly" and "hardcore porn." (When I told this to an editor from Japan once, he said "But in America, you're lucky! You have all that uncensored porn!" Sigh, the grass is always greener on the other side…this may also give some indication of the kind of working environment I was in at the time…) I need not just porn but story, I need emotional investment, and anyway something slightly covered is so much sexier than something shown. Go beyond that barrier, and we enter the amoral, drippy, slimy, blasphemous, unspeakable world of porno manga. Tentacles may not be nearly as big a thing in Japanese porn as the stereotypes make them out to be, but there's something about porn that always makes me use words out of an H.P. Lovecraft story.
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