What is the Deal with Japanese Hentai?

I was reading the news today and I found this article about a Japanese "rape simulator" game. Yes, that's right: it's a rape simulator. In RapeLay, the user follows the main character as he plans to rape three women. The game has interactive assaults and relies on the revolting myth that rape victims enjoy being attacked and that the sex that occurs is consensual. What has humanity come to?

Let me write two important disclaimers about this article. First, if this article unintentionally sounds culturally insensitive or offends anybody I apologize. I realize that games like RapeLay only appeal to a limited number of people both in Japan and elsewhere for that matter. Second, I have never played or seen this game played and relied entirely on the Slate article for descriptions of RapeLay. With that in my mind, let me proceed.

The sad fact of the matter is that RapeLay is distinctly Japanese. Video games with explicit sexual content are referred to as eroge and have considerable market size in Japan. In the highly popular PC game Yume Miru Kusuri, the protagonist, a Japanese high-school male, pursues bizarre sexual relationships with three different women along with a variety of drug abuse. For a quick look at the size of the industry, check out this absurdly long list of pornographic computer games.

But the creepy and bizarre Japanese animated sex does not end with video games. As Leigh Alexander explains about eroge games in the referenced Slate article, "They're usually sold alongside glossy comics, figurines, and animated smut in shops that cater to a common fetish for animated women." In the West, the Japanese term hentai refers to pornographic comics and anime. The slang understanding of this term is usually meant to refer to the large volume of sexually graphic Japanese anime.

What does the popularity and large production of hentai in Japan say about Japanese culture? At the very least, video games like RapeLay that focus on sexual violence are an example of extreme pornography and a good indication of the sexually repressive nature of Japanese society. For a Westerner such as myself, the popularity of even non-violent hentai in Japan is confusing enough. Pornography may be universal, but why choose animated porn? The standard answer of course is that anime is widely popular in Japan and all media forms are eventually used for pornographic purposes (I can say this with a good deal of confidence after visiting the Amsterdam sex museum over winter break). Nonetheless, the appeal of hentai is quite mysterious to me even when I consider the effects of greater Japanese exposure to the media form of anime. I loved Dragon Ball Z as a kid, but I don't think watching lots of other shows exactly like it would make me sexually attracted to anime characters. Also, anime seems like a particularly strange choice for Japan given that Japan had more than 20 million broadband access subscribers as of June 2005, or 43.5 percent of its households with broadband connectivity. In a society loaded with high speed internet access, one would think that people would stick to high resolution videos. Anyways, I hope this topic sparks some interesting conversations.