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What's Up With The Tentacles?

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The latest trailer for Japanese survival horror game The 3rd Birthday features phallic looking tentacles. Tentacles, again with the tentacles. What gives, Japan?

One of the earliest (if not the earliest) pieces of tentacle erotica is The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (NSFW) by Edo-period artist Hokusai, who is one of Japan's greatest artists. The early 19th century woodblock print follows in a tradition of a sub-genre showing women engaged in sexual activity with sea creatures. The art aimed to be both erotic and metaphoric.


The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife shows what could be viewed as a mutual act of coitus and not the sadomasochistic "tentacle rape" that has penetrated anime, manga and even video games in the 20th century. The tentacle has come to be a place holder, a substitute.

During the Post War Era, the U.S. Occupying forces stepped up censorship to maintain control over the country and snuff out criticism. Censorship even went as far as to stop the reporting of rapes by servicemen. Censorship of erotica in Japan began during the Meiji Era over concerns that the expression of sexuality would be looked down upon by Westerners. Nudity in Japan traditionally has not been viewed as taboo like in some Western countries. However, according to Article 175 of the Japanese Criminal Code, individuals who exhibit and distribute obscene "pictures" or "documents" can be subject to plenty under the law.


While the law came into effect in 1907, the interpretation of it has changed over time. Thus, from the Post War years right up through the 1980s, pubic hair was deemed obscene and heavily censored. In the 1990s, famed photographer Kishin Shinoyama (who photographed the cover of John Lennon's Double Fantasy album) released photo books depicting pubic hair. (Incidentally, last fall his office and home were searched by police for a series of nude photos he took that were deemed indecent. The photos were taken in a cemetery.)


The West as well has used tentacles, or rather, tentacle-like appendages in popular culture. Roger Corman's reworking of Alien, the 1981 film Galaxy of Terror, featured a scene in which scream queen Taaffe O'Connell is attacked by a 12-foot worm. In the scene, tentacles wrap around a slime-covered O'Connell as she is brought to finale — and killed. Even after edits, the film was still so graphic that it earned the film an X-rating.

But it wasn't until the mid-to-late 1980s that "tentacle rape" was depicted in Japanese anime. The hugely influential erotic artist Toshio Maeda (NSFW) began using it as a trope to side-step censorship. His work, however, has been deemed obscene in the West.


According to Maeda, it was "illegal" to create scenes depicting intercourse. "I thought I should do something to avoid drawing such a normal sensual scene," Maeda tells The Tokyo Reporter. "His tentacle is not a penis as a pretext. I could say, as an excuse, this is not a penis, this is just a part of the creature. You know, the creatures, they don't have a gender. A creature is a creature." Thus, it is not obscene and not illegal.


The tentacle itself has become a parody of sorts for Japanese "hentai" (perverted) manga, anime or video games. It is often overused and overplayed, and even in Japan, it is sometimes used ironically — as parody, even. But is this parody in The 3rd Birthday? The game certainly seems smart enough for that to be the case.