Archive for January, 2011
Here’s what I’ve learned. Disclaimer: This is undoubtedly an incomplete report. I welcome additional information in the comments.
The core Japanese obscenity law is article 175 of the Criminal Code (or Penal Code) of Japan, from 1907 (!):
A person who distributes, sells or displays in public an obscene document, drawing or other objects shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 2 years, a fine of not more than 2,500,000 yen or a petty fine. The same shall apply to a person who possesses the same for the purpose of sale.
“Obscenity” has traditionally been defined as exposed genitalia and/or pubic hair, so that’s been censored. Apparently, the law was recently amended to state that exposed genitalia is not automatically obscene, but I haven’t found the specifics on that.
NEVA (the Nihon Ethics of Video Assocation) was the group that applied mosaics and other censoring to pornography. NEVA officially disbanded in 2007–2008 after a governtment raid revealing that NEVA was getting more and more lax in their application of mosaics, but NEVA has announced plans to re-form.
In terms of enforcement, there are almost no arrests and very few significant fines resulting from article 175. Usually, offending material is simply seized, and that’s the end of the matter. Occasionally, the offender is slapped with a small fine.
Practically speaking, child pornography has also been considered obscene, though production and distribution of child pornography was not officially outlawed until 1999. Possession of child pornography is still a legal gray area.
Now, here’s where things get interesting from an anime/manga perspective.
In 2004, Suwa Yuuji was tried and convicted on obscenity charges for violating article 175 with his manga Misshitsu. He appealed to the Japanese High Court, which not only upheld the obscenity ruling, it actually increased his fine. More importantly, Misshitsu was completely removed from the marketplace, and a number of bookstores then removed their adults-only sections.
(This is why the anime/manga industry’s worried about the Tokyo Youth Ordinance Bill amendment, as it may re-classify a lot of material as adults-only…and a lot of bookstores don’t have adults-only sections any more.)
The Tokyo Youth Ordinance Bill itself is part of a larger ordinance, the ”Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths. ” Its purpose is to restrict childrens’ access to materials considered harmful on two fronts:
- Filtering childrens’ access to the internet (requiring porn filters on cell phones sold to children, for example).
- Directions to the publishing industry about how they publish material harmful to minors. These are mostly self-regulation directions, calling on the industry to limit childrens’ access to inappropriate materials.
Of course, the Tokyo Youth Ordinance Bill only applies in Tokyo. However, since Tokyo is the epicenter of the anime and manga industry (housing Comiket, Akihabara, and most anime studios), any change in law there will have a major effect on the industry.
During last Saturday’s Otaku News Live!, the panel remarked that the winter 2011 season has essentially no duds so far.
That’s pretty amazing.
Anyway, the post concerns Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, and the creation of comics for a mostly illiterate adult audience. When comics came into their own as a mass medium in the early 20th century, illiteracy remained high, so newspapers relied on political cartoons to communicate their primary talking points.
Political cartoons require skill at distillation. The artist takes a complex point and reduces it to a few visual cues. This, indeed, is the problem with political cartoons, as complex points suffer when simplified. Complex problems aren’t that simple. But I digress.
American comics quickly became focused on the mass market: kids, teens, and adults were all served by such fare as Krazy Kat, Flash Gordon and Blondie. Japan followed a similar trend, with shounen for boys and comedies like
But each industry’s distribution changed, and this changed their style. Besides newspapers, American comics were published in short comic books, while manga was collected into akahon–cheap, thick magazines, essentially. American kids would buy a 15-page comic for 25 cents, while Japanese kids would pay far less for a book that included several manga stories (as well as short fiction and other appealing materials).
Because each akahon contained so much content to be read at once, the format prioritized quick reading. Pages were laid out for extremely rapid comprehension. The
So, manga exists somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between talkier American comics and the extreme distillation of political cartoons. This is one of the medium’s best traits.
Mecha anime isn’t about mecha. The mecha is a representational shell. It stands in for other things: power and responsibility, usually.
Only during the very early days of mecha, the days of Gigantor and such, was the mecha itself venerated as a god-like being. But Gigantor quickly became a shackle; it was literally a deus ex machina that swooped in at the end of the story to beat the bad guy. It’s hard to tell interesting stories when your hero is a remote god.
So mecha began telling stories about the humans and other people surrounding the mecha.
And as soon as Mobile Suit Gundam ushered in the real robot genre, mecha stories focused on the pilots and their conflicts. Even the super robot genre told stories about people, not giant robots.
It’s part of the appeal of the mecha genre: adolescent protagonists grow and learn about themselves by piloting their mecha. The mecha is a metaphor for the power we get as we grow up.