Drowning in the Mainstream
Manga and anime both become increasingly more popular each week. It's getting to the point where the general public is as aware of Japanese animation and comics as they are of video games. While I've probably gone on about how great this is - how promising for the future of the industry - this phenomenon does not come without a darker flipside.
As public awareness increases, so does the risk of public disapproval.
"So what?" you may ask.
Well, right now, the manga and anime industry are able to get away with a lot. Using nothing more than self-imposed ratings, voluntary content disclaimers, and sometimes stickers or parental warning labels, the industry thus far has been able to avoid the frivolous irresponsible lawsuits that have plagued the video game and motion picture industry in the recent past.
I doubt that many readers of Animefringe have trouble with the content of most of the books or DVDs we cover. However, people lacking the ability to judge a creative work in the context of its culture of origin rather than their own personal values could easily take offense to a number of the themes common to many series from Japan.
Homosexuality. Violence. Incest. Open nudity. Public bathhouses. Demons. Spirits. Even the religious differences existing between Japan and America could cause unnecessary strife. These all present a potential problem if the wrong parent opens up the wrong manga at the wrong time.
I'm not trying to say that parents shouldn't keep what they would consider inappropriate material away from their children. By all means, they should. A parent should be the final authority over what his or her child is exposed to.
The fact remains, however, that as long as manga and anime continue to expand in popularity the chances that a child will stumble upon (or actively seek out) a title such as Hellsing (with its casual blend of religious zealotry and violence) or even Gravitation (boasting a subject that apparently threatens the lifestyle of the voting majority of my fellow Missourians - homosexuality) are getting greater all the time. What will happen when a group of outraged parents band together to stop the perceived corruption of their children by this invasive influx of Japanese culture?
There are a few ways to avoid such a scenario, of course - many of which are already in place.
As I mentioned above, pretty much every publisher of manga and anime rates every release for age-appropriateness. Many also post warnings if nudity, violence, or excessive foul language is present. TOKYOPOP has recently stamped most of their releases with warnings citing "EXPLICIT CONTENT" on the covers of new manga. Eerie Queerie, Ai Yori Aoshi, Abenobashi, Saiyuki, and Mahoromatic are all branded with the imposing black warning label.
Even greater precautions are taken for series such as Battle Royale, Arm of Kannon, Berserk, and for some reason, Negima. These especially raunchy series (with the exception of Negima, which is comparatively quite tame) are wrapped in plastic to keep curious kiddies away from the various types of inappropriate content each series contains within.
Warning labels and protective plastic don't truly bother me. Personally, I am least satisfied with the efforts of publishers when blatant changes are made to tone down or otherwise adapt the content of a questionable title to suit the standards of the product's assumed target demographic. This is in fact a more significant threat to the manga and anime industry than mere warning labels and prohibitive stickers.
The reason why this sort of behavior bothers me is that it's so far-reaching in effect. As manga and anime become more and more a part of the American mainstream, there is the disconcerting chance that we'll see more series such as Detective Conan get "fixed" for domestic consumption. When character names, series settings, or even genders (in the case of CLAMP's Wish) are changed, local editors run the risk of suggesting that the original Japanese versions of these books or shows were, in some way, wrong.
There are instances of the opposite extreme, as well, where series are made more offensive than they once were by peppering the English translation with inexplicable curse words. This sort of alteration is just as insulting as the removal of a casual scene of nudity, for it implies that the American fanbase is nothing more than a collection of immature teenage boys.
Please, don't soften the books or DVDs, but similarly, don't attempt to spice them up. Leave them alone and let me decide whether or not I want to buy them. Give us fans the benefit of the doubt, and assume that we're smart enough to get a product that is worthy or purchasing - even if it doesn't have more foul language than a Quentin Tarantino film.
However, this isn't yet a crisis situation for all of us hardcore fans.
Hope remains, surprisingly enough, in the form of the upcoming uncut release of the Yu-Gi-Oh TV series on DVD. With luck, sales will be strong enough for the re-release of the series to emphasize the fact that we like our anime to stay the way it was in Japan.
If we fans keep embracing unaltered products of a culture that differs from our own, we can show kinship with other citizens of the world in ways that weren't possible 100 years ago.
This is only the beginning of a world-spanning culture, and as some of the first people to be a part of it, it's important that we keep an open mind to a wide range of new ideas. Who could've guessed that 60 years after Japan and the US were sworn enemies, comics and animation could help bring us closer together than ever before?