Ask John: What is Futanari and Why is it Popular?

Question:
Why in some doujinshi is Tsunade (Naruto) made into a futanari?

Answer:
The question of why Japanese fan artists sometimes depict the Naruto character Tsunade as a “futanari” character begets the larger question of why the concept of “futanari” itself is so popular in the Japanese manga and anime community. In the absence of any definitive explanation that I’m aware of, I’ll propose my own interpretative explanation.

The term “futanari,” which roughly means “two types” is used in Japanese language to identify a female with a penis or penis-like appendage in place of, or in addition to normal female genitals. The earliest instance of a futanari character in anime that I’m aware of is in the 1987 Cream Lemon Special: Dark. Futanari characters have since appeared in anime including Parade Parade, Bible Black, Chimera, and Discode. I can’t name the first use of a futanari character in manga, but the theme is very common and relatively popular in the erotic manga and doujinshi field, with artists like The Amanoja9, RIKI, and RaTe specializing in drawing futanari manga. Countless anthology manga and manga series including Futanarikko Love, Futanari Lovers, Futanari Special, Futanari Premium, and Futanari Pretty further attest to the popularity of this particular sub-genre of manga erotica. The theme even extends into a current of Japanese live action hermaphrodite pornography.

While the concept of futanari seems to be well established and relatively popular within a certain realm of Japanese society, there doesn’t seem to be remotely as much fascination with hermaphroditic women in the rest of the world. While hermaphrodites are depicted in an erotic light by manga and anime, hermaphrodites are typically met with disgust and revulsion by American popular culture. There’s no doubt that the Japanese manga and anime community is more receptive to the unusual and shocking than mainstream culture, but there must certainly be more to explain the popularity of the futanari theme than mere tolerance.

The depiction of Tsunade as a futanari character approaches an explanation. The particular way in which futanari characters are most often depicted in anime and manga adds another layer of explanation. Tsunade is a strong, outspoken, curvaceous leader. She holds a position of responsibility; she is physically, emotionally, and mentally strong; and she’s very physically attractive. Considering that the penis has always been a physical symbol of masculinity and power, depicting Tsunade with a penis endows her with the literal attribute of power and dominance without sacrificing her femininity. The penis grants status and acknowledgement. In effect, the Japanese concept of futanari may parallel the conceptual popularity of the dominatrix in American and European cultures.

The leather clad, whip wielding dominatrix appears occasionally in anime and manga, for example, as Chocolate Misu in Bakuretsu Hunter and Saiki Misaki of Teizokurei Daydream. But the dominatrix appears in manga and anime much less frequently than futanari characters because the dominatrix is a normal woman with a dominant, aggressive personality that threatens or intimidates the masculinity of Japanese men. A futanari, however, is a woman who possess a physical male appendage. A futanari can exert masculine sexuality without being masculine. That characteristic makes futanari characters attractive but not intimidating.

The futanari female also has a shameful secret. The inappropriate male appendage creates an embarrassing weakness – an attribute that makes the futanari woman masculine and aggressive but still subject to conventional male pride and power. Even in the art of Azuki Kurenai, whose futanari women are often confident and proud of their endowment, futanari are still women granted limited sexual masculinity.

Further solidifying the theory that futanari are women endowed with limited male sexual rights is the fact that futanari women in manga and anime are almost exclusively depicted coupling with other women. In nearly every case of male characters involved in a sexual situation with a hermaphroditic female, the futanari character takes the submissive female position. This trend establishes the sexuality of the futanari character. Yonekura Kengo is one of the few erotic manga artists that depicts futanari women penetrating male characters, but Yonekura Kengo is a female artist who draws erotica for male readers, thus the depiction of female empowerment and domination over males may represent a natural female assertion of power within a patriarchy.

A futanari character is sexy because she has the unique ability to simultaneously experience male and female sensual pleasure. The futanari character can be sexually aggressive and dominant, and can receive sexual stimulation from women without impinging the dominant power position held by men. It’s acceptable for women in manga and anime to be sexually active and aggressive as long as they remain within the bounds of a feminine role. The dominatrix literally reverses the male and female roles by taking the masculine position and making the man submissive, which may be an intimidating, rather than sexy, concept for many Japanese men. The futanari character isn’t a vicarious substitute for male viewers to associate themselves with. The futanari character has her own unique sexual appeal because she is physically and psychologically the receptive female and the dominant male simultaneously.

Article revised on March 14, 2008

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4 Responses to “Ask John: What is Futanari and Why is it Popular?”

  1. joechummer Says:

    I’m surprised that the easiest explanation of futanari (and the one I’m most familiar with) wasn’t mentioned.

    Almost any straight man fantasizes about watching a pair of lesbians coupling, but beyond watching, there really isn’t any realistic way to imagine himself in the situation without turning it into a F-F-M threesome, which I think people believe feels less intimate than a pairing. So in this regard, a lesbian pair where one woman is futa is a way for a man to better empathize with a lesbian coupling. Although a futanari character has both parts, she is still considered a woman and thus her having male parts doesn’t spoil the inherent lesbian purity of the encounter, much in the same way that many lesbian couples have no problems with using phallic toys.

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