The Battle Over Manga: Japan Debates the Sexual Representation of Young Girls

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There's a debate brewing in Japan about whether the government should be regulating the sexual representation of young girls in DVDs, novels, video games, and magazines--particularly the country's popular manga comic books.

At its core, the debate is about the nexus between art and life. It pits those who believe these kinds of materials exploit children and even encourage pedophilia against those who claim Japanese officials shouldn't be imposing real-world standards on fictional worlds or likening committing a crime to depicting one. Japanese publishing executive Yasumasa Shimizu argues "there are no victims in manga" and that the genre's creative process depends on unfettered freedom, while manga expert Takashi Yamaguchi compares restricting manga to "convicting a mystery writer for murder."

According to the New York Times, the controversy was touched off when Tokyo's metropolitan government banned retailers from selling minors materials that depict illegal sexual or violent acts or sex involving anyone under age 18, while also prohibiting children under 13 from posing for magazines or videos that portray them in sexually suggestive ways. In protest, ten of the country's biggest publishers are boycotting the upcoming Tokyo International Anime Fair, which showcases manga and animated films.

The Times points out that Japan is generally more liberal about pornography than the United States. In 2009, for example, an American manga collector pleaded guilty to violating a U.S. law that outlaws artistic representations of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

What the Times doesn't address, however, is who in Tokyo is actually doing the censoring, and how they're doing it. For that we turn to the New Zealand Herald, which profiles a manga censorer named Nobuhiro Komiya and gives a snapshot of his workday at Tokyo's Department of Youth Affairs and Public Safety:

Spread out over the white Formica table-top are the worst of the worst--a hand-picked selection of the weirdest and most shocking examples of [sexually explicit manga] ...

Page upon page of black and white etchings of wide-eyed, young people of indeterminate age drawn in that larger than life Japanese cartoon style, engaged in every kind of sexual act, legal or otherwise.

"Normal sex doesn't sell well," Komiya remarks.

"School sex, tied-up sex, abnormal sex, sells. So this is what they draw."

"Mangaka don't draw this stuff because they want to expose children to sexual perversity, they draw it for one reason: to make money."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.