Tokyo on One Cliché a Day

A Scary Look Into the Japanese Id
Dispatches from the front lines of travel.
Oct. 14 2003 5:40 PM

Tokyo on One Cliché a Day

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Today's slide show: Japan's obsession with comics.

Japan Cliché No. 2: Manga

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson
Seth Stevenson, a regular contributor to Slate, spent two months in Tokyo on a media fellowship from the Japan Society.
Manga covers are always in the best possible taste
Manga covers are always in the best possible taste

Today is all about animated porn. And by animated, I don't mean the chicks are really into it. I mean the chicks are ink.

Of all Japan's cultural proclivities, the ubiquity of manga (comic books) perhaps puzzles me most. Japan's tightrope formality, its crushing conformity, its really teeny consumer electronics—these all make sense in geo-historical context. But I have yet to see an adequate explanation for why a nation with one of the world's highest literacy rates would become so obsessed with cartoons. Men and women of all ages can be seen on the subway, in coffee shops, or at racks in convenience stores, poring over thick, bound comic books. And Japanese TV is filled with anime shows. Can't get enough of 'em. Besides CNN and CNBC, the only U.S. channel I get on cable here is the Cartoon Network.

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And it's not just the shows and books. Animation pervades the entire society. Buy a subway pass from the machine and a little onscreen animated lady bows deeply in humble thanks, showing you the top of her carefully animated head. Real estate ads will show pictures of apartments, and in the upper corner of each attractively lit room will be, for no fathomable reason, a floating alien creature with cute little antennae and bright orange fur. On the seatbacks in the express train to the airport, there is a three-panel cartoon strip. In Panel 1, a frog is reading a book to a tiny, humanoid hot dog. In Panel 2, the frog is driving a truck. In Panel 3, the frog is sitting on a suitcase, crying, while the hot dog looks on in dismay. What does this mean? I'm not sure. (This is a great thing about Japan. At least once a day you see something, or someone does something, and you cannot for the life of you figure out the purpose or meaning. It's refreshing, at times, to have no idea what's going on.)

I do very much enjoy the high value placed on cuteness here. My favorite pop culture character (please, Hello Kitty is over) is Sirotan. Sirotan is a plush stuffed seal, which is cute in itself, but the killer app is that Sirotan dresses up as other animals. After you buy Sirotan, you can buy all his different costumes. He dresses up as sharks, turtles, lobsters, and sundry other aquatic creatures. I still can't figure out why Sirotan disguises himself like this. Maybe he's playing with our conceptions of the seal paradigm. Maybe it's just for yuks. Either way, damned cute, and that's the important thing. Wackiness level: yellow, or "elevated."

Also cute is a giant robot panda character, of which many toys and T-shirts have been made. This is, as you might expect, a giant robot panda, which I guess might do battle with other robots or something. The beauty part is that when you lift the top of the robot panda's head, it reveals a control room, from which the robot panda is operated, and sitting in a chair in the control room, pushing buttons and pulling levers, is a real, non-robot panda—presumably one gifted with superb mechanical skills and a deep understanding of robotics. I take strange glee in imagining this clever panda constructing himself a giant robot panda with which to dominate other robots. Wackiness level: red. Severe!

Less cute, though equally wacky, is the cartoon porn. I began to notice, walking around town, all sorts of little storefronts with crowds of young, Japanese men out front, closely examining the backs of DVD boxes. Further reporting revealed that these stores sell anime pornography. This was intriguing from a sociological standpoint. I felt this could be a unique window into the unfettered Japanese id. Entirely unburdened by reality, what do horny Japanese guys really want to see? Think of the possibilities: laws of physics suspended, human anatomy not just amplified but wholly re-imagined!

I felt duty-bound to rent several anime porn DVDs. And so to my local video store in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. Getting a rental membership at this place was a challenge as no one spoke much English, so we had to communicate the membership agreement terms with hand gestures. Every time I rent a DVD, there is great effort made to tell me when it's due back, but little success in having me understand. It's a struggle. But now that I've decided to rent porn, the language barrier is my friend. Less embarrassing when the nice young woman at the counter rings up my rentals. Hey, maybe I just didn't quite gather that this was porn. My mistake! Won't I be surprised when I get home!

I wish I could tell you the titles of the DVDs I rented, but they were all in Japanese. Instead, I will tell you the titles of the porn films available through pay-per-view at one hotel I stayed in here: Raw Mouth Secretary, Burst Boobs 3, Panty Hose Mania, The Wives Who Torture Very Well, Tits Petting,and Be Smeared With Semen. Sadly, I did not watch any of these. As for the animated porn I did watch in hopes of gleaning some insight into the Japanese id? I have this to say: Go away, Japanese id! You are scary! I am scared of you!

The first cartoon featured a schoolgirl being raped by giant alien wolf creatures. Then she masturbated and this somehow summoned evil aliens who raped all her schoolgirl friends with thick, slimy tentacles. Then there was a cute, talking bat on the schoolgirl's shoulder, and then it morphed into a giant bat that killed a wolf creature that was trying to rape her. Later she was tied up naked and raped by regular wolves who lapped at her crotch.

The second cartoon was more of the same.

In the third cartoon, once again a schoolgirl is repeatedly raped. But this time, it is by her middle-school teacher. Nice. In one scene she is suspended naked from the ceiling by thick ropes, sodomized with a test tube from the classroom, and then forced to urinate on herself. Dirty, dirty cartoons. In all honesty, this made me feel really gross. It has also made me look at every Japanese man I know with suspicion that underneath that pleasant, placid exterior is a dude who likes watching schoolgirls get raped.

Even in the regular, non-cartoon soft-core that shows up on Tokyo cable at night (think Cinemax), there is a whole lot of non-consensual sex going on. Highly non-consensual. Much female flailing, kicking, and high-pitched shrieking, all to no avail. The default situation is a man subjecting a woman to treatment she does not want or like, while the man remains utterly calm and appears not even to derive any pleasure from the act. Seems like some power/control issues going on. Especially when you consider the dream girl is always tied up, a very young schoolgirl, animated, or often all three. Icky.

Still love that robot panda, though. Damned, damned cute.

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