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Bill 156: Eyes Wide Shut

Now that some time has passed, it only made sense to bring the issue over to these pages to more or less find some middle ground.

Several days ago, the revised version of Tokyo’s Office of Youth Affairs and Public Safety’s proposed Bill 156 passed, and has engendered panic from some sectors of the anime/manga community, as well as forced the hand of publishers and production companies to take up arms. As previously mentioned by current english language champions of the fight at hand, Dan Kanemitsu and Yomiuri’s own Roland Kelts, the “Non-Existent Youth” series of laws turn visual works of the drawn & animated into a bigger evil than that of possibly very real threats upon the young, even when some of these works do not perpetrate any specified red zones.

So what we are looking at are laws that prohibit the ability for creators to express concepts and ideas regarding the depiction of inter-generational, or even homoerotic sexual ideas. This isn’t so much a ban, as it is a means to curb certain types of stories to be made readily available to the public of Tokyo. The problem with this is that the very nature of 156 is that it is worded so vaguely, and across the board, that it may in effect limit the sale/rental of scores of titles that might even have a hint of “risque” themes and images. Which in retrospect threatens many classic titles, as well as many popular current games, anime & manga. In fact, this makes it hard to even imagine certain classics of the medium to even have fluorished had this come about decades ago, times when the industry was a more vital force in the Japanese marketplace. (Can one imagine Nagai, Takahashi, or even Tatsumi surviving such decisions outside of the underground in a time with no internet?)

What’s worse, is that it doesn’t seem to be made in the name of protecting any real children. In a nation where it is perfectly legal to own very real child pornography, a bill like this surfaces, creating all kinds of mixed signals. The lines are 20/60 at best, and this can only create further debate down the line as long as artists, and media keep up the fight to inform the public who are often bombarded by press club controlled “news”. The truth in Japanese news is often distorted to one degree or another due to a mostly tabloid, one lens approach to local happenings, which makes the need for other arts to do their part in circumventing the information barrier to get clarity out. If one could believe it, this was what anime was capable of in its heyday. Much like some kind of warped daily news on hallucinogens, anime had functioned as part marketing, part stealth id pressure valve for many folks with a need for something to say about their cultural time. Art has always served this purpose when put to its best use. Even Hollywood has a great reputation for jabbing at the current zeitgeist, while still attracting unsuspecting crowds.

The part that really burns many in the industry is that while the bill took months to develop, before heading back to the drawing board for a revision, publishers and studios were kept completely out of the loop until an impossibly last moment. Leaving no room for input from those making the material is nothing less than a power move, designed to bully out what they deem a “troubling influence”. This is only the beginning of where this all runs suspect, and requires further investigation by the Japanese public. According to Roland Kelts in his amazing post, already a number of noted publishers & studios are actively boycotting next year’s Tokyo Anime Fair, which may lead to ending future events indefinitely. Not to mention a growing number of events taking a stance against this decision.

Which all leads to what we as global admirers of the medium can do.

Not too much really, except to spread the word back to Japanese friends & colleagues. But the real question is how not only will the industry continue to tackle this as a place once well known as a hotbed of left-leaning student protesters and progressive minded authors. It can be argued that anime itself has almost always been an entity borne from a need to break free from cultural norms that post-War Japan had engendered. (Go Nagai practially owes an entire career to this rebellious spirit.) To see that it has shifted from a volatile creature with its own ideas, and free will to that of a reactionary, fetishistic one, perhaps something like this can be seen as a godsend to some. But much like our own homegrown movements against the powers that be, it is imperative that more than merely anime/manga creators and studios take up the fight to artistically mutate one of Japan more curious imports into something clever again, and perhaps more importantly, improve how the money actually flows.  Because in the end, this is perhaps where eyes must be poised instead of merely the end result.

It’s often interesting to see what tends to be missed amongst all the sturm and drang.  But it can be argued that we are in this volatile spot, largely due to problems stemming from an anime/manga infrastructure, unwilling to reinvent itself, and comfortable with dying of internal bleeding.

This, naturally may sound nigh to impossible to most folks in the industry, but one takes a long range view of the whole, some alarmingly obvious red flags appear. Had the industry’s monetary system been retrofitted to something akin to Union rules, and away from almost always toxic deals with advertisers, and television networks, perhaps the desperate dive into rote eternal youth fantasies could have been curbed. After the anime bubble burst in the middle of the last decade, the flimsily constructed foundation upon which anime/manga stood upon for decades suddenly became a sinkhole, leaving investors with little to have faith in but 14 years old girls, a defensive posture, and an endless silent scream of denial.

When “Cool Japan” can only depend on a neurotic minority, the system may be broken beyond repair. [ This PR program alone may be the very thing that helped spur this along in the first place. Whoopsee. Backpedal, backpedal.]

And then for Ishihara to go on record as calling out certain creators of questionable material possessing “warped DNA”, only exacerbates matters. [full translation from Kanemitsu’s wonderful new post is HERE.] As much as I have trouble with an art community catering to merely one facet of a larger diversity of story, this is full-on panic mode rather than any kind of practical, creative solution to a problem of sameness. (If there’s any real problem at all, outside of a rampant room full of clones. A real Room of Gauf in culture.)

The reasons for making the last several seasons so identical is based on an antiquated system’s inability to stem the tide of technological evolution. Even as so-called “moe” shows are on the way out, the period of time that perhaps led to this era of sameness is largely a result of giving in to the way of things, and taking in the only clientele left available to them. Commerce trumped art, and as thus, is at the mercy of a not as reliable niche as say a kind of public that used to watch shows by the millions in the 1980s.  [re:TOUCH] Anime has fallen into an inert state that is every bit a shadow version of itself. And now it looks as if certain interests, focused only on controlling the morality of others, are taking full advantage of an industry’s fearful navel gazing in order to undo ideals once previously embraced. [ie- Ishihara was once good friends with legendary poet/actor Yukio Mishima, and also won the Akutagawa award for writing the at the time “scandalous” story ” Taiyou No Kisetsu” (aka Season Of The Sun-which has been made into a film, and an anime special!) , which pitted two young brothers in love with the same girl.]

Ishihara’s reputation prior to assuming the role of Governor, and LDP champion has had quite a reputation as a film writer, essayist, and at times vehemently nationalistic spokesperson. In his infamous series of essays “The Japan That Can Say No”, Ishihara illustrates both a bright-eyed idealism for a prouder, more unified Japan, but also harboring a seething bias against American influence. Granted these were written as the Bubble days of Japan were in full-swing, and in the full shadow of a fearful US, but the fervor is still clearly present. Which leads this writer to wonder if his fears of American influence have in his mind bled into the nation, creating some kind of violent illness that renders citizens unable to resist committing serious offenses after reading a book, or watching TV. Is it a fear that US influence has helped create a morally weakened environment? Recent interviews seem to suggest this. Whatever it is, it’s clearly based on reasoning that is questionable at best. Which is why it is important for those not used to being active in the public arena to take heed, and make efforts to get through via real communication as opposed to faceless strongarming. To turn inward now with culture (think VOCALOID, and Comipo!) is a dangerous prospect.

Ishihara, as much as I do not agree with his sentiments or ideas at this point, deserves some credit for at least lighting a fire under the seats of many in a world that has perhaps been hanging around high school far too long after graduation. Much like the protests that arose when Tipper Gore and the PMRC came to be the scourge of the music recording world in the late 1980s, anime needs its own Jello Biafra & 2 Live Crew. Irrepressible, and vital upstarts to get the debate to expand, and to at least pave the way for a new era in Japanese visual culture. On that same token, Japan cannot continue to afford to deny certain other nations ability to support artistic professionals if they ever wish their cultural exports to survive. And lawmakers must be ready to tackle a more transparent approach toward protecting the youth in a more realistic and respectful fashion. Art is freedom. And as thus, it is meant to explore. But that means to keep moving. Animation by definition.

The spark of true youth can never be fully extinguished, and its time the nation truly embraced this in all its blistered, battered glory with eyes wide open.

Special Thanks to Dan Kanemitsu, Roland Kelts, and Geoff Tebbetts for keeping the information flowing!

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