The death of history comes when nobody is there to remember it

The title might sound like a bullshit sentiment, and it kind of is. Mostly because that is a personal point of view as someone who was a history buff in his teens. With the Internet’s sub-cultures still reeling on the loss of sadpanda, and that site-wide mirror being more or less a confirmed hoax at this point, it really made me think back how little we value history and its artifacts. Are you saying bunch of porn counts as historical artifacts? Very much so, especially if its older than decade or so. While most people will get stuck on the whole porn issue and what sort of porn it might’ve been, the same people don’t seem to consider what sort of sociological statements those pictures were making. For example, the much discussed (for better or worse) lolicon has gone through numerous iterations since the movement surfaced in Japan in the 1970’s. You can see its effects everywhere in the media in completely standard and normal ways, like Captain Harlock having having Mayu as a level of plot device, one of the reasons why Harlock still protects Earth from its inner deceit and alien threats. While Harlock could have numerous reasons, a character like this was surely influenced by the pop-cultural scene of the time. Similar things can be found in many other works in the era, culminating with Cybele Vol.1 seeing its Comiket publishing in 1979, and probably pushing itself to the mainstream popular culture with Comic Lemon People first issue hitting the magazine stands for all to buy in 1982. This magazine had such impact that modern Japanese popular culture wouldn’t exist without it in its current form.

Think what you may, White Cybele has a very classy cover

Much like everything in history, things are complicated. It is disingenuous to say that it is sexual objectification of children, but that’s what many seem to go to first. What lolicon was in the 1970’s and 1980’s was effectively what people understand with modern moe; the use of cute, young characters within works. Discussion during these eras were about affection towards these characters, and their desires. That must be emphasized; characters. By definition, a real person does not step into the equation. The age range of these characters was not defined either, like it is nowadays. These characters could be almost anything, as long as the visual style represented the idea of these cute, somewhat innocent characters and their visuals. The culture of cute is a very much a large component here, and with the 1960’s and 1970’s producing a generation that grew up on modern cartoons and comics in post-World War II Japan, it was more or less natural growth in terms of cultural landscape. Within this cultural scape, a lolicon wasn’t someone who had predatory tendencies towards children or pedophilia in any form; it refers for a preference for a certain style and look of the character. In many ways, the term moe has superseded lolicon as it carries largely the same connotation of cute characters. The historical background is largely the same, and even the marketing is similar. The term is simply more politically correct, perhaps to distance itself from how people consider lolicon to be only porn. I should also mention shotacon, which is more associated with female fans; the admiration of similarly cute, beautiful young men and boys. However, this term too is nowadays marred with its sexual connotations.

To put emphasize again; what determines these in the 1970’s and 1980’s is aesthetics. Young, cute looking characters that are the object of fan affection. As you’ve probably surmised, the Western use for the term is very different and based on different historical and cultural background, and partially reliant on intentional misinterpretation.

This is all terrible condensed, and needs its own proper post before I even attempt to cover the best years of Comic Lemon People, but one thing should be clear to most of my readers; the above isn’t exactly what what the Global, especially the Western, consensus is on the topic. We are talking about one nation’s rather major movement in popular culture history, which has been marred needlessly. Without reading around, listening to the people from the era from that specific place, reading and listening to first and second hand sources, you might think that pedophilia and lolicon are the same thing. In fact, they vehemently different; they are both qualitatively and fundamentally two different things. Drawn picture is not the same thing as a real person, or a photo of a real person.

Let’s assume we have lost fan made works from the 1970’s and 1980’s from the Internet and we can’t obtain physical copies anymore. The people who lived during that era are now dead and we can’t have their recollection from the era nor is there any properly documented interviews from them. Without first hand accounts, we can only rely on accounts that might or might not be correct. Writers may have an agenda and paint the movement in black colours, demonizing it to hell and back. Some sources might not even be in the same language as the target topic, misunderstanding major elements. Works that use sources that intentionally colour history is not uncommon, as history is full of propaganda. Be it political, religious or whatever, any and all events in history has different sides seeing different things. It’s like people watching a die from six different sides; they all see a different number. What we need to do is view that die from all angles and understand them for the whole picture.

LUM IS OVER is probably the best example of cross-cut of numerous creators from 1987 collaborating around Lum, with over thirty individuals pouring their affection in pin-ups and illustrations

It is not a secret that lolicon had a sexual element to it, but frankly everything has. It simply has been blown out of its proper proportions, probably because how influential Comic Lemon People was in the mainstream. Nobody seems to consider the 1970’s boy and girl characters as a result of this movement in itself, unless somebody directly mentions that shotacon was named after Tetsujin #28‘s main character, and that show had its inception in the sixties. Despite Elpeo Ple is cited as Gundam‘s household loli character (after all, she was named after Comic Lemon People, Kikka Kobayashi already was around in the first series. Hell, even Fraw Bow counts despite the character’s older age, but she still maintains that cute charm around her compared to most other female characters in the show. Don’t forget that Lum of Urusei Yatsura is considered the first real anime and manga sex symbol, and she is very much part of the lolicon culture of its era. Aalt, she’s too old for that. No, she’s the perfect age, because remember; it is about aesthetics of cuteness. Cuteness and sexiness do no exclude each other, as much as certain cultures think otherwise. Lum’s roundness, alluring eyes and soft body was in many ways first of its kind, trailblazing path to modern shoujo and even styles, where eyes got rounder and cuter with the time.

It’s not even Comic Lemon People that made its wake. While Lemon People might the one that’s on the tongue of most Westerners when talking about lolicon serial comics, Manga Burikko was its direct rival. Not only did it coin the term otaku, but its main editor Ouzuke Eiji wanted to produce shoujo manga, or girls’ comics, for boys. He called this New-Wave shoujo manga. His influence, as well as the whole era’s, is vividly felt in the 1990’s shows. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon is probably the most prominent example of this alongside Magic Knight Rayearth. In truth, the whole movement was well under within animation and comic industry in Japan in the mid-1970’s with Majokko Megu-chan being an early magical girl show that was prominently aimed at boys, much like Cutie Honey ended up being. By the 1990’s, lolicon as a style and aesthetics had become the mainstream visual flavour and style. This continues to this day, hence why moe was needed to surface as a specific and direct continuation. Historically speaking, lolicon and bishoujo fell under the same overall umbrella, with both having some differences but exactly the same aim in visuals.

I had two covers to choose from for Manga Burikko my archives, and this was the one that most wouldn’t find all that objectionable

It wasn’t just these two aforementioned comics; lolicon and loli was quite honestly everywhere with major companies and major magazines advertising and selling products proudly labeling their products with lolicon. This wasn’t about the porn, but again the style. Major players like Uchiyama Aki were publishing in standard comic magazines aimed at both boys and girls all the while he was working on adult magazines. He was publishing clearly labelled lolicon comic in same magazine as Ozaku Tezuka, and they were both doing characters that fit the same exact aesthetic description.

As you’ve probably surmised, lolita complex in Japan is very, very different from what it is considered as in North America and Europe. However, that definition crept into Japanese mindset as well in the late 1980’s and was more or less set in stone in the 1990’s, when the term mostly vanished from the common use. Perhaps the most commonly cited incident that put a negative tone on the term and its proper surroundings is Tsutomu Miyazaki kidnappings, where he kidnapped young girls, murdered them and not just raped their corpses, but also ate them. Moral panic is caused by lesser things, though Tokyo High Court ruled that he acted on his sexual fantasies rather, which of course was directly linked to his hobby as an otaku. The cultural backlash was understandable, but perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Discussion about loli and lolicon in Japanese context, in even Japan, does not consider its proper place as a mainstream style and only applies the bastardised understanding of it, partly influenced by the Western misconceptions, party by the intentional obfuscation and and partly by sheer misunderstanding. It is no wonder the term has different application nowadays, even when the whole modern Japanese comic and cartoon culture stemmed from it.

You may argue that language changes and whatever arguments for non-sexual use for loli or lolicon once existed doesn’t matter. Language may change, but its historical context should not. To use an example, the Finnish word neekeri is a direct loanword of nigger, but it had none of the negative connotations to it until the American negative connotations were associated with it. Before that, it was another normal way to name black people. However, with new generations fretting the term and its origin, censorship has forced books to remove the term and even candies change name. There is a chocolate pastry filled with cream that used to be called Nigger’s Kiss, but nowadays it has removed all branding from this and renamed itself as Brunberg’s Kiss. The past generations have demonized what was harmless word and such it is viewed as one, even in its proper historical context.

The point really being that I was making is if we lose first-hand information sources, we might as well rely on hearsay. However, when a historian has first hand information, recollections from an era from an independent person, it is a treasure of information that can be compared and contrasted to what is known from the era either from other first-hand sources or official records. However, when it comes to popular culture movements and events, official records are always dubious at best, unreliable at worst. That is why a place like sadpanda was such a treasure trove, because it contained not only author’s own works from forty years ago, but also serial comic magazines and self-published works, filled with fanart, letters, opinion pieces and news on politics and events that affected the pop-culture of the time. These sources are imperative to understand not just the lolicon scene we’ve been talking about, but the whole comic and animation culture of the time. That is only one view point, reading newspaper magazines and other sources is as important as well. Thus, losing one of them, any of them, will impact on how later generations are able to understand history. History just doesn’t happen; it a never ending movement forward. Most of what I’ve said about in this post has been by going through era specific first and second hand sources, some of which were on sadpanda.

Human history is fragmented at best. At worst, it is a puzzle that has lost an amount of its pieces. We should aim to keep every bit of history safe, even if we object to them. A statue of a South State’s general should be left as it is, to remind people that there is history and that it is a complex mess of human actions and perspectives. We should not allow destruction of any kind of resource, statue, book or whatnot, to be destroyed simply because it might offend sensibilities or it simply doesn’t fit modern culture. The moment humanity decides to ignore this in favour of some sort of one truth above all, history creeps toward its death. History is a tapestry painted with fine tipped brushes of endless shades, not with broad bristles in primary colours. Those who forget history are bound to repeat it may be an old saying, but it is a saying that will get repeated down the line, if people continue to be Brutus to history’s Caesar.

The Burning of Digital Alexandria (And Its Resurrection)

At this point, most people who are in any part of pop-culture scene regarding games or Japanese cartoons probably has already heard of Exhentai, that lovingly nicknamed sadpanda due to its front page showing a sad panda if you didn’t have an account and knew how to log in. Not that it matters at this point if you did, if we’re honest. The site died while I was finalising this post. For those who weren’t in the know, Exhentai was the backside of the more open E-Hentai galleries, containing very much all the most objectionable content you can imagine a comic creator thinking up. However, the porn and how it was represented was secondary at best with sadpanda, as throughout its existence it became a repository of fandom history, containing material from 1970’s to modern day releases, archiving millions of pages of thoughts, art and moments from specific eras. That what Exhentai ultimately became; a repository of pop-cultural history from the fans’ points of views.

Should’ve probably opened with this, but most of the links here are better opened outside workplace.

I have talked to some extent about scanning and archiving, and I’ve yet to finish that series. However, sadpanda dying in itself is nothing new, and the site was not the first of its kind. It won’t be the last either, but with its demise we will lose large chunks of history to bitspace. It was only a matter of time when the site be taken down, either though copyright infringement or because wherever the servers resided had laws changed. In this case, it was the latter. The servers resided in the Netherlands, and the owner of the site cited this specific law for his reasoning. Well that, and the rumour that some unsavory people decided to inform the police about sadpanda and its owner as a sort of joke. If this is true, a joke cost the world its Digital Alexandria of Fandom. Well, that’s not all that true either. Some reports say that the admin’s ISP lied to him in order to get the site pulled down. Whatever the reason is, we’re at an end of an era.

The whole argument of the drawn porn being illegal or whatnot, but that is beside the point. Hell, I’ll argue that isn’t even a point. Piracy worked a tool of archival here, allowing each of those blips to be archived. Certainly it would be nice to be able to purchase these books from somewhere, but trying to get a hold of an obscure artbook that was self-published in a comic convention in 1986 is rather step above the normal difficulty most people want to face. There’s a language barrier, budget, shipping, and these two are just the start. They’re the two big ones, and it just spirals from there to shipping issues, legislation, seller behaviour and so on and so on. You would also need some sort of resource to rely on for information what to look for, a some sort of library you could check information on and see the contents. There are optional sites that give you the raw information, like Doujinshi.org, but these sites don’t have the full contents of the works; they avoid archiving in of themselves. Piracy is really the necessary evil here.

Twelve years. Thousands of individuals contributing. The amount of data lost is insane to think about. Artists lost to history, only to be remembered people who lived through that era themselves. That is such a niche group that it makes me shudder to think that people who once were major names, if just for few respectable years, will be lost if mirrors, backups and dumps were not successful. Take the two names this blog has talked frequently; Rei Aran and Hariken Ryu. Aran was the original creator of Fight! Iczer-1 and nobody in the Western shores remembers him. Hariken Ryu, the creator of the most influential space kung-fu girl who nobody outside niche Japanese people remember. When these people are gone, and some of them are pressing over sixty at this point, and their memories and works go unrecorded, all the original pages lost for whatever reason, corporations owning the publishing rights slowly forgetting they ever had them, comics that simply can’t be published nowadays due to them infringing copyrights, modern sensibilities or whatever stupid reason you can think of, we will never have those back.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

It is a coincidence Rutger Hauer passes away the other, but his monologue as Roy Batty at the end of Blade Runner is fitting. Exhentai was a gallery you would not believe. The content it held was free of prejudice and restrictions, with more people coming together than apart. Funny enough, porn and archival bring people together like no other. Most of that is now gone, and will be gone when E-Hentai Galleries will eventually be taken down. Even then, E-Hentai is the weaker, much more subdued than its darker coloured sibling. I guess this is my less than subtle plea to archive, archive and archive some more. It would be easy to say that this isn’t an important part of human history, that this doesn’t matter. They were just pictures and pictures are being made all the time. In reality, every moment in human history is precious. Whenever a scholar years down the line tries to find sources for what happened during a specific time within a fandom, they could have had a source like Exhentai to bask upon; first hand sources of recollections and images to rely on.

Perhaps it is disingenuous of me to say that piracy of this level and scale is completely justified for the sake of archival it achieved. Perhaps its even sick to some to think that someone could feel loss over historical materials when it ends up being mostly porn. Well, we still marvel those dick signs from Ancient Rome and naked statues and potteries full of nudity from the Antique. Even heart shaped pupils have made a comeback to modern era. All of it is still history.

Something else will come along, either a replacement or something else that fills the niche. There is a demand for it, and it is human nature to fulfill a demand of this kind. Thanks sadpanda, you’ll be missed, even when your more safer option will live on, for now.

….

Not a day later, history is not so much lost as I thought.

Thought that might be an early celebration, seeing images are easily faked and the icon here is an empty folder. There’s no proof in itself that its true. Take that as a grain salt.

However, there is something with more to it; a project to resurrect whatever was lost has already sprung up; The Library of Exhentai. To quote; Since the untimely demise of Exhentai is upon us, it has been decided that it would be best to preserve the efforts of tens of thousands of uploaders by creating a somewhat cohesive archival effort, from the scraps of what has been retrieved. This is the Library of Exhentai. 

The historian in me is happy that these two probably will collide into a happy marriage, but the blogger in me laughs like a madman; for once I get on something relatively on time, only to come back and wish I had waited my usual time. Nevertheless, this is yet another fine example of global world history being on the mind of people and to what we compare things to. We should not forget history, no matter how we personally feel about it. Preservation is always the key, not destruction and forgetting.


2.8.2019 Update

Sapdanda’s back. According to Tenboro, the admin, he has moved hosts, which he was able to do transfer stuff around. Much like most people, I’m getting information second hand at best, but seeing how Exhentai just popped back and admin hopes this can be a permanent solution of sorts. If you’re a user, you should expect stability in the future and upgrades to the site.

Well then, popular culture history has been preserved, after all. Nevertheless, if there’s something people should’ve learned something about this, it is that online archives may get hit. My recommendation? Either use SSD drives or M-Discs and archive stuff on your shelf.