Ecchi Then VS Now: What Has Changed?

NOTE: This article contains sexually explicit images. Viewer’s discretion is advised

When one talks about ecchi anime what are the first things that pop into your head? Panty shots? Sexual innuendo? Women in skimpy clothing? Male characters in precarious situations? These are just a few of the many elements that classify an anime as ecchi. While these elements have been mainstays in most ecchi anime, the way they are used today seems to be a bit different compared to late 20th and early 21st Century anime.

Firstly, it’s important to note that ecchi mostly appeals to a male demographic. However, with shows such as Free!Yuri on Ice and (ironically) Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, which all fetishize the male body in one form or another, it’s interesting to see how ecchi is starting to broaden its appeal to women in the 21st century. Granted, these shows are not classified as “ecchi” in the traditional sense, but it’s important to acknowledge this change when looking at how the genre has changed over time.

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Just look at those gorgeous, muscular features! Are you not aroused? [Anime: Free!]
Another thing to acknowledge is the age-old misunderstanding between ecchi and hentai. This, I’ve found, usually happens with people who don’t watch anime. When they see something sexual happen in an ecchi anime, they immediately classify it as porn. That is not the case. While ecchi does contain sexual innuendo and partial nudity, there are no sexual acts ever committed in the series and the innuendo is mainly used for comedic purposes. However, there have been shows in the past few years that can be considered borderline hentai, specifically Shinmai Maou no TestamentTo Love-Ru Darkness  (especially the OVAs) and High School DxD.

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Anime: Keijo

 

Personally, the biggest change between ecchi then and now is with regards to censorship. In the early 2000s, for example, an anime like Ikki Tousen, which built itself around fan service, explicitly showed girls’ clothing being torn apart while they were fighting each other. Censorship today works twofold: not only is ecchi more streamlined and restricted based on current Japanese TV laws, it also serves as a marketing tool to get viewers to buy the DVD or Blu-Ray releases of the anime, which mostly tends to be uncensored. This is both positive and negative. While getting people to buy the DVD or Blu-Ray releases of anime helps to support the industry in general, the censorship one sees on TV can sometimes detract viewers from actually watching the show. Isucafor example, is guilty of using censorship to attract viewers to buy its Blu-Ray release. Below is a comparison between the TV and Blu-Ray versions:

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Image via Otaku Tale

However, there are some shows that break the fourth wall and acknowledge their censorship. A well known example is Shimoneta, which openly questions censorship by making it the focal point of the series. It takes its premise to an absurd level by imagining what the world would be like under heavy censorship laws.

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Anime: Noucome

While it would be easy to write off ecchi as mere titillation, let us look briefly, then, at Love Hina; a series which has received critical acclaim worldwide and has also won numerous awards. The series’ premise is simple: Urashima Keitaro is a guy who has two dreams: to get into Tokyo University and find the girl he promised to marry one day. However, he is struggling to achieve both those dreams and one day finds out that he is inheriting a girls’ dormitory from his grandmother, much to the dismay of the female tenants already living there.

So the question now is this: how was Love Hina so successful, despite it being an ecchi series? Firstly, the story. Besides the theme of love, Love Hina also addresses themes of friendship and chasing after your dreams, things many people can relate to. Secondly, the character development. Although Love Hina can also be classified as a harem anime, each girl has equal chances to shine, allowing audiences to learn more about their backgrounds and what eventually brought them to Hinata House.

What also made Love Hina successful was how it incorporated elements of the ecchi genre into the storyline. Although Keitaro (unintentionally) finds himself in precarious situations with the girls at many points in the series (which usually ends with him being punched into the air as punishment), these awkward interactions between Keitaro and the girls (particularly Naru), however, act as catalysts for character development and advance the romance element of the story. At the end of the series, Keitaro has such an effect on the girls that most of them fall in love with him.

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Love Hina

This, then, brings us to my final difference between ecchi then and now: most ecchi shows these days lean more towards fan service rather than storytelling. This is a pity, really, as shows such as Love Hina and Karin (Chibi Vampire) illustrate the potential ecchi has in telling heartwarming and romantic stories. By leaning more towards fan service, most ecchi anime come across as generic and generally don’t fair well with audiences. While this may not have been an intensive look at ecchi, I hope this gives a general illustration of how the anime industry is constantly changing and how new norms and ways of watching anime are being developed.

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