Masquerade is the story surrounding the Hiraga bloodline of which Gen is a part of. Recently orphaned, he moves in to his grandmother's house and unwittingly triggers the Hiraga clan's curse in which nearly every member leads a tragically short life. In his grandmother's house, Gen begins to unravel vague memories from a recurring dream he's had. With the help of an American graduate student, they try to uncover the secret of the Hiraga bloodline, the whispered legend of immortality that is locked in his genes, and a way to keep Gen from sharing the same fate that every one of his ancestors before him has suffered.
Masquerade is almost less a hentai series than a decent old-school supernatural drama masquerading as one (pardon the pun). For one thing, its plot is actually quite consistent and rather enjoyable, even if the premise itself is generic. For another, it has a surprising amount of talent among the ranks of its staff, considering how unknown it is today. While I initially sniggered to see that Gen resembled a slightly older version of the title character from Tenchi Muyo!, the two were in fact designed by the same person, while director Yuusuke Yamamoto's other works include Welcome to the NHK, B Gata H Kei, and Encouragement of Climb, all of which I'd count as good or at least enjoyable series. I can't guess how exactly they all ended up working on this title, given the lack of available information on it, but while hardly devoid of problems Masquerade is surprisingly good as hentai go, and the solid script and production certainly help.
Indeed, the character designs in Masquerade almost feel like a "who's who" of 90's anime and their respective styles. Gen aside, we have not one but two characters who strongly resemble Megumi Reinard from Nadesico, his grandmother's maid Beth, who is immortal and appears to be one of the few in the family who has escaped this curse, and the school nurse, who, surprise surprise, fixes students' ills by having sex with them. Well, those scenes are at least consensual, which is not something I can say of similar bits in some other titles. Meanwhile, Jennifer Collins, the blonde American grad student doing research on the Hiraga family's bloodline, looks somewhat like a grown-up Lina Inverse, of all things. Characters resembling Naru from Sailor Moon and Jean from Nadia make cameos, too, though thankfully neither is involved in any of the sex scenes. The character designs are certainly not very original, and yet the show looks nice enough that it would function fine as a mainstream title. There is little in the way of overblown body proportions, nor is there anything fetishist; it's simply a nice-looking series. The background art is good, as well, and while there's not a lot of animation what's there is quite serviceable. I can't complain about the piano soundtrack, either, which is obviously designed as make-out music but serves that purpose decently.
Masquerade does in fact have a plot that would fare passably if the sex scenes were removed, and in contrast to the few other hentai titles I've seen I didn't sit through the non-adult scenes (of which there are many) wanting everybody to shut up. Unlike many anime leads in such situations, Gen is neither a pervert nor an idiot attempting to pass off as a nice person; similar to Tenchi Misaki, he's a serious and likable everyman. We don't get that much in the way of character development for anyone, but Masquerade rarely tries to pass off any of them as being nice when they clearly aren't, a factor that makes many other hentai series downright repulsive. Sure, Jennifer is a bit of the stereotypical blonde, clingy American, but at least she's pretty capable (and rather funny at times). The title refers to the antiquated masks that several of Gen's family members wear, which add to the eeriness of certain scenes, and while some of the supernatural elements are stupid, such as Beth's being a vampire (?!?), other moments are downright spooky. I didn't find the plot to be that predictable, even; I'll admit I was surprised (though possibly also a bit confused) when the masks came off and the show explained their use. There's still some junk, and the OAV does unfortunately end abruptly (though a sequel exists, it is very rare), but on the whole it is neither boring nor completely stupid.
I do have to take pause with one aspect of the show's premise, however, and that is that the "curse" of Gen's bloodline manifests itself as golden semen and an uncontrollable libido. Compared to most adult anime titles, there is relatively little in the way of non-consensual sex, and yet this part of the premise does mean that the show justifies some aggressive behavior with the argument that Gen is not in control of himself, which is problematic. Certainly, this show's attitude towards sex is weird: different characters want to have sex with each other at different times, and it seems to be a loose rule that two characters will never want to do so at the same time. For example, Jennifer attempts to seduce Gen in order to have sex with him and take a semen sample, and he is, unsurprisingly, hesitant, and so she eventually obtains it with her hand. Immediately after, however, the "curse" manifests itself and Gen tries to have sex with her; she initially hesitates, but then proceeds to say "well, I did want it anyway" and the scene proceeds as a good sex scene that would function fine if it had been coded as purely consensual sex. Considering that she had in fact been the first one to want it, it makes little sense for her to act coy; while it's true that consent one moment does not equal consent the next moment, her attitude changes with no explanation of any sort. In fact, it feels almost as if it was thrown in out of some fear that the idea of a woman initiating sex was weird, another unfortunate notion; thus, some scenes that would otherwise never have been problematic are rendered as such.
Still, most of the sex in this OAV is consensual. All but one of the people he has intercourse with while under this "curse" are people who wanted to do it with him in the first place, and on one occasion, when he is taken over while around someone who has no interest in him, he succeeds in stopping himself (though ironically, the two become a couple when he isn't under the spell). The final episode, when the "curse" has basically fully taken over him, does feature a disturbing scene of sexual assault, however, as well as one other attempt. I think that this show, unlike most, frames sexual assault as something repulsive (which it is), and it notably gives neither scene the level of detail or the length given the consensual scenes, almost as if the viewer was never meant to enjoy them. It is also telling, certainly, that the show treats this "curse" as something repulsive and in need of intervention. Still, it's not realistic by any stretch, nor is it getting a free pass from me anytime soon: there is no justification for rape, and I don't want to argue that his being under this curse "exonerates" him, as the show does more-or-less say.
Yet Masquerade does ultimately deserve at least a bit of credit for not framing those scenes as enticing. I'm not sure that those scenes matter enough or say enough to support their inclusion, since this show, for all of the parts of the plot that are enjoyable, isn't especially intelligent, but Masquerade does take a far more negative view of them than do most hentai titles. And indeed, the consensual sex scenes are actually rather nicely animated, while neither the voice acting nor the character design is over the top. Being a title made before Japan's censorship laws were relaxed, the show gets around the restriction largely by focusing on the dynamics of the partners rather than the genitalia. That's not to say that this show builds any sort of realistic relationships, but it's as willing to depict sex as an intimate act as it is to focus on the desire for carnal pleasure. There is, unfortunately, some incest in the very last episode, and while that particular scene is completely consensual there is sadly no way around what it is.
Considering that it is a hentai title, Masquerade isn't bad. I think that the aspects related to Gen's "condition" that I mentioned should be enough to give one pause, and the fourth episode is worse than the others in terms of questionable material. Still, of the very few hentai titles I have seen it is the only one I would describe as "pleasant" in any way.
Most of it is better-animated, better-plotted, and far more pleasant than most hentai titles, but there is some incest and non-consensual sex, and that gives me a bit of pause. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Though it's an adults-only title, there are actually no scenes where a fully naked penis or vulva is visible, due to Japan's censorship laws. Still, there are two to three sex scenes per episode, and as mentioned before incest does arise. Although there is far more consensual sex in this title than sexual assault, the latter is present and worth considering before you decide you want to watch this.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source (Japanese with Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Masquerade © 1998 AIC/Green Bunny
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