The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is set to pass new legislation restricting the sales of manga depicting certain sexual acts to minors under eighteen.
Contrary to what certain easily-excitable individuals may proclaim, this is not a ban and this is not the end of the anime. But it will certainly pose a huge problem to the industry.
The proposed law has been working its way around the bureaucracy for months and started off as an anti-lolicon bill. A detailed guideline to classifying paedophilic content in manga was drafted by the person in charge, but this proposal was shot down for being too vague.
In the guideline, the author attempted to justify why certain scenes of nudity featuring minors (such as Doraemon‘s Shizuka Minamoto who loves to take baths) will fall outside the definition of child porn, but this was deemed to be too arbitrary by the committee who probably possessed enough mental capacity in their old age to realize that enforcing age restrictions against drawn cartoon characters is insane. The bill failed to muster enough support.
Months later, it was resurrected and rewritten to target depiction or glorification of sex acts that are illegal (e.g. rape) or immoral (e.g. incest which is not illegal in Japan), a criterion which was deemed to be much more enforceable and objective. This has the unfortunate side effect of making the law even more draconian than its original intention.
Yesterday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly’s General Affairs Committee approved the bill by a large majority after a last-minute compromise between the conservative LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) proponents led by Tokyo Governor Shintarou Ishihara (who famously cracked down on Kabukichou) and the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan, the less conservative national ruling party) assemblymen. The compromise requested by the DPJ was to include a clause giving exceptions to works that demonstrates “artistic merits”.
The LDP, DPJ and Komeito voted for the bill and only the Seikatsusha Network Mirai and the Japanese Communist Party (i.e. pretty fringe oppositions) voted against it over technical disagreements rather than principled ones. Having passed the General Affairs Committee, the bill is expected to be passed by the main assembly tomorrow, 15 Dec 10, despite uncharacteristically intense protests from the industry.
Tokyo Anime Fair
Due to Governor Ishihara’s uncompromising attitude against the anime and manga industry, he is perceived by some to be carrying out a personal vendetta by pushing for this bill.
In protest of this, ten major publishing companies led by Kadokawa, including Kodansha, Shueisha, Shogakukan, have withdrawn their participation from the upcoming Tokyo Anime Fair taking place in March next year. Collectively, they own the rights to a large portion of the popular current titles. Unless this boycott is called off, Tokyo Anime Fair 2011 will likely be cancelled or at least totally lame and pointless.
When asked for his opinions regarding the boycott by a reporter, Governor Isihhara (who is technically the chairperson of the TAF organising committee but seems to be totally disinterested in it) responded angrily and effectively told the companies to fuck off and do whatever they want.
And late last night, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who is not involved in this prefecture-level legislation, included a short postscript in his blog post describing this as an issue concerning the “Japan Brand”. He covered his base by saying that protecting the youth is important, but goes on to emphasise that promoting anime is also important as part of Japan’s soft power. He appeals for the parties involved to ensure that it will be possible for Tokyo Anime Fair to continue to thrive in Tokyo. This is interpreted by some as a warning to Ishihara not to push the issue too far.
Information on the proposed ordinance itself is scant online because Japan as a nation is terrified of the Internet and refuses to post any useful information online. If someone can find the full Japanese text of the bill, please link me. (UPDATE: Refer to the bottom of the entry for the relevant text extracted from the actual bill.)
But from what I have gleamed from Japanese new sources, the proposed law seeks to restrict sales of anime and manga titles depicting or glorifying sex acts that are illegal or immoral. The two examples given by all the newspapers were rape and incest, but presumably this is not an exhaustive list.
It is interesting that the law specifically targets anime and manga instead of generic creative works. This lends credit to the suggestions of certain conservative agenda at work. Or perhaps otaku were simply deemed to be harmless weaklings who would not be able to resist, giving an easy brownie point for the moral crusaders.
Please also note that this is a Tokyo Metropolis bill being passed by the Tokyo Metropolitan (i.e. prefecture) government and not the Japanese national government situated in Tokyo, so if passed it will affect only the Tokyo area.
This ordinance does not ban anything. Hardcore pornographic manga will still be legal as they have always been, because they already comply with the proposed 18+ restrictions.
However, there are many manga titles targeted at working adults that will be affected by the proposed law. Off the top of my head, I imagine titles such as Kiss x Sis, Gantz, Berserk and various yuri/yaoi titles will be faced with a dilemma.
The problem is that being classified as “18+” is a commercial kiss of death similar to the AO games rating in the US. Book stores will either not stock the books or place them in a corner designated for pornography. This will be a huge distribution, retail and advertising disadvantage for titles that are not porn but contain select scenes that fall under the new law.
Yes, hardcore ero-manga has its lucrative niche in the market. But if Berserk has to be sold next to actual porn in a hidden corner of the shop, then how can it hope to attract the attention of its intended audience: adults looking for edgy seinen manga? In the long run, this results in a chilling effect on the creative freedom in storytelling, since publishers will be unwilling to fund such works given the risk of being branded 18+ by the Tokyo government.
There are existing retail ordinance regulating the sales of porn and 18+ materials. I am not familiar with the exact intricacies, but I suspect that restricted advertising and physical isolation are probably among the guidelines.
Additionally, there are online speculations about whether titles like Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt will be affected, but my feeling is that it won’t be that drastic, so don’t get your panties in a bunch just yet. Yosuga no Sora on the other hand…
Opinion — Doujinshi
The enforcement of the law will presumably entail government bureaucrats spending all day reading manga and watching anime in order to decide which titles should be 18+ restricted.
This brings into question how doujinshi, being non-commercial and unfunded in nature, will be treated by the system. If right holders must submit their works for approval for an administrative fee, then this barrier of entry may effectively prevent doujinshi from being sold in retail stores in Tokyo.
This also makes me wonder about Comiket. From my experience, Comiket tries to group works of similar nature together (i.e. smut with smut) but this is not enforced strictly and in general the individual stalls lack any indication of whether their products are 18+ in nature (at least the ones where this is not immediately obvious).
I presume that Comiket has long been in violation of some kind of Tokyo ordinance governing sales of porn and the government was just sort of turning a blind eye on it. I was actually under 18 during my first trip to Comiket and there was no age limit of any kind being enforced. If the Tokyo government chooses to tighten its enforcement, I wonder what will happen.
Certainly, it will be extremely costly and difficult for the organising committee to implement any effective screening for doujinshi sold during Comiket, especially since many of them are finalized literally days before the event. At the same time, enforcing an age limit for half a million visitors will not be any less insane.
I wonder if there exist any venues outside of Tokyo with infrastructure capable of hosting Comiket should it come to that.
Opinion — Age Limit
I am a free speech guy. In general where possible, I prefer unrestrained expression and have argued this before. However, I agree that age restrictions can be necessary and effective. In this case, the problem does not lie so much with the intention the law, but rather in the implementation.
As adults, I think we can all agree that we want a level of entertainment that exists between teenage-oriented shounen titles and hardcore pornography. The problem with a 18+ or nothing rating system is that it makes it difficult to market such a product. Market it as 18+ and be relegated to obscurity or market it as all ages and get blamed when children buy it.
This problem is not new and the industry has always tried to side-step it through its own system of genre classifications. But there is no uniform guideline that informs consumers if a seinen title is unsuitable for the youth. This problem has long been solved by movies and video games, so it puzzles me why it continues to be a problem here despite being often brought up.
I suspect that this has something to do with the industry not wishing to spend more money on working out a age classification system. But I think it’s also because such age restrictions were never deemed necessary for novels and you can easily find explicit pornographic novels prominently displayed in any major Japanese book stores with no restrictions on them.
So, I think a more comprehensive gradient of age classifications will help to alleviate some of the political pressure being exerted on the industry. You can argue that children still get to play violent video games, but the point is for the industry to demonstrate that it has done its part.
Branding your own product 18+ is commercial suicide. But if a sensible classification system exists that allows adult-oriented entertainment to thrive while differentiating them from both shounen and porn titles, content owners may be more willing to classify their works properly, reducing the need for a clumsy bureaucracy to step in.
Opinion — Enforcement
I think one interesting food-for-thought for me personally is the enforcement process.
Manga is just drawn pictures. How do you prove that illegal or immoral acts are being portrayed or glorified? I’m sure it will be clear cut in many situations, but I can think of a lot of potential loopholes.
For example, you can prove incest in real-life through DNA test, but how will you do that in manga? What if the characters involved turn out to be not related by blood? What if they are not depicted as siblings at all, but the girl just likes to call the guy “onii-san”?
The other example used, rape, is similarly mind-boggling. How can fictional characters give consent? What constitutes manga rape? I can see plenty of room for contention if someone chooses to dispute a specific ruling.
Furthermore, are non-explicit yuri and yaoi manga “glorifying” immoral sexual behaviours? And, for that matter, will homosexuality be considered immoral? There are a lot of unanswered questions over which I cannot opine without a copy of the original legislative text. (Refer to UPDATE below for further information.)
This law will not be the end of manga and anime because Bleach, Naruto and One Piece will survive like how cockroaches will survive the nuclear holocaust. But it will probably make manga and anime a lot duller than they have to be, in the absence of a more sensible content classification guideline.
Given the number of manga titles being produced on a regular basis and the amount of bureaucracy that will probably be required to assess them using these highly subjective criteria, this law will inevitably add an invisible tax to an industry that is not exactly in its best days.
The most likely outcome is that future titles deemed to be pushing the vague lines drawn by the law will be canned by the publishers because of the undetermined risks involved. There will be a huge financial incentive for companies to self censor and err on the safe side. This will most probably achieve the conservatives’ intended effect of reining in the industry’s growing dependency on sexual titillation, but one wonders at what cost.
As the Papa Bear puts it, this fucking thing sucks.
P.S. I think my favourite comment on this whole situation comes from Diemeow23 in Sankaku Complex’s blog comments:
If this does get implemented then I’m glad I saw anime and manga at its most shining brilliance however perverted the light was
I was linked to the legislative text in question (so Japan does do some things right :P). The relevant portion of the text that defines works targeted by the law:
The criterion as defined by Rule 2, Paragraph 1, Article 8 of the Tokyo Metropolitan Law: Comics, animation and other images (excluding photographs) that improperly glorify or exaggerate, through their depiction or presentation of, acts of sexual intercourse that violate penal laws or sexual conducts or acts of sexual intercourse between close relatives who are legally prohibited from marriage, and as a result may be harmful to the wholesome development of young people and impede their ability to form healthy impressions about sex.
It appears that the law is not as far-reaching as suggested by initial reports. Since homosexuality is perfectly legal in Japan, this means that yuri and yaoi are safe for now. It’s funny how they have to propose a roundabout definition of incest since it is not actually an illegal act in Japan.
This explains why news outlets reported the law as targeting illegal and immoral sex acts — incest is technically not illegal. But it also means that other forms of “immoral” sex acts are not actually covered by the law so long as they are legal in themselves by the standards of the penal code. But it’s still amusing to have to judge the legality of actions committed by fictional drawings.
So, all in all, this issue seems to be worthy of protest and improvement but it is nowhere close to an end-game scenario for the industry, since most ecchi fanservice and softcore porn depicted in anime and manga are neither illegal (especially since the age of consent in Tokyo is 13, well below the age of most anime characters) nor incestuous.