Ask John: What is NTR and Why is it Popular?
What is netorare (NTR), and what is its appeal? Are there any examples of anime NTR?
To be honest, the Japanese concept of “netorare” or “NTR” has become so prominent and so complex over the past three or four years that I don’t feel entirely confident in my ability to comprehensively address it. This comes primarily as a result of the fact that I’m very familiar with the literary trope but not fond of it. So, instead, I’ll introduce the concept briefly then concentrate strictly on the characteristics identified in the question posed.
The Japanese word “netorare” means being cuckolded, having one’s lover taken by another. The concept is most prominent in Japanese adult PC games and manga, although there are also a number of erotic anime that revolve around the concept. In brief, the typically male protagonist is somehow inadequate. He may be a husband who’s away from home or a young man too shy to establish a strong, committed relationship with the girl he likes. When the woman or girl is drawn into a sexual relationship with another man – either willingly or by coercion or force – the protagonist becomes aware of the woman’s betrayal, or perceived betrayal, but meekly does little or nothing about it. The man suffers in silence while the woman he loves is ravished by another man. This particular sexual fetish is quite well known among otaku that are familiar with erotic manga, games, and anime. But it may not be as familiar to anime/manga fans that aren’t especially immersed in anime erotica. The netorare fetish, as I mentioned, is most heavily concentrated in Japanese adult PC games and erotic manga, but a few adult anime titles that employ the concept include Triangle Blue, Ai Can, Hito Meguri, True Blue, Yamahime no Mi, and Haitoku Tsuma.
The attraction of NTR is multifold, which explains why it’s so popular and so varied. (Netorare stories are commonly categorized by whether the woman willingly or voluntarily cuckolds, the woman is coerced or tricked into an unsavory relationship, or the woman is violently raped.) English speaking fans have associated the concept with “rage”; not the homicidal virus of 28 Days Later but a feeling of angry frustration and impotence. Netorare feeds the Japanese – although not limited to strictly Japanese – sense of masochism and self-punishment. Viewers that feel inadequate, insecure, oppressed, and ineffectual may take some cathartic comfort from literally seeing their emotional pain played out. It’s a bizarre sort of catharsis to wallow in one’s own suffering, but it’s an honorable Japanese philosophy to endure suffering without complaint. Furthermore, viewers who may have become bored or inured with conventional and romantic sex may find that NTR stories have the power to evoke a strong reaction. It may not be a positive or pleasant reaction, but merely feeling any sort of gripping, tormenting emotion can be satisfying.
At the same time a viewer may associate with the cuckolded protagonist, feeling frustration and mixed love and resentment for the girl, the viewer may also feel a spiteful pleasure from witnessing a woman’s degradation. Especially seeing a female character – and I emphasize fictional character because I do believe that the massive majority of hentai fans prefer that their fantasies affect only fictional characters, and not harm actual people – suffer indignity, helplessness, moral corruption, shame, and conflicted emotion satisfies a psychological lust for vengeance. The netorare protagonist is often a nice but neutral guy. Like many netorare viewers, he’s the type of man who imagines himself as a girl’s ideal guy, except girls never recognize his positive, devoted, considerate attributes. Nice guys come in last, so netorare is the nice guy’s revenge. Netorare allows the “nice guy” to see the girl sexually exploited and think to himself, “That wouldn’t have happened to you had you chosen/trusted me.” The viewer may feel a personal, perverted pleasure from seeing the woman being taken advantage of. As I mentioned, I’m not interested in this particular fetish, but when it remains within the realm of personal fantasy, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it; different people are moved by different stimuli.
While the effect of netorare cuts both ways, inflicting punishment upon women that comes at the expense of the man’s pride, netorare may also reinforce the male viewer’s pride in a certain way. Particularly anime like Triangle Blue and the erotic manga sub-genre spearheaded by artist Chuuka Naruto that depicts attractive young women being sexually objectified and used by old, obese, ugly, and unpleasant men may be an extension of the mistrust of adults theme that runs through all anime. The lecherous grandfather who takes advantage of his daughter-in-law, the school teacher that abuses his authority, the rich senior or executive who uses his influence to get what he wants are older men who betray the young. This concept isn’t far removed from Megazone 23 in which adults deceive and control the young or Minky Momo: Yume no Naka no Rondo in which adults wage war on the magical kingdom of children. The netorare concept allows the viewer to envision himself as not-that-man. The viewer, the cuckold is still the youthful, honest, and pure soul whose love is betrayed, who is betrayed by the corruption of an older, greedy man or a woman that doesn’t recognize the depth of the protagonist’s affectionate devotion. The self-sacrificing, pitiable netorare protagonist, and the viewer, knows that the woman he loves has been unfaithful, and that he’s been betrayed by a thoughtless, beastly (probably) older man. He feels frustration, jealousy, rage, sadness over this ultimate betrayal of his pure, heartfelt love, and he internalizes these feelings, becoming a humble martyr and masochistically enjoying the emotional pain.