A transfer of power at the internet’s biggest free anime porn site was supposed to finally make its copyright-infringing operations more legit. Instead, the takeover of Hentai Haven has spurred a civil war within the hentai community.
That conflict came to light yesterday after Hentai Haven’s anonymous founder, who goes by Papa HH, broke his silence after a seven-month absence. “Fakku has completely taken over and booted me out,” he wrote on the front page of the site, which is usually home to a happy medley of balloon-breasted anime girls.“Fakku played me like a cum-stained violin.”
Competing hentai site Fakku took on Hentai Haven last December along with all its legal liabilities. Papa HH wanted to wash his hands of it, fearing legal battles and other piracy dramas. Fakku’s founder, Jacob Grady, told Kotaku that Papa HH is misrepresenting what happened, with what he said have been dire consequences. His staff at Fakku is receiving death threats from furious hentai fans, he said, and he’s now worried about the future of both Fakku and the promising Hentai Haven asset that he acquired last December.
And yet, Grady added: “I fucked up. And God I wish I didn’t.”
The drama between Hentai Haven and Fakku goes back for years, and involves two polar-opposite hentai sites sharing one goal: to build the Netflix of Japanese animated porn. At its peak last year, Hentai Haven attracted enough traffic to sit among the top 1,000 websites in the United States. On average, 2.5 million people watched free anime porn videos on HentaiHaven.org every day. The other, Fakku, is a boutique operation focusing mainly on hentai comics, not videos. Users pay to read the manga on a subscription basis.
HentaiHaven is free, but its videos are hosted without the consent of their creators. Fakku costs money, but creators get paid. At stake in the war between the two sites’ fan bases is the future of Japanese cartoon porn in the West, and whether the bulk of it will wind up as part of a site that’s better known for paying creators but that also might require its users to pay, too.
Since its founding in 2014, Hentai Haven has been offering Japanese artists’ wares at no cost and making ad money off the plentiful page views. In fact, Hentai Haven’s founder told Kotaku that, at peak, the site was earning him $1,000 to $2,000 a day from advertising, very little of which he paid out to the site’s part-time workers. Below-board and piracy-fueled, Hentai Haven was popular among fans but, predictably, not among hentai publishers, who had not yet found legitimate footing in the U.S.
“I was frustrated with the lack of quality hentai websites and lack of English subtitles,” Papa HH told Kotaku. “Piracy is almost always a question of availability. So I decided to start my own fansubbing site that would release English translations to new hentai releases that were out in Japan. That’s how it started.”
In 2016, Papa HH reached out to the owner of Fakku, which also used to subsist off pirated content before going legit in 2015. The two shared the goal of making a super-popular U.S. subscription service for hentai, and discussed it on and off for years. Then, things took a turn.
“Honestly, it was me being kind of pissed,” said Fakku founder Jacob Grady of his decision to appropriate Hentai Haven. “If you search for ‘hentai’ on Google, Hentai Haven is the first thing,” he said, even though Fakku is “the only official hentai publisher in the U.S. doing this stuff.”
“Competing with pirate websites like Hentai Haven is not sustainable and it was really starting to screw us over,” he said.
Fakku is mostly known for hentai comics, but over the last year, had been licensing hentai videos, too. Grady wanted to build the “Crunchyroll of hentai,” he said, referring to the popular subscription anime streaming service. Grady is passionate about paying translators, graphic artists, and localizers “living wages” for work that anime fans have traditionally done for free. He’s also passionate about sharing the wealth with the original hentai artists.
“I think that taking a property like Hentai Haven, like we did with Fakku, and saying, ‘Here’s an option to support the official creators’ is a really good strategy. Or I thought so until yesterday,” he said.
The deal between Fakku and Hentai Haven started to come together in late 2018. Grady had gotten wind that Papa HH’s site might be facing some legal threats over its copyright infringement, and wanted to propose a solution. Papa HH seemed to be starting to realize the inevitability of the problem. “HH is a dead end and I’m pretty much done with it,” he wrote last August in a Discord message that Grady shared with Kotaku. “I’ve reached the top but there’s nowhere to go from here. I need something else to focus on. Something legit. Something I can build up and steamroll everything in its path. And doing it with Fakku would be a sweet deal indeed.”
Meanwhile, Grady wanted to use Hentai Haven to promote Fakku’s entry into the hentai video business. Fakku has about one-sixth of the traffic as Hentai Haven, according to stats from analytics company SimilarWeb.
Papa HH demurred, citing the DMCA takedown requests. “I’ma have to quit HH while I’m ahead,” he said. Four months later, late December, he apparently did. Visitors logging onto Hentai Haven at the close of the year encountered this message:
“HH was born during a time when fansubs were pretty much dying. New shows were subbed weeks after release, most sites had lackluster interfaces and didn’t give a crap about the content they were putting out. HH changed all that. But as a wise man once said, every journey must come to an end – and unfortunately, it ain’t the happy kind this time. There’s plenty of options out there now. Fansubs are faster than ever. Streaming sites are better than ever. There’s no longer a real need for HH. We’ve done our part. Now it’s up to the rest of you to carry the torch. Thank you for visiting and supporting us over the years. It’s been a wild ride. And you will all be sorely missed. Sayonara.”
It seemed like Papa HH was just winding down the site, but behind the scenes, Grady and Papa HH had already inked a deal. The contract, viewed by Kotaku, transferred Hentai Haven and its associated accounts, like Discord and Twitter, from Papa HH to Grady “in exchange for absolving [Papa HH] of all legal responsibility.” Hentai Haven appeared to confirm this in a tweet, which depicted Fakku as a knight in shining armor shielding Hentai Haven, a young maiden, from the FBI.
Hentai Haven then went dark for five months and, until yesterday, Papa HH was silent on the matter. That’s when he briefly retook control over Hentai Haven to post a message beginning with the hashtag #HHisDead.
“Fakku has completely taken over and booted me out,” it read. “Hell, they completely stopped talking to me as soon as I handed over the website and social media credentials. . . . When Fakku told me (conveniently) about some legal trouble headed my way and offered to bail me out last year, I was elated. I still am in fact. But had I know that would’ve cost me my entire website, my baby, I would’ve fucking gone at it on my own.”
In messages viewed by Kotaku, Papa HH repeatedly asks Grady about the status of Hentai Haven and Grady’s suggestion that Papa HH could continue working with Fakku after the transfer of the site. After a month, Grady finally responded: “Let’s part ways for now. Like I said, there is no work to do at the moment.”
Grady said he “basically ghosted the dude from being too busy. . . I actually ghosted pretty much everyone the past month or two cause I’ve been focusing on other stuff,” and adds that he had intended to work with Papa HH—that is, until he read his recent statement, which he had posted to the site without Grady’s authorization.
Grady also told Kotaku that he “HEAVILY exaggerated the threat of DMCA notices” to Papa HH, which may have led him to give up the site. “I did so because we were going to go after him, and I was going to go after him pretty hard. I didn’t tell him that,” he said. “And this is where I fucked up.”
Papa HH’s note sent waves throughout the hentai community, spurring an enormous backlash among the site’s fandom. Several diehard fans are alleging that Grady stole Hentai Haven to profit from it. To rebut this assertion, Grady said that he shut off Hentai Haven’s over $1 million yearly ad contract. He shared a screenshot with Kotaku to corroborate this. “Nobody is making any money,” he said. “In fact, I’m paying out of pocket to keep that thing online because I don’t want the community to disappear.”
In the wake of Papa HH’s post, Grady said, Fakku’s employees began receiving death threats, which another Fakku employee corroborated. “Hope you and your entire family drowns,” read one message to a Fakku affiliate, who said that she got Discord messages including “threats both to my life, my families’ life, and threats of rape.”
Tonight, Grady and Papa HH finally spoke to each other for the first time in months. “I talked to him and got him to delete his statements, but it wasn’t settled in a friendly way,” said Grady. Now, Grady is biding his time and hoping to collect more hentai licenses from Japanese publishers. He said he wants to keep Hentai Haven free, in part because of the harassment he received after putting Fakku behind a paywall. He figures Hentai Haven will make a ton of money off advertisements, as it has in the past.
The piracy-based hentai business, Papa HH said, is no longer “sustainable.”
“I would say this to other piracy sites - look for ways to legitimize your business ASAP,” he said. “I’m one of the few lucky ones who got out and didn’t get sued. But you won’t be lucky forever. Japan will be cracking down harder than ever as the months go by. Quit while you still can and invest your money in something legit.”
Like most other kinds of porn, hentai is something that people have come to expect to be available for free online. The fear that Hentai Haven and its kin will go the way of paid services like Netflix or Crunchyroll sparks fear in the hearts of animated porn buffs. The future is unclear, but what’s evident about what transpired between Fakku and Hentai Haven is that the adult animation business still has a lot of growing up to do.