Magazine, Issue 3.4, July 1998
The Anime "Porn" Market
by Fred Patten
What is Anime?
There is a general awareness today that
the market for anime is growing in the U.S. However, there is less awareness--or
agreement--as to exactly what "anime" is.
"Anime" or "animé" is the Japanese word for
cinematic animation, taken from the English word "animation."
To the anime enthusiasts in America, "anime" means any animation
produced in Japan, no matter the intended audience--whether a TV cartoon
series for young children (Samurai Pizza Cats and Sailor Moon
are two recent examples, and there was a Japanese TV animated serialization
of Heidi, Girl of the Alps in 1974, eight years before Hanna-Barbera's
Heidi's Song feature), an animated adult cultural feature (there
have been two feature-length animated productions of The Diary of Anne
Frank), or an action-adventure thriller filled with violence and sexual
However, since the main American market for anime consists of teens and
adults looking for light entertainment, that is just about all that gets
licensed for American release. Most juvenile cartoons and the adult intellectual
animation tends to remain on their studios' shelves in Tokyo. As a result,
a perception has been growing in America that "anime" is synonymous
with violent, sexual animation only. A February 1, 1998 New York Times
story on contemporary Japanese animation comments on its wide range, but
emphasizes that "animé refers strictly to `adult' Japanese
animation ... racy, battle-ravaged animé ... `pornimation,' as some
of the steamier romps with Western-looking women, from college girls to
the princesses of sci-fi legend, are sometimes called in the United States
... animé is all violence and sex ..." The article also refers
to one of Japan's most popular children's TV cartoon stars, the robot cat
Doraemon, as "scantily clad;" an innuendo equivalent to identifying
Donald Duck or Porky Pig only as cartoon characters who go about in public
without any pants on.
This has reached the point that major American animation presenters with
Japanese titles in their lineups are trying to disassociate themselves
from the "anime" label. Michael Johnson, president of Buena Vista
Home Entertainment, said in Daily Variety, February 13, 1998, of
Disney's forthcoming U.S. release of Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 Japanese box-office-record-breaking
feature Princess Mononoke, "This is not anime ... it's
not effects-driven or violence-driven." Mike Lazzo, vice president
of programming for the Cartoon Network, assured the public in USA Today,
December 18, 1997 that anime is not shown on American TV. "Japan animation
is so different from what airs here ... It's far edgier, adult and violent.
Anime isn't very story-based ... The story is hard to follow." When
it was pointed out that the Cartoon Network shows Speed Racer and
Voltron, both juvenile action-adventure TV cartoon series produced
in Japan, Lazzo said that "neither show is in the style of anime."
(In the original Japanese version of Voltron, the Earth is completely
destroyed by the space villains. That episode is omitted from the heavily
rewritten American version.)
This evolution of the definition of anime will doubtlessly be intensified
by the increasing importation of Japanese animated adult erotic fare, to
mix with the action-adventure anime market. When the first anime-genre
videos were released in 1990-91 through mail order and direct sales to
the comic-book fandom specialty stores, it was understood by this market
that these were animated equivalents of movies like The Terminator
and Die Hard, full of explosions, blood-'n-guts, adult dialogue,
and often a brief risqué nude scene. Around 1994 the anime videos
expanded into the major video mass-market chains and became accessible
to the general public, which tends to assume automatically that all animated
cartoons are safe for children. This resulted in the necessity for warning
advisories on the video boxes such as "Contains violence and nudity;"
"Contains brief nudity and mature situations. Parental discretion
advised;" and, "Recommended for Mature Viewers." But these
did not yet include explicit sexual titles.
| Osamu Tezuka tried to create a popular
acceptance of animation in 1969 with One Thousand and One Nights which
contained all the erotic innuendo of the original Persian tales. ©
Asian attitudes towards eroticism have
always been more open than those of the West. One of the earliest Japanese
TV cartoon series was Sennin Buraku (Hermits' Village), a
fifteen-minute late-night erotic humor anthology roughly equivalent to
"Playboy's Ribald Classics" which aired from 11:40 to
11:55 p.m. for two months in 1963. Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) is revered
as the father of both Japan's comic book and animation industries, writing
and illustrating the series known in America as Astro Boy and Kimba,
the White Lion. It is less well known that Tezuka also tried to create
a popular acceptance of animation with intellectually artistic mature themes.
In November 1966, he produced Pictures at an Exhibition, a Fantasia-like
transformation of Mussorgsky's famous composition into a modern political
cartoon, presenting the musical "pictures" as satirical portraits
of ruthless corporate bosses, affectedly aesthetic artists, scandal-mongering
journalists, rebellious teens, vapid TV personalities and the like. In
June 1969, he released One Thousand and One Nights, a 128-minute
adult adaptation of The Arabian Nights full of adventure, Rabelaisian
humor, and all the erotic innuendo of the original Persian tales. This
was a major theatrical release, intended by Tezuka to be comparable to
Western live-action movie adaptations of such adult literary classics as
Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lolita.
Japanese animated explicitly adult cartoons developed along with the general
animated direct-to-video market. The first Japanese Original Animated Video
(OAV) title was a science-fiction drama, Dallos, released in December
1983. The third OAV release, on February 21, 1984, was Lolita Anime
I: Yuki no Kurenai Kesho * Shojo Bara Kei (freely translated, Crimson
Cosmetic on the Snow * Young Girls' Rose Punishment). This half-hour
video, first in the short-lived Wonder Kids erotic anime series,
consisted of two 15-minute dramas of rape and sadistic sexual torture/murder
of schoolgirls, whose spirits exact a gruesome supernatural vengeance.
Of the seventeen OAVs released during 1984, six were "general"
and eleven were pornographic. In 1985, after the viability of the direct-video
market for action-adventure anime had been established, the total was 28
action-adventure titles to just another eleven porno titles. The Japanese
domestic OAV market has grown accordingly, over the past decade, with 1997's
output of 162 "general" titles and 62 erotic titles (including
some multiple volumes of series) being about the average ratio.
The Anime Porn Players
There are differences of opinion as to what constitutes "anime
porn," but four anime specialty video producers have special labels
for their releases which primarily emphasize nudity and explicit adult
sexual situations. These are A.D. Vision's SoftCel Pictures series, Central
Park Media's Anime 18 series, Media Blasters' Kitty Media series, and The
Right Stuf International's Critical Mass series.
The other anime specialty producers state that they are not interested
in getting into the video erotica market. However, most of them have at
least one adult feature in their catalogues which includes a brief but
intense "shocker" scene such as a graphic rape. For some sensibilities,
this is enough to establish the movie as pornography.
Two such companies, Manga Entertainment (ME) and Streamline
Pictures, feel that their video box art makes it clear to the public that
their anime titles are adult action-adventure rather than eroticism. Chicago-based
Manga Entertainment's media relations representative, Danielle Opyt, says,
"Due to the basic nature of anime, all of our videos bear a distinctive
sticker showing our Manga Man cartoon spokesman and our flaming Manga Entertainment
logo, with the warning, "Manga Man Says Parental Discretion Advised."
This covers everything from strong language to brief nudity and graphic
violence." Carl Macek, president of Streamline Pictures in Los Angeles,
says, "We have always presented anime for a wide range of tastes,
from child-friendly to movies whose main characters are engaged in such
obviously mature activities as smoking and drinking cocktails. Those which
contain brief but intense adult situations carry an appropriate warning
notice. In 1994 we arranged with Orion Home Video to distribute most of
our titles, and Orion created a "Not For Kids" sticker which
it has automatically put on all the Streamline video boxes. This includes
the whole range from PG-level content to R-level content."
| Adult-themed or explicit anime releases
in the U.S. are usually accompanied by warning labels. Samples shown here
are courtesy of Streamline Pictures, Manga Entertainment and Central Park
Central Park Media and Urotsukidoji
| Urotsukidoji, the best-known "anime porn" title, and the one which
started the American adult video market. Image courtesy of Central Park
The best-known "anime porn"
title, and the one which started the American adult video market, is the
notorious Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend; first of the "erotic
grotesque" (more popularly known as "tentacle porn") genre.
This began in Japan with the January 1987 release of the first of a five-video
adaptation of Toshio Maeda's horror comic-book novel, produced by West
Cape Corporation, best known in America for its Space Cruiser Yamato/Star
Blazers space adventure series. Urotsukidoji is about the invasion
and conquest of Earth by oversexed supernatural demons who enslave humanity
and use our women as their sexual playthings. Generations pass. There are
human plots to destroy the monsters, which often attempt to take advantage
of their sexual obsession and turn it against them. The tale becomes more
complex when a third group eventually emerges of human/monster crossbreeds,
rejected by both parents. They are intellectually inclined to join the
humans, but their intense carnal drives are still too uncontrollable to
make them comfortable allies for the human rebels. Sequels eventually extended
the series to eleven videos.
The first Urotsukidoji episode, a complete story in itself, was
dubbed into English by John O'Donnell, president of New York City's Central
Park Media (CPM) video distribution company, which had been releasing adventure
anime videos since October 1991 under its U.S. Manga Corps label. Urotsukidoji
was actually premiered theatrically in London at a two-day anime film festival
on October 30 - 31, 1992, where it played to sold-out screenings on both
days. Its American release was at NYC's Angelika Theater in January 1993.
It began a national art theater tour in June, which resulted in local press
coverage practically everywhere it played about how "Japanese animation
certainly isn't like American animation!" CPM scheduled it for a video
release in August, 1993.
According to Valerio Rossi, CPM's marketing/production coordinator, it
was the company's realization that Urotsukidoji was too sexually
intense to fit into its U.S. Manga Corps "boys' adventure" line
that led to the creation of the separate Anime 18 label. All five episodes
were released, both on video tape and laser disc, between August and December
1993. They sold so well, and generated so many requests from anime fans
for more of the same nature, that CPM's Anime 18 releases have been appearing
steadily since then. Plus, the original 35 mm Urotsukidoji story
is still popular on the art theater circuit as a midnight feature.
A Closer Look at the Labeling
A.D. Vision, in Houston, released its
first anime video in November 1992. For the next two years, its A.D. Vision
Films label included both regular action-adventure anime and some of the
milder erotic comedies such as F3 (Frantic, Frustrated & Female)
, often with editing of brief explicit scenes to make them suitable
for a "Parental Guidance Recommended" warning. The company's
first release under its SoftCel Pictures label, reserved for an emphasis
of explicit adult scenes, was The Legend of Lyon in November 1994.
A.D. Vision put out 19 SoftCel Pictures releases during 1995 and 12 through
the first half of 1996, some of which were rereleases of previous A.D.
Vision Films titles in their unedited form.
Janice Williams, A.D. Vision's production coordinator,
says that the company has had very few SoftCel releases since June 1996,
but that is not because they have not sold well. "They are almost
all still in print and selling very consistently. A.D. Vision made a tremendous
investment in mid-1996 to license a great quantity of general anime titles.
We are currently working through a big production backlog getting them
onto the market before we can produce new SoftCel releases. We constantly
get e-mail requests from our fans asking when we are going to put out a
new SoftCel title. We will definitely resume them soon."
| F3 (Frantic, Frustrated & Female)
, one of A.D. Vision's earlier
releases, is now available in rerelease on its SoftCel Pictures label.
Image courtesy of A.D. Vision. © 1994 WAN YAN A GU DA/Pink Pineapple.|
The Right Stuf International, in Des Moines, does not consider itself really
in the adult market. President Shawne Kleckner says, "Manga Entertainment
released an edited version of Violence Jack and a lot of fans wanted
to see it uncut, so we arranged with ME to release an unedited edition
(in November 1996). It was too intense for our regular Right Stuf line,
so we created the Critical Mass label. Then in 1997 we had a chance to
license a really funny adult comedy, Weather Report Girl, and we
did not want to pass it up. We do not have any specific plans at present
for any more Critical Mass releases, but there will doubtlessly be more
when the right titles come along."
The newest anime specialty producer/distributor, New
York City's Media Blasters, actually began with its adult line, Kitty Media.
President John Sirabella says, "Our first video was Rei-Lan: Orchid
Emblem, on May 6, 1997, and we have released at least one Kitty Media
title every month since then. I was already working in the anime field
with the Software Sculptors line through Central Park Media, and I saw
that there was a large Japanese adult animation source which was still
relatively untapped for this country. The potential American market was
very good, but the existing anime distributors were only putting out a
few releases. They had solid general release catalogues, and they were
nervous about the repercussions of getting into the adult market in a major
way. So I started Kitty Media to be the best and biggest company in the
adult anime market. Now that we have a solid backlist of over a dozen titles,
we are expanding Media Blasters beyond the Kitty Media label. Our first
AnimeWorks label release, which carries a "Kid Safe = For Audiences
of All Ages!" logo, was Ninku the Movie in March. We are also
starting a couple of live-action labels, Kaiju Productions for monster
movies in the Godzilla and Rodan vein, and Tokyo Shock for
the Japanese equivalent of the Hong Kong action thrillers. It has been
the success of Kitty Media that is making this growth possible."
| Weather Report Girl, one of a few titles released on the Right Stuf's
Critical Mass label. Image courtesy of the Right Stuf. © 1994 O.B.
Planning/Toho Co. Ltd.|
Anime Does Not Equal Pornography
A.D. Vision, Central Park Media and Media Blasters are all happy with the
adult market, but they are not as pleased with the public's perception
of it as synonymous with pornography. Sirabella says that, "There
are varying degrees of adult," some of which do not involve eroticism
at all. "One of our new Kitty Media releases, Dark Cat, is
definitely not for children. It is a shocking horror film with intense
violence, but no sexual situations."
Two CPM staffers are more perturbed by the public's dismissal of all anime
as pornography. Valerio Rossi says, "Frankly, we are considerably
disturbed by what seems to be a growing trend to consider anime as nothing
but sex and brutal violence. That is a complete distortion of CPM's catalogue.
Our Anime 18 titles, as popular as they are, account for only about 10%
of our anime releases; between 5% and 10%. CPM releases almost a half-dozen
anime videos a month among four different labels. There are two or three
U.S. Manga Corps releases and one or two Software Sculptors releases every
month. Those are popular action-adventure, horror or comedy titles. The
U.S. Manga Corps anime is more mainstream and the Software Sculptors titles
are more "alternate" or artistic. Our main Central Park Media
label, which is our general label for mostly non-Japanese videos such as
live-action documentaries, only includes an anime release every two or
three months. Those are usually adaptations of Japanese literary works,
such as Grave of the Fireflies and the Animated Classics of Japanese
Literature series. Our Anime 18 titles average only one a month or
six weeks; maybe eight or nine a year. So that's only eight or nine adult
titles compared to 45 to 50 anime titles a year without sexual content.
That makes it very frustrating to hear someone say, `Oh, yeah, I know about
anime. It's those porno cartoons from Japan.'"
Jeff Zitomer, CPM's supervisor of production and marketing, feels that
even the anime that emphasizes sexual content is misrepresented by being
equated with pornography. "There is an important misconception in
thinking of the adult anime labels like Anime 18 as animated pornography.
If you look at actual pornographic videos, you'll see that they have no
real story, no characters or character development, no attempt at imaginative
camerawork--just close-ups of straight sex. The adult anime market is actually
aimed at viewers who want intense adult situations in real stories, whether
it's dramatic action or humor. There are eleven video volumes in the Urotsukidoji
saga, and its story progress is actually more important than the sex. You
could fast-forward through the naughty scenes and still have an interesting
story to follow. The sexual nature of the story puts it into a unique category;
it's not just a horror movie with a lot of sex scenes which could be taken
out without changing the story. The Anime 18 line is not a porno line as
much as a next step in animated storytelling for mature audiences, as the
next step in adventure films beyond PG is an R rating. Our Anime 18 titles
are for adults who want even more mature situations and dialogue in their
suspense or their comedy, but who definitely want a story and interesting
characters rather than just naked bodies engaged in sex."
However, the sexual content of the adult anime market is undeniable.
This has created some special emphases in acquisitions and marketing. John
Sirabella says, "There are definite legal restrictions which must
be taken into consideration. The main problem is that U.S. child pornography
laws forbid showing children in sexual situations, so all the characters
in erotic videos have to look 18 or older. But this is not a restriction
in Japan. Also, Japanese women are so small that even one who is supposed
to be an adult may look underage by our standards. We have to turn down
more adult anime titles than we can accept because the characters look
too young to be called adult."
CPM's Jeff Zitomer concurs. Due to the American tendency to assume that
cartoons are for kids, CPM is very careful that the packaging of every
Anime 18 video makes it unmistakable that it contains adult content and
is for adult viewers only. This is done in a tasteful manner which emphasizes
the story's dramatic content rather than a sex-appeal hard-sell, but which
leaves no way that a parent or a video-shop clerk could mistake it as suitable
for children or young teens. Also, due to recent federal child pornography
laws, the packaging and a special video header at the beginning of the
tape states clearly that the entire cast is 19 years old or older.
The adult anime market exists primarily through direct sales: mail-order
to customers, and wholesale to specialty shops which cater to anime and
to comic-book fans. CPM's Joe Cirillo, sub-licensing coordinator, says
that at the anime fan weekend conventions which are spreading around America,
"The Anime 18 titles often almost sell out by the end of the first
day." All three companies refer to their adult labels as safe, steady
sellers. In comparison with the general anime market, there are no best-sellers
but no bombs, either. Also, there are almost no adult titles which start
off selling strongly but soon taper off. They just sell steadily--and without
requiring the advertising expenditures needed to promote the general anime
Speaking of the comic-book specialty market, CPM is also a publisher (as
CPM Manga) of American editions of Japanese adventure comic books, especially
those which are the sources of the anime titles which CPM sells. The company
is about to launch an adult label, CPM Manga X, beginning in July 1998.
The May issue of Diamond Dialogue, the promotional magazine of Diamond
Comics Distributor, describes CPM Manga X as "... bringing Japan's
best adult manga to American audiences ... in a 32-page, black-&-white
format priced at $2.95 per issue. The line will open with the English translation
of the manga version of the adult anime classic Urotsukidoji: Legend
of the Overfiend #1, written and illustrated by Toshio Maeda. The manga
will contain many scenes which were not included in the video series ...
(A highlight of the first issue for Overfiend fans will be a manga
treatment of the film's classic scene in the nurse's office.)"
On the whole, the anime distributors have not been able to get their adult
labels into the general home video market yet. Cirillo refers to the major
video distributors and video retail chains as "staying clear"
of adult anime. Sirabella says that some distributors and chains carry
the Kitty Media titles, while others will not take them. All three anime
distributors try to produce two versions of their releases (but with some
titles this is not possible); one uncut for the adult market and a "general
release" version that will be acceptable to the chains like MusicLand
and Sam Goody's.
Still Outside the Mainstream
The general American adult TV/video market remains largely untapped.
Cirillo says that Penthouse Comix has reviewed some of the Anime
18 videos, but that the adult pay-per-view TV channels are mostly not interested.
Sales to the American erotic-shop market have been very small, and the
anime distributors have mixed feelings about trying to increase them. Sirabella
says, "The adult book and video specialty shops have a bad reputation
for non-payment. Also, the American erotic video industry is used to price-points
of $9.95 or less, which we can't sell at. And the anime specialty industry
is having enough trouble with anime's reputation as nothing but sex &
violence for us to want to risk making it all look even more like pornography
through guilt by association by increasing anime's visibility in the sex
(Intriguingly, the first adult anime to be released in America appeared
in adult book shops in the late 1980s. The Brothers Grime was a
three-video cartoon-pornography series produced by Excalibur Films, Inc.
of Fullerton, CA in 1986, 1987, and 1988, using titles primarily from Japan's
Cream Lemon series, the most popular of Japan's erotic anime before
Urotsukidoji. Since Excalibur Films had no creative ties to the
anime field, there was no attempt to remain faithful to the original versions.
A secretary at Excalibur says that The Brothers Grime is still selling
well today, and she has no idea why the company never followed those three
videos up with more anime imports. The Cream Lemon series is one
in which most of the characters appear to be much too young to be plausibly
described as over 18.)
None of the anime distributors are willing to discuss sales figures, but
John Sirabella makes a broad estimate that adult anime is about 30% to
40% of the overall anime market. "If the general market is $100,000,000,
that means that the adult videos are selling $30,000,000 to $40,000,000
a year." This is disputed by CPM's sales director, Mike Pascuzzi,
who estimates that the adult sales only make 15% to 20% of the general
market. "Don't forget that there are several other anime video releasers
such as Viz Video, Pioneer, AnimEigo and Urban Vision which do not have
an adult label at all. They may have a few individual titles which require
a Mature Audiences warning due to R-level content, but they are not really
in the adult market." This may be a difference in perception as to
what constitutes the "adult anime market" as distinct from the
general market. Would a raunchy adolescent comedy full of college-fraternity
style humor such as panty raids, peeking into the womens'-gym showers and
foul-mouthed dialogue, but no explicit sex, count as an adult or as a general
Although the dividing line between general anime and adult anime may be
vague, there is a definite adult market. All the anime companies producing
for that market agree that sales are steady, and increase as a direct result
of the number of titles available. There is no sign yet of any saturation
level. As long as production in Japan turns out 50 or 60 new titles per
year, there appears to be the potential for unlimited growth. Many, though
not all, of the adult cartoon videos range from mild eroticism to explicit
pornography. However, there does not seem to be a broad correlation between
the anime pornography audience and the market for American-made stag cartoons
and live-action sex films. The overlap so far is minor, and the American
general erotic video/TV market does not seem to be interested in tapping
into the lode of Japanese animated titles.
The immediate concern of the American anime industry is not expanding its
adult market share as much as doing damage control to keep a public conception
from solidifying that all anime is pornographic, which could be highly
injurious to the potentially much larger market for general action-adventure
anime. Ironically, anime enthusiasts--the hard-core fans as well as the
manufacturers--have been citing for years the theatrical animation of Hayao
Miyazaki as well as popular TV series such as Speed Racer and Sailor
Moon as examples of the best in anime, which they have hoped will transcend
the "anime cult" reputation and popularize Japanese animation
with the general public. Now these titles are being marketed to the general
public, by major American animation purveyors who are denying that they
are anime--who are promoting them as "much better than that notorious
Japanese low-quality sex-&-violence anime." The next couple of
years may see which definition of anime will become standardized in America.
Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines
since the late 1970s.
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