Hentai-KamenORDER DVD

High school student Kyosuke Shikijo (Ryohei Suzuki) wants to be a hero like his late father – a legendary cop. However, he’s academically undistinguished, and (though he participates in his school’s martial arts club) any time he tries to help anyone he just ends up getting a beating. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his mother is a notorious dominatrix (she met Kyosuke’s father when he tried to arrest her) and mocks him cruelly for his lack of romantic success.

So far, so much of a standard setup for a particular class of manga.

The twist comes when Aiko Himeno (Fumika Shimizu) – a fellow student he has a massive crush on – gets taken hostage by robbers. Kyosuke tries to sneak in and rescue her, and accidentally picks up a pair of used panties to use as a mask. Putting the panties on his head awakens the “pervert DNA” he got from his mother, transforming him into Hentai Kamen, the Forbidden Superhero. As Hentai Kamen, Kyosuke can use “pervert-style” martial arts to defeat evildoers and protect the girl he loves!

Based on the 1992 manga Kyūkyoku!! Hentai Kamen by Keishū Ando, Hentai Kamen shows its origins pretty clearly. After Hentai Kamen defeats the original bank robbers, Kyosuke’s martial arts club is attacked by a the head of a rival martial arts club in order to eventually take over the school, for reasons which don’t make an awful lot of sense. Hentai Kamen defeats the rival club, who then hire a series of increasingly outlandish assassins, culminating in a “dark version” of Hentai Kamen himself (think the relationship between Spiderman and Venom, if they both wore women’s knickers on their heads) to try and destroy him. It will all feel very familiar to anyone who’s watched enough anime or read enough manga, but it’s an entertainingly hokey and self-aware riff on the formula.

There is a sour note here, in terms of the way that the film deals with sex. It’s not smutty – in fact, for a film specifically about a pervert superhero it’s weirdly sexually naive – but that might actually be part of the problem. “Perversion” in the world of Hentai Kamen is something that exists on a clear continuum (so there are people who are measurably more perverted than other people) and anything at all that falls outside a pretty narrow “traditional” set of gender stereotypes and sexual roles is considered “perverted”, and thus shameful. Hentai Kamen defeats most of his (exclusively male) opponents by forcing their faces into contact with his crotch (apparently gay panic can be weaponised?) and a lot of the humour in the film revolves around Kyosuke continuing to protest that he’s sexually pure, while the quest for used panties to fuel his superpowers leads him to commit ever more “perverted” acts for the most heroic of reasons. This may be an artifact of Japanese sexual mores, or perhaps derives from the age of the original Manga (I do recall gay panic jokes as a class of things being more common in 1992) but to a modern Western audience this can all feel uncomfortably homophobic or transphobic at times.

That said, at core Hentai Kamen is a fairly sweet and goofy riff on “superpowered teenager” and “magical girl” anime which manages to pull off “shonky on purpose” almost all of the time, which is much harder than it looks. Recommended.

Director: Takafumi Nagamine /Country: Japan / Year: 1983 /Studio: Madman / Run Time: 70 minutes

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