Below is an excerpt from a dissertation, “Embracing the Demon: Monstrous Children in Japanese Literature and Cinema, 1946-2008,” written by Lindsay Nelson (with whom I collaborated in the aftermath of the 2011 disasters in northern Japan). It’s taken from the final section where Lindsay talks about new manga censorship initiatives and the idea of real (photographed) versus simulated (drawn) children.
Having moved through this lengthy and winding trajectory, what is next for the monstrous child character in the second decade of the twenty-first century? As I noted briefly in chapter 4, the completion of these chapters comes at a time when both real and imagined children are a constant presence in domestic and international media.
Specifically, two hypothetical child figures are at the center of a debate about censorship, free speech, and the question of what is healthy / harmful for young people. One group of hypothetical children are so-called “non-existent youths,” the children and adolescents depicted in manga. The other group are the “real” children who must be protected from images of young people engaging in certain kinds of sex in manga. Essentially, the battle over certain kinds of manga content and who should have access to them has become a battle to protect one imaginary child from another imaginary (monstrous?) child.
Mark McLelland writes:
In February 2010, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government proposed a bill to amend the ordinance targeting manga, animation and computer games and seeking to extend the range of the existing ordinance to explicitly cover depictions of ‘non-existent youth’ (hijitsuzai seishōnen), that is, purely fictional or imaginary characters who were, looked like or sounded like they were under the age of 18 and who were ‘recklessly’ depicted in a sexual manner that ‘positively affirms anti-social behavior.’ Officially known asBill 156, the ordinance was also referred to as the ‘Non-existent youth bill,’ especially by its opponents. (McLelland 3-4)
The bill was strongly opposed by manga publishers, who objected to its vague wording and to the idea of regulating the behavior of “non-existent youths,” which seemed a throwback to the era of the thought police. The first version of the bill was rejected in June 2010, but a revised version, which had slightly clearer language and referred to “non-existent youths” as “depicted youths,” passed in December 2010. It remains unclear how strict enforcement will be, but an initial group of censored manga has already been released. They include Okusama wa shogakusei, a work that was something of a poster child (pun intended) for the new law—it features a 12-year-old girl marrying a 24-year-old man and was censored for featuring child rape. But one censored work, Hanamizawa Q-taro Jisenshū Hana-Hiyori, was banned simply for featuring “sex in a school.”1 Already the criteria for material deemed “harmful to minors” seems arbitrary and confusing.
The language surrounding the bill has also been emotionally charged and at times seemed designed to inspire a child protection-related panic. Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara called those who would read material censored by the new bill “abnormal” and “perverts,” immediately relegating a fairly large volume of material and a large group of readers to the margins of society (Tabuchi). The law already in place to restrict the depiction of sexual material involving young people claims to restrict anything that might prove ‘harmful’ to the ‘healthy development of youth.’ Meetings and discussions leading to the drafting of the new bill also sought to “address the wholesome development of youth” by restricting the portrayal of “non-existent youth” in “anti-social sexual situations” (McLelland 5). Publishers objected to the bill’s vague terminology and argued that, for example, an “anti-social situation” could mean very different things to very different people. Some argued that the bill was just an attempt to increase surveillance in Japan as a whole, and that enforcing it would risk a return to an “oyaji (old codger) Japan,” with a small group of conservative older men attempting to legislate the morality of the nation (McLelland 5).
Censorship in the name of protecting children is, of course, nothing new. Beyond Lee Edelman’s writings on the ways in which adults are currently held hostage to the figure of the Child, in whose name all manner of restrictions are put into place, Walter Kendrick writes that pornography is regularly condemned in the name of the Young Person, the hypothetical pre-pubescent child who must be protected from temptation:
Today’s most popular Young Person, who governs the controversy over the Internet and television, is not a battered woman but a child. This creature…is of indefinite age and irrelevant sex; she or he is not so liable to be physically harmed by electronic pornography as to be led by it down some equally vague primrose path into unimaginable (at least, unimagined) degradation…As an object of pathos, hardly anyone can resist an endangered child, and real children should of course be protected from whatever dangers threaten them.But in the discourse of ‘pornography,’ we are not dealing with real children. Like the Young Person in all its other guises, ‘the child’ is a rhetorical figure, which lives in the realm of discourse and nowhere else. (262)
In its desire to limit children’s access to certain kinds of sexually explicit manga, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is also dealing with a rhetorical child, one “which lives in the realm of discourse and nowhere else.” It aims to protect that rhetorical child, whose “wholesome development” might be impeded by exposure to certain material, from another “non-existent” child—the child or adolescent engaging in “perverse” sex acts on the pages of manga. To prevent the rhetorical children of Japan from turning into monsters, they must be shielded from another kind of monstrous child—the sexualized child, who, by being made taboo, perverse, and “abnormal,” serves as a warning to the “real” children and their parents of what the “real” children could become.
Beyond physically abject, violent, vengeful, and optimized children, then, it seems that in 2012 we must also fear the specter of the hand-drawn child / adolescent engaging in certain kinds of “anti-social” sex acts, an imaginary child with the power to corrupt other hypothetical (but arguably real) youth. Given these developments, I would argue that the next step in this research project would be a survey of manga deemed “harmful to youth”—specifically, an analysis of the child characters portrayed in those manga and the ways in which they are determined to be a danger. Such an analysis would necessitate further research into the recent history of Bill 156, the arguments of its supporters and opponents, and finally a close look at some of the manga already singled out for censorship because of the actions of their child characters (or because of what happens to the child characters). As with my analysis of The Sky Crawlers, I would be curious to see how the anime / manga medium presents the viewer with a unique visual experience, and how the criteria for determining what is “harmful to minors” are ostensibly different in manga and, for example, photography and live-action films. An analysis of both titles that have already been singled out for censorship and other titles that may contain questionable content but have NOT been censored would provide some insight into the prevailing attitudes about what is considered “harmful” or “anti-social” behavior—in other words, what kinds of monsters (and monstrous children) are most feared.