Encyclopedia

What is Guro (グロ)?

Guro is a Japanese artistic genre that focuses on the unsettling, eerie and bizarre. It discomforts the readers and viewers due to the abnormal art style, which involves curved patterns, distorted human anatomy, dismembered human parts, and disgusting images. Guro also explores social taboos like violence and sexuality.

The erotic application of guro is called ero guro (エログロ). It emphasizes sexual corruption and the decline of morality, and can be found in different forms of media like literature, art, and film.

Some examples of guro manga for the past decades are The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, Abstractions, Devilman, Shin Urotsukidouji, Tokyo Red Hood, Shoujo Tsubaki, and GANTZ.

 

Etymology

Guro (グロ) is a shortened wasei eigo from the Western word grotesque(グロテスク), which means something strange and creepy. Grotesque themes give uncomfortable feelings to the viewers or readers.

 

History

Earlier examples of grotesque art were present in Western countries such as Rome, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Their grotesque art ranges from sculptures to paintings, architecture, and even literature. European grotesque featured unearthly shapes and human forms that are distorted.

Japan had woodblock prints related to guro during the 19th century. A series of violent prints, called muzan-e (無残絵), depicted atrocious murders or tortures. Muzan means cruelty in Japanese. The very graphic woodblock prints may have influenced most Japanese guro artists and exploitation film directors.

Another woodblock print erotica in 1814 associated with guro was The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by Katsushika Hokusai. The woodblock print depicted a female diver making love with octopuses. As of now, tentacle erotica is considered a separate genre from guro due to gaining its own popularity.

In the 1920s, Japan began to develop an interest in the bizarre and erotic. This artistic period referred as ero-guro-nansensu (エロ・グロ・ナンセンス) or erotic, grotesque, nonsense. Ero-guro-nansensu flourished during the early days of the Showa period. Writers and artists discuss sexually deprived topics. Interest for sexuality increased but the Japanese state censored ero-guro-nansensu in the 1930s. Ero-guro-nansensu was scrutinized and related print materials were suspended during the war.

Hirai Tarou, known as Edogawa Ranpo, was a famous Japanese author and critic who wrote several Japanese mystery novels. His peak as a writer was during the Japanese ero-guro-nansensu period. One of his famous mystery novels was Koto no Oni. His detective novel involved homosexuality which was considered bizarre at his time.

One of the most recognized incidents that sparked interest for guro was the murder of Ishida Kichizo. His lover and murderer, Abe Sada, strangled him to death. Abe also mutilated his genitals and carried them with her. The shocking murder became a national sensation in Japan and lasted for decades. Instead of condemnation, Japanese society at that time glamorized the incident. It went to the point of Abe writing her own autobiography and several film adaptations of her crime were produced.

The interest in guro resumed after World War II. With the laws that dealt with obscene media relaxed, artists and directors produced guro manga and pink films. Japanese sexual liberation re-emerged around the 1960s and 1970s.

 

Modern Usage

Guro today in Japan means cruel or bizarre. Some guro art may have explicit content as it explores deplorable themes. Some critics fear that guro would lead to decay in society’s morality. Despite its repulsive nature, some fans feel a strange kind of sympathy or arousal. It awakens something inside of them that they try to suppress. While society suppresses any form of degeneracy, guro is the gratification or release for some fans. Similar to other media, consuming guro media needs a healthy balance.

 

References:

グロテスク, Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/グロテスク, Retrieved 10 April 2021

Muzan-e, The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia, http://www.artandpopularculture.com/Muzan-e, Retrieved 16 May 2021

McLelland, Mark. A Short History of ‘Hentai, Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue12/mclelland.html, 12 January 2006, Retrieved 16 May 2021

Edogawa Ranpo, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4795659.Edogawa_Rampo, Retrieved 16 May 2021

Sherman, Jennifer. Naked Ape End Manga of Rampo Edogawa’s Kotō no Oni Novel, Anime News Network, https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2016-12-29/naked-ape-end-manga-of-rampo-edogawa-koto-no-oni-novel/.110461, 30 December 2016, Retrieved 16 May 2021

Redd, Wyatt. Sada Abe’s Sordid Tale Of Love, Erotic Asphyxiation, Murder, And Necrophilia, All That’s Interesting, https://allthatsinteresting.com/sada-abe, 8 May 2018, Retrieved 16 May 2021

Suzuki, Nobuyuki. 「グロい漫画」が好きってやっぱり病気?, Nikkei Business Publications, https://business.nikkei.com/atcl/seminar/19/00059/070900088/, 10 July 2019, Retrieved 16 May 2021

 

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