I stumbled upon Jumbor (ユンボル) by Takei Hiroyuki (武井宏之) at a Mandarake in Tokyo in October 2017. Jumbor is a dystopian manga set in a future ruled by various construction syndicates which fight each other with heavy duty construction machinery. The resistance movement get their hands on a jumbor, which is a mix of human and machine originally used to mine the valuable substance jumborite. This particular Jumbor, model 11D, is a boy: Jumbor Baru.
But enough of the background – just look at these striking covers! One of the volumes even comes with a full colour fold-out with the shirtless Jumbor, pin-up style:
Jumbor Baru has been frozen for several years, so when he finally wakes up, he has the body of a 10-year-old boy, despite he is actually a teenager. After having examined the huge mechanical hands and feet he has been equipped with, he glances down at his crotch and concludes with sweat drops in his face:
But that thing …! It’s still small, hasn’t grown at all!!!
しかもコイツは…！小せえし生えてねえ!!!Takei Hiroyuki (武井宏之). 2010. Jumbor (ユンボル), volume 1, p. 87-88.
The jokes on the boy’s penis continue when Jumbor realises that the woman who has awaken him is in fact Princess Rivetta, who he knew as a child – when they were both children:
“That means, you must be that tiny little Princess Rivetta, right?”
“Right. Speaking of tiny little things, how about covering yourself up, Jumbor Baru.”
「さあな。あれこれ聞く前にその小せえモノを隠したらどうだユンボル・バル」Takei Hiroyuki (武井宏之). 2010. Jumbor (ユンボル), volume 1, p. 100-101.
So it’s small. Super tiny. 小せえ! But that is compensated by a huge shovel, many times his own size, that grows out of one of Jumbor Baru’s mechanical hands the first time he’s confronted by an enemy. He’s surprised by this sudden power, which he was not aware of and which he can’t control well in the beginning. Princess Rivetta observes him contentedly in the foreground as he battles with his shovel: “So that’s his secret power.”
This is what awaits all boys. Their bodies will transform and they will have a hard time mastering the new powers that demand attention within them. I come to think of the anime D.N.Angel, where 14-year-old Niwa Daisuke transforms into a “phantom thief” at certain occasions. Or why not Momonari Junta, the good-for-nothing rascal who turns into “Mega-Playboy” in DNA2. Just like Jumbor Baru, Daisuke and Junta can’t control the powers they’ve been equipped with. What we’re seeing is the struggle of puberty and newly awakened sexuality, as manifested in a shovel, a phantom thief, and a playboy.
But back to Jumbor. Even after he has got dressed, Jumbor Baru is running around in several sizes too big bib trousers that expose his shirtless upper body. This imagery is erotic, but not erotic enough to be designated as such. It reminds quite a bit of Takei’s hit manga and anime Shaman King (シャーマンキング) from 1998 (and onwards), whose 13-year-old boy protagonist Asukara Yoh (麻倉 葉) similarly has an exposed chest under an unbuttoned shirt:
Moe! We might call this imagery titillating, but titillating for who? For boy readers with a latent erotic interest in their peers (and themselves)? Or for older readers? The lack of furigana makes me think that the manga is not aimed at too young readers.
On the female side, people have argued that the girl characters in series like Sailor Moon were sexed up to cater to a secondary (or maybe even primary) target group of adult men, beyond the obvious audience of teenage girls (see Patrick W. Galbraith: Otaku and the struggle for imagination in Japan, Duke University Press 2019, p. 113–115). Is something similar at play in mainstream boys’ (shōnen) manga? I think it’s quite obvious that a series like Made in Abyss (on Netflix of all places) flirts quite shamelessly with both shotacon and lolicon, with Reg – like Jumbor, a boy with robot hands – being one of the most popular characters in shota fan art.
The shota genre makes explicit what is implicit in mainstream manga. No one would claim that Hunter x Hunter and other mainstream series featuring and made for boys have an erotic undertone, and anyone who claims that would not be able to prove it. And that’s exactly what makes mainstream manga so interesting – because you have to read between the lines!
Please contribute with additional examples.