It was this last question-- how is the Handley case affecting companies' decisions, and by extension, the fans --that got me curious, especially in the wake of Bundgate, which many fans speculated was a sign of fallout from Handley's sentencing. So I got out there and got in touch with as many manga and anime localizers as I could. I also contacted retailers and a few others. I asked them all the same question: has or will Handley's sentencing had an impact on any facet of your business decisions?
I was originally going to post short quotes from each response, but frankly, they were all quite interesting to read at length and hard to pull bits out of context, so in the end I've included the full quotes, unedited by me.
Manga Publisher - Ed Chavez, Vertical Inc.Vertical Inc. is not particularly known for publishing prurient manga, but some of its past and upcoming titles have some very dark elements, particularly the scheduled release of Osamu Tezuka's Ayako. Ed is also a well-respected manga expert thanks to his stints editing in Japan and at MangaCast.
"Honestly, the ruling hasn't changed what Vertical plans to publish or what we have released in the past. While we have some scenes that are clearly not in the realm of lolicon, there is no doubt that many of our fiction titles and a few of our Tezuka titles have scenes that are intended to challenge older teens and adult due to depictions of violence and sexuality. Strictly sticking to manga, themes such as bestiality, incest, and rape are just a few topics covered in our Tezuka titles. We just released a new version of MW that covers almost every thing I listed and we never even thought about altering a scene. I think the Godfather of Manga would not allow such a crime to be committed.
Neither Chi's Sweet Home, Twin Spica, nor 7 Billion Needles have sexually provocative scenes. But even before the Handley case we did wonder about shower/bath scenes in regard to age ratings. Would a bath scene raise a rating from twelve and up to fourteen and up? These are issues publishers deal with all the time.
We are currently working on acquiring new titles for Spring 2010 and even then the Handley case is not influencing our decisions. At Vertical, we aim to challenge readers perceptions of manga visually while providing outstanding literary value and cultural insight. So if a title has impacted Japanese culture within the last few decades expect Vertical to have that title on its radar no matter what the genre is."
Retailer - Peter Payne, JListThere are quite a few sites on the 'net that sell adult materials from Japan, but few are as ubiquitous as JList and its safe-for-work counterpart JBox. JList sells eroge and adult manga magazines-- along with tons of not-adult-at-all snacks and toys and clothes and whatnot --and Payne had a few things to say on the matter.
"It's a very unfortunate thing to have happened. The situation in Iowa, combined with the new limitations announced here in Japan, raise huge red flags about our ability to express basic ideas freely. With laws against, say, possession of certain illegal substances, it's easy to tell whether the law is being broken -- you just check for the substance and you have your answer. Every other law works this way. But with something like fictional illustrations or characters that don't exist, the opinion of ten different people is likely to be all over the map, and I couldn't think of a single anime character that would necessarily look over the age of 18 to 100% of people who looked at it, perhaps a remnant of the "cartoons is for kids" thinking from way back. And Tokyo banning showing of underwear? Are they aware they just banned Doraemon, which makes regular use of panty gags?
Anyway, while we don't agree with the developments, we'll obviously be making changes in the manga and other products we offer to our customers. Happily J-List (and our PG site, JBOX.com) has always sought to present a wide range of products from Japan without focusing on any one area, effectively mirroring the entire awesomeness of Japan in its entirety. This won't change at all."
Manga Publisher - Simon Jones, Icarus PublishingIcarus Publishing is a publisher that specializes in hentai manga, perhaps best known for their Comic AG hentai anthology as well as various hentai manga; I think my personal favorite is The Spirit of Capitalism. As a publisher of adult works, you might imagine that a company like Icarus would have a few things to say on the Handley matter. Fortunately for us, Simon agreed to share! You should keep an eye on his blog for more insight, and occasionally smut.
"What readers should understand, at least in regard to pornographic publications such as ours, is that we've always been acutely aware of both the potential legal and ethical ramifications of what we choose for publication, and acted in accordance with them. By ethical, I am not referring to abiding a certain set of morality or religious beliefs, but rather our obligations to retailers and readers; not subjecting retailers to an unreasonable level of risk, or harming the greater manga fandom in general. This is reflected in both what we license, and also how we conduct business. (We're rather low-key, to put it politely.)
In fact, I would say this is true for all North American licensees who work with adult material. We all knew something like this could happen one day.
The Handley case may change the business for us (some retailers may no longer want to carry adult manga, for example), but it has not changed, nor will it change the way we approach licensing. It's a historic moment, for sure, but the real problem is "obscenity," and that risk has always been present. We've always tried to manage that as well as we could. We try to push the envelop, but we've made edits when we felt they were necessary, and rejected licenses when we felt they would harm the fandom. Ero manga are often short story collections, and sometimes one out of twelve stories isn't appropriate for the Western market. That's when we may decide to make a cut, with the Japanese publisher/creator's blessing."
Convention - Sakura-ConDuring my search, I was sent an anonymous tip that resulted in me being sent a copy of a document from Seattle-based anime convention Sakura-Con, which offered a reminder to exhibitors not to try and sell any materials that were in violation of the law.
Dear Sakura-Con 2010 Exhibitors,
A previously unknown concern has been raised regarding certain comics as a result of a recent court case and law passed in 2008. Because we know a small number of our venders sell adult manga and the case involves certain manga, we want to remind vendors that Sakura- Con/ANCEA will not tolerate unlawful materials for sale in our exhibits hall. Exhibitors found in violation of local, state or federal law will be reported to law enforcement, asked to leave the event and face banning from participation in the future.
Please refer to the information below for more information:
§ 1466A. Obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children
(c) Nonrequired Element of Offense.— It is not a required element of any offense under this section that the minor depicted actually exist.
(f) Definitions.— For purposes of this section—
Anime conventions are usually run by volunteers who may not have the resources necessary to handle a lot of lawyering. I can't help but feel obligated to point out that Artist Alley at Sakura-Con and conventions around the country are a lot lighter on their legal concerns-- but then again, copyright violations are rarely handled with arrests and potential sex offender registration, so who can blame them for being cautious?
Note that Sakura-Con has not confirmed the authenticity of this letter, though I two (anonymous) sources independently confirmed their receipt of it from the convention.
Publisher - Michelle Mauk, Digital Manga PublishingOne field of manga that may be hit harder than others is yaoi. The material, aimed at women, often gets more of a pass in bookstores than hentai, but quite a few BL manga-- including some published in the US today --feature teenage boys, and coersion or harassment is a common theme. DMP is one of the largest publishers of BL, in both its lighter June line and the more hardcore 801 Media line. Here's what Michelle had to say on life post-Handley.
"In terms of how this affects licensing of BL, etc., I think as a company, DMP has always been extremely mindful of what it licenses from day 1. Since we began doing BL, we have sat and gone through every single title-we mark and question everything possibly objectionable to buyers and to readers and discuss as a group how and if a title should be licensed, and to what age group it would appeal to. Obviously BL is a niche product, and in the beginning, retailers were pretty skeptical about it-but our buyers and distributors understand the product they have in their hands a lot more nowadays, and they've always been conscientious about where and to whom it's going to. The most important thing is to be clear about what it is we're selling, which we always have been-complete with the bars that state clearly on June that they're "yaoi manga"-and the creation of the June' imprint itself. The BL audience in my opinion has been a very mature, well-educated, literate bunch-that supports the artist and the medium with a passion that surprises a lot of us in the office everyday. Obviously, when you go to the June website-the very first thing on the site is a definition of what "yaoi" is.
However, I will say this in regards to the Handley situation-the idea that what you read may translate to your behavior, is really a very sad outcome to the case. I was really saddened by the outcome, as manga and comics are fiction and imaginary, and not indicative of potential real-world behavior. It's like all those cases with people saying violence in video-games causes violence in individuals, or heavy-metal music creates violent urges. I'd hate for jury's and people to be the thought police about what's appropriate-and I feel this comes right down to it. I'm sure people can draw correlations to all sorts of things if they wanted to, but it's disheartening. There are different standards for comics and graphic novels in the US vs. Japan, and I'm sure how manga is perceived in the US vs. how it's perceived in Japan are very different, and probably will remain so for some time. It was a bit weird to see yaoi pointed out in the statement by the attorney in terms of it's legality in the US-it absolutely is-it's just in terms of acceptability by people who don't understand or know what it is. Everything is contextual in comics and graphic novels-but that's the medium we have chosen to work in. As a company-we're just going to do our best to put titles out that we believe have artistic merit, are appropriate for the ages of the audience reading them, and do our best to educate retailers and distributors about our products. I certainly hope that the Handley case doesn't deter people from reading BL mangaka like Fumi Yoshinaga, Yugi Yamada, and the upcoming Kazuma Kodaka title we have-artists who create sympathetic, entertaining characters and stories."
No CommentIn the interest of disclosure, I wanted to include a list of everyone who I contacted who either chose not to comment, or who did not get back to me in time for this article.
These companies are: Bandai Entertainment, Nozomi Entertainment, Last Gasp, Seven Seas, Yen Press, Yaoi Press, Yaoi Generation, Fantagraphics, VIZ Media, Del Rey Manga, TOKYOPOP, FUNimation, CMX, Media Blasters, Crunchyroll.
Note that some of them indicated that they would like to comment for the piece but didn't get back to me in time, so hopefully we can get some or all of them represented in follow-up posts.
That said, for the companies that chose not to comment, I don't want you to think that it means something's wrong with them. This is a very hard question for anyone to want to speak on the record about; a company will either have to say "no, we aren't going to change what we're doing," and risk drawing attention if they're releasing any questionable materials, or they have to say "yes, we're cutting back on these types of titles," and risk drawing attention from unhappy fans.
"No comment" is, if not particularly helpful or informative, a safe bet.
It seems clear to me that there is some amount of shift taking place, especially when you factor in the wording of FUNimation's statement offering that they might not edit Bund: that they wanted to "ensure compliance with current U.S. law." I'd guess that there are several reasons for this shift-- the obvious one, of course is that companies are worried about getting in trouble with the law themselves. Slightly less obvious is that people who are worried about getting in trouble for buying XYZ title are less likely to actually buy it, whether it's legally questionable or not.
In addition to that, though, companies aren't just in the anime game for the short game of selling to you and to me-- they want to keep selling anime to people for a long time. What they release now will impact how people-- from kids to parents to bookstore buyers --see anime and manga for the next few years, or for decades, depending on the title in question. As mentioned by both Simon Jones and Peter Payne, what stores carry may change, and that will have an impact on what gets licensed.
The question from here out, then, is how MUCH of a shift are we seeing-- which is a question that won't really be answered until we see the results from licensing cycles that took place after said sentencing. Given the anger with which fans met FUNimation's news that Dance in the Vampire Bund would be edited, we'll hopefully see few titles wind up being edited. On the other hand, we may see some titles not get picked up at all, if companies don't feel comfortable releasing them unedited and fans don't want to buy them edited.
...And anything else you're feeling on the matter. Let's hear it all and talk about it!