Help Me! Why is “S&M” Lingo So Common in Anime and Manga?

Out of the many tropes and trends to come out of anime and manga, there’s one I find especially curious: the casual use of “sadist” and “masochist” to describe characters. It’d be more understandable if it was limited to more sexually charged series, or to describe villains as “sadistic bastards,” but it occurs in just about everything—romances, kids’ shows, sports/competition series, and so-on. You see the letters “S” and “M” thrown around by characters as if it’s the most normal thing to say in a conversation.

In series like Prison School, “S&M” is used conventionally to refer to kinks and fetishes. In other cases, like Chihayafuru, the phrase is more removed from an explicitly sexual context, and could potentially be seen as simply referring to a non-sexual pleasure derived from inflicting or receiving pain. Or perhaps that layer of sexual tension and mild eroticism that permeates many anime and manga also trickle down into the ones that aren’t like that. The same could perhaps be extended to phrases like “siscon,” though many recent anime have gone out of their way to make that particular phrase anything but innocent.

I’m not against this trend of using “S&M” terminology, or at least find no need to take umbrage with it, but it really makes me wonder where the heck it all comes from. Is it a few famous titles? Could it be from some visual novels that got big among otaku? Or maybe it’s from something more mainstream, like classic Japanese literature. Yet, try as I might, any attempts at cursory research turn up fruitless. I get the feeling that there’s no straightforward answer, and that it might be bits and pieces of both Japanese domestic and foreign imported culture mixed together into a complex stew.

If anyone has any expertise on this matter, or knows any potential resources that could point me in the right direction, I’d love to know. This is one mystery that I really want to solve.

 

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