Amagami SS is not an ecchi anime.
It has little in common with the likes of Ladies Versus Butlers, Sekirei, To Love-Ru, or Prison School. Despite this, however, it has some of the most effective subtle eroticism I’ve encountered in the medium.
Where hentai is pure porn and ecchi is overt eroticism, shows like Amagami SS, Hatsukoi Limited and Saekano fall one level below ecchi, where the eroticism is less pronounced, but still very present in much more subtle ways.
These shows, rather than present themselves as a cavalcade of butts and breasts in motion, are a more holistic celebration of the female body. They take a more down-to-earth approach, favoring more natural hair colors and realistic proportions while still giving their female characters differentiated, attractive figures.
It’s easy to create distinct character designs through exaggeration. It’s similarly easy to make those designs appealing through emphasizing certain characteristics (Usually through size). What’s more difficult is creating distinct and appealing designs while keeping things within the realm of realism.
This is where subtle eroticism becomes important.
In many ways, the way a show like Amagami SS does ecchi can be more visually striking than all the skin in Ladies Versus Butlers. “Better to conceal than reveal” is certainly an element at play, and there’s a certain amount of a “teasing” element that’s often more desirable than putting everything on display. Indeed, many ecchi fans prefer ecchi to actual hentai for the same reasons.
Subtle eroticism, however, adds two other elements that are difficult to find in ecchi: It’s intimate and it’s holistic.
Episode 3 of Amagami SS features a scene where Junichi, pressed for time to meet Haruka’s challenge to come up with a creative place to kiss her, resolves to kiss the back of her knee. He got the idea from seeing a dog licking the back of a girl’s knee in a photobook that they’d looked at together previously. The scene is executed masterfully, even going as far as to pan across scenes of the other students at lunch to reinforce the fact that Haruka and Junichi had run off together in secret.
The subtleties about the scene are what give it its appeal. Haruka’s gasping, her legs squirming, and Junichi’s attempt to move further up her leg before he’s stopped all capture a playful, but intimate nature about the scene that makes it more desirable than just skin on display.
Amagami SS is full of scenes like this. Scenes that emphasize the intimacy of the moment and inspire a subdued lust in the way they’re set up and played out. They give extra weight to the romance stories at play while still taking them seriously.
Saekano, Photokano, Hatsukoi Limited, and Seiren are all good examples of this style at work.
It’s the art of showing a character fully-clothed, yet giving it the same effect on the viewer as a pantyshot. It’s the desire to celebrate the entire body, rather than just a few select parts, and to appreciate clothing and the ways it’s worn.
It’s the long way around to eliciting sexual desire in an anime, but it’s extremely rewarding when executed well.