Frequently when academic journal articles are written about timely research topics, the authors are unable to update their audience regarding more recent developments. In the current issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, guest edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, Alex Leavitt and I wrote about the Metropolitan Tokyo Youth Ordinance (also known as Bill 156), (“Even a monkey can understand fan activism: Political speech, artistic expression, and a public for the Japanese dôjin community”). The bill could potentially curtail artistic expression in the name of keeping fictional characters under the age of consent (hence the bill’s popular nickname, the “Nonexistent Crimes Bill”) out of “harmful situations.”
In our article we looked at fan activism against the bill, which passed at the end of 2010 and went into effect in summer 2011, after our article had gone to press. Developments since then have been somewhat mixed.
Although creators feared that the highly ambiguous language of the bill would allow government censors virtual impunity, a recent high-profile ruling found that a scene depicting incest between two young characters did not violate the bill’s provisions, because it was subject to previous standards rather than to those introduced by Bill 156. Although this was hailed as a victory, there have also been reports of publishers self-censoring manga content even before the bill’s provisions went into effect, and that manga series have been cancelled outright in response to it. Still, some publishers, like Kadokawa Shoten, have spoken out against Ishihara’s remarks.
From here on, it’s unclear what path fannish activism will and should take. Although 80% of Tokyo residents were reported in early 2011 to oppose the bill soon after its passage, an anticipated boycott of the Tokyo International Anime Fair by manga publishers and the ensuing publicity largely fizzled after the 2011 Tokyo Anime Fest was cancelled due to the March 2011 earthquake. At roughly the same time, a suit alleging that Bill 156 was unconstitutional was denied by the Japanese courts, a decision that has been appealed.
Individual creators, however, have continued to engage in various forms of protest. Akamatsu Ken, the creator of such well-known manga as Negima! and Love Hina and more recently founded of manga download website J-Comi, is now offering the infamously banned-under-Bill-156 comedy manga Oku-sama wa shôgakusei (My wife is an elementary school student) on the premium section of the comic site.
Official concerns about the potentially socially destabilizing power of manga were also evident in the minutes of a meeting of Miyazaki prefecture’s Youth Healthy Development Council last fall, in which members characterized boys’ love and womens’ comics as “dangerous,” saying that “if there are more depictions where women lead [in sexual encounters], it will encourage the tendency toward homosexuality.” These manga would not normally fall under the provisions of Bill 156 in Tokyo, but the idea that fiction can provide a space to explore alternatives–and that imagining alternatives to the status quo are a powerful part of what motivates activism–certainly lies at the heart of the potential of fannish activism, as Jenkins and Shreshthova acknowledge in their introduction. Fandom is fundamentally participatory, and politics increasingly (though it always had) hinges on participation. As Melissa M. Brough and Sangita Shresthova argue in this issue, there is much more work to be done in analyzing these networks and connections; as several articles acknowledge, that participation does not necessarily guarantee success.
Overall, the contents of the Transformative Works and Fan Activism issue tell a story that is broadly similar to the story of Bill 156 and the efforts against it: mixed but hopeful, and suggestive. Regarding fandom’s activist potential, I always think about what Gandalf says about the Ents: when they wake up, they will find that they are strong. What separates devoted fans from those who just casually enjoy something is action, and activism means taking that next step, from consumer engagement with media to civic engagement around it.
–with Alex Leavitt