The Tentacle Creature from the Black Lagoon

Today I wanted to follow-up a conversation I had with Chris to try to uncover a theory he was toying with: that the spread of H. P. Lovecraft to Japan greatly influenced the form hentai presently takes. Now it’s not a long bow to draw, the idea that his weird horror fiction could have manifested itself in Japan in such a way. Just take for example Cthulhu, Lovecraft’s fictional deity, “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers…”. One blogger comments that there are many instances of creative borrowing from Lovecraft in manga overall, however “the closest the Puritanical writer came to the monsters-ravishing-women plots” is an off-screen impregnation by an alien entity. For an author that abstained from writing about sex, it’s interesting to consider how he’d feel about the suggestion that his work influenced tentacle hentai today.

Fan art of Cthulu

Besides H. P. Lovecraft’s use of tentacles, there is an older, more telling artefact that warrants attention. The below image is titled The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (Katsushika Hokusai: 1820) and is an example of early Japanese art that appears to “celebrate female sexuality rather than simply creating an image for male fantasy” (Stockins 2009).  The woman in the picture looks more as if in a moment of ecstasy than distress, and the dialogue printed in the background “expresses the mutual sexual enjoyment of the woman and the octopus” (ibid.).  It is startling to consider that in my own research I have rarely found hentai that celebrates women’s enjoyment of sex. To me, this older work is more progressive and sexually enlightened than images being produced today. If I had more scope for research I would definitely investigate this regression further.

So with this historical basis to draw from, renowned hentai creator Toshio Maeda is oft credited with the proliferation of tentacles into modern day hentai manga. I was very curious to learn how how the popularity of tentacle hentai could reach such heights. Maeda said in an interview that the substitution of tentacles for the penis was more about circumventing Japan’s strict laws against depicting genitals than literary or other influences. So… with such tough censorship laws, were tentacles were simply the natural conclusion for anime and manga artists in Japan…?

The Wiki thread detailing Japanese censorship laws on pornography was most informative. What the law predominantly pertains to is forbidding the distribution of “indecent” materials. In some cases this seems to conflict with ideas about freedom of expression, which to me is particularly interesting based on many of the discussion we are currently having in Australia about what could be offensive to people vs. what constitutes your right to free speech. It seems to me that in Japan the Criminal Code is interpreted as ‘sex is ok as long as you don’t explicitly show genitals’. Though many sources appear to indicate that while this is a punishable offence, only one case has gone to trial in 20 years (according to a number of blogs who all seem to get their info from Wiki).

This train of thought also got me thinking, are these strict laws a product of a prudish or conservative aspect of Japanese culture? I don’t believe in gratuitous displays of sexuality, but it’s certainly shouldn’t be taboo or something to be ashamed about. The West is infamous for producing explicitly sexual and violent content, however we are much stricter on child pornography than Japan was up until earlier this year, as I mentioned in a previous post.  To me these feel like incongruities that are difficult to navigate.

It’s definitely been enlightening for me to delve into Japan’s censorship laws, because at the outset of my study I was freaked out at just how deeply tentacles had penetrated (please excuse the pun) the hentaiscape. I thought it was merely a preoccupation and fetish for tentacles that sparked their popularity, but now I see it as a more creative way to publish content that would otherwise be restricted. This being said, I imagine that it has also sparked some real tentacle fetishes out there!

 

Thompson, J. 2012, ‘The long tentable of H.P. Lovecraft in Manga’, Kinja, http://io9.com/5439408/the-long-tentacle-of-hp-lovecraft-in-manga-nsfw

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8 comments

  1. Really interesting post especially how you linked Japan’s censorship laws with manga. I was unaware of these laws so I have certainly learnt something knew in regards to Japanese culture and manga. How old are these laws? Have they been around for decades? Have Japanese artists just accepted these laws or do the protest against them? It would be interesting to research more into these laws and if there are online movements to end them. Also, I wonder if this is trend is manga is confined to Japan. Are there similar laws in China for example, which is known for its strict censorship laws and how they impact Chinese creative/cultural industry? This obviously opens up a new ethical debate in regards to what should or should not be censored.

    Great post!

    – Caitlin

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Caitlin, thanks for the comment. You ask some great questions and as this post is yet unfinished I will certainly endeavor to answer some of them. I’m fairly sure these laws have been in place since WWII, but yes, something I will need to look into and explain in greater detail. Stay tuned 🙂

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  3. Interesting avenue of investigation Jess! In my travels to Japan, I actually experienced the Japanese pornography and hentai industry first hand and learnt of their censorship laws through my Japanese travel companion. As far as I’m aware, censorship was indeed implemented post-WWII as you’ve mentioned, but has actually since been lifted, or at least slackened. My understanding is that this has made way for ‘premium porn’ that is more expensive but uncensored, so it might be worth investigating when these laws where changed and how the industry adapted to them.

    I would also suggest that you investigate the pornographic culture of Japan. I spent some time people watching in Akihabara and was fascinated by how seriously pornographic enthusiasts took the medium, analysing it as an art form. This different mode of digestion could possibly lead to inaccurate conclusions in your research and I would suggest you spend some time dissecting this difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Really loved this posts and the puns.
    This is such an interesting topic of discussion, especially to think of how iconic ‘the tentacle’ has become when discussing or thinking of Japanese ‘obscenities and fetishes’ within the public consciousness. Would deffinately be interesting if you were to perhaps find interviews of hentai artists to see what they say about the medium and their experience with it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great post!! I found it really interesting in regards to the censorship laws in Japan as this is certainly not the case any longer. I believe that Japan hosts some of the most broad and ‘outlandish’ and also ‘illegal in most parts of the world’ porn these days. The only reason I say this is because when I was there it was apparent in the ever present sex shops! I definitely think it would be worthwhile having a look at these updated laws, as I am sure you will find some interesting changes. Also, how do they go about filtering this online. It is the same issue throughout the globe with material such as porn. As this is technically animal pornography, wouldn’t this be related to beastiality? or is that not the case when the imagery is manga? I find it very interesting and a little disturbing..

    You wrote this post really well and I enjoyed reading it!

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  6. What an interesting discussion! The “benefits” of tentacles as censorship hadn’t occurred to me! In regards to censorship, I’ve found some interesting comparisons that have been drawn recently in a discussion of depiction of children as sexual objects in such cartoons remains illegal where possession of child pornography is now illegal in Japan. A discussion on Al Jazeera reflects on this fact highlighting a unique social attitude, given that this new law banning possession of child pornography wasn’t passed until June this year. It might prove useful in continuing your discussion (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/manga-anime-japan-still-treatin-201484145420634173.html)

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  7. As fan of Lovecraft and puns, this post delivered.
    I have never drawn the connection between Hentai and Lovecraft but upon reading this I can definitely see some similiarities. The idea that the tentacles are used to bypass Japan’s strict censorship laws is an interesting one, and even more interesting is the fact that this has developed to gain a mass following worldwide. Like others have said I think it would be cool if you could find some interviews with Hentai artists to see their take on this.

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  8. This post was quite humerous, if only because I had a similar conversation with Chris on the roles that Lovecraft’s work has had on various texts. We actually had a disagreement until we realised we were looking at the influences on entirely different texts, and I think I can shed some light on why Lovecraft is perfectly suited to porn, especially bondage porn.

    There is a school of thought, and it may be incorrect, that a core element of Lovecraft’s work is helplessness. Now this exists entirely independent of the other themes in his works, but there is still much evidence to support the claim.

    A core element and fetish, prevalent mostly in bondage (which tentacle rape and it’s derivatives falls under) of submission as being attractive both to dominant people viewing and submissive people feeling or viewing. As a result it is only natural to put them all together to create a genre that deals explicitly with two different areas of the same source text.

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