I’ve been thinking recently about “netorare” or “NTR,” a porn subgenre which involves a woman being taken from her significant other by another man and forgetting about her husband/boyfriend entirely, and its rising popularity in ero anime and manga. Generally, the woman does not want to have the affair at first (and the first encounter usually involves coercion, blackmail, or rape), but is swayed by the other man’s superior sexual prowess. About the closest equivalent is a cuckolding fetish. Based on the reactions people have towards it, which is generally something like a mix of anger, frustration, and sorrow (to the extent that you have fans championing “vanilla” material as the heroic counterpart to NTR), I just have to wonder what has made it catch on.
Violence and even rape are not new to pornographic anime or manga. Go back to the 1950s and you will see those as themes in the cheaply produced porn manga that existed at the time. Same thing goes for women cheating on their men. The difference, I think, is that in those older examples, the male viewer was supposed to identify with the seducer/attacker, but in NTR that is no longer the case. The male viewer is now the hapless boyfriend or husband who means well and loves his girl, but can’t do anything about the fact that she’s tasted “better fruit.” The viewer has gone from being the holder of power to being a victim, and the fact that such a scenario has been popular makes me believe that there is a similar feeling of helplessness in those watching.
To me, it doesn’t feel like an extension of the whole “nice guy” phenomenon where girls supposedly prefer jerks, nor is it about affirming the idea that “women are sluts.” I especially don’t believe it’s what the viewers of NTR actually want in reality. It’s not even about seeing your wife or girlfriend with another man, or about humiliation. Instead, I find it to be more related to perceptions of inherent or fundamental power, in this case represented by the fact that the viewer will be told that the other man has a larger, more satisfying penis that can erase even love itself. In other words, no matter what you have, you may be lacking in the one area where it matters most.
Whether they are in a relationship or not, I think guys may find a strange kind of comfort in the belief that they are basically powerless or that love is balanced precariously on the fact that the girl has never experienced something better, which may even possibly relate to the appeal of the “virgin” (but we’ll put that aside for this post). To some extent, it may be similar to having a conspiracy theory confirmed or the tension from a horror movie where the main characters are inevitably doomed.
Another possible interpretation might be found in a Japanese critical line of thought concerning lolicon as it was defined back in 80s, girls drawn in a cute, round style reminiscent of Tezuka, as opposed to using a more realistic Gekiga-esque style for portraying females. Here, it is said that the men who enjoy lolicon are actually projecting themselves not onto the man having sex with the girl, but onto the girl herself. The helplessness of the girl is not a preference for weaker girls, but a source of (sexual) comfort for those who feel as weak as those girls.
If that is the case, then NTR may be a sign of men feeling weaker than before, or fearing the danger of the world around them. In this new, harsher time and place, even the comfort of identifying with the woman is taken away now that she is another thing for a man to have and lose. He is made to feel even more powerless. NTR may then be a reflection of some kind of growing discontent or discomfort.
I don’t know if either of the ideas I presented above are actually valid, let alone comprehensive, and the popularity of NTR might just stem from it having more than one type of appeal. In other words, it may have the ability to hit different people in different places, but I do think fear is a significant factor in many of them.