Hentai’s age problem could get you in handcuffs?

Caution

There is a serious issue within our geek community with the potential to change thousands of lives, and yet very few of us seem profoundly aware of it.

In a way, this entire article can be blamed on Samuel L. Jackson. I became aware of the live-action remake of the 1998 anime KITE when it was announced that Samuel L. Jackson had joined the cast, and recently wrote an article to coincide with the release of the trailer about my discomfort with the original film’s sexual content. This led to a conversation with a friend, where she told me she had seen the original, unedited version of KITE several years ago when another friend shared a torrent. During our exchange, she stopped and said, “Wait, does that mean I’ve technically watched child porn?”

The realization came as a bit of a shock, to be honest. Because when I really started thinking about it, I realized that the majority of people that I knew that consumed anime and manga, especially the adult vein, were likely to have at some point also consumed child pornography without recognizing it as such. Laws vary from country to country, but in the US, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, South Korea, South Africa, and the Philippines, at the very least, any depiction of a minor engaged in a sexually explicit act, be it fictional/simulated or not, is considered illegal under their respective child pornography and obscenity laws. Being considered obscene means that people in possession of them could face criminal charges. It does not even have to be explicitly stated that a character is below the age of consent, usually 18; the implication through the character’s appearance or the setting is enough.

The issue lies in the fact that many are unlikely to realize the legal status of anime, manga, illustrations, stories, or games which depict sexually explicit acts involving a minor that they have in their possession. An extreme example would be the 2006 OVA Boku no Pico which marketed itself as the first adult shotacon DVD. For those unfamiliar with the term, shotacon and lolicon describe materials that revolve around the attraction to prepubescent boys or girls, respectfully. After its release, Boku no Pico and its two sequels became popular within some circles, especially sections of the yaoi fandom community, as “shock videos.” The high level of sexual content, clearly underage characters, and dialogue that some found humorous lead to many reaction videos being made by those viewing the film, which are still viewable on YouTube. However, the Pico series is quite clearly illegal in many countries due to the ages of the characters and pornographic nature. Those watching it “for the lols” are unlikely to consider the potential ramifications of possessing that kind of film.

While Boku no Pico is an extreme example only watched by a minority of people, a vast section of erotic fan works may fall under the classification of child pornography as well. When you take a moment to consider it, the vast of majority of the cast of popular anime such as Naruto or last year’s Attack on Titan are underage, making any sexually explicit fanfiction or fanart of those characters that is not also an older version of those characters a form of child pornography. Theoretically, Scotland Yard should be flagging down FanFiction.net as a distributor of obscene materials. These fanworks also encapsulate erotic doujinshi, which are popular material on hentai oriented areas of the internet, such as 4chan’s /h/ and /y/ boards, to name a few. Theoretically, fanfiction writers and fanartists could be charged with the production and distribution of child pornography, which in many countries is a different and much more severe crime than the simple possession of it.

The source of this problem is the legal status of works of fantasy in Japan and the popularity of Japanese media in countries with different laws. In Japan, no writing or illustration is restricted under their child pornography laws. In fact, possession of child pornography is not illegal in Japan; only the creation or distribution is restricted, and the latter has only been illegal since 1999. According to an article in The Asia Times, “it is estimated that 30-40% of manga contains sexual themes or content, much of it representing schoolgirls of elementary or junior high school age in themes including rape, sado-masochism and bondage. About half of the 2,000 pornographic animation titles distributed in Japan every year, including films and video games, feature schoolgirl characters.” This includes films like the controversial KITE, and the legal status of these materials is controversial within Japan. Games, comics, and anime that are licenced usually remove any clear illusions to a character’s underage status during the translation process, or will overtly refer to the characters as being at least 18 in small bios even when they are not in the original material. However, it’s worthy of note that the majority of things that are licenced are not the most extreme examples of lolicon or shotacon, usually only involving characters in their teens who are still underage. The English release of KITE, for example, labels Sawa as a college student on the back of the box, despite such information being absent from the film itself or the Japanese release. Many male-oriented eroge, a genre of video games based on romance via decision trees that feature sexually explicit content, will include a character that appears prepubescent in their harem of ladies that the player may choose to court. However, English translations will make a point of stating that the character is much older than they appear and rarely include images from sexually explicit scenes with those characters in their advertising, even if they have them for every other character.

Despite the obvious age of the characters involved, some may still face a personal struggle to acknowledge these materials as child pornography. There is a large controversy over the legal status of fictional materials as child pornography. Those against the restrictions claim they infringe on people’s freedom of speech, and some believe that if those who are sexually attracted to children have an outlet where no harm is being done to a child they may be less likely to abuse real children. There are worldwide groups which identify themselves as “virtuous pedophiles”; people who recognize themselves as being sexually attracted to children but vow to never act on their attraction, either out of fear of prosecution or a belief that children are not emotionally or psychologically ready for sexual contact without experiencing trauma. Ultimately, the core of the argument is that since no child was harmed in the creation of the material, the material should not be illegal. Conversely, those that support the regulation of fictional child pornography believe that consumption of such materials would contribute to the idea of viewing children as sexual objects by those inclined to do so, which may increase the rates of child sexual abuse. Since there is evidence that exposure to violent pornography makes subjects more accepting of rape myths in experiments, supporters of restrictions speculate that exposure of simulated child pornography may desensitize people to real world child sexual abuse. To those decrying “government thought control,” the Canadian law, for example, makes an exception for materials made by an individual for personal use only. Fictional/simulated materials are not criminal if an individual made it his/herself and never shows it to anyone. There is no conclusive evidence to support either theory that exposure to fictional child pornography either increases or decreases the rates of child sexual abuse. However, no matter your feelings on the issue, current law is current law, and these materials are illegal in several countries. One’s personal moral belief that murder should not be illegal would not stop them from being prosecuted if they shot their neighbour.

Many may doubt the likelihood that anyone would be brought up on genuine charges for fictional materials, however it has already occurred at least once in the United States. When I reached out to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for clarification on the legal status of simulated child pornography, which they confirmed is illegal in the US, they could not inform me of the number of times individuals have been charged with this particular offense. While it’s unlikely that the majority are facing any legal ramifications, the possibility remains that one day current policies may suddenly be enforced more strictly. This would place many people in our community at risk of legal prosecution, which could result in jail time and a permanent spot on the sex offender registry. These are the kinds of criminal charges that change lives permanently. It would not be the first time that a government failed to fully comprehend the interests and intent of a sub-culture and painted a very ugly picture.

So, what does this all mean? Should we be panicked, scouring our computers and deleting anything questionable we can find? Should we petition our governments and try to have the laws changed? Can we just ignore it all in the belief that it will never really affect us? I don’t know, and I don’t pretend to. I simply want people to know the reality of the present situation and then choose whatever course of action they believe is best. I am in no away attempting to proselytize about whether or not the legal status of these materials is right or wrong. At the moment, I think there is a profound lack of awareness about this issue within a community that could be greatly affected by it. By reading this, I hope that you’ve become more enlightened about the situation and that you will share what you have learned with others that may be affected. Beyond that, follow your gut and do what you think is best.

Facebook Comments

About author

Genevieve LeBlanc
Genevieve LeBlanc 126 posts

Genevieve LeBlanc is a contributing writer for NerdReactor.com and lives in snowy Canada.