This week is “Yaoi Pride Week”, an event devoted to anime’s famous homoerotic genre, organised by the Yaoi Addiction Society – possibly the only addiction society devoted to promoting the addiction. Because of this, it seems a good idea to examine the world of anime’s more pornographic works in a legal context.
This is of particular importance here in the UK, where not only are their laws outlawing “extreme pornography” and in 2009 the Coroners and Justice Act made it illegal to possess “pseudo-photographs” and other prohibited images such as drawings of underage children. The first prosecution happened to near to where I live in Teesside, where in October 2014 a man was given a nine-month suspended sentence for possession what the court considered to be explicit manga images, including some underage material.
This has sparked a long-running debate about whether drawings of underage sex are a problem, one that in Japan has been running for years. On the one hand, those who want it banned believe that pornographic drawings and cartoons should be treated just the same as photography and films, should be covered by the same laws, and anything paedophilic should be outlawed. However, those on the other side argue that to ban such drawings is an attack on freedom of speech, that no-one is actually being harmed because they are just illustrations and no-one is actually being made to perform said sexual acts, and that there is no conclusive evidence to show that such images do or do not increase the risk of sexual abuse.
In Japan, the laws on pornography are less strict than those in the UK. As has been covered before, the only real restriction is on the showing of genitalia. Other than that, everything else seems to be OK, including underage sex. This falls into two main categories: lolicon and shotacon, which in the west tends to mean anime depicting pubescent or pre-pubescent girls and boys respectively. Probably the most (in)famous example is a three-part OVA (Original Video Anime) called Boku no Pico, which was dubbed “the world’s first shotacon anime”, which also features crossdressing and gay sex. The thing is, even though this series would most likely be considered illegal in the UK, if you type “Boku no Pico” into Google the very first page includes links to where you can watch it. It should be pointed out that the series has never been released legally in any English-language territory (Region 2 UK, Region 1 USA, Region 4 Australia, etc.), but you can see the trailer on YouTube.
The big problem is human curiosity. When you know that such a series exists, and that you can easily watch it online, then you are more likely to watch it. People do not like being told what to do, and if you tell someone “you shouldn’t watch this”, then reverse psychology may well take effect. We have already covered in this column before about the time when the press and parliament were concerned about the release of the anime Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend (No. 49) which featured tentacle rape, publishing articles and giving speeches about the need to “ban this filth”, when all it did was give the anime huge publicity and boosted sales. Similarly, I know that Boku no Pico contains material that is probably illegal, but at the same time I want to judge it for myself.
This expands into lots of other areas. Take for example the issues of fan-art and slash fiction. There are many people in both Japan and elsewhere who may take the characters from one or more anime and depict them embracing romantically or in a manner that is totally pornographic. However, one or more of the characters might be underage. Common examples include the lead characters from Black Butler (No. 10), Ciel Phantomhive and Sebastian Michaelis, where Ciel is 13, while Sebastian’s age is never given – a thorny and horny problem considering that Sebastian is a demon and is possibly ageless. Another common setting is anime with male sports teams, often set in schools, such as the swimming-based Free! (No. 17) or volleyball-based Haikyu!! (No. 116).
I do personally believe that there is some snobbery when it comes to censorship of cartoons and comic books over more “respected” art-forms such as film and literature. Take for example the novel Lolita, famous for depicting an underage sexual relationship, and from the anime term “lolicon” comes from (“Lolita complex”). This is considered one of the modern classics of literature and hugely respected, and has been adapted into a live-action film twice. The most critically acclaimed yaoi is the light novel series Ai no Kusabi (No. 37), in which one of the lead characters, Riki, is: “Almost sixteen.” When both Lolita and Ai no Kusabi were adapted for the screen, Lolita for the first time in 1962, and Ai no Kusabi’s OVA in 2012, the younger characters both had the ages rounded up to avoid controversy. In Lolita the title character went up from 12-years-old to her early teens, while the English-language subtitles state that Riki is 18 rather than 15. It seems you can get away a lot with the written word, but if you try to depicted visually this somehow makes it worse for no reason I can think of.
The major issue here is whether underage or extreme pornographic draws actually have an effect. The problem is that there has never been a conclusive study into the subject to prove whether it does or does not, and if there was people would still argue about the end result.
Personally, I am sceptical about the effects pornography has. I worry more about the everyday sexism and homophobia you see around you. People say pornography is sexist, but pornography laws are also sexist. Last December the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 banned amongst other acts in porn films “female ejaculation”, but “male ejaculation” is legal. So you can see 100 men cum all over a woman, but if that woman “squirts”, that’s apparently too far. Even worse are these awful titles like Fifty Shades of Grey which are so inaccurate in their depictions of things such as BDSM, and are worse that a lot of normal pornographic material.
I for one think that the laws on pornography in the UK are too restrictive and many should be repealed. People should be exposed to things that make them uncomfortable to challenge their perceptions. On the subject of animated and illustrated pornography I would say this: I don’t wish to be pedantic, I don’t wish to be boring, but as far as I can tell, you can’t fuck a drawing.