Warning: This article contains references to content you may find disturbing.
Manga and anime have now been generally accepted as an aspect of modern culture that Japan takes pride in. A number of these works have been released outside Japan with related events being held and welcomed all over the world. The growing popularity and influence of anime and manga continues to spread beyond country borders and language barriers.
While they are recognized as excellent content that has a major impact on society, we must not forget the controversy and social issues that it has brought with it. The controversy over manga and anime culture has been a topic of serious discussion for a while, and has even been discussed in legal courts and the national Diet. Many of the debates are over the possibilities of 2D media leading people into serious crimes in real life and prior restraints and controls of expression by creators.
Discussion in the Diet
Freedom of expression is a legal right for all residents of Japan. It is the right to express, receive, and impart one’s individual opinions and ideas freely. Manga and anime are also part of the publication and broadcasting media’s right to freedom of speech.
However, that does not mean that legal systems allow anything in the name of freedom; the right is guaranteed based on the generally shared awareness that protects common understanding and each individual’s morals and ethics. Even though it is your right to freely receive or impart your ideas, limitations must occur to restrict you or the source of the expression if an individual takes action that disturbs social order while under the major influence of somebody else’s idea.
Here is an example which happened in Japan: ‘Young girls were assaulted by strangers, and their fathers later joined in the assaults.’ That was the plot of a manga story published in 2004. The 42-year-old manga artist was arrested two years later on charges of child prostitution and violating child pornography laws. In 2006 through 2007, 41 more people were arrested by both Miyagi and Saitama prefectural police on charges of violating child pornography laws and indecent assault. They were said to be a pedophile ring called ‘Joji-aikoudan (female infant fancier)’. Some of them actually did the same or similar as the characters in the manga. One of the men recorded his own assault on video and gave it to the manga artist. Another ex-member of the ring looked back and said, ‘This artist’s work stood out by far with his extremely realistic composition and story.’
In this case, the manga artist and some of their fans got arrested because a manga series published for profit incited people to commit serious crimes. Referring to it and other similar cases, a Diet member who is pro-regulation started a discussion at the Diet in 2014 as follows:
・These manga are left unrestricted in the name of ‘freedom of expression’ or ‘disturbing creative artwork’.
・Creative works, even when fiction, must be restricted when they are too harmful to society.
・Calling them ‘graphic novels’ might sound soft and harmless, but those depicting conspicuous sexual abuse must not be left unpunished just because they are fictional creations. They shouldn’t be given sanctuary for their societal harms.
・What we get from creative works with ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of expression’ can be works that encourage people, give them hope, cheer them up when in despair; that is the meaning of creative works. There is no need to protect something that is horrible and disgusting to read.
And here is a reply to the above statement.
・While some unfavorable works that deal with ‘child sex’ exist, ‘freedom of expression’ must be well-respected. This is a very tough issue.
・Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code, known as the obscenity law, is not to protect the rights of actual children that exist; that is to say, it is not to protect societal profits. It was legalized as a tool to protect an individual legal profit. Therefore, comics cannot be punished by this law.
・I’ve read the material 2 and 3, and I agree that such miserable incidents really shouldn’t have happened. However, as far as this case is concerned, it’s one single example of a specific and particular incident, and I’m not sure if it should be discussed as a general issue. I’ll refrain from making judgments.
The pro-regulation side believes that if creative works can incite actual crimes and harm the security of citizens, they must be restricted with prior restraints and regulations, before the worst happens. Diet members have an obligation to protect the nation. Even if it is only about possibilities, they seem to feel that it would be too late once a crime is committed and precautions are needed.
The counter-answer summarized that it would be too difficult to apply a blanket set of regulations even though some works in fact appear to be harmful for the nation; not all creative works are genuinely harmful and we need to protect the right given to the nation. What needs to be prioritized the most is each individual citizen’s security. Is it a right decision to position creative works including manga as a threat to the nation? Careful handling of the matter seems to be required.
As such incidents and cases were reported, people started discussions everywhere. Some say “we should get rid of sources that incite crimes and/or give wrong ideas and knowledge”, and others say “it doesn’t mean that everyone who enjoys manga and anime commits a crime”. Some parents say “I can’t show these to my own children”, and others say “it’s a parental duty to educate our children to distinguish right from wrong while respecting their right to free access to information.” Neither opinion is wrong, and it doesn’t seem that we all can reach an agreement that can convince everyone equally.
(Next Page: Self-censorship by creators and producers)