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Tentacular! An interview with Toshio Maeda

Date: 2012 December 9th Sunday [12:17] | Posted By: Priss

October 2012's London MCM expo was the most successful ever. It included a stall by influential and controversial manga artists Toshio Maeda. Creator of the the renowned Urotsukidoji and La Blue Girl. We caught with the manga artist and were lucky enough to interview him at the Expo.

NSFW Content Warning. This article contains content that is not safe for work. This article contains an interview with the creator of a certain tentacle based genre of manga.
Full Story
Sucker punch
When anime fans in the UK mark Urotsukidoji (aka Legend of the Overfiend) as one of their first encounters with Japanese animation, it's very telling of their age.

Surreal and sensational, it's an unflinching portrait of the darker desires and impulses of human beings. The story is set partially in the human world but crosses into other realms, including that of the beast men. These different domains converge and collide with the savage inhabitants of the demonic dimension. The consequences are apocalyptic. While the traditional elements of violence, supernatural beings and sex are pretty standard in today's adult manga and anime, Urotsukidoji secured its notoriety and legendary status with an iconic concept – tentacle rape.

The series is one of many created by the man who brought Japan its first experiences of tentacle sex in modern manga, Toshio Maeda. Not since Hokusai's edo era shunga prints had women and tentacles been so graphically entwined in images of such grotesque ecstasy! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dream_of_the_Fisherman's_Wife

Toshio-san is the self-proclaimed father of the tentacle in ero pop culture and it's a status he relishes with pride – on Twitter, he is ‘Tentacle_master'. Now retired, Toshio-san has been meeting fans from across the world to revisit the phenomenon of tentacle sex and to candidly discuss his work and philosophies.

Toshio Maeda artwork

The squid stays in the picture
Tentacle sex is a device that certainly grabs the attention, but Toshio-san's manga was no mere gimmick at the time. He spawned a new form of erotica with a specific purpose in mind – to circumvent Japan's stringent censorship laws. By drawing explicit scenes where a monster ravishes a woman, the sex was no longer between man and woman, or even two people. Thus, Urotsukidoji escaped the clutches of censorship and a hentai genre was born.

Tentacles are now so wrapped up in modern pop culture that they could be considered a clichι, even appearing in the fanservice sequences of comedy series. The beverage ‘Tentacle grape' marketed in the US just goes to show how far the tendrils of Toshio-san's influence have wrapped themselves around the world.

Barbel babble
I had the good fortune to catch up with the tentacle master himself at the 2012 London MCM Expo. Toshio-san is a self-taught English speaker, receiving his tutelage via Western cinema. While he is self-effacing about his language skills, he's an excellent communicator – his English studded with colloquialisms and, when in full flow, both witty and confident.

Many UK fans' first encounters with adult anime were the top-shelf releases of Manga Video and the writings of Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements. As Urotsukidoji marks a starting point for old-school exposure to hentai in the UK, I wanted to start at the roots of Toshio-san's work to understand more about his iconic and demonic devices – the tentacles.

Priss: Aside from being a convenient loophole for censorship, what inspired you to use tentacles in your manga? Is there any element of historical influence from, say, Hokusai, as tentacle sex also features in his erotic art?

TM: Subconsciously, I might have been influenced by Hokusai manga, but when I was young, I never really recorded Hokusai in my mind. Later on, when people mention Hokusai to me, I think about the images of tentacles attacking ladies and then I think, probably, there was something deep down. But it wasn't a conscious choice.

[It's clear from our conversation that, like many manga-ka, Toshio-san deeply respects the masters of edo manga and shunga-e.]

Toshio Maeda artwork

P: In hentai and Western horror, erotica and violence have always been gone hand-in-hand. Why do you think they work together so well?

TM: Before, it was just ordinary, cookie-cutter erotic manga that was written. Even in sci-fi manga, it was just people and no aliens. So you had people in spacesuits and astronauts who would shag another astronaut, and it was so boring! This is why I invented tentacle manga.

P: You can often be pretty self-deprecating about your work, saying that it's trashy, but the stories and characters are, in fact, very complex. Why do you take this stance?

TM: It's the same as English people's attitude to themselves, you know? You are not so proud of yourselves. You don't show off about what you have done. You can meet Americans who might say, "Hi I'm Tom. I've done this, blah, blah, blah. I am the big cheese." And you English people don’t like it, do you?

P: I understand what you mean, but what I was getting at is the quality of your work and how you have at times talked it down.

TM: Well, I think it's more that my manga is not normal. Basically, I grew up reading rental manga and I mostly picked ones that were dark, gloomy and bloody. At the time, I was reading these without my parents knowing, and when something is forbidden it just makes you want to do it more! I became so hooked up with rental manga that I decided that one day I wanted to create manga myself. It's my history, my childhood.

[Toshio-san has cited American comics as being a major influence in the development of his own art style. As a child, he appreciated Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons, but mainstream shonen manga was of little interest to him. He became entranced by the darker side of rental manga.]

TM: It's like in America – they have pulp fiction but their movies are not so good. You know that movie Bridget Jones's Diary, where that America actress is pretending to be English...?

P: It's not convincing, like the movie of Memoirs of a Geisha, none of the main actresses were actually Japanese!

TM: And I think that's crap – it's bullshit, right? You know, I can say my manga is trash, but when you've had a hard time – after you've been working really hard – you need something to let off steam.

Tentacle scenes also keep men and women at a distance physically, whereas normal intercourse is body-to-body. When you keep away from a woman's body you can say, "This isn't sex!" With tentacles you can say, "This is not part of my dick, it's just part of my body. And as I have so many of them, it's just another tentacle." And it goes further because if this character has tentacles it's not even a man, it's a creature, so I can use this flimsy excuse!

P: Tentacles also have the advantage of giving access to different visual angles, which makes for very creative opportunities for the erotic scenes and penetrative compositions in your artwork, right?

TM: Yes. Men need to see women's bodies from a different perspective as it is sexy. If you are restricted to just ordinary sexual positions, it's quite limited and you can't see the different angles of your lover's body. So after maybe 10 or 20 years you can get bored.

P: After all, there is only so much you can do with just two people's bodies. With a creature's anatomy, you have really shown just how you can increase the possibilities for readers. For frustrated, isolated and repressed individuals – especially teenagers experiencing confidence issues about their bodies and sexual desires – I think that reading Urotsukidoji could be quite liberating as it is all about expressing aspects about ourselves we are trying to hide.

TM: I think that, in the past, the English were never public about sex. It was not talked about and I don't know when – perhaps after the 60s – it changed. But even so, they are still a little intimidated about the existence of conception and the concept of sex. So after Akira, my manga was created. Even in Japan, they tend to avoid depicting sex in manga. Yet my work just focuses on violence and sex and the dark side of human beings, and I like that.

I just did it on purpose, contrary to Miyazaki Hayao who makes his films from love and how beautiful people are and that love is beautiful. My manga focuses on the ugly side of human beings and that, truly, people can do any-fucking-thing. But you know, I think we are both aiming for the same thing in our work because they are all portraits of human beings.
[Toshio-san elaborated on the complexity of life and that our existence as members of society often runs contrary to our human nature and desires. He identifies the preoccupation with categorising human differences into a series of binaries – such as black/white, male/female, one/zero – as something that is active in Western culture. Asian cultures on the other hand, Japan in particular, exist in something of a grey zone. Nothing is so simple that it can be separated into neat portions of difference. Toshio-san says that Japan is like a coin with two faces – two opposites. Unless you change your perspective, it cannot seem to be seen together at once. How can you see both sides of the coin simultaneously? You simply spin it. Japan is known as a culture full of contrasting, even contradicting, elements and sensibilities. The metaphor Toshio-san makes is a powerful one.]

Toshio Maeda artwork

TM: In Japan some ideas exist in a circle together with a conflict, so it can be both things at once. But ideas in America or in England are more like a pyramid.

P: A tiered system?

TM: Yes. But I don't think this is the best idea because if you have a pyramid you can't warp positions. Some people know how to warp from basic ideas, but usually you cannot do this. You need reasoning and conclusions, so you cannot get the answer quickly. Sometimes, we need to warp from the basics.

It's not just that. I also put some religious differences from Western countries and Asian countries into Urotsukidoji. I tried to consider these. When you read it deeply, you can recognise these things inside the work.

P: I think that is something to really appreciate about your work. It clearly isn't senseless – despite this being the common reaction to any work that features graphic sex and violence. As you say, your work is about humanity, which has the capacity to be very intelligent indeed.

TM: If you just read the surface, it's ok. Tentacles raping ladies – that's it! If you take it just that way, it's ok. It's up to you! But, of course, if you need to read deeper that's ok too.

P: I think that's a really amazing aspect of your work – that there is depth and value to be found if you engage with what's beneath the surface. Personally, I like ero and I can appreciate hentai manga. I first watched the OVAs and then read your works when I was 15. For me, it was an eye-opener to the levels of creative freedom that manga and anime have when compared to Western animation and comics. It seemed limitlessly creative and a very brave, expressive visual culture.

TM: And for some it's a break from their reality. Someone might wish they were living in a different society or a different city, or they might be really preoccupied with the idea of strange, steamy, passionate sex. But it's impossible, right? We live in a society and we have social relationships – whether with a teacher or a girlfriend – so you can't be allowed to indulge yourself in having such hard sex.

In my manga it seems like some girls are opposed to sex, but actually it's like a game. There are real subtleties in the way ladies change during sexual situations. The lady responds and you have to be highly adaptive about how you react. So it's kind of a game to me, and that's why I write about just that.

P: I heard that you absolutely hate scary movies, is that right?

TM: I feel so scared when I see horror movies! I can't watch them!

P: Really? Is it gory ones, spooky ones or all of them?

TM: All of them! I can't believe there are so many scary movies – you know, like zombies? – and how many people go to see them! I'm like kyaaaaaa~!

P: You know about the moe zombie series at the moment right? There's a show, Sankarea, where you have a sexy, pretty zombie girl who's brought back from the dead by a boy who's a zombie otaku. It's a love story of sorts.

TM: Is that right?!

P: Yes, it's pretty mainstream and it's quite sexy, but at the same time very strange. I don't find the idea of a zombie sexy.

TM: I like cult films and strange films, but horror movies... I know I should see them as a study for my work, but they are just too scary!

P: So do you ever get scared by your own work? Do you ever look at what you've created and feel alarmed by it? There are some pretty scary and grisly scenes in your work. It's not just plain sex, after all.

TM: Creating scary things is another story altogether.

P: Almost like a doctor who has to treat someone who is sexually attractive. The body becomes their work, not an object of desire, even if the patient is sexy?

Toshio Maeda artwork

TM: Exactly. I feel nothing about what I am depicting. You know, even with so many gross things, or showing some strange inner shag, I don't feel anything. I'm just there, listening to jazz.

P: Like, humming and singing?! Totally serene?!

TM: Yeah, just like that!

P: But even if you feel nothing for the scary things you draw, are your characters special to you? Do you have a favourite?

TM: Actually, I like Amano Jyaku because he is a lone wolf, a loose cannon.

P: Are you like that yourself? Is he a reflection of you?

TM: He's a part of me. I always tried to blend into society but I couldn't. I'm from Osaka, and Osaka people have a reputation for having the gift of gab, or for talking gibberish! They crack silly, bad taste, politically incorrect jokes. So whenever I talked, people just responded to the words – which popped out of my mouth rather bluntly.

P: And so people would just make up their mind about your personality based on your Osaka dialect?

TM: Yes, so I became cloistered and a little bit antisocial or unfriendly.

P: That's not the case now – you're really lovely and personable!

TM: Thank you!

P: Have you found the experience of writing for women quite revealing? Are you surprised by the desires of some of your female readers?

TM: Yeah! Female readers are so precise and detailed. They just ask me for the details of a rape scene.

P: Is it always rape scenes that your female readers seem to like?

TM: Yeah.

[Toshio-san is brave, outspoken and a fascinating figure in the history of modern manga. His work is certainly explicit, controversial at times and even offensive – but he has his own moral limits. Lolita complex (lolicon) hentai is something that he finds deeply objectionable. He blames its pervasive presence in current culture on the weakening character of modern men. He believes these men are too afraid of rejection from real women so they fantasize about characters who are very young girls (albeit fictional ones). Loli characters are often sweet, suggestible and compliant, which makes them safe fantasy objects. Not only does Toshio-san refuse to create works that in his opinion feed a perversion, he has even sided with the proposed laws against sexualised loli media.] http://www.sankakucomplex.com/2011/08/04/ldp-push-national-loli-ban-anime-harms-children/

P: How does it feel to see tentacles as a resident element of today's mainstream anime?

TM: (Beaming with pride) It's like I am not just the father but the grandfather of tentacle anime! It's like seeing my children! My offspring!

Toshio Maeda artwork

Otaku News would like to thank Toshio Maeda for being such an excellent interviewee.
Jonathan Marshall for additional editing.
Helen McCarthy for introducing us to Toshio Maeda.

This article has been edited slightly, a full uncut version will be made available in the future.

Toshio Maeda's artwork can be purchased from his website.
You can also purchase:
La Blue Girl Special (Colour) Limited Edition (Adult)
Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend Lithograph/Poster Limited Edition (Adult) from United Publications

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