S.EXE: Hentai Edition (NSFW)

Nina and I are NSFWI have been aware, for a while at least, that for S.EXE you wanted me to do something on Hentai/eroge/H games, and so this week I fulfilled your wish with Da Capo.

For a pretty long time I didn’t want to cover Hentai, the main reason being that I couldn’t find one that appealed to my personal libido and I am very selfish. (Though when living in Japan I did spend a lot of time in manga shops and in sex shops merely attempting to understand the discourse around sex in Japan (I wasn’t getting laid at all).) (Maybe my lurking in those places was the reason?) But the other reasons I didn’t negotiate these waters sooner is that I find them full of problematic approaches to youth, incest, to consent, and to sex that even as an adult who enjoys a perverse fantasy or two it breaks me out of that and into the ‘this isn’t hot this is a nightmare’ mindset. It turns out even Hentai games with all men in them can be predicated on sexual assault scenarios. But I delve into Da Capo just for you, my dears.

‘Hentai’ in Japanese is just a shortened form of ‘hentai seiyoku’ which means a bizarre sexual perversion or desire, but internationally speaking ‘Hentai’ can mean any media that includes recognisably Japanese-styled sexual situations, usually anime or manga that includes pornographic material. Hand-drawn naked women presenting themselves as if they were feline, looking slightly blushy and ‘oh you just found me with my clothes off’, indicating that now is the time the player should get their joystick out and start going Mario Party on it. As I am currently in the residence of Nina Freeman, prolific maker of games about sex and who purports to have a PHD in Hentai (according to her Twitter handle), I asked her if we could play through one together. Nina explored Hentai back in her youth when it took bloody ages to download pictures of cute semi-naked manga women. I admire her commitment.

Da Capo is a Hentai visual novel that was released in 2002 on PC, and was described by publishers Circus as a “ticklish school romance adventure” whatever that means (is it a school of tickling/is it a ticklish school/do the schools romance?). In this game you play a young dork called Junichi, a schoolboy who has a mop of dark hair and some trousers that (as you will see later in the video) refuse to fully come off even though he is desperate to do the bad thing with one of seven adorable schoolgirls.

There are really only very few choices you can make in the narrative, because narrative in Hentai games, though they are about graphic sex scenes, usually have an emphasis on text-based storytelling. Da Capo is very text-heavy, a game that isn’t afraid to waste hours and hours of your time on the pontifications and neuroticisms of small talk conceived by a small boy who is desperately trying to distract the girl he is looking at from the Empire State building of an erection he is nursing.

Da Capo’s curiously flirtatious with the player in that it will often try to trick you into thinking something sexy will happen with a girl, and then it doesn’t. This is easily the most enjoyable part of the game: the part where the narrative becomes meta-narrative, the self-awareness of the dialogue. Often you feel like the writer is winking at you behind the screen.

The structure of Da Capo is actually one of the most frustrating things about it: it isn’t obvious when you are making a choice, and you have to set your ‘alarm’ for one of three times each morning which is, unbeknownst to the player, also setting a course for which girl you might pursue successfully into the sack (Kotori likes you to get to school on time). (This begs the question, am I getting up early enough in the morning to bang my crush of choice? Is this how it works? I am fucking awful at mornings and this is why I am single.) You also have to try to predict where in the school your crush will be hanging out in order to speak to her, which can be annoying to try and figure out.

Halfway through the game Junichi takes a pop quiz in class and has to answer several questions, one of which is about which girl he is interested in.

Only three girls are listed in the pop quiz – it is multiple choice – but alas, there is not room for seven. It was not clear as to how the game chooses these three girls to put into the quiz, but it seems likely it has something to do with how early I got up. Which is not early. As I have previously said.

Aside from the fact that the teacher who put this question in the quiz probably needs to be fired, and coupled with the weird alarm clock systems, this seems like a very clumsy, nay frustrating way to make a game, determine choices, conduct your wang-whereabouts. It seems like not a particularly well though through structure, because this paces the game so that it seems hopeless trial and error unless you use a walkthrough to choose your favourite girl to pursue from the start.

In any case, there are some problems with the way sexual encounters are portrayed. First of all there’s the fact that this is an adult game, and ostensibly you are looking at pictures of school-age girls. This doesn’t feel okay to me, but part of me is willing to at least entertain the thought that it is a fantasy about your school days, when you first started having feelings for women, and when I think of it like that I start to feel a bit better about it.

From the beginning you are invited to fantasise about a young girl who says she is your sister (incest is a common theme in Hentai games). In the beginning it’s a dream sequence in which she tells you ‘gochisosama’ (which is the Japanese phrase for ‘Thanks for the nice meal’, which in the bedroom context is stated after oral sex.) This is obviously meant to be humorous, though then you wake up and your sister is downstairs where you can have further awkward conversations with her in which you flirt and try to touch her in inappropriate manners.

NSFW video, featuring slight cartoon nudity and lots and lots of naughty words and themes.

As Nina and I played, we felt like we were spying on, watching, and generally finding ways for our character to touch girls. Each day we went to school trying to stalk our girl of choice, which was Kotori, the popular new girl with the raspberry hair. (In our pursuit of Kotori, the raspberry-haired girl, Junichi adjusts her hat when she’s singing in the park, and we are a total stranger to her.) By the time we were ten minutes into the game, we felt like we had almost been conditioned into possessing the listless libidos of those old men that sit at the back of the bus and make comments about the shortness girls’ skirts. We were annoyed that each girl wasn’t just lying down for us as if we were completely entitled to see them naked.

Da Capo is about ‘winning’ via nakedness. It is predicated on the idea that you are entitled to sex, entitled to see sex, entitled to see naked women. The reward is sexy pictures of naked women; that is the implicit aim. You can lose this game by hanging out too much with your male friend, who despite being perfectly cute, when he hits on Junichi after graduation Junichi brushes him off, horrified, and you get the ‘bad’ ending – no sexy naked bodies, no women for you. Compulsory heterosexuality is such a downer.

This isn’t particularly unusual for a Hentai game: most Hentai games are founded on the idea that man is entitled to naked womanreward. Junichi can undertake a cheeky manipulation to see Kotori when she is sick in bed by making the conversation choice to tell her older sister you love her. This might seem innocent if you were a boy, but as an adult playing a video game it seems sinister and intrusive. This is unfortunate, because I feel that in a global culture of victim blaming, objectification, trivialising of rape, and sexual harassment, this genre of game both illustrates (and may contribute to) the idea that women ‘gatekeep’ sex.

But it’s more complicated than that still: Hentai games supply a safe space in which to explore a lot of things that might otherwise be completely off limits for polite society. Sexuality in Japan is still something that is only discussed in particular discourses; many love hotels (hourly hotels adults can visit to have sex either because they still live with their parents, are cheating, or who have nosy neighbours) are automated so there are no witnesses to your desire. Kissing in public was completely taboo where I lived in Kagoshima. Once I was walking by the beachfront drunk at dawn and was completely struck by the high schoolers making out by the shore – 6am was makeout time because no one is around to see and judge.

Perhaps the most difficult part of Hentai for me is that teenage girls’ bodies, when naked in these games, are not really the sort of teen girl bodies that seem ready for sex, if you get my meaning. They seem pre-puberty. It always seems shocking to me, because, well, I just don’t think that should or could be hot.

I guess it’s that thing I always go on about: I wish there were more Hentai made for me, centred on thirty-something tall dudes with low voices who hang out in computer labs smirking at each other. Now that dating sim I’d play.

Til next time!

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