Editorial Repost: Child Pornography in Anime

Today starts the trial of Christopher Handley for the content of his pornographic manga collection. Under the PROTECT Act of 2003, the fictional depictions of children having sex and bestiality in his collection could put him away for 20 years in prison.

This is not the first time that PROTECT has put an otaku on trial. After that man was convicted on those charges three years ago, I wrote out the following editorial piece on the problems with making works of fiction illegal. I feel that the piece is still applicable to Mr. Handley’s situation.

Originally posted on December 4, 2005.

Update: The trial has been postponed until next month.

ANN reports of a man found guilty of downloading real-life child pornography as well as anime images portraying such acts. This has been the first time that someone has been convicted under the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) act of 2003. According to ANN, the act states “computer images that are indistinguishable from real children engaging in sexually explicit conduct as child pornography, while simple drawings which are easily distinguishable from real children are not considered child pornography.” Apparently the judge felt that anime children were no different then real live children.

This brings up a taboo among the anime community about portraying children in sexual situations in works of anime and manga. It is a debate over artistic freedoms and personal moralities. I, for one, don’t support such material at all. I’m into shows that focus on children in a non-sexual loving way. I become uneasy when these shows have these underage (17 and younger, by American standards) characters in adult situations. Such examples for the frequent nudity of Chika-chan, a girl from “Ai Yori Aoshi” in her mid-adolescence, or the very explicit sexual fantasies involving the high school protagonist of “My Wife is a High School Girl”. I love both of these series to death, and yet I personally can’t shake off the thought of that teenaged sex should not be watched. If it’s like this for mid to post-adolescence children, I can’t even imagine how pre-adolescence sex in anime would be tolerated.

Such fear is also evident in the US anime industry as well. With all the hentai that is imported to this country, very few, if any, feature underage characters having sex. Since PROTECT is still not completely clear at the moment as to what’s acceptable, companies don’t want to risk it. Such an example would be the US release of the anime OVA series, “Kite.” When this blood, gore, and sex fest was first released in the US, it came with everything but the sex. You see, in America, violence is tolerated much more easily then sex, and so the show was release with just a “mature” rating instead of the “adult” it would have received with the sex added. Upon the demands of the fans, a “Director’s Cut” version was later release that include the sex scenes. Well, that is, all the sex scenes besides one. That’s because they feared that since it was an explicit scene showing a mid-adolescent girl being raped, they would be selling child pornography. It wasn’t until very recently that they released the show with the controversial scene included.

And yet the most awkward example of this would be a warning label I once saw on the packaging of a hentai video. It read, “Though the characters in this video appear to be very young, they are in fact age 18 or over.” This stupid warming does bring up a point. You can say that one of your female characters is 10 but draw her with full breasts and hips. You can also, like this one show did, say that your female character is 18, but flat cheated and child-like. Either way, these characters are not real, and therefore have no real age!

So why then would such a thing be prosecuted for legal actions? After all, you can write a novel that talks about under-aged sex. It may receive a lot of negative feedback for it, but never any legal actions against it. No one is arrested for being a potential pedophile for writing or reading such things. So why should visual representation be any different? If you use the pen to write to words or to draw a picture, the fact is that the under-aged characters came from a pen and imagination, no matter how real the images look. Should you be arrested for something that you think about instead of actually doing?

You have to realize that every single law created has been broken in the fantasy world of visual entertainment. If you watch a movie about a serial killer plotting and then hacking his victims to death, does that make you an accomplice to the crime? After all, murder is illegal, right?

Of course not! You can’t be persecuted for fictional events. That’s what the whole “freedom of speech” thing is all about! The only reason why words and ideas should be tried in court is if it threatens or abuses another real-life victim. The reason why child porn is illegal is because in order to show it on a screen, you have to force real-live children to do such acts on camera. This is undoubtedly child abuse, and the law is absolute justified for its existence. But when it’s animated or drawn in a comic, there are no real victims. There is about as much real-life crime being committed from these works as there is in horror films. And yet the double standard of American society accepts the fictional acts of violence over sex any day.

This is an issue that we, the anime fans, must fight for. I don’t condone child pornography in anime or manga, but I’ll be damned if anyone should ban it or make it illegal. The whole reason why I love the medium is because it allows the viewer to escape into a world that is not restricted by the laws of State or science. If you ban the use of one thing in anime, what’s stopping them from banning other things? In this one situation, the guy deserved to be found guilty for supporting the abuse of real life children, but not the fictional ones. PROTECT needs to clarify the difference between reality and fantasy.

In general, the online community agreed with this essay, but there were a few people who felt that we shouldn’t decriminalized this pervert. And they do have a point. After all, he was caught with real child pornography.

But in the case with Mr. Handley, there is no real kiddie porn. This is purely a question of his comic collection. It is fiction and only fiction, and this man cannot be convicted of any crimes for having it.

But if he is found guilty – if a work of fiction is found to be illegal in America – it will be setting a very bad precedent on our favorite medium or any visual mediums.

And that, my readers, scares me.

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