In the past few days the anime community has been deeply worried by Bill 156, Tokyo’s Youth Ordinance Bill, which has been passed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly with an overwhelming majority and support of both major parties in the chamber. The bill is an updated version of the Nonexistent Youth Bill which was defeated by the TMA back in June. The flaws and issues innate in Bill 156 have been extensively written about, and I particularly recommend reading articles by DarkMirage from Ramblings of DarkMirage as well as those from dankanemitsu of Dan Kanemitsu’s Paper Trail. If you’ve kept abreast of the news as it’s come out, you probably already have a grasp of the issues I’ll be discussing in this article. This is more intended as a starting point for those who don’t know the full background of the story, as well as an explanation as to why we all should be concerned about the nature of the bill, but also a call for calm and a plea to curb some of the hysteria coming out of Sankaku Complex (NSFW), /a/ and other internet forums, and why it may hinder very real efforts to get the bill repealed.
The bill has its origins well before the version that was passed on Wednesday. Its architect, Governor Ishihara Shintarou, is known for his extreme right wing political views, which include xenophobic and homophobic sentiments as well as historical revisionism, with his open denial of the Rape of Nanking. The irony of Ishihara’s advocacy of this bill is that, before he was a politician, he was an author, and his most famous novel, Season of the Sun, is a story of a high school boxing team, which involves instances of underage drinking, fighting, sex and rape. If his story were a manga rather than a novel, it would be regulated by this bill.
The updated version of the bill removed references to “nonexistent youths”, but expanded its scope to include “sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life, or sexual or pseudo sexual acts between close relatives whose marriage would be illegal”. It also included a proviso that it would not cover novels or “real life pictures or footage”, leaving pundits in little doubt that the bill was geared as anti-otaku, rather than an attempt to fight child pornography, as the Nonexistent Youth Bill was sold to the public. The bill was first made public on November 22nd, and, after an amendment proposed by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan stipulating that “the work’s merits based on artistic, social, educational, and satirical criticism criteria… be taken into account in the evaluation process,” was passed by a committee vote on December 13th. The timing of the announcement and release of the bill was insufficient to gather input from important stakeholders, which lead to a protest from ten major publishers including Shueisha, Hakusensha and Kadokawa Shoten who have vowed to boycott next year’s Tokyo International Animation Fair. The response of Governor Ishihara, who is also on the organizing panel for TIAF: “Then don’t come. They’ll come back crying next year.”
A mediating influence came from Prime Minister Kan Naoto of the DJP, when he wrote on his personal blog (something interpreted by many as a rather strong statement, as, during his time as prime minister, he has left blog posts to his staffers):
There is another topic I would like to talk about concerning [the strength] of the Japanese brand. Currently there are concerns over the possibility that the Tokyo International Animation Fair could be canceled due to controversies related to the healthy development of youth issues. Healthy development of youth is an important issue. At the same time, it is important that Japanese animation is broadcast to a global audience. I urge all parties involved to try to work toward preventing a situation where an international animation fair cannot be held within Tokyo.
The bill has also been questioned on constitutional grounds, as the Japanese Constitution has statements protecting freedom of speech and expression, however, pundits familiar with the Supreme Court of Japan have stated that, unlike in the US, it is generally reluctant to overturn legislation on the basis of unconstitutionality.
The bill itself is a debacle and fails by any measurement of good regulation for the simple reason that, as TypicalIdiotFan pointed out in the last article, it’s uncertain. Its language is ambiguous which lends itself to arbitrary implementation. The bill does not extend regulation of blatant pornography, as that’s already rated 18+. However, depending on how the bill is interpreted, it could threaten a range of popular and critically acclaimed works such as Koi Kaze and Berserk. It is probably more likely than not that works in that vein will not be threatened by the bill, but they’d have to rely on their “artistic merit” to be protected, and this isn’t something which I think should be left to the discretion of a bureaucracy.
Even if such works come under the scope of the bill, it simply isn’t a case of slapping an 18+ rating on them and/or selling them outside of Tokyo, and life going on as normal. The economics of the industry demand that the sale of such works needs to be possible in Tokyo, Japan’s largest economic hub by the length of a street, and at street level vendors, where sale of 18+ material (works which are currently associated with pornography) is restricted, in order for a lot of these works to be profitable. And if these works aren’t profitable, publishers aren’t going to release them.
Works that are much more likely to be affected by the bill include the currently airing Yosuga no Sora (and yes, I was surprised as anyone that it aired on TV largely uncensored). While I can understand the argument why such works should be kept out of reach of very young children, my natural inclination towards anti-censorship leads me to argue for and defend its existence as a published work. To me, an anime like Yosuga no Sora is entitled to come under criticism from a literary perspective, but my personal opinion is that I’d call it “mediocre” long before I’d call it “offensive” or “sexually stimulating”. Again, I don’t feel it’s the place of a bureaucracy to make a decision which would likely lead to it not getting published in the first place. On a market place which should be predicated on freedom of expression, that should be a decision left to individuals… and to parents, with vigilance, in the place of those who can’t yet make that decision for themselves. It’s the sort of anime that would be rated TV-MA in the US, or MA15+ in Australia. I’m not an immense fan of content rating systems, because they too are a form of censorship, but systems with multiple graded ratings are much more preferable to systems such as Japan’s, where everything is either available for everyone, or rated 18+ and regulated as strictly as pornography. As pointed out by DarkMirage, the problem with this idea is that it assumes ages 17 can’t handle the same mature themes as ages 5. I mean, geez, if there’s a time in life where people need to be exposed to mature ideas…
The hysteria among fans is almost as worrying as the bill itself. Sankaku Complex has done no favours for the chances of level headed discourse and reasoned opposition among the wider community with the sensationalist tone of their reporting. They are completely right about the need to be concerned by the potential consequences of the bill (and the story of a yaoi mangaka who was told by her publisher not to draw school uniforms was well worth breaking) but reports that it involves enforced banning of any nature amount to misinformation. An “effective ban” as DarkMirage has described it, is far more accurate, assuming that publishers cower to the bill and take less risks with works containing more edgy themes that would not make money if stocked alongside pornography.
I’ve been following the AnimeSuki Forums‘ thread on the issue, a place which tends to be more level-headed than some other anime forums and even here there have been pockets of panic and delirium. The bill, it must be made clear, will not kill anime and manga… but it may compromise it. This is the concern! Some posts I’ve seen have appealed to the violent nature of extreme otaku to “off” Ishihara, rather than the democratic process, others have speculated that Miyazaki Hayao secretly supports the bill, pointing to his silence on the matter and his previous criticism of the state of current anime. What an inflammatory load of bullshit! If anime fans want to see this bill repealed, calls for violence and slander are not the answer, and will only make things worse. In this case, the most compelling forces to repeal the bill will come from the group of publishers who are boycotting TIAF, as well as any appeals to the bill on legal or constitutional grounds. Grassroots political pressure will help, but seeing as how otaku don’t tend to be the most politically active group in Japan, I don’t see them making a notable challenge.
A quote from Naom Chomsky is the most fitting note I can think to end on: “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like.”