Speaking of giant robots, one shonen subgenre is so classically Japanese that it's practically unique to anime. Known as mecha (pronounced meka, as in mechanical), it's generally identified as originating with Osamu Tezuka's classic Astro Boy. Astro Boy himself, of course, was a sentient robot in his own right. Today, the examplar mecha is considered to be the twin franchises Macross and Gundam, giant humanoid battle machines with human pilots. In fact, it was the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross series, stitched together with two unrelated series to form the TV show Robotech, that aired on American television in the 1980s and helped create what might be called the first generation of American otaku. Mecha can be any number of machines, ranging from the nearly human-sized battle armor in Bubblegum Crisis to the robots that combine to form other robots you might remember from Voltron; this idea began a staple of live-action shows such as Power Rangers. Mecha series are still going strong; even the controversial and psychologically challenging Neon Genesis Evangelion provided the genre with a new direction, one adopted and taken even further by the recent Rahxephon.
But, more often than not, shonen anime emphasizes action, usually combat. A series of battles makes a good device on which to base the chapters of manga or the episodes of a TV series, whether that series is the endless tournaments of Dragon Ball [DragonBall GT; Dragon Ball Z) or the struggle to overcome one's past as in Rurouni Kenshin. The tropes of training, mastering difficult techniques, and overcoming near-certain defeat carry over well into the arena of games, as in Pokemon or Yu-gi-oh. This also carries into sports, but while basketball, baseball, soccer and even tennis shows have been huge hits in Japan, Americans haven't seemed too interested without the additional draw of cute girls, as in Princess Nine, a sort of anime A League of Their Own, or the popular Battle Athletes. The number of sports titles currently available in the States is fairly limited at the moment.
Oh My Goddess!
Those cute girls are often another important subset of the shonen genre, giving rise to what's been dubbed "harem anime," in which one hapless young man finds himself surrounded (usually living in the same house) with a bevy of beautiful girls. Despite copious amounts of fan service, the sweet storylines of shows like Love Hina or Oh My Goddess! are enough to win over even female viewers.
Not that anime has forgotten its female viewers. While comics in America have been until recently a male-oriented affair, in Japan comics aimed at women command an impressive list of titles. These shojo manga are most often romances, drawn in a distinctive, thin-line style that can also be seen in their animated counterparts. A shojo heroine, whether from epic fantasy Fushigi Yugi, comic fable Fruits Basket, or schoolyard drama Boys Over Flowers, could easily find herself surrounded with enough bishonen ("beautiful boys") to make any harem anime jealous. Or, a shojo series might dispense with the heroine altogether, as in the sub-genre yaoi.
The shojo genre has also evolved a unique kind of fantasy for its younger audience, the magical girl. In these stories, a seemingly ordinary young girl undergoes a transformation sequence to become a heroine with magical powers; she is then ready to combat evildoers, usually accompanied by a cute animal sidekick. The classic example is most certainly Sailor Moon; see also Saint Tail or Cardcaptor Sakura for other good examples of magical girl series.
And then there's the 'adult' category of anime, hentai, which is essentially animated pornography. Given that 'live-action' pornography was illegal in Japan for many years, the development of hentai anime was all but inevitable. Japanese obscenity laws have usually forbidden the depiction of adult genitalia, however, which led to the offending parts often being blocked out or depicted symbolically, such as with glowing cones of light in lieu of actual organs. In fact, efforts to circumvent this ban led to hentai's most infamous subgenre, tentacle porn (Urotsukidoji) -- so named because an alien, demon or monster will have dozens - or even hundreds - of phallic pseudopodia, while men and women can have genitalia that mutate into tentacles. In some cases it's enough for the censors that no pubic hair is shown, which animators easily comply with by drawing characters without pubic hair. Hentai runs the gamut from content no racier than a R-rated movie to what would be classified as hardcore porn.
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