For fans of manga, anime, and other Japanese media, pointing and laughing at inaccurate mass media portrayals of Japanese pop culture has been something of a sport for decades. A few weeks ago, however, things took a slightly more serious turn.
The ball got rolling when early in June, the Japanese House of Representatives approved a long-overdue law banning the possession of child pornography. Up to now, creating and distributing child pornography was as forbidden in Japan as anywhere else, but “simple possession” had not yet been criminalized. The new law applies only to “real” child pornography and leaves alone completely fictional depictions of underage characters in sexual situations in manga, anime and other media. This exception came about after vocal protests from manga publishers, creators, fans and free speech rights activists. The story was widely reported in non-Japanese media. However, most of these reports focused on handwringing about Japan’s “failure” to clamp down on sexually explicit manga. Most shared was a CNN article filled with outrage about how the new law supposedly permits Japanese bookstores to fill their shelves with shocking cartoon porn about children.
I hadn’t realized that Canada had extended their law to fictional depictions. However, I had heard about one of the arrests, which caused me to check the ratings SH/JW doujin by a certain artist/circle I had just had obtained for me abroad. That artist is clearly inspired by the artistic style of the Year 24 Group. At least one of their images is strongly reminiscent of Keiko Takemiya’s classic manga Kaze to Ki No Uta, which features underage m/m relationships and the ugly, tragic cycle of pedophilia. I suspect that had I chosen to buy a copy of KtKNU in Japan that I could have run into trouble upon reentering the country. The doujin in question turned out to be not explicit, but wondering about them and being reminded that KtKNU has not yet been published in English by a company like Vertical once again reminded me of how tenuous the position of creators and consumers of these works can be. Should they (and me) be punished because a tiny minority of dangerous individuals make use of sexually explicit materials? Does censorship really protect children?
It seems almost absurd that you’d have to wonder about a classic like KtKnU, but yes, these are questions that people are being forced to ask. Literally – when the Tokyo ordinance that’s briefly mentioned in the post was being debated, Takemiya was part of the protests and brought up KtKnU:
Critics of the bill who spoke at the meeting included Takemiya Keiko, one of Japan’s most prominent and well respected female manga artists, who argued that the wording of the bill was so vague that even her own classic manga The Song of the Wind and the Trees, which deals with homoerotic themes, could fall under the regulations. Other critics included academics who pointed out that some of Japan’s classic literature, including works by Edo-period satirist Ihara Saikaku, could be caught by the legislation since they too dealt with “non-existent youth” in sexual scenarios. Indeed, it was argued that the bill could potentially place any discussion of the sexuality of young people off limits, with deleterious effects on freedom of expression and cultural life in general. (source, p15)