There are two times I am aware of this happening. Both were during the mid-80s.
In 1985 a pornographic anime called Dream Hunter Rem had its first episode released direct to video. The premise was about a young girl with the power to enter peoples dreams and solved supernatural mysterious by vanquishing evil demons that come from within the mind.
Rem is presented as a tough, confident and capable character. Though in the original pornographic OVA she is victim to rape before saving the day.
Dream Hunter Rem was very popular among fans, so much so that many voiced an opinion that the story and character of Rem was more interesting without the pornographic parts. The studio actually responded to this idea and redid the first episode. The sexual scenes were edited out and Rem’s rape scene was removed. While this new version was deemed “all ages” it still featured a scene of Rem’s clothes getting ripped off and a different character’s rape scene being replaced by torture. Rem also kept her dream logic battle bikini.
The rest of the Dream Hunter Rem episodes also kept their sexual themes and imagery but the show didn’t cross the line into being pornographic again, focusing more heavily on the story and Rem’s heroic efforts. Fans rejoiced and the series became a cult classic and received multiple sequels once it was able to access a wider audience.
1986 saw the release of Project A-ko which was suppose to be a part of a pornographic double feature. Part way through production, the creators decided that Project A-ko would be more interesting as an action-comedy rather than a smut fest. Again, sexual elements were kept in the final version. Some of the film’s most memorable moments are of the protagonist flashing her panties, all be it in strange and comedic ways that are intended to make the audience laugh instead of get off.
Project A-ko was lauded as a brilliant parody with a silly and lovable female cast and has become a classic among fans. It too enjoyed multiple sequels.
Both Project A-ko and Dream Hunter Rem are oddities in that they found a wider audience and success in decreasing the sex appeal of their female cast as opposed to the other way around. Many anime add gratuitous sexual fan service in attempts of boosting sales. While the girls in both works still fall prey to male gaze and should still be criticized for their problematic elements, the final versions of the characters are definitely a step up from their original intention as simple sex objects. The idea of moving away from sex based story lines in order to deliver more interesting stories and give more agency to female characters in an important one. “Sex sells” is an excuse for lack of innovation and actually can inhibit your viewership rather than broaden it, something that Project A-ko and Dream Hunter Rem managed to prove.
[This post was originally posted: Mar, 2nd 2016 on the Otaple 1/2 Tumblr]