Japanese culture shows dark side connected to manga, anime

Viewpoints Editor

Manga and anime are a trademark aspect of Japanese culture. They have grown famous around the world for colorful illustrations and art style, elfin-like characters, and, depending on what you’re watching or reading, loosely clad and ridiculously proportioned heroes and heroines.

While most of these artistic productions are all in good fun, Japan’s booming industry hides a darker side that sits in stark contrast with its generally lighthearted material — at least if you are from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada or the United States you might think so.

Even though Japan’s parliament, in 1999, made it illegal to produce and distribute child porn, it was this last June that the country made it illegal to possess real images of child sexual abuse.

So how does this relate to the nation’s manga and anime industry? BBC News reporter James Fletcher’s recent article “Why hasn’t Japan banned Child-porn Comics?” reveals that even though real child porn is unlawful in Japan, artistic illustrations or depictions of child porn, weirdly enough, are almost seen as a cultural norm, depending on who you are speaking to.

For example, during his investigation, Fletcher went to a manga convention in Tokyo and there he interviewed one of the event organizers, a man named Hide. Amid manga that depicts girls in their early or pre-teen years who are involved in sexual scenarios that range from incest, rape and other taboos, he was surprised by the candor Hide displayed about the material showcased.

“Everyone knows that child abuse is not a good thing,” Hide said. “But having that kind of emotion is free, enjoying imaging some sexual situations with a child is not prohibited.”

Even crazier is the fact that Hide’s wife, who was standing nearby was not phased by his self-proclaimed hobby of “young-girl sexual creations.”

“She probably thinks no problem,” Hide said. “Because she loves young boys sexually interacting with each other.”

According to BBC, Japan’s manga industry generates $3.6 billion annually; material that showcases child pornography, tentacle-porn and other sinister carnal elements makes up a small part of the industry — though it does attract a large amount of controversy and attention.

The fact that child-porn manga is legal in Japan raises a complex set of questions: Is this just harmless fantasy?

Is it possible — or even fair — to enact laws against someone’s fantasies?

What does this say about Japanese culture?

Japanese culture is weird — but in a way, at least to me, that is reminiscent of Austin — it is a good weird, a cool weird, but only to a certain extent.

To weigh in, it is extremely creepy and disturbing for me to think this is normal within some facets of Japanese culture.

I just cannot accept the sentiments expressed by Hide that this is harmless fantasy, a form of meaningless self indulgence.

If anything, this is just a roundabout way to express to others that you are a pedophiliac pervert.

Imagine that you are a father or mother of two kids — a boy and a girl — and that you have friends who indulge in reading titles with names like “Junior Rape,” or “Japanese Pre-teen Suite.”

How would you feel?

Could you remain friends with someone who enjoys something like this? Would this not disturb you on some level or, at the very least, make you think twice about bringing your kids around them?

But at the same time, who am I to judge?

I’ve certainly had some disturbing thoughts and fantasies a few times in my life — I’m sure everyone at some point has. Obviously not to the extent of child rape, but trying to limit someone’s ability to fantasize is like trying to catch smoke with your hands: it is too intangible and corporal to be strictly confined.

Fletcher interviewed a manga translator named Dan Kanemitsu and I think his feelings on the subject are not only reminiscent of George Orwell’s “1984,” but of a more salient, larger point:

“There’s every reason to be critical, that’s fine…but when you give people the authority to police others based on what they might think, that’s thought-policing,” Kanemitsu said. “I’m not comfortable with it… As long as it doesn’t infringe upon people’s human rights, what’s wrong with having a fantasy life?”