Banning Child Pornography in Japan and the Slippery Slope Otaku Walk

What is is that most of us live for?  It certainly varies from person to person, but if we dig down and analyze our habits, thoughts, and actions, a few items might arise – family, job, faith, money, comfort, and entertainment.  For otaku, entertainment may be at or near the top of the list.  We don’t just enjoy anime – we revel in it.

For Christians, this can be especially problematic.  A conservative approach to anime would deem the entire form as something evil and immoral.  Rob of Christian Anime Review recently tweeted me the video below, in which a pastor discusses various nerdy entertainment, including anime, and how these forms influence us.  I don’t disagree with all he has to say.

Of course, the viewpoint of the writers on this blog is that there are a lot of fundamental truths that we can mine out of anime – ideas that capture the most significant tenets of Christian faith and impress them in such a way that might move us, encourage us to explore, and even transform us.  And on simpler level, we approach anime simply as fans watching an art form, while hopefully using sound judgment as to what we should avoid.

Still, it’s not that simple.  Anime is a medium developed in a very non-Christian country, inherently presenting challenges to Christian viewers.  Among them are how the characters are drawn and depicted.  For me, the one of the two most uncomfortable questions you could ask me (because they perhaps point out my hypocrisy!) is “Are you okay with how anime depicts minors?”*

I would hazard to say that most anime fans would agree with me when I say it’s despicable and harmful to present very young characters in sexual situations (though anime loves to get around this by presenting age-old characters in kids’ bodies**).  But what of teenagers and pre-adolescents?  They’re underage, too, after all, and they are frequently depicted in fanservice-y ways, sometimes for comic relief, but often for the viewer’s pleasure in less virtuous ways.

This week, Japan finally succumbed to pressure and outlawed possession of child pornography.  No kudos to the country for taking so long in doing so, though perhaps this will help change the culture a bit in a positive direction.  But of note is that anime, manga, and light novels can still operate as they are.  I’m sure many an anime fan breathed a sigh of relief at this exception.

But what should Christians think?  And not just of this development, but how we respond to the depiction of underage individuals in anime? Do we believe in the whole 2D is 2D and 3D is 3D, and the earlier cannot harm the latter?  Certainly that’s among the questions that have been asked and will continue to be.

There are other questions to ponder upon as well:

  • Should we avoid series that show any semblance of sexualized fanservice, or just those that press beyond a certain precipice?
  • Should we know our own boundaries and follow them, or is that opening a can of worms that might lead us down a slippery slope of rationalization and temptation?
  • Is there even a clear cut answer?

I don’t have a good answer for these questions.  What I do suggest is that we all really think about this topic with a clear mind and that we take time praying about it and diving into scripture.  The answers might be to our liking – or they may not be.  Either way, if we commit our lives to Christ, we need to let him give us guidance and do our best to abide in him.  Even when it comes to anime.

* The other question causing me discomfort is “Do you watch all your anime legally?”

** I immediately thought of Dance of the Vampire Bund and Monogatari, but a much earlier child-adult-vampire character was found in western media through Kirsten Dunst’s role in Interview with the Vampire

TWWK

Husband. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, ASOIAF, and Meg Ryan movies. Tweets before proofreading. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Jesus is King.

29 thoughts on “Banning Child Pornography in Japan and the Slippery Slope Otaku Walk

  1. I’m sure you knew this already, but just in case somebody reads this and gets the wrong idea: child pornography has long been banned in Japan. The new law now penalizes possession (単純所持) in addition to the previous restrictions on the creation and selling of such materials.

    It’s not as clear-cut an issue as some people think, since throwing stuff into your desk drawer is one of the easiest ways to frame you – same with drugs and stuff – but ultimately I agree with the idea behind the law. The mere existence of real-life child pornography means there exists a child-victim somewhere out there. I just hope that those in charge investigate where those forbidden materials came from with every case, since tracking down the producers remains the more direct and important part of helping the children.

    I sure breathed a sigh of relief with the exclusion of manga/anime though. I might dislike most common forms of fanservice, without even bringing up porn, but if we had vague restrictions like that restricting the doujin (self-published) market of Japan some 15 years ago, who knows if people like Urobuchi (Madoka), Tanaka (Humanity has Declined), Ryuukishi (Higurashi/Umineko) or Maeda (Clannad) could have ever made enough of a splash to get where they are now – and those are some of the flagship anime/novels for Christian viewers!

    The Japanese underground is full of icky stuff, but the reason it could give us the above-mentioned writers was because it was so accepting and open to variety. Thankfully, respecting creative freedom does not conflict with saving flesh-and-bone victims of child abuse.

    No comment on the ideological/spiritual aspect of the issue, since I agree wholly with you that it is a matter for individuals to think through on their own.

  2. I think 2D depictions influence 3D ones, is not a good approach to treat them as separate entities.

    ” Should we avoid series that show any semblance of sexualized fanservice, or just those that press beyond a certain precipice?
    Should we know our own boundaries and follow them, or is that opening a can of worms that might lead us down a slippery slope of rationalization and temptation?
    Is there even a clear cut answer?”

    I think there is a limit. Nudity, sexualized poses and situations, (mainly stuff from ecchi series) etc. That would be something to avoid. The things that are on a lesser level, depend of each person and if is an occasion of sin for them or not. But still, prudence is required.

    That would mean limiting the view of certain series? yes. You may not end watching all the stuff from a season, but is better.

    The rationalization of sin is a real danger. The limit is moved constantly, and people suddenly find themselves watching or supporting something they would haven’t time ago.

    What would be a conservative approach?

    What is “conservative”?

    1. I agree with a lot of what you’re staying. I still wonder about the “line” for each person – this is something I’ve posted about a number of times in the past. As much as dislike the idea of a shifting line that differs from person to person, it certainly seems to exist when it comes to items (or in this case, anime) that might tempt one to sin. I do believe that the beginning of rationalization with entertainment is jumping into media without much thought and spiritual discernment.

      I’m defining “conservative” here as separatist or moralistic versus perhaps a more moderate, discerning viewpoint. In other words, it’s “no anime should be watched” v. “be discerning in which anime you watch.”

      1. I’ll put an example.

        In the current climate, things like a beach or a pool is something that a number of people is accustomed to. Is ideal? no. Is still immodest. Such scenes in anime (I’m speaking of tame ones, just the characters playing or speaking, not sudden clothing malfunction, and sexualized poses and gestures) are something that I guess some people wouldn’t find a problem. But, for some people could be.

        I was speaking of something like that when I was referring to variations in what people could find an ocassion of sin. Now, there are people that would like to justify viewing more risque things, and certainly that is dangerous. There are things that reasonably a common or normal person could find tempting, and that, is where the line begins to be crossed.

        I think the term is misleading, since it points to other meanings. I’m more conservative or traditional that various people in what could be called the Christian part of the fandom (I’ve been checking various blogs, tumblr blogs, forums, art sites, etc during years), yet, I don’t follow the “separatist” approach. I agree with the position of discerning what productions to watch, read, etc. Also, I like to study productions for other reasons too (analyzing the storytelling, author motives, art styles, techniques, etc)

    2. It’s easy to go overboard with these things. There is less a line here and more a giant blurry continuum. The actual lines must be drawn where things become genuinely harmful to actual people, not just where the lines of morality begin to make some people uncomfortable. Laws aren’t about making us feel like we’re winning morality wars, but to stop actual harm – like real child abuse.

      People will always want to explore the darker sides of their humanity, even those who aren’t simply mentally ill. So what will removing their safer outlets (like ecchi anime that probably harm nobody) do to solve anything? Remember: the more you restrict and criminalize things, the more the demand for them can shoot up. You can’t just will problems out of existence.

      Would we rather have fantasy children being harmed or real ones? If actual children are being used as models (as in, are being abused) to make these anime, or if the anime actually endorse or advocate illegal acts (rather than being an obvious fantasy/idealization which harms no one) then we need to be able to prosecute those cases. But children will unfortunately always be harmed and abused – the point is to minimize those cases, not stroke our egos and make *us* feel better.

      So where do we draw the lines, given that we’re not the ones that the laws need to deal with? A “conservative” approach (judging by mainstream religious attitudes) would likely be to repress all sexual urges of any kind that aren’t VERY narrowly defined, thus criminalizing anything vaguely related to it. But if history has taught us anything, that can only make things worse for a large number of people, while not even helping the people the laws were made to protect.

      But I’m sure we all know this on some level. It’s really just an interesting thought experiment for us laypeople; someone else actually has to do the dirty work and solve the problems. We can argue about whether seeing some hilariously unrealistic mammaries is a slippery slope into further sin, but the aim is to actually protect real children from real abuse. We must choose laws that aren’t based on our own concepts of sin, but rather on what has actually proven harmful to all societies and faiths, even those who repress it in an effort to not seem so sinful.

      1. Ah, you are speaking of the recent law mentioned in the article…

        I was writing about the other part of the article. The one about consumption of certain media, not about restricting contents by law. But now that you touch the topic…

        Is very interesting, certainly. Being in charge of such things in a country is something that at my current state of knowledge I wouldn’t want to do.

        You are looking at it by an utilitarian and material point of view. If the supernatural aspect is not considered, well, we could just make a heavily micromanaged regime and deal with these things… but no. Taking in account supernatural realities is necessary. What moves people to consume certain things? what about making substitutes, helping change the tastes of people? ahhh, a good solution, but very difficult. Some people have been very adept at it in the last 50 years. I could look at the media in my country (in South America) and see how the trends, tastes, and morals of people have been influenced. Brick by brick… they had the patiente to do this. Could Christians have the same level of commitment to such a venture? once, we (I’m Catholic) were the great producers of Art… but look at the current situation, where secularists, progressives, cultural marxists have relevant positions in art and media. I guess some people think that with politics they could do things easier… but no, this is something cultural.

        1. I agree that it’s good to debate and consider spiritual points, just not to the detriment of important social progress. Faith and spirituality are not static things, and they are very personal and divisive. In order to reach consensus on solving the most harmful things, and thus helping those who need the most help, it would be wise to not cloud the arguments with additional ideas that aren’t directly relevant. They should be part of the exploration of the topic, but left for a future debate once they prove irrelevant to the debate at hand… and possession of actual child porn is not the same thing as ecchi anime, so that’s all that my point was.

          I’d rather we reach consensus on the former first and not needlessly drag the issue out with matters that are far more vague and morally grey. It’s taking long enough to get child abuse laws passed without bringing other topics into the fray. You simply won’t change everyone’s tastes to adhere to one worldview. But you can make them see that abusing children is immoral, regardless of their worldview, without removing their other outlets. As I think you implied, it’s a “one step at a time” thing.

          1. Incidentally, after reading TWWK’s reply below I think this comment might not even be necessary. Feel free to ignore it if I was simply missing your point and leading the discussion on in a pointless manner.

      2. These are all good points, Hogart – no surprise there!

        As David alludes to in his response to you, we’re more thinking about how anime effects us internally. I think that any media we become obsessed with will probably effect our thinking in some way – maybe a lot, maybe a little. And as Christians, our hearts and our minds are as important as our actions, and we believe that our actions are connected to the earlier.

        But certainly when it comes to law, I tend to agree with you. Restrict what is harmful without going overboard, which in turn could cause a greater monster.

        1. I understand (and empathize). I just want to ensure that you don’t limit the discussion only to yourselves and other Christians. We aren’t the only people involved, and we need to keep in mind that change is gradual.

          But if we want to limit this to an internal debate, don’t forget that exploring sin is necessary to some degree in order to understand it and ourselves. Giving ourselves a means to explore the darker aspects of our psyche and such is important. Repression has a pretty negative rap, and for good reason.

          I suspect that “obsession” is the key word here. There is a difference between exploring and glorifying (or even endorsing) what we could call sinful acts (or immoral/illegal ones). I’ve noticed that that is the dimension that Western viewers tend to dance around the most, regardless of what faith or creed they aspire to.

          I just really like to keep separate issues separate when it comes to issues of social ills. I’m sure I’m arrogant and preachy about it, but I’ve experienced far too much progress stifled by people who want to expand the scope of debates until they lose sight of what’s truly important. Faith has a tendency to do just that, and that’s why I disassociate myself from my own beliefs as much as possible and take a utilitarian stance in these kinds of situations. I guess it’s who I’ve become.

          1. I’m definitely trying to focus and emphasize a Christian frame of mind with this post. There are other, better, and more intelligent bloggers than I who are taking a larger view of the debate and going in that direction. My contribution, I hope, is within the Christian community.

            That said, while I disagree with some of what you’re expressing, I agree with other parts, especially that regarding obsession, which pertains to a lot of different acts that can become sin, and the idea that we can easily lose sight of what’s important – I think that’s especially worrisome with an issue like this where the topic itself is such a hot button issue that we may often be too reactive in how we respond.

  3. There sure are a lot of anime’s like that. I saw in the Otaku Magazine e-newsletter about how the government banned (I forget the name, couldn’t find it) that anime about the sister who gets possessed by a spirit who wants to rape her brother? I believe that was the one..but either way, I’m glad that it’s happening and happening way too late if you ask me.

    Yes, they have freedom to make those anime’s or whatever, but there are things that are just detrimental to society, period. Regardless of what you believe (in the animator’s case) those anime’s shouldn’t be made. They just stir on people with those intentions already to maybe act on them because of what they read.

    1. It’s interesting how cultures different – Japan from the U.S., for instance, with the earlier readily accepting sexualization of underage characters in animated form while the latter finds it’s at best strange and at worst horrific. But even in the U.S., Christians need to think about whether these media are playing a part in our decisions to sin, and we have to take Jesus’ words seriously about what we should do about temptations and sin in our lives.

      Thanks for your comments, Michael!

  4. I’d like to keep this short; I treat it like food.

    Peanut butter is high in nutrients, packets of these are used to feed starving children in less fortunate countries.
    But some people are allergic to it, their bodies just can’t handle it naturally.
    Is peanut butter good/ bad then?

    Cheeseburgers once a week are probably still OKs for most people, but probably a No Way for professional models or athletes, or a very weight-conscious people. They choose not to eat it.
    Is cheeseburger good/ bad then?

    Cigarette is considered not healthy. But being around people smoking around you without showing any “gag reflex” – something I can’t do – can really be beneficial in communicate in, umm, “less developed neighborhood”. 😀
    Is cigarette good/ bad then?

    Despite its alluring sweet scent of almond, one drop of cyanide in your salad bowl will send every one of us six feet under or scattered in sea.
    Is salad good/ bad then?

    1. What affects one might not affect another. All the more reason to be discerning in our choices and not just go with the flow, methinks!

      1. Perhaps we’re lucky that there’s no some snide aside about Akamatsu himself, as maybe none of the (three!) writers for the article are familiar with manga.

  5. The authors of mangas and animes clearly do not know anything about Christianity , most specifically Catholicism. I ‘m a practicing devout Catholic, so more often than not, I feel extremely disturbed how mangas depict the Catholic religion specifically, not just Christianity, in general. I don’t think the mangakas do any research about other cultures, either. There’s one I had just read where a character kisses girls on the lips… some complain, and then that character says that’s how Americans greet friends. o_o

    Oh, and Christmas Eve is the day couples date, and do IT.

    1. It’s few and far between where we find a Catholic/Christian-focused manga that’s created by someone who really has a good understanding of the the faith. I guess it’s hard to expect much, since the neither the writer nor his/her audience is likely a believer (only 1-2% of Japanese identify themselves as Christian).

      I wonder what other cultures think when they see American media that uses non-western religions in their plots…

      1. Have you watched American Ninja starring Michael Dudikoff?
        Probably something like that. 😀

  6. One thing I’ve found helpful in answering the question of what I should and should not watch is to ask a couple questions:

    First, how is the objectionable content presented in the story? Do they want you to enjoy viewing sin or experience temptation?
    Tokyo Godfathers, for example, has its fair share of violence, nudity, swearing, and drag queens, and it’s one of the most redemptive works of art I’ve ever seen. Seriously, great Christmas movie. In that work, real human sin and brokenness appears, and that’s necessary if any real salvation or redemption will occur. Satoshi Kon didn’t want his audience to enjoy the problem but to have hope for the solution. Contrast Ah! My Goddess, which is fully self-aware fanservice. Granted, there’s a plot, and many charming moments, but you can’t deny how it enjoys sexualizing them. The author wanted his audience titillated.
    With some series, it’s harder to tell how the author is using it, I admit. I’m still not sure how some of Evangelion’s nudity is meant to be taken.

    And that brings up the second major question: How does the work affect me?

    Does it desensitize me to slaughter and tragedy? Does it shift Christian moral commitments? Does its portrayal of a negative god-figure affect my perception of God’s goodness or justice? Does it make me laugh at something like rape or racism?

    These are personal questions, questions of conscience. Some people can watch certain shows without harming themselves, while others can’t, and that’s okay. I’d imagine there are limits though–from what I know of Kite, I don’t think it has anything to offer the Christian viewer.

    These questions came up as I was wrestling with the less family friendly parts of the Bible. I realized that Ezekiel is as frank about sleeping around as he is because he wants to call his audience back to God. That said, even when the author has a redemptive intent, someone could still read their work misuse it. (The passage describing the seductress in Proverbs comes to mind.) Hence the questions: 1. How is it portrayed? 2. How does it affect you?

    -Ezra

    1. Thank you for the comments, Ezra. Those are excellent questions and ones that I use as I approach anime (and should use as I approach media in general). I could not have said it any better!

      Your examples are excellent as well. Our writers here recommend Tokyo Godfathers, in spite of some of it’s content, precisely because of the significant themes it espouses. And as for Evangelion…that’s certainly a series that needs to be wrestled with, and one that I think contains a complex mixture of important thematic elements, audience pandering, and a whole lot of “this doesn’t really mean anything at all.” It’s all the more jumbled up now with the new movies, which, too, have a lot to say.

      Thanks again for sharing!

  7. Japan outlawing child pornography will not effect anime and manga for two reasons:
    1. Child pornography is defined as pornography that involves a child. Animation or drawn images are not children, that’s like claiming a map of the USA is the USA.
    2. There would be no way to enforce such a law.

    Don’t get me wrong, I dislike fan-service a lot, but let’s be realistic. Representing anything in art is only that, ‘representation’ and a big part of freedom of speech.

  8. I love Japan, but it’s not a perfect country, and one of the things I find most morally questionable is their more lax stance on child porn. I like to shop at Kinokuniya, a chain of Japanese bookstores that has around 10 locations here in the US, and once in a while I see stuff there that I wouldn’t *quite* label full-on child porn, but it still seems pretty iffy, such as the whole “junior idol” thing, which are young models usually in the “tween” age group posing suggestively for photobooks and DVDs often in skimpy bathing suits. Stuff like that really seems to be walking the line. I remember someone saying they say such material at a store in Japan literally across the aisle from shelves of hardcore hentai and sex toys, making it all the more creepy.

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