I just finished a new post over at FPS about the recent developments at the intersection of fandom and the law, specifically whether anime and manga featuring children in explicit situations still counts as child pornography. (In Canada, it already does.)
The argument for this definition states that even though the images are drawn and rendered rather than photographed and filmed, they still incite arousal on the part of the pedophile, and therefore encourage criminal behaviour. The argument against it states that the children are fictional and nonexistent, and that no harm is being done. Right now, this definition is being tested in Iowa. Christopher Handley faces twenty years in prison for possessing material imported from Japan that a postal inspector found objectionable. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is now serving as his special counsel.
My own perspective on the issue has been outlined elsewhere, but this does remind me of a funny and disturbing story of my time in Japan.
Tokyo is full of pornographic doujinshi. This is a fact that one must accept in order to function happily there. The men and women riding the train with you might be reading hentai manga. There will be pornographic sections of even mainstream manga shops, and they won’t be separated from the general titles by any curtains or doors. You can literally stumble into them. And depending on your understanding of a particular doujin shop’s layout, you might wind up on a floor for porn that isn’t in your interest.
Which is how, if you’re me, you wind up looking at Kuroshitsuji porn by mistake. You know, the series that involves a twelve year old boy?
I had purchased Volume 1 of Kuroshitsuji in Akihabara, having seen it on promotional materials from Comic Market, and feeling vaguely curious about it. I “read” the images after purchasing it, then read a scanlation (having already paid the Japanese purchase price). It was then that I discovered that the central character was a twelve year old boy — to me, he had always looked like a girl in her mid-teens who happened to sport a particularly short haircut. (Actually, I liked the series a bit better when Ciel was a girl. It meant she was a young woman of power who flouted the patriarchy by owning her own business and wearing suits, a sort of young Integral Hellsing.)
In any case, wandering through the first floor of a doujin shop in Ikebukero my eyes lit on pictures from the series, and I picked it up. By page three, Sebastien (the centuries old demon butler) was reaming his master Ciel (the twelve year old boy).
Two parts of my brain clicked on at once. One said: “Yeah, I guess that is the natural pairing. After all, the manga shows Sebastien tucking Ciel into bed, undressing him. It all happens offscreen, though. So I guess people are taking advantage of the subtext.” The other said: “Put that down right now, before you’re arrested.”
You can understand my mistake. Most pornographic doujinshi are not fully open to the public, and most of them aren’t available on the ground floors of shops. They come wrapped with a few pages hanging out so you can get a taste of the material, but any and all happy endings only come once money’s been exchanged. So I had no idea that I was likely to find anything other than mainstream manga and artbooks, and maybe some funny doujins, on that first floor.
I wasn’t expecting it.
Which, I have to wonder, might be what happened to Mr. Handley. After all, we never know the contents of books or films until we have read them. When we buy something, part of what we’re buying is the surprise. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Handley knew exactly what he was buying, down to the last drop of fictional fluid. But it’s also possible that he had no idea how the story would go. Maybe the intrusion of rape or torture or imprisonment happened within the context of the story the way those things happen in real life: by surprise.
In a very roundabout way, this is an argument for scanlations. Scanlations allow readers to see before they buy, so that if a story takes a turn that is too dark for them, they won’t be left holding the bag (of comics they don’t like). But scanlations won’t solve the other problem: lack of knowledge.
Postal inspectors can’t necessarily be expected to learn Japanese. They might not know how to read the character profiles at the front of every manga. (This goes double for doujins, where the publication is intended for insiders who already know the pertinent information.) They might not know who’s legal and who isn’t. They might not know about the preponderance of upskirt shots, or the Japanese tradition of families bathing together. (While in Japan, I watched a group of women take a preschool boy to our ryokan’s public bath. We were all nude in full view of each other. You have to wonder what this would have looked like to an outside observer with no education in Japanese culture.) So even if the content is innocent, how is the inspector supposed to know? Is Customs supposed to employ a manga specialist for just such an occasion?
…Actually, they should. I should start preparing my resume.