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Monday Musings
Monday, 21 February 2011 11:24
So, one of the topics that's gotten anime and manga fandom all worked up in recent months is the impending coming into force of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara's amendments to the Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance. The amendments were passed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly back in December, will come into force in July, and place restrictions on the sale of anime, manga and game titles (but notably not live-action entertainment) that depict scenes that are "sexually stimulating, encourages cruelty, and/or may compel suicide or criminal behaviour". The backlash to the legislation has been extensive, with the Tokyo Animation Fair seeing a mass withdrawal of publishers, various groups of animators and mangaka speaking out against the changes, and even Japanese PM Naoto Kan hinting in a blog post that the changes weren't helpful.

Now, there are several subjects that I'm not going to get into: Ishihara's motives for introducing the bill; the apparent hypocrisy of excluding live-action from the scope of the bill; or whether the responses of the manga and anime industries in Japan will have the desired effect. I'm more interested in the moment in what the revised Ordinance will mean for me, an anime fan far outside the Ordinance's jurisdiction. And you know, I may get burnt at the stake for heresy for saying it, but <whispers>I don't think that this is all bad</whispers>.

I was listening to ANNCast a few weeks back, and presenter Zac Bertschy made the point that anime and manga in recent years had suffered a collective failure of responsibility, that the industry was failing to police itself as it should, and that the revised Ordinance was a backlash to that - a backlash that would hopefully see the publishers and production committees reign themselves in. I'm not sure that's what the true intent of the Ordinance was, but I agree that that's what the likely outcome will be - and, following on from what I was saying in last week's Musings about the downward slope of fanservice that anime's been on over recent years, I'm failing to see how that's a problem.

The actual effects of the law seem to be overstated as well, with the words "ban" and "censorship" being bandied around a lot - but there is no ban, and any censorship is self-imposed by the publishers. What the law does is set up a panel to assess releases and decide whether their content is inappropriate or not in the terms of the law. If it isn't, there's no problem and the release can continue as usual; if it isn't, it must be treated as 18+ material and sold in the way that other 18+ material already is - from specialist stores and areas of stores that are off-limits to "underage" customers. There is, so far as I can see, no provision to ban any release outright. What the problem is, though, is that the restrictions placed on the sale of 18+ titles naturally restrict their audience and would lead to reduced sales - and that is more likely what is drawing the ire of the publishers.

None of this is to say that the new bill is inherently "right" - it's definition of "harmful" is vague enough that there's wide scope for interpretation of what titles will fall under its scope or not (debate rages on that front), and vague law is without doubt bad law. I've also been around long enough to know that restricting availability of something will only ever increase its appeal to the people you're trying to keep it from, so as a means of keeping explicit material out of the hands of youth I doubt it'll be particularly effective. While the bill is also having something of a self-censorship effect on publishers, with reprints of existing titles that may fall under its remit being shelved, I'd be willing to bet that it won't be long before someone decides to test just where the line is now being drawn, in an attempt to start pushing the limits back again.

In the meantime, though, publisher and producers will have to look for something else to keep their sales ticking over - and if that leads to them experimenting with a few new ideas or new twists on old ideas, then perhaps there'll be a silver lining to this particular cloud.

Next week's Musings: things of a less topical nature, with a look at a character archetype that I have a hard time seeing the appeal of...

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