Sunday, December 22, 2013

Otaku Fetish Files: Ikabara, the Sexy Distended Stomach

Pigtails. The perfect ratio of flesh to fabric between the top of the stocking and hem of the skirt. Speech impediments. Otaku can masturbate to anything. To paraphrase pop culture pundit Azuma Hiroki, you too can learn to become sexually aroused by cat ears with the proper conditioning. Today we’re taking a look at ikabara(イカ腹), another 2D fetish that has everything to do about conditioning--or rather, the lack thereof.
Otaku are interested in one very specific type of abdominal spillover. Namely, a bit of a paunch that hasn’t developed into a full-blown potbelly. This gives the girl an unbroken and sloping silhouette, like a pair of parenthesis. Or, you know, a squid. Hence the phrase ikabara, literally "squid stomach."
So what makes a protruding tummy so goddamn kawaii? Conventional Japanese wisdom may have the answer. Word on the street has it that kids don’t develop the core muscles needed to hold their GI tract in place until puberty, so that extra baby fat is actually the abdominal cavity being pushed out by their low-hanging guts. Like the Bambi eyes and apple cheeks before it, ikabara is another visual prompt that sexualizes children.

Woah woah woah, put down your torches and pitchforks for a moment and pick up medical science journal. A distended stomach is a real condition, albeit one more likely to affect adults than kids. Your stomach is held snugly in place thanks to muscle and fat, so a lack of physical activity coupled with anorexic eating habits can lead to your digestive organs sagging in an affliction known as gastroptosis.

Symptoms include a loss of appetite, ulcers, indigestion and bowel blockage, not to mention the telltale protruding belly. If not treated, gastroptosis can lead to gastric atony, a sort of pre-turd constipation where the stomach muscles become too weak to push food into the intestine. Self-inflicted gastroptosis may seem like the fast track to buttoning up a pair of size 0 jeans, but it’s not worth the risk. Your large intestine might get snagged in the zipper.

If only gravure idols would take my advice. Turns out that pedophiles aren’t the only ones who are into hyper-extended stomachs. Flip through any gossip rag or manga pulp and you’ll find spreads of full-figured swimsuit models with the same belly bulge that drives otaku wild. And the girls know exactly what they’re doing with this oblique set of curves.
Though the English term gastroptosis is limited to medical textbooks and articles on moe tropes, the Japanese ikasui (胃下垂) is a household word and the most common self-diagnosed physiological ailment for females after yaeba (snaggle teeth), daikon-ashi (cankles), and hitoe-mabuta (single eyelid). For example, being ikasui helps the 31-year old gravure idol Sugihara Anri (seen above) stand out from the crowd--her G-cup doesn’t mean much amongst a generation raised on french fries and growth hormone-enriched beef. “I can eat and eat without getting fat,” she regularly boasts on her blog. This translates to totally rockin’ hipbones that burst through bikini bottoms and are offset by the soft slope of her melon belly. Leave it to a wide pelvis to dispel any pre-pubescent ickiness.  

Joe Public finds the ikasui sexy for the contrast between firm and flab. Isolated otaku worship ikabara as a magic symbol that infantilizes characters, even those with an adult physique. And Westerners consult with Google at the first sign of gastroptosis. Somehow the disease has become a fetish in Japan. But before we roll our eyes at another example of “wacky Japan,” I ask that you turn your accusative gaze towards the trove of SFW porn that Westerners have accumulated on YouTube.

The first video shows an anonymous woman take her stomach from toned to second trimester in the time it takes to chug two gallons of water. In the second, another bikini model gives herself a serious case of belly bloat, this time by stuffing an air compressor up her butt. Judging from the comments, the self-inflicted nature of these these stomach stretching fetishes caters to very different sets of fantasies than ikabara, ones that involve physical discomfort in the subject or a sense of fullness that only comes from gorging. Do you like to feel the liquid sloshing inside the stomach like a meat thermos, or are you more into seeing the gas painfully stretch her flesh before it’s expelled in a massive windfall that makes a cake fart look tame by comparison?
Ikabara isn’t the first trend in anime that made sickness sexy. No, that dubious honor goes to the 1995 television series Neon Genesis Evangelion. The titular mechas display emaciated ribs and suffer from osteoporosis. Character personalities are defined by their personality disorders. It’s no coincidence that the first garage kit of Ayanami posed her on a hospital bed complete with arm cast and eyepatch.

Tracing the roots of ikabara is like trying to find the patient zero of camel toe, but it couldn’t have been earlier than the ‘90s. Based on extensive research thumbing through stacks of Uchiyama Aki, Hayasaki Miki and back issues of Lemon People at the National Diet Library I can confidently state that early lolicon did everything it could to eliminate curves from the developing female form. The authors were more interested in drawing little girls to look like little boys, a trend that has come back around with the otoko no ko(男の娘) crossdressing shotacon boom. If you subscribe to the theory that purveyors of lolicon manga project themselves onto the girl who is being penetrated by a faceless third party, then replacing the girl with a boy (dressed as a girl to maintain a comfortable level of emotional detachment) closes the loop of voluntary feminization into a one-man circle jerk.
In any case, it seems that ikabara emerged from the otaku hive mind in the mid-’90s, right around the time that Evangelion fever was at its peak and digital coloring techniques began to cover the market in a shiny veneer of specular highlights on skin. After all, the essence of ikabara is in the subtle shadow, the mere suggestion of a tummy that vanishes under the wrong lightning conditions. It's the belly equivalent of a blivet.

Now that you’ve seen the ikabara you can never unsee it. You will begin to notice its singular shape undulating softly in places that are otherwise familiar. The sloping Windows XP background now tapers off into unspoken delights. The drop off may seem safe, but trust me--it's a long way down.

1 comment:

  1. Many an anthropologist of the far future will no doubt make a name for themselves by studying and writing volumes of the otaku of these generations.

    They really are a unique specimen in just how deep a pit of fetish and depravity a movement can plummet when society at large is not only willing to tolerate said descent but desperately supports it by erecting an affluent industry, a veritable economic fortress, around pandering to the very same.

    Just think, at present time otaku's have managed to successfully fetishize giant social taboos such as paedophilia and incest to the point that they are almost mainstream interests. Just imagine where they'll be heading next. Come friends, a whole new and unexplored world of madness and depravity awaits.

    The live action porn industry must be livid with envy. For all their achievements in the fine art of deviance their dealings with vulgar real flesh and blood people puts regulatory limits on what they can get away with. 18 years is the youngest that the law will permit them to pass porn actresses pushing 30 as. And their pathetic attempts at servicing incest fantasies fall just as short and flaccid. The family matters of an entirely fictional nuclear unit somehow feels infinitely more genuine than a fading former starlet pretending to enjoy the private company of a younger looking actor passed of as her naughty child.

    It is clear that the otaku and their choice of the fictional world of 2D has the upper hand in terms of freedom. All that remains is to brace oneself and watch, in a strange mix of wonder and horror, how deep into darkness the otaku will drag mainstream society.

    Ah, Nero, ah, Marquis de Sade you sad unaccepted souls, you were surely borne in the wrong time. Think how greatly you could have contributed to humanities descent into decadence as modern manga-ka. Truly, what a waste!