Shimoneta, Censorship, and Education

Censorship is a difficult subject to explore because the battle over it is rife with conflicting and contradictory values. On the one hand, it usually derives from good intentions, specifically the desire to avoid exposing people to that which is deemed morally inappropriate. On the other hand, it can be a tool for control, especially when the standard for what is morally right is itself flawed through biases such as racism and misogyny. To create a work of fiction around the idea of censorship is to potentially step into a minefield.

Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist is an anime adapted from a light novel. Its premise is that Japan has outlawed dirty words, dirty thoughts, and of course dirty pictures in order to improve public moral health. High schooler Okuma Tanukichi is the son of an infamous “dirty-joke terrorist” who resents his father and seeks to reunite with his childhood love, Nishikonimya Anna, a symbol of purity and righteousness. However, he ends up getting roped into joining a dirty-joke terrorist organization known as SOX (substitute the O), led by a girl clad in only a cape and a pair of underwear on her head who goes by the name “Blue Snow.”

Though a comedy, I don’t find the series to be that funny. Then again, it would have been foolish of me to expect extremely clever jokes from a series premised around trying to restore people’s ability to shout, “PENIS!” Rather, what ended up interesting me was how it tackles censorship, and how I can’t find myself in total agreement with its ideas on the matter.

The world of Shimoneta, or more specifically the elite school in which most of its story takes place, is an environment where people are so sheltered from profanity, pornography, and obscenity that they cannot even recognize it when it is literally thrown in their face. Aside from a few eccentrics who are either extremely good at hiding their feelings or have their interests tied up in other things (one character’s interest in sex is mostly from a scientific point of view), they are mentally unable to process their own sexual desires. From here, I believe it is easy to see why a series like Shimoneta can be simultaneously uncomfortable yet thought-provoking even if one potentially disagrees with it. The idea that the removal of dirty jokes from a country has rendered its men and women psychologically immature could be utilized as both an argument against “political correctness” and an argument against oppression of people’s rights to be sexually active. After all, women are attacked both for having sex and not having sex.

Where Shimoneta stands on the subject feels somewhat unclear even after finishing the series, and this has a lot to do with the fact that the series is rife with anime and light novel tropes. Anna, for example, turns out to be a stereotypical yandere character whose burning desire for Tanukichi (she can literally smell his scent from hundreds of meters away) swings his view of her from aspiration to monster, while her large rack and hourglass figure clearly make her a sexually attractive character. At the same time, Anna is the very symbol of how a lack of sex education can negatively affect a person. Because she has been taught that righteousness is the polar opposite of profanity, she believes that anything she does in the name of righteousness is by definition pure, even if it involves pinning Tanukichi to the ground and trying to take his virginity against his will in highly sexually charged scenes.

What is Anna? Is her behavior more representative of a warning towards keeping people ignorant about sex, or is she a nymphomaniac designed to thrill the audience? For that matter, what is the ethical standing of a little girl character clearly designed for a lolicon audience, whose hair is shaped like a penis? Is it an innocent joke, or has it gone too far? And in this way, is Shimoneta directly commenting on actual society (assuming Japan but perhaps it can apply elsewhere)?

I feel that the ambiguity of that last question is what makes Shimoneta worth watching, at least for a few episodes. It opens up a potentially interesting conversation about how we view media, and even in disagreement I believe it can be a fruitful discussion.

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Scenes Cut from Genshiken Second Season Episode 2

I might be calling this an episodic review in the tags, but that’s kind of a misnomer. Instead, I’d like to talk about Genshiken Second Season episode 2, or rather, what’s missing from it.

The manga equivalents of this episode would be Chapters 58, 59, and 60, but if you look at Chapter 59 you’ll notice a rather important Madarame story being cut from it. Now, this might be them cutting it out entirely, or it might be a pacing issue or something where they’d prefer to explore the new characters before putting the spotlight on the old guard again. That’s why, for now, we’ll leave it aside and assume it might actually appear in the anime at a later date, and focus on another curious cut. For those who are sticking to the anime, be warned that Chapter 59 is potentially pretty spoilery for you.

In Episode 2, Yajima, Yoshitake, and Hato all go over to Yajima’s place to create their profiles for the club magazine, Mebaetame. Prior to this, they go to buy some drinks, during which Yoshitake talks about her fantastic metabolism. What the anime did not include, however, is the fact that Yoshitake was trying to buy alcohol to liven up the party. The scene was originally a way to show how Yoshitake is as free-spirited as Yajima is straight-laced (her objection is mainly that they’re below drinking age), especially when Yoshitake ends up getting the beers anyway. Curiously, whereas in the manga they pass out due to drunkenness, in the anime, they simply got tired.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Was this cut due to time constraints, or was it cut in order to avoid showing underage drinking?

I don’t know enough about Japanese television censorship or censorship laws to determine if this is the true cause, but I do know I’ve seen plenty of manga to anime adaptations play it safe in roughly similar ways. The Bokurano anime, for example, turned a rape and exploitation storyline from the manga into something much less extreme. Genshiken does not even begin to approach that territory, but maybe for this show it’s still something they’d like to avoid.

Another thing, though not exactly a cut, is a loss of context. The moment when Ogiue slams the door on Ohno is a visual reference to the time Ogiue invited Sasahara over alone. That part of Genshiken isn’t animated, so the connection is lost.

The opening is kind of interesting. It has quite a bit of information about what’s going to happen (including the appearance of a certain saucer-eyed character and her friend), but what I find most interesting about it is that it makes it very clear that Hato is the focus of the new series, something which wasn’t always immediately obvious in the manga. Also, Sue as Koujiro Frau from Robotics;Notes is about as perfect as it gets. That’s something that wasn’t in the manga but fits Sue’s character so amazingly well that I wish it had been. There is precedent for anime stuff to make it into the original manga, though, so hope is not lost.

Language, Insults, Slurs

In online communication, whether it’s on a forum or in a video game, it isn’t uncommon to see some strong insults (racist, sexist, etc.) being thrown about, and the ubiquity of such language has created a lot of debate on the subject among fans and others concerned. What I see from those arguing, however, is a tendency to take a rather extreme stance in one direction or the other, which ends up avoiding much of the nuance of such a complicated topic which goes well beyond video games and technology and into the deep recesses of human history. I’m no expert on the matter myself, and I’m bound to have my own oversights, but I wanted to lay out my own thoughts, as well as my own personal philosophy on the matter.

One of the stereotypes of being on the internet is that, in order to successfully participate, one must have or develop a thick skin. Behind the safety of a computer screen and at least a few hundred miles, it’s easy to say what you want, when you want. People will take anything they can to put you down, whether it’s because they want to seem tough, or they want to psych you out, or because they actually feel that way, and race, gender, and sexuality factor into that equation as well. However, while it’s true that listening to what every single random person has to say about you online and taking it to heart is a bad idea and that having an impermeable hide can help deflect the insults away, there’s still the problem of the very fact that words such as “n****r,” “f****t,” and “slut,” are considered viable as insults.

How often do you see someone try to put down another person by calling them white, heterosexual, or masculine? We take these values to be in may ways a societal default on practically a subconscious level. When you call someone a n****r online to try and get under their skin, even if you don’t really mean it seriously, even if they’re not actually black, you’re implying that being black is in itself a terrible thing. It’s one thing to trash talk to get a mental edge, and it’s another to even unknowingly reinforce the idea that some people are perpetually inferior on some inaccessible level simply because of the color of their skin or whom they find attractive.

That said, I am very much against censoring or removing slurs from the English language.

While I do not believe that words are necessarily innocent in and of themselves, as they may have elaborate backgrounds rooted in hatred and intolerance, I am a firm believer in freedom of expression, whether that’s artistic or verbal or any other form, and that includes the nastier side of how we speak. If the writer of a story wants to convey hatred through strong language, then that option should be available to them, just as the option to deride them for doing so is available to everyone who chooses to read (or not read) their work. If people feel the desire to express themselves using that language, then I do not think it’s right to deny them their own feeling. To simply say that we need to erase these words is like layering bricks over a massive sinkhole.

The problem with “f****t” isn’t that it originally meant “twig” or whatever and that we polluted its meaning, but rather that we allowed ourselves to believe that homosexuality is a quality worth insulting in the first place. This is also why I think people using words like n****r and f****t in a positive fashion, or at least trying to do so, is not necessarily reinforcing the negativity associated with these words, but that is a topic I will leave for another time.

One thing I am well aware of is the way such language can be so commonplace that those who are exposed to it frequently while growing up can wind up having it as a part of their subconscious mind and not realize the potential strength of these words. Using them becomes habit, as simple as saying “good morning.” I’ll admit it myself: when I was younger, I would use the word “gay” to mean “awful,” as in “You got a 50 on a test? That’s so gay!” If you had stopped me and asked whether or not I actually thought homosexual were inherently worse as human beings or that I actually hated them, I would’ve said of course not, but still, “gay” was in my vocabulary as an adjective to describe mundane areas of life. Eventually, I stopped using the word in that fashion altogether, but it didn’t come from me declaring that “from this day forward, I will no longer use the word ‘gay’ in a way which implies negativity!” It simply happened gradually and almost unconsciously, and if I had to attribute it to anything, it would be to meeting and becoming friends with people who are gay, the act of which likely educated me into thinking of them not as some distant idea or label, but as fellow human beings. Just as easy as it was to start using the word “gay” in that particular meaning, it became just as easy to stop after the fact.

In contrast, when I was even younger, I made the active decision to stop cursing, and while I’ve gotten somewhat more lax since, I still try to avoid such words as much as possible. I never mind if others use them and use them often, but I have knowingly limited my own regular vocabulary because I think it serves me better, and I will still use them when I’m quoting another person who’s used a word like “fuck,” or if I’m discussing it as a topic and feel that ideas get too obfuscated through the use of euphemisms.

The fact that I’ve consciously removed some insults from my language and unconsciously removed others can seem rather contradictory I realize, because it might seem as if I’m saying that people should consciously remove certain words from their vocabulary while also claiming that it happens naturally and we should just let nature take its course. The difference here, however, is that I am not claiming a solution wherein everyone eliminates offensive language from their vocabulary or society deems it fit to consider the use of those words a crime in and of themselves. Nor am I claiming that people should use only the words that I use. Rather, I think the key to addressing the use of slurs, whether the user did not consider the weight of those words, is simply education, and not on a didactic level.

If we can show people about how words can and do have power, or encourage people to realize that those they see as “others” are not some nebulous concept but as a group of individual human beings, then we can give them the power to shape their own language usage from an informed position, instead of an ignorant one. This way, when someone unconsciously uses a word that encourages intolerance, they can be shown the potential problems of doing so without forcing upon them a false paradigm of “right and wrong,” or trying to instill shame into them. Thus, if they stop using a word, it isn’t because the word never existed or that it has some vaguely defined negativity, but because they felt that, on some level, whether conscious or unconscious, that it isn’t how they would like to express themselves. Vocabulary is avoided but it isn’t removed.

Part 1: PG-13, Part 2: NC-17?

Warning! Spoilers for Houkago Play Volume 1 . Also slightly NSFW.

The 4-koma manga series Houkago Play had its second volume released recently. Having enjoyed the first volume, I decided to place an order for Houkago Play 2 at Kinokuniya NYC. However, I received a call telling me that the book could not be ordered due to “content.”

Wait, what?

A call back had them explain that Kinokuniya has a policy about sexual content, which is perfectly understandable, but I didn’t even realize that Houkago Play fell into this category. The first volume is certainly sexually charged, as the story features a sadistic tsundere character frustrated at not getting any alone time with her guy friend, and there’s even a brief portrayal of sex at the end of the book, but there is zero nudity in the book, and the sex takes up only three pages out of an almost 200-page book. Next to some of the stuff that Kinokuniya sells already, such as josei manga, certain seinen titles, and even harem or shoujo romance stuff, this seems like small potatoes. So what gives?

This is literally as far as Houkago Play goes.

One possibility is that the second volume of Houkago Play may be significantly more graphic than the first, which is in itself odd. If that’s the case, where is the line of “content” that Volume 1 manages to keep clear of, but Volume 2 tramples over on its way to the other side? Or is it that the constant sexually charged nature of the comic itself is what takes it over the edge?

If anyone can tell if there’s a significant difference between Volumes 1 and 2 of Houkago Play, that would be very helpful.

Nonexistent Rationality

In light of the Handley case’s conclusion and the recent measure in Tokyo to outlaw sexually provocative imagery of characters 18 and under to protect “nonexistent youths,” as well as the subsequent opposition by manga creators from all over Japan, I’ve felt an increasing desire to state my thoughts on the whole situation. I’m not really anybody who can affect a change, particularly when it comes to the Japanese government, but I still want to say my piece.

Before I begin, I want to explain my stance on objectionable art so that you can understand where I’m coming from. Ask two different people from similar upbringings to list their sexual kinks, and you would likely see differences in their answers. People’s sexualities are very personal things, and often times people cannot help what they are sexually attracted to. They can ignore it, they can actively avoid situations in which they are exposed to it, and being confused about their own sexuality can lead a person to think they’re into something they’re really not, but sexual attraction, to whatever it may be, will be there.

And so you’ll find situations where something one person finds sexually attractive will be absolutely repulsive and morally reprehensible to another. It is not absolutely not wrong for a person to feel disgusted with something that makes them highly uncomfortable, and it is their very right to think less of anyone who finds such a thing arousing. However, it is my belief that laws should not be passed based simply on the fact that something is seen as creepy or disgusting. Laws should not be carried by emotion alone. In order for it to be a crime, there should be a real risk of harm, be it physical, psychological, monetary, or some other form to another individual, something that makes it more than just a “bad feeling.”

With that in mind, I want to get into the main thrust of why this bill to protect “nonexistent youths” is so dangerous should it pass. Simply put, it is too broad in its scope and so vague in its language that it can encompass pretty much anything. It is based too much on vague “feelings” and is inherently flawed.

Pornography is one thing, but the proposal extends to all potentially sexually provocative portrayals of characters 18 and under. That covers a lot of ground. Let’s take a classic example of something easily sexualized which is also a part of everyday life: the short skirt. How short does it have to be in order to be considered sexually provocative? What is the threshold? Is it the standard length for a Japanese school uniform’s skirt? In that case, I don’t think I have to tell you that there is a sizable population that would disagree with that. In that case, let’s just get rid of all short skirts on minors in manga and anime. But even long dresses can be deemed sexually attractive, possibly more than short skirts, depending on the individual. The same thing applies to getting rid of dresses and skirts entirely and replacing them with pants. Forbid sexually provocative imagery? I can only believe that the people who drafted this proposal have no idea how powerful the human imagination can be, especially that of a horny teenager.

The teenager is also an important individual to consider with this proposal. The idea of removing fictional portrayals of people 18 and under that could be deemed sexually provocative feels like a myopic decision created in the world of adults. The proposal is there to prevent adults from looking at underage characters in a sexual manner, but not everybody reading manga is an adult. And while I know that it is difficult to determine age based on a drawing given the sheer unlimited possibilities that can occur when pen is put to paper and an image is created, let’s just assume for the sake of argument that we discovered a way to 100% accurately portray the age of a drawn character, that the 16-year old on the page is 16 years old. If you consider the reader to also be a 16-year old, then it would only make sense that they would be sexually attracted to that character, that a 16-year old can be sexually attractive at all. Yes, there is a risk involved with attracting people who are much older than teenagers, but if we were to apply that logic to the real world, to “existent youths,”  it would be as if teenagers were being told that they weren’t allowed to look attractive because there’s a risk people outside their age group might find them attractive as well, or saying that people 18 and under cannot look attractive at all. Again, when taken from a purely adult perspective, it’s easy to see why this would make sense, but not everyone in Japan is an adult, and not everyone reading manga is over the age of 18.

Taking a broad view of censorship, artists and creators will push the limits of censorship as far as they possibly can, no matter how strict or severe the censorship may be. Genitals are censored in Japanese pornography, but their porn industry has found a number of ways around the “mosaic.” Some companies push the limits of pixel size in the mosaic, boasting that their mosaics are extra small, while the very concept of bukkake possibly stems from the goal of showing evidence of the male genitals without actually displaying them. If a limit on skirt length really were to be decided and skirts were deemed “okay”  if they were less than 4 centimeters above the knees at most, then some manga creator or artist out there would make sure to point out that a girl’s skirt is 4.000001 cm above. It’s one thing to set a limit and say, “this is the point you must not cross,” but to try and prevent anything sexual from being portrayed in visual fiction is a losing battle forever thwarted by the endless creativity of artists.