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How to speak anime: 'Hentai'

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Words often take on different meaning depending upon the circles they are heard and used in. In anime, there are terms that are casually thrown around that may not quite make sense or seem out of place. Hentai is such a term and its usage can change its meaning significantly from the typical American understanding to its Japanese and anime counterpart.

From the western standpoint, hentai is understood as a sub-genre of anime that is heavily erotic or pornographic. While the Japanese/anime usage of the word may share a relation in definition there is enough difference to take note of. For starters, hentai’s definition can be largely dependent on context. One of the most common uses of the term is when one character calls another a pervert. However, there are plenty of cases in which hentai is used to label someone else as strange or warped.

Case Study: You Sato

The anime Ben-to follows the high school freshman You Sato. In this particular anime, many characters are known by a nickname and Sato gets reluctantly branded with hentai. The new name is embarrassing for Sato but it seems to fit the character in the context of the anime.

With regard to its most popular use, Sato can easily fit the profile of a pervert. He has a collection of dirty magazines and entertains fantasies about some characters of the fairer sex. The interpretation of hentai as being weird or warped also fits the character just as well, if not better, than any perverted tendencies.

The premise of the anime itself can be considered strange and warped. The anime focuses on what appears to be an underground sub-culture of high school aged brawlers who fight for half priced bento boxes. The main character carrying the label of hentai is appropriate if only because he represents the obscure concept behind the anime. Further, Sato continuously finds himself in strange circumstances like being cross dressed or stripped of clothes. If any anime character can fit the bill for the flexibility of hentai, Sato is up to the task.