The Beginner’s Guide to Anime Extra, Part VII – Race in Anime & Manga

Racism 1

There has been a bad news story from the world of manga over the past few days. You can tell it is bad because it has been reported on the BBC. Whenever the British press report on manga, it is hardly ever in a positive way.

A right-wing female manga artist named Toshiko Hasumi recently posted on her Facebook page an artwork she had created (see above), based on a photo of a 6-year-old refugee in Lebanon, taken by Jonathan Hyams for Save the Children. It shows this girl with the following caption, which is written in Japanese and translated here: “I want to live a safe and clean life, have a gourmet meal, go out freely, wear pretty things and luxuriate. I want to live my life the way I want without a care in the world – all at the expense of someone else. I have an idea. Why don’t I become a refugee?”

When this was originally reported by the English-language news website The Japan Times on Friday 2nd October, it was stated that a petition by the website ordering Facebook to remove what they believed to be a racist image had reached nearly 4,000 signatures. By the time the BBC reported it on Thursday 8th October, it had reached over 10,000 signatures. Hasumi has since voluntarily removed that image, but remains unrepentant, claiming she was the victim of left-wing activists saying: “I don’t want European nations to be victimised and hardworking people should not suffer by those fake immigrants. The simple reason I used a girl is, if I drew an old man it wouldn’t have gained attention. I am not denying that there are real miserable refugees. I am just denying those ‘fake refugees’ pretending like victims who are acting for their own benefit by exploiting the media attention on the real poor refugees.”

This not only brings up the question about whether or not this image is racist, but also on the subjects of freedom of speech and the right to offend. Europe is no stranger when it comes to offensive cartoons. Just take the examples of the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005 which led to riots and boycotts; or the anti-religious Charlie Hebdo cartoons from January of this year which resulted 12 people being killed and 11 injured by Islamist militants in Paris.

This also leads to something that I wrote back in September on the issue of pornographic anime and the law (Part VI), in which I wrote: “People should be exposed to things that make them uncomfortable to challenge their perceptions.” Now this manga that I have been exposed to do makes me feel uncomfortable, and it does challenge my perceptions. While I find it offensive however, I do feel that it would be hypocritical of me to sign any petition calling for it to be censored, especially when you consider that in my pornographic anime article I wrote that I feel that some anime pornography that are illegal in Britain should be considered legal. People will disagree with me on that.

The whole problem is that the issue of freedom of speech and the right to offend is becoming so increasingly politicised. While I support some aspects of political correctness and think it is a good thing that in polite public society we should try and avoid using language and image that might offend, in private society the rules change. You would not say and do things on the street that you would do at an event that had an 18+ age limit.

Over the decades, it has seemed that censorship has moved from something that those on the right support in terms of removing things they consider to be foul-mouthed or too sexual when they are not, to something the left support in terms of removing things they consider to be racist or sexist when they are not. The problem for me is that people are now so keen to jump on the bandwagon to make themselves look like they care more than anyone else.

Take an example outside the world of cartoons and something closer to home: the Dapper Laughs controversy. People said he was sexist, they protested, they got him off the air, and his career has since been forever tarnished. Since then however, people have been trying to defend his right to offend, saying that the performer Daniel O’Reilly was the victim of elitism and was unfairly censored. Concerning this, I don’t think anyone comes out of it well. Not just O’Reilly, but those who attacked him because they are now seen as supporting censorship, and those who defend him because they are now seen as being sexist. Even worse are websites like Spiked, a site that sometimes makes the Daily Mail look like Jeremy Corbyn supporters, whose defence of Dapper Laughs at times feels like they are trying to make him into some sort of right-to-offend martyr, while seeming also wanting to left-wing comics on BBC panel shows to go away.

Personally, I think the problem with Dapper Laughs is not that he told material about rape: many other comedians have done it, and tackled the subject well. I think the problem with Dapper Laughs is simply that he was unfunny, and not good enough to have his own ITV2 show in the first place. In my view, he is simply not funny, QED.

Getting back to Toshiko Hasumi’s manga however and the subject of race, this is something that Japan, very much a mono-culture, has problems with. Out of 5,000 potential asylum seekers coming into the country last year they accepted just 11, despite the country’s declining birth rate. The country’s conservative nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made many comments downplaying Japan’s wrongdoings during World War II.

It is also rare to see non-white characters in anime in manga. When Revolutionary Girl Utena (No. 125) was broadcast in the 1990s they were complaints from racist viewers about one of the main characters being black; Magi (No. 67), a series based on the Arabian Knights depicts nearly all the characters as white despite being set in Arabia; Hetalia: Axis Powers (No. 26), a comedy set in WWII in which the characters are stereotyped personifications of nations, got so many complaints from South Korean viewers that the depiction of their country was offensive, that the series never made to TV and only got broadcast online, despite that fact South Korea only appeared in the print manga; and Toshiko Hasumi herself has frequently posted anti-Korean material on her Facebook page before she drew her refugee manga.

In terms of freedom of speech, the more I read about the more I think that it truly does not exist. When people say: “I believe in freedom of speech”, what they are really saying is: “I believe in freedom of speech – for everyone who agrees with me.” Everyone, and I do include myself in this, only believes in what they want to believe. If you are left-wing, who will only believe truly in left-wing media; if you are right-wing, you believe in right-wing media. You will shut-out what you don’t like. Politics is becoming increasingly polarised. The left and the right are becoming increasingly antagonistic and no-one wants to go in the middle because it doesn’t satisfy anyone.

I think that what Toshiko Hasumi proves is that unity is becoming unlikelier than ever. Everything is becoming more tribal, whether it is political left and right-wing groups online, pro and anti-censorship; or cultural, such as the relationship between Syrian refugees and the rest of the globe, Scotland and the UK, the North-South divide, or just rivalry with the next town. It sadly seems that conflict of all kinds is becoming increasingly likely.