What is Ecchi? [Definition, Meaning]

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dakara bokuha h ga dekinai wallpaper

"Dakara Boku-ha H ga Dekinai"

When you read the word ecchi, what do you imagine? Close your eyes a second. Think about it. Ok, what did you see?

Stripped panties? Nudity? Boobs?

Edgy and erotic, ecchi is a distinct thematic element in anime that toes the delicate line between the obscenity and propriety, dipping slightly in smut, while also maintaining a demure veil of restraint. For the decriers of anime, ecchi is possibly one of their main points of contention, associating its titillating content with hentai. Due to its perceived connection to the pornographic, understanding what ecchi is and does can be confusing. With hopes stripping away the misunderstanding, we will lightly probe the history of ecchi and its current usage before looking at it in action within anime.

So, time to ecchi it up.

To even begin exploring ecchi, hentai must also be explicated due to their interrelatedness. While ecchi is not hentai, it can perhaps be said that ecchi is hentai’s child, albeit a child in a raging adolescent. Regarding the usage of these words, hentai in its original Japanese refers to things “non-standard” or “strange.” Though in English hentai is used to describe Japanese pornographic material, in Japanese it can be used to describe both sexually explicit media and behavior. Nonetheless, the term carries connotations of sexual explicitness.

Historically speaking, the word ecchi derives from the “H” in hentai, “ecchi” being the Japanese pronunciation of the English letter. Before it was used as a term when referring to anime and manga, young Japanese people in the 1950s began using ecchi as a slang term for hentai. As the postwar period continued, it developed its own nuanced meaning indicating naughtiness that is not necessarily sexual explicit.

The development of ecchi as a thematic element in anime is also tied to the obscenity laws in Japan. During the post WWII period, depictions of adult genitals were ruled as obscene and censored. In this way, censorship of genitalia displaced sexual focus outside of sex itself, leading to the developments of sexuality within the bounds of censorship.[ *1 ] Within the context of anime, ecchi describes an element that in English is termed as “fan service.” Rather than “real sha-bang,” ecchi offers the hint of the explicit like a skirt blown up by the wind and the flash of shimapan (stripped panties).

Ecchi is largely viewed as oriented for male views and is a common element in shounen and seinen manga due to the sexualized ways in which ecchi anime and manga depicts women’s bodies. With this in mind, it is perhaps easy to view ecchi as exploitative of women’s sexuality. Yet, this is a rather simplistic view of ecchi because it can also be used in anime to explore and test our own views of sexuality as can be seen in shows like Kill la Kill and Panty, Stocking, and Garter Belt.

However, it’s one thing to talk about ecchi and another to see it in action. The following is a small sampling of recommended ecchi anime:

[*1] Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan, Anne Allison, pg.149-154

Golden Boy

golden boy dvd
  • Episodes: 6
  • Aired: October 1995-June 1996

Though a bit on the older side, Golden Boy is widely held among anime viewers as ecchi as it get before hitting the hentai zone. Based off Tatsuya Egawa’s popular seinen manga under the same name, Golden Boy tells the story of Kintarou Oe, an intelligent young man on a journey to learn more about the world. During his travels around Japan, Kintarou encounters several extremely attractive women who doubt his earnestness. Yet, Kintarou perseveres and ends up charming the women in more ways than one. For those interested in seeing the change in how ecchi transforms the women’s body within seinen-oriented media, Golden Boy is probably a good place to start.

Golden Boy Trailer


Ranma ½

ranma 1:2 dvd
  • Episodes: 161
  • Aired: April 1989-September 1992

Ranma ½ is another classic anime with strong ecchi elements. Ecchi become common place in Rumiko Takahashi’s gender bending story about Ranma Saotome, a boy trained in the martial arts who becomes a girl when slashed with cold water and a boy with hot water. Perhaps due to its gender bending nature, Ranma ½ reveals how ecchi plays on human desires as Ranma uses his female form to his advantage to achieve his goals. Comedic as it is fan service-y, Ranma ½ satisfies anyone searching for a narrative with a side of ecchi.

Ranma 1/2 Trailer


No Game No Life

No Game, No Life DVD
  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: April 2014-June 2014

A much more recent representation of ecchi, No Game No Life embodies the self-aware, modern rhythm permeating ecchi anime today. No Game No Life, as an anime about otaku/hikkikomori life and directed at a more otaku-ish audience, hams up its ecchi elements. Yet, this hamming up is not merely over the top fan service. Rather, ecchi in No Game No Life appears to reflect its modern developments. When comparing it to the ecchi of Golden Boy and Ranma ½ , we can perhaps see the various directions ecchi has expanded.

No Game No Life Trailer


hentai kamen movie

"Hentai Kamen" Movie

Hopefully this has fully titillated your interest in ecchi. As we can see, ecchi embodies a border between the obscene and the proper within the context of Japanese society. Though many argue ecchi poorly represents women, it can at the same time be an element critiquing and revealing the modern ideals about sexuality and propriety. If you have any questions, complaints, comments, or concerns with ecchi or the anime recommended, please leave a message below!

Emma Hanashiro

Writer

Author: Emma Hanashiro

Emma Hanashiro is beginning her career as a writer and academic on anime, manga, and contemporary Japanese culture. After she finished her senior thesis on fujoshi, Boys Love manga, and media consumption, Emma is currently studying Japanese and conducting research in Japan. Beyond anime, her interests include podcast listening, cooking, and (attempts at) writing. Her favorite quote: “Boys, be ambitious!”

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