A History of Ecchi Part 2: The obscure Ko Kojima and the controversial Go Nagai.

Otakun3000
Jan 1 · 10 min read
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Go Nagai works: Devilman, Cutie Honey and Mazinger

Hello and welcome to the second in this series of articles, about a genre controversial and problematic to some, yet enticing and interesting to others: ecchi.

“Ecchi” is a slang term in Japanese for “playfully sexual actions” — basically the pronunciation of the letter “H” (from the word “Hentai”, meaning “pervert”). The word “ecchi” was adopted in the West to refer to a genre comprising sexually suggestive content, prominent sexuality and softcore teasing, without ever approaching hardcore 18+ material. In Japan, the word ecchi instead refers to an individual’s perverted conduct. As we in the West understand it, ecchi anime and manga are works loaded with fanservice. While in mainstream titles sexual fanservice is usually a random audience-pleasing occurrence, sexual fanservice is the main focus of an ecchi work.

In my first article A History of Ecchi Part 1: Japanese Erotica, Where It All Started we discussed the roots of japanese erotic art and how that connect to today’s ecchi. Now, let’s consider the authors who opened the doors to modern ecchi and the impact they left on Japan’s culture.

Let’s start digging (pun intended)!

The era BGN (Before Go Nagai): Sennin Buraku

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Sennin Buraku

Before the 60s, although some form of fanservice was present in manga and anime, it was rare and subtle. Usually, the work itself was intentionally pornography or its fanservice content wasn’t deliberately titillating, but rather intrinsic to the plot. Although we do not know for sure who the first author was, nor which work first intentionally included fanservice, Sennin Buraku (Hermit Village) can be considered a candidate. This old Japanese comic strip was written and drawn by Ko Kojima, and ran from 1956 to 2014, the longest running comic with a single artist, and became the longest-running strip ever in Japan. Its adaptation was the first “midnight anime” (airing from 11:30 PM to 11:55 PM on Fuji TV), with content very suggestive for its time. It was a romantic comedy set in China, with traditionally dressed characters. Women wore chinese dresses called hanfu (similar to kimono) with bare shoulders and the upper part of their breasts exposed. The plot relates the story of Lao Shi, a man who conducts alchemical research, while his disciple, Zhu Huang, is more interested in lewdness and lust, having fallen in love with three beautiful sisters who live in a nearby village. Sennin Buraku was adapted into a black and white 23-episode anime. The first episode opens with a woman undressing and bathing at a lake (fully naked, breasts shown) with gratuitous close-ups of her body, alongside scenes of another girl dancing in provocative clothing.

Sennin Buraku was released in comic strip form in the magazine Weekly Asahi Geinou’s first issue (which dates back to 1956, although some sources claim 1946), a magazine focused on sensationalism, gossip and articles with erotic content and scandals. Neither original strip nor anime received an international release. The anime in particular was considered rare until its DVD release (although episodes 12 and 19 were inexplicably absent) and collectors archived them on the internet.

Some interesting trivia: Sennin Buraku’s author, Ko Kojima, is the uncle of the manga artist Moyoco Anno, married to the famous Evangelion anime director Hideaki Anno. Ko Kojima passed away on April 14, 2015, and the magazine where Sennin Buraku ran announced that his series would be placed on hiatus from their August 7, 2014 issue. Since no further word followed that announcement, the comic strip is considered de facto ended.

Sennin Buraku was quite tame by today’s standards, but thanks to Ko Kojima’s unusual artwork and suggestive themes, achieved some popularity. It was ahead of its time, with several scenes of nudity, revolving around three sisters and a married man lusting over them. Ko Kojima didn’t start the movement, but surely earned his place in ecchi history.

The genre’s true progenitor was someone else.

Go Nagai: The Godfather of the genre and the highly controversial Harenchi Gakuen

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Harenchi Gakuen

Kiyoshi Nagai (pen name Go Nagai) was born on September 6, 1945. His first work in the manga industry was as an assistant to the famous Shotaro Ishinomori, a late Japanese manga artist, responsible for the groundbreaking series Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider and Goranger (basically, the creator of Sentai series) among many other works. After progressing to create his own work, Go Nagai published short gag comedy manga until his first successful and highly controversial work: Harenchi Gakuen.

Go Nagai was invited to publish a long-running series in the first issue of Shonen Jump, the famous Japanese magazine. He accepted, releasing the first chapter of Harenchi Gakuen.

Harenchi Gakuen (Shameless School) ran from 1968 to 1972 and is considered by manga and anime specialists to be the first modern erotic manga and is widely known as the first ecchi manga series. Its setting is a school whose teachers and students are all perverts filled with lust. Both boys and girls are shameless, fearless people, with boys peeping on girl’s bathrooms, girls showing off their panties, teachers lusting over one another and at their own students, you name it. The work destroyed taboos, was insanely popular and kicked open the doors to sexually suggestive content in manga and anime as a whole.The first chapters weren’t like this, initially more in line with Nagai’s older gag works with tricks played by little boys at school. A teacher sometimes would have his ass bared but that wasn’t considered unacceptable at the time, until the first scenes of girls being examined appeared, (although very tame), which prompted Nagai’s editor to suggest he go further, which he was eager to do.

Hence, some chapters later, Harenchi Gakuen began to depict pantyshots, naked girls, sexual innuendos and puns. Some panels portrayed nipples and completely exposed naked bodies, which is funny because these aren’t always shown in modern ecchi works The Shonen Jump of the past was more explicit than it is now. Even so, most of Harenchi Gakuen’s content can still be considered quite soft if compared with recent works. Regardless, it shocked Japanese society, with parents, other magazines, TV shows and politicians criticizing his work.

Harenchi Gakuen was considered vulgar and criminal to play with the eroticism of children. Various parent-teacher committees, associations and moral committees were enraged with Go Nagai, since not only was Harenchi Gakuen published in a magazine for young boys that many would read and share in school time, but the depiction of male teachers trying to peek at their female students’ bodies was met with outrage from teachers and parents, to the point Go Nagai was called an “enemy of society”. TV cameras and journalists followed him, especially when he flew out of Tokyo, bombarding him with questions and interview invitations. Eventually, the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) succeeded in banning Shonen Jump in some regions. This prompted the magazine owners to consider cancelling Go Nagai’s manga. In response, he slowly changed his work’s content, from sexy gags to war, violence and murder. Harenchi Gakuen was famous for its first controversial and purposely offensive ending, where the teachers and students talk about freedom of expression and are murdered by PTA members. The manga resumed its publication later, but this “first ending” was notorious as an open attack against Go Nagai’s critics.

During Nagai’s work on Harenchi Gakuen, he also released Abashiri Ikka, a manga released in Weekly Shonen Champion as a counterattack against the criticism over Harenchi Gakuen. Abashiri Ikka deals with the Abashiri family, a criminal clan whose plans sometimes work, sometimes don’t. The series was a gag comedy with ecchi elements, but was dropped when Go Nagai decided to work instead on the highly successful Devilman manga.

Harenchi Gakuen spawned five live-action films, a television drama, a modernized version of the original manga (called Heisei Harenchi Gakuen), one Original Video Animation and a short sequel to the original, Harenchi Gakuen — The Company.

Harenchi Gakuen WAS the work that started it all, at least in regards to manga. The work that started it all for anime was also from Go Nagai.

A little thing called Cutie Honey.

Cutie Honey: the magical girl science fiction for boys and the first female protagonist of a Shonen series

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Cutie Honey and her forms, alongside a generic enemy and her boyfriend

Cutie Honey is a Japanese shonen (boys) manga series written and illustrated by Go Nagai for Weekly Shonen Champion. Both manga and its first anime series were released in 1973. The story follows Honey Kisaragi, a 16 year old schoolgirl who attends a Catholic school. Her father is murdered by the evil organization “Panther Claw” and she learns that she is an android made by him. Inside her lies a device capable of creating matter, “the atmospheric element condenser”. She can use this device to change herself into several different forms.

Cutie Honey’s structure is on par with most basic shonen series of its time, with a hero fighting an evil organization, with a “monster of the week” to be defeated and a very brief plot comprising 5 to 8 minutes of screentime to provide an excuse for the subsequent action and fighting.

According to Go Nagai, Cutie Honey was originally going to have seven transformations. This was the idea of a Toei studios producer. Cutie Honey still mentions Honey’s ability to turn into seven different forms, but more are depicted in the anime. Also according to Nagai, Cutie Honey was meant to be a shojo series, without nudity, suggestive sexual themes or violence. They planned to air the show during the traditional magical girl timeslot from NET TV, but since another show got its place, the timeslot remaining was the same that aired Devilman (one of Nagai’s most famous works). Due to the differences in timeslots, they decided to change it from shoujo to shounen. Action was added and Nagai decided to make Honey naked during transformations, alongside pantyshots and other depictions of her body.

While Cutie Honey’s original manga had two compilation volumes, the anime had 25 episodes, and became significantly more famous than the manga itself. The anime is notorious for its ecchi content: almost every single time Honey wears a skirt, her (white) panties are shown. She is also naked in most transformations sequences and her default battle form features her huge cleavage and ultra tight black pants. When attacked, her clothes frequently rip off at strategic places, such as her breasts or bottom. She is the target of an (apparently) bisexual teacher, a preteen boy (brother of her own somewhat-boyfriend) and even her somewhat-father-in-law. In the manga, most female students, including her best friend Natsuko also have crushes on her, while this is downplayed in the anime.

Her enemies are all women, most as ugly and weird as any 70s shonen series monster, yet still portrayed with voluptuous bodies and suggestive clothing.

Honey is a progressive heroine for her time — mischievous and outgoing, independent, refusing to be protected, teasing towards males, mocking towards villains, and outspoken in opinion while being a strong, capable fighter. That such traits weren’t followed up by subsequent ecchi anime is interesting. There is an ongoing debate on female characters being way passive and dependent in anime and manga, while Cutie Honey wasn’t.

Cutie Honey became a franchise, spanning other works: several manga series, three anime series, OVAs, drama CDs, live action adaptations and more. During its original run, it achieved great ratings and financial success, further boosting Nagai’s reputation, although it was rushed towards the end due to its questionable content.

Nagai was interviewed several times during his career and was always happy to discuss the erotic nature of his works.

In a 2007 interview of Weekly Playboy magazine, he discussed his influences: “I really love foreign movies. I used to read Playboy magazine and, unlike the Japanese women of that time, the women in it used to have these gorgeous, well-balanced bodies,”(…) “For boobs, I took particular inspiration from the Venus de Milo.”. He also said that his work wasn’t about erotism, but a take-that to Japan’s culture of shame: “What I drew was not eroticism. It was all about Japan’s culture of shame. The characters want to show what they’ve got, but they’re too embarrassed to do so. It’s all about the tug of war between men and women. I wanted that embarrassment to be the eroticism of the stories.”

Regarding Nagai’s response against criticism, during a 2015 interview, when asked about complaints due to the erotic tone of his work, he said “If people say you can’t do something, then you want to do it even more. Things that are considered forbidden, means other people aren’t doing them yet!”

Go Nagai always thought that the criticism during Harenchi Gakuen wasn’t against his work, but against Shonen Jump as a whole. At his Go Nagai 50th anniversary exhibition, he explained his thoughts: “I was in my late 20s when society attacked me for Harenchi Gakuen. I didn’t understand why I was being attacked — I didn’t think it was forbidden to draw erotic things in manga.”(…)”It’s kind of embarrassing to think that I became known as a short-tempered guy in my 20s because I fought a lot with editors over things they rejected.”

Even after all these years, he still resolutely defends his work. Nowadays Nagai is very well-known thanks to Devilman and Mazinger-Z, but he always takes time to explain that he wasn’t only trying to please boys with more sexually deviant material, but was subverting Japan’s conservative culture, producing challenging art and creating strong and self-reliant heroines. After all, one of the objectives of art, (at least since late french painter Marcel Duchamp’s “anti-art” pre-dadaism movement) is to provoke feelings and contest society’s standards and status quo. Art is rebellious by nature. Breaking and amending rules and concepts is part of art’s essence.

If Harenchi Gakuen spread the doors open for ecchi in manga, Cutie Honey did the same for anime. Any fan of ecchi must thank Go Nagai for that.

Coming Next!
In the next article of this series, we will explore some of the main ecchi works from the 80s and the 90s, when the main tropes of the genre were given form.

Stay tuned!

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Otakun3000

Written by

Public Servant, Computer Technican, Degree in Journalism, Trilingual. Lover of anime, manga and games, little time to enjoy them all. A taste for lust material.

AniTAY-Official

A Community Blog dedicated to East Asian Culture

Otakun3000

Written by

Public Servant, Computer Technican, Degree in Journalism, Trilingual. Lover of anime, manga and games, little time to enjoy them all. A taste for lust material.

AniTAY-Official

A Community Blog dedicated to East Asian Culture

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