The Daily Almanac: Dance in the Censorship Bund

So the big bombshell that was dropped last Friday when FUNimation began its simulcast of Dance in the Vampire Bund was that the American distributor would be censoring scenes in both the online streaming version and DVD release. Although they would not specify what was being cut out, the scenes were obviously centered around the story’s main character, a female vampire in the body of a little child, and her knack for walking around topless with only a black thong on.

[…] after viewing the unedited as well as the Japanese broadcast edit of the series “Dance in the Vampire Bund,” we have determined the series contains controversial elements which, when taken out of context, could be objectionable to some audiences.

With this in mind and with approval of the licensor, we will edit select scenes from the series in streaming and home entertainment release. These are scenes which are inappropriate for U.S. viewing and are not essential to the storyline.

And the whole internet went ape over this.

“How dare they censor our anime!”

“What’s the big deal? The manga was far worse!”

“What about artistic expression?”

“What about freedom of speech?”

“I’m going to boycott this release and any other series FUNimation releases from now on!”

“At first they went for the lolicon, and I said nothing…”

Well, now let me say something.

I have been quite vocal on this blog through out the years against the idea of censorship. In fact, the second post I ever wrote for the Anime Almanac was a long rant in 2005 against VIZ Media for censoring one panel in the comic series I”s. On top of this, I have been a strong advocate against the criminalization of lolicon images in America, since I feel that no work of fiction should be made illegal no matter how vile or disgusting it might be.

But despite this type of background and years of advocating against such things, when this huge news came to light last Friday, I immediately understood why FUNimation had started doing this kind of censorship on their products.

And in fact, I completely support them in doing it.

So why is that? Why do I feel that FUNi censoring images in 2010 is justified while VIZ censoring manga in 2005 was complete bullshit? Am I just being biased towards the one company and not the other?

No, it’s because of the Handley case, people. The Handley case changed everything.

You may want to argue that lolicon is not technically illegal yet, and yes, you would be technically right. But the fact of that matter is that the two times the issue has been brought to American court, it’s ended with both dudes being sent to jail. As much as the manga community lashed out against these trials, these defendants were met with very little support from the general American public.

So they never really stood a chance of winning the case, and these landmark rulings have set a precedence that will not be ignored the next time the issue is brought to court. This means that we are more than likely to see more people sent to jail in the future because of what has just happened recently.

While the legality of lolicon images in America has always been considered a “gray area” for as long as I can remember, the moment that a man in Iowa got sentenced to prison because of it, that gray suddenly became black. Very black.

So with that in mind, do you want to be the one responsible for sending the next sap like Handley to jail? This is a very serious issue. And if you’re in the position of FUNimation, just think about the kind of damages a legal battle over child pornography could cost your company if you were accused of selling it.

Let me remind you that unlike other anime distributors, FUNimation is owned by Navarre, a publicly traded corporation. That means that many people out there – maybe even you, dear reader – own stock in that company. So FUNi is at the mercy of not only their parent company, but their many stockholders as well. Those stockholders can make or break them.

And if FUNi ends up in the middle of a court battle in which they are accused of selling child pornography, do you think the stockholders are going to stick around and admire them for “artistic expression” and “freedom of speech?”

Hell no! Their stock will plummet as no one is going to want anything to do with the folks producing kiddy porn! And just like that, you take down the largest anime company left in the US market.

Now this is the worst-case scenario that could possibly emerge from selling Vampire Bund. And don’t get me wrong, this act of censorship is a total “cover your ass” move they’re doing out of fear of a vague and uncertain legal statue right now.  But it’s a risk that became far more realistic as the situation in Iowa became far more unfavorable on the issue of fictional pornography.

And frankly, I’m surprised it took FUNi this long to start censoring.

I could not believe that they licensed Strike Witches last year while Handley was still pending trial. The first thing I asked them the moment they made the announcement was if they could even legally release that in America? The FUNimation Twitter rep response in a matter-of-fact way, “Umm… yes? Why wouldn’t we be able to release it?”

But they found out quickly why this might have been an issue when they began streaming the series uncensored last October. After supposed “complaints” filed over the show’s content, the company pulled the graphic videos from the net and began streaming an edited version of the series. However, they said that they also would continue to sell uncensored version that same week on their “Download to Own” service and on DVD whenever that came out.

Even though Handley had pleaded guilty back in June of last year, the full details of the case were not released until his sentencing on February 11th, just two days before FUNi debuted the final dub of Strike Witches at Katsucon. The court records revealed that Handley was an average otaku with no criminal record, and his only crimes were the possession of this questionable content.

The kind of questionable content that the company was promoting quite heavily at the convention that weekend. Clearly this was going to be the last time they’d pull off something like this again.

So this brings up the question that was just recently brought up by Chris Beveridge, just why would FUNi bother licensing this series in the first place if they knew that couldn’t get away with it uncensored?

It’s the same reason why the Rosario + Vampire manga ends up on the NYT Bestsellers list with each new volume. It has the word “Vampire” in the title and as we all know, vampires are popular right now. And as Rosario has shown us, any vampire title will sell right now even if the target audience isn’t the Twilight crowd. It’s money, guaranteed money.

Case in point, industry insider Ed Chavez has said numerous times that the Vampire Bund manga has already sold very well for Seven Seas publishing. This is a hot property, and you can’t blame the folks at FUNi for wanting a piece of this action.

And all they have to do is cut out a few seconds to ensure that their ass is covered legally.

At Katsucon, FUNi’s events manager Adam Sheehan ran a workshop in anime marketing where he’d throw out problems that will arise within the industry and then he’d ask us for the best way to handle the situation. One of the scenarios involved a massive fan outrage on the internet over the choices the company was making for the American release of a title. What would we do? Go forward with the release or make the changes the fans were demanding?

My response to that scenario was to go forward with the release and not allow the internet response to sway the process in any way. Always do what was best for the product and the company, because the internet will ALWAYS be bitching no matter what you do, so they are an unreliable counsel to turn to. Trying to always give in to their demands will never pay off with increased sales.

This whole controversy is going to blow over in a few days and this is not going to make a huge difference in the long run. Those who were going to buy the DVD uncensored are still going to buy the DVD censored, and those that don’t buy the DVD were never going to in the first place. Just like how I bought the entire I”s collection from VIZ Media despite my rant against them in 2005.

Censoring Vampire Bund is the right choice for FUNimation from a purely logical business perspective, and we, as fans, have to respect the folks that want to keep their jobs. Being forced to censor this kind of material sucks, it really sucks, but that is the situation in America right now.

When that man in Virginia got 20 years for a stash that included lolicon in 2005, it set a precedence that we all ignored and forgot about. When Handley got six months in the clink just a few weeks ago for nothing but lolicon, it reiterated that the problem was there, and it there was nothing we could do to fight it.

We’re in the post-Handley era now, peeps. Get used to it.

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