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Note: This post discusses explicit sex in an explicitly sexual work, and includes images which are not safe for work.

It ought be fairly clear that most pornography is not an accurate reflection of reality. But perhaps more interestingly, different pornographic works inhabit realities which are vastly different from each other. When they divorce themselves from real-world sexual mores, erotic texts are often freed to reinvent sexual morality from scratch.

This is true to all fictional works up to a point, but the dissonance between how strongly sexuality is highlighted in pornography and how often guarded or shameful it is in reality makes the departure consistently, explicitly more noticeable. That said, so long as the author inhabits the real world and real sexual mores, their departure from those mores is clearly marked as a departure.

dropbox-monogamy1So it is in Hiroshi Itaba’s Hot and Steamy, a reality in which sex in public is extremely normalized, but the remnants of discretion and shame from the real world are still clearly salient. The world Itaba crafts embraces and discards various tenets of sexual liberation as they suit it. It is at once absurdly promiscuous and resolutely monogamous – conservative, but with more sex.

This is reaffirmed by the choice of setting: our main characters, Matsuno and Nana, work at a rustic inn in a small hot springs village. Matsuno arrives at the inn having left a job at a large company in Tokyo, and Nana owns the massive modern hotel just next to the inn. The classical Japanese trappings and mannerisms of a hot springs inn are constantly presented in relief of theirs differences from – here, superiority to – modern, westernized life.

This tension is central to the primary story arc of the first volume, in which the town considers renovating the village’s source of hot water as a solution to their economic woes. Nana, as proxy defender of the old ways, argues against this plan by pointing out all the secluded natural landmarks which would be destroyed – and how great it is to have sex in these places. Here again, Itaba’s ideal is a blend of conservative Japanese ideals with a more overt sexual morality.

The coherence of this ideal has interesting implications given its presence in a pornographic work. Erotic narratives are not only intended to be consumed, as normal narratives are, but “used” by the reader for titillation; this dictates the pacing of the work to a certain extent, as explicit sex needs to occur predictably as part of the work’s value as a commodity. Often, in the erotic manga market, this priority overrides any attempts at narrative complexity longer than a chapter. And any longer erotic narrative will generally revolve either around the characters’ romantic relationships or sex itself, as those are the easiest to accommodate within the restrictions of a pornographic work.

hot-and-steamy-pg126The romantic relationships do provide the foundation for Hot and Steamy‘s narrative, but the actual developing arcs and the major impetus driving those arcs are often concerned with individual character development or the business of the hotel itself. This offers a nice compromise of fun short-term sexual thrills with the satisfying long-term development it requires to sustain a compelling multiple-volume story.

It also suggests the usefulness of the pornographic narrative as a format for exploring sexuality. When approached with care, pornographic works can address our interactions with sex frankly and directly without losing critical precision. Hot and Steamy leverages the form of the erotic fantasy to celebrate the role sexuality plays in our lives, and to reimagine the narrative of “traditional values” as one in which healthy sexuality plays a role.

This post was written on a review copy of Itaba Hiroshi’s Hot and Steamy Vol. 01, released in English by Project H. They sell big, solid, attractive volumes of well-made erotic manga, and have excellent taste in licenses. Genitals are censored in the art in some of their products, including this volume, but it’s not at all distracting. Be cool, support the industry.

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