Ecchi (エッチ etchi?, pronounced [et.tɕi]) is an often used slang term in the Japanese language for lewd or lascivious conduct. As an adjective it is used with the meaning of "dirty" or "naughty"; as a verb (ecchi suru), with the meaning to have sex; or as a noun, to describe someone that is seen as lecherous. It is similar in meaning to ero (from Eros), and does not imply perversion in the way hentai does.
The word 'ecchi' has been adopted by fans of Japanese media to describe works with sexual overtones. In Japanese, the word ecchi is often used to describe a person's conduct, but in fandom, it has come to be used to refer to softcore or playful sexuality in contradistinction to the word 'hentai' which connotes perversion or fetishism. Works described as ecchi do not show sexual intercourse or genitalia. Instead, sexual themes are hinted at, and much is left up to the imagination of the viewer. Ecchi themes are a type of fan service, and can be found in comedy Shōnen/Seinen manga and harem anime.
Etymology and use in Japan
In the word 'hentai,' the first kanji 'hen' refers to strangeness, and the second kanji 'tai' refers to a condition or state. "Hentai" was introduced in the Meiji period as a term for change of form or transformation in science and psychology. In this context, it was used to refer to disorders such as hysteria or to describe paranormal phenomena like hypnosis or telepathy. Slowly the meaning was expanded until it yielded the connotation of non standard. In the 1910s, it was used in sexology in the compound expression "hentai seiyoku" (変態性欲, abnormal sexual desire) and became popular within the theory of sexual deviance (Hentai seiyoku ron), published by Eiji Habuto and Jun′ichirō Sawada in 1915. In the 1920s, many publications dealt with deviant sexual desires and the Ero Guro Nansensu movement. Matsuzawa calls it a period characterized by a "hentai boom". In the 1930s, censorship became more common leading to fewer books being published on this theme.
After the war, in the 1950s, interest in the hentai was renewed, and people would sometimes refer to these things just by the first English letter, H (pronounced as エッチ, //). In 1952, the magazine Shukan Asahi reported that a woman who was groped by a stranger in a movie theater reacted with "ara etchi yo" ("hey, that's perverse"). In this context, "etchi" must be understood as sexually forward and is synonymous to iyarashii (嫌らしい, dirty or disgusting) or sukebe (すけべ, a person with sex on the brain). From this, the word "etchi" started to branch off, and assume new connotations. In the 1960s, etchi started to be used by the youth to refer to sex in general. In 1965, a newspaper reported that primary school children using etchi kotoba (dirty words). In the 1980s, it was used to mean sex as in the phrase etchi suru (to have sex). The most common theory states that it derives from the first character of the word hentai (変態?),
The word sekkusu is also used in Japan for sex, and Japanese native words for sex (such as 性交 seikō) are often replaced by words of foreign origin such as sekkusu or neologisms such as ecchi. Ecchi came to be used as a qualifier for anything that is related to erotic or pornographic content. The nuance of ecchi varies with context, but in general, the word itself is most similar to the English word "naughty" (when used as an adjective). The Japanese media tend to use other words, eg. ero-manga (エロ), adult manga (アダルト), or anime / manga for persons over 18 years (18禁アニメ, 18禁). The prefix "H-" is also sometimes used to refer to pornographic genres: H-anime, H-manga, etc.
In Japan, oiroke manga (お色気漫画) is the phrase used to describe manga with very light or playful erotic content such as is found in shonen manga. In western nations though, ecchi has become the preferred term. The harder-core seijin manga (成人向け漫画) are more likely to be referred to as hentai in the west. This does to some extent relate to a similar distintion in Japanese. For instance if a young lady were to calling a boy e(t/c)chi that might be construed as flirting whereas hentai sounds more like condemnation.
[...] Bezeichnet erotische Darstellungen. Im Vergleich zu Hentai weniger explizit.
[...] [Ecchi] refers to erotic depictions. In comparison to hentai, it is less explicit.—Sebastian Keller, Der Manga und seine Szene in Deutschland von den Anfängen in den 1980er Jahren bis zur Gegenwart: Manga- mehr als nur große Augen
Works aimed at a female audience can contain scenes which are seen as ecchi. Examples are R-18 Love Report! from Emiko Sugi and Oruchuban Ebichu from Risa Itō, which are aimed at the shōjo and josei audience, but contain rather explicit content.
This can be conversations with sexual references or misunderstandings about sexuality in dialogs (double meaning, words taken out of context), misunderstandings in visual depictions (the position or pose of a character is suggestive), clothing (underwear, cosplay, fetish clothing, etc.), nudity (ripped apart clothing, wet clothing, clothing malfunctions, etc.) and the portrayal of certain actions (touch or look at parts of the body). This kind of sexuality is commonly used for comical effect. A typical example scene would contain a male protagonist that accidentally enters a women-only bath or trips over a female character, leaving the impression of sexual harassment.
The concept of ecchi is very close related to fan service. While fan service describes every aspect to please the fans, ecchi relates to sexual themes. A special kind of fan service, that is usually bound or justified by the narrative.
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There are many possibilities to classify a work itself as ecchi, but these elements have to occur quite often (for example in all episodes of an anime). Graphically speaking, different techniques are used to show sexy pictures, usually by revealing parts of the female body. Some of these patterns are recurrent, such as scenes in a shower, onsen, or fighting scenes in which clothes are torn apart by weapons or magic. This involves the back, buttocks or even breasts and panchira. The imagination of characters is also a common excuse to show its sexual fantasies, as well as transformation scenes of magical girls. In the end, any excuse is valid to show a character partially or completely nude.
The level of nudity varies strongly between works, because of the intended audience and the preferences of the authors. In some cases, though the breasts are shown on the screen, nipples and genitals are obscured by smoke, moss, hair, clothing, a decorative element, a light effect, etc. This kind of censorship was typical for Lala in To Love-Ru, Blair in Soul Eater or even Asuka Langley Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion. In Ladies versus Butlers! and other anime, the nipples are clearly visible through clothing, no matter how thick it is.
A typical reaction to nudity is nosebleeding, which represents sexual arousal. Rather extreme examples are Baka to Test to Shōkanjū and Maria†Holic. In both cases, the characters "nearly die" because of constant blood loss. In Baka to Test to Shōkanjū, the male characters are confronted with nice girls (including the trap Hideyoshi Kinoshita). In Maria†Holic, the main protagonist is the lesbian Kanako Miyamae. Despite her forbidden love, she joins an all-girls school, which leads often to excessive nosebleed, unable to stand up to her adversary, Maria. Despite the fact she knows that Maria is a man, she still falls for his feminine appearance.
The visibility of the underwear (panties) is one common motif. It often leads to strange reactions between a female and the male protagonist, who would accidentally (or not) look at the underwear. The reaction can be quite varied, depending on the color and style of pantsu, but usually the male is punished for looking, regardless of the reason. The color and style of the pantsu is not chosen at random. Both are seen as an indication for the female's character. Innocent females wear simple white or kawaii themed underwear (with hearts or similar motifs), shy girls prefer the shimapan (striped panties); in some cultures red is seen as 'of the devil' or "naughty," etc.
The pantsu theme itself is so popular, that it is an important object in anime like Chobits or Sora no Otoshimono. Coincidently, both anime's fourth episodes are based on the pantsu theme as a narrative element alone. The anime Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt goes another step further, in which pantsu is used as a weapon. But even if the pantsu is not the main topic itself, it is often shown due to a "careful choice" of camera angles. In this case, it can be rightfully called fan service, since it is not needed for the story itself.
Normally, there is no sex in manga or anime which are considered ecchi as conceived of in the west. Such works are classified as hentai. In an ecchi work though, it may appear as if a couple are engaging in sex as for example when the two of them are seen in silhouette from outside a tent even though they are doing something completely innocent.
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- Sebastian Keller: Der Manga und seine Szene in Deutschland von den Anfängen in den 1980er Jahren bis zur Gegenwart: Manga- mehr als nur große Augen, GRIN Verlag, 2008, ISBN 978-3-638-94029-0, p. 127
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- After the sources of the article Hepburn romanization. In Hepburn, the sokuon (っ, small tsu) is romanized t before ch.
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- "エッチ" (in Japanese). 語源由来辞典.
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- Robin E. Brenner: Understanding Manga and Anime. Libraries Unlimited, 2007, ISBN 1-59158-332-2, p. 295