20 years ago, that is, in August 2002, a father in Tokyo's 17th district found a copy of Himedorobō Best Collection in his teenage son's room which made him nervous about its content. The manga featured 15 stories that involved depictions of explicit sex. Among these stories, the one that most worried the father was a narrative entitled “Mutual love”, about a prostitute who satisfies a client’s sadistic sexual desires, including whipping, spanking and bondage, and who confesses, in the end, that she likes it all.
Target of the Father's Anger
The work in question is actually a type of pornographic manga, known in the West as hentai, aimed at people over eighteen years of age. The hentai that was the target of the father's anger is a manga anthology by various artists called Himedorobō Best Collection, published by Shōbunkan in August 2002, with around 15,000 copies sold. “Mutual love” (Figure 98 to 113 - Premium Only), which prompted the father to write a letter of complaint to his representative Hirasawa Katsuei in the Diet (Japanese parliament), had previously been published in the August 2001 edition of the monthly Himedorobō, which had a circulation of 45,000; and then in Misshitsu (Honey Room) in May 2002, which sold 20,544 copies.
Obscure the Genitals
Upon initiating investigations of Himedorobō Best Collection magazine, the police realized that the volume contained works by fifteen manga artists, which would make the trial slow and complicated. It was therefore decided to sue the writer and illustrator of “Mutual love”, Yūji Suwa under the pen name Beauty Hair, and the manga where the work was originally published, Misshitsu (蜜室), with the justification that, unlike other adult manga, according to the police assessment, "the genitals and scenes of sexual intercourse, etc., are drawn in a detailed and realistic way”. Furthermore, the self-censorship by the publisher, which was supposed to obscure the genitals and avoid getting into trouble with the police, was almost transparent and covered very little of what it was intended to do.
Sexually Explicit Scenes
The title Misshitsu (蜜室), which can be translated into English as “honey room,” literally has the meaning of “locked or hidden room”. Except for the first story, “New heroine”, which begins with sexually explicit scenes and has four pages in color (Figure 02 to 04), the other seven narratives have two to three pages of introduction, in which we are introduced to the characters, followed by eleven to thirteen pages of explicit sexual depiction, in which the representation of sexual acts takes place, and one page of conclusion. The layout of the pages follows the manga’s pattern, with the fragmentation of the action and the bodies of the characters performed by varying sizes of panels, with the framing of genitals in the moments of penetration.
Court in Handcuffs
In October 2002, Shobunkan president Kishi Motonori, editor-in-chief Takada Ko'ichi and artist Beauty Hair were arrested and taken to court in handcuffs. In 2004, they were found guilty in the first instance. Takada and Beauty Hair accepted a fine of 500,000 yen each, but Kishi Motorori contested the decision. The case was retried, and in 2005 another guilty verdict was handed down, with Kishi's fine increased to 1.5 million yen. On another appeal, the case was heard by Japan's Supreme Court, which in 2007 upheld the two previous guilty verdicts and the 1.5 million yen fine for Kishi Motonori.
Exposure of Genitals
What had started with a typical case involving inappropriate content, exposure of genitals and depiction of non-standard behavior, ended up being interpreted differently by the Supreme Court, insinuating that any adult who wants to read this type of manga is perverted enough to commit crimes of a sexual nature. According to Kirsten Cather: “In fact, they [the court] asserted their concern was not keeping the book from those who should not see it (ie, youths) or even from those unsuspecting passersby who did not want to see it, but precisely those readers who wanted to see it”.
Shunga As Evidence
As the father and the police denounced Misshitsu for the obscene exposure of the genitals and the Supreme Court insisted that the pornography in the manga is related to sex crimes, the defense submitted the shunga as evidence that, in its past, Japanese culture had no problem in displaying the genitalia. The judges refuted this argument, saying that shunga is art, traditional and Japanese while manga is nothing like that. According to them, shunga is aligned with the practices of reproductive and healthy sex, while hentai encourages isolation and masturbation. As Patrick W. Galbraith points out: “In the process, the discussion shifted from the particulars of the content (genital exposure, taboo sex) to how the medium of comics functions and how it stimulates readers”. Therefore, the paradigm shifts during the trial focused on how the manga excites the reader more than if he were in front of shunga or photograph.
Continue reading in Premium and check out the complete article including, among other things, nice insights on manga aesthetics, and why Misshitsu is such a rare artifact. All this larded with no less than 113 (!) additional images depicting explicit kinky adventures!
Click HERE for an article on Jun Hayami's poetic obscenity in his subversive hentai art