Creatives in Japan are currently up in arms about a new form of censorship legislation which is in the process of being approved by the authorities.
The Federal Province of Tokyo has made it illegal for creative companies to portray any female character who looks to be under 18 in any form of sexual context. This applies to all forms of manga, animation, games and film. On the surface, and in terms of child pornography and exploitation, this is a perfectly sane move to make but as is usually the case with these issues, a huge amount of grey matter surrounds the subject.
Publishers, artists, literary associations and consumers are all rising up to protest against the laws which will limit what will and won't be on the market. This doesn't just apply to erotic arts, but to a lot of Japanese mainstream culture as well. Japanese culture is littered with images of scantily-clad, young women. Take Bulma in the manga series Dragon Ball, for instance; she is the only character to appear completely topless in the novels and, although no exact indication of her age is given, she appears to be young, naiive and childlike and she is often exploited by older male figures around her, such as when Oolong, a shape-shifting pig, repeatedly tries to peek at her pants. Dragon Ball has gone on to be one of the most successful manga stories ever written since it was originally made into a series in 1984, but will most certainly come into the firing line if this legislation is passed. This will also include huge Japanese exports such as the animated film Akira and the game Dead Or Alive.
Oddly enough, novels and music will be protected from the censorship laws as they are regarded as 'art' which in itself is quite offensive to the hundreds of talented illustrators and game designers out there. The person behind the legislation is Shintaro Ishijhara, a former novelist himself who achieved a great level of success from his stories which often depicted young people living a free-spirited life outside the rules and restrictions of society. Quite why he has decided to enforce such strict restrictions on his contemporaries is a bit of a mystery but it is interesting that novelists are seemingly protected.
The official term for the legislation is 'hijitsuzai seishonen' which translates to mean 'the juvenile who does not exist', but how can the portrayal of a fictional character who might not even be human, be controlled? If it's clear that it's an adult who is pretending to be a juvenile, then no enforcement will take place.
This is a hugely complicated issue which, if passed, will severely restrict the creativity of Japanese popular culture. Surely it is down to individuals, parents and teachers to decide what is and what isn't acceptable for their children to view? And, if as an adult, you are still unable to decipher the boundaries between right and wrong, then surely you need something a bit more severe than a piece of government legislation to help you the draw line? Time will only tell where the future of Japanese popular culture is headed, but I get the sense that our Western eyes would not agree with putting any restrictions on the talented, if not slightly twisted minds of the Japanese arts.
By Jessica Hazel - firstname.lastname@example.org