This whole thing is making me uncomfortable.
If you don't know what happened, a man named Christopher Handley was arrested for having lolicon and bestiality in his manga collection. He pleaded guilty to "importing and possessing Japanese manga books depicting illustrations of child sex abuse and bestiality", according to the Wired.com report.
The comics world- especially the Western comics community- is in an uproar over this. I've seen some claim that it's just like 1984
, and that people should just start getting rid of any anime or manga that has anything remotely off-color about it. Others use this case's logic to bizarre extremes, foreseeing a ban on any work that contains rape or serial killers. Neil Gaiman has come out in support of Handley
, stating his fears that works like Alan Moore's Lost Girls
and his own Sandman
series could be interpreted as obscene. I love and adore Neil Gaiman, but I have to disagree with him here.
I'm uncomfortable about this situation, but not angry. I don't think Handley deserves a fifteen year prison sentence for this. I think that's wildly overblown, although I do understand where it is coming from. However, it is not as black and white as the comics world appears to think.
Handley was charged under the 2003 Protect Act
. The Protect Act outlaws any "drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting, that... depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct", or "depicts an image that is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging" in extremely explicit conduct. Okay, fairly black and white so far, right? However, the last qualifier is the most important. In order for a work to be considered illegal under the Protect Act, it must "[lack] serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value
" (emphasis mine).
Alan Moore's Lost Girls
has a whole slew of controversy that I can't properly address, but it does mean Neil Gaiman's Sandman
series is safe. So is Nakobov's Lolita
, which has been brought up far too many times in comments on the case.
Mr. Handley's collection is a bit different. Lolicon is specifically about the depiction of "underaged or childlike female characters... in an erotic manner", according to Wikipedia
. In Japan, porn magaziness picked up stories with young girls after Russell Trainer's The Lolita Complex
was released in Japan in the early 1970s. This is a genre of work that is mostly illustrated child porn, and makes absolutely no pretense about it. It's mostly legal in Japan- it's not legal in the United States. (And especially not legal in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the Philippines, and Ireland. There's probably a reason for that, people.)
A lot of commentators are whining that because of the art style, this means all women in anime and manga in remotely sexual acts are fair game. Untrue. Despite the art style, it's usually very easy to tell the difference between a little girl and a grown woman in the manga, and, yes, it's mostly breasts. I find that a great deal of the commentators are thinking of the standard Western dilemma concerning being a minor and being of age- someone who is almost of age of consent and can be mistaken for someone legal ("I swear she said she was eighteen!"). Lolicon is very far from being that finicky.
Even manga involving lolicon elements have been turned down for distribution in North America- one series, Kodomo no Jikan
, was canceled by Seven Seas Entertainment because, as the president of the company said, "later volumes in the series can not be considered appropriate for the US market by any reasonable standard."
The bottom line is that lolicon is illustrated child porn. And that's illegal in the United States under the Protect Act. Some commentators are making this case into a free speech issue.
I'm a huge supporter of free speech- I'm a writer, for Pete's sake. I wring my hands over writing e-mails to companies if I find their products offensive. They have the right to produce whatever they wish, of course, so should I write, knowing they will ignore my opinion? But I should, so they know there's opposition to their product. And back and forth, and back and forth. It's a little game of ping-pong. In any case, this case is not about free speech. This is a case about child porn. It's not in a very grey area where it could be construed as obscene, it is
obscene. It obviously fails the Miller test
of obscenity, which is how the United States determines if material cannot be covered by the First Amendment.
Now, I do agree with commentators that possessing lolicon is different than possessing actual photographs of child pornography, and that the court should take that into account. I just want to make it clear that this is not a case that threatens regular comics or regular manga- it's simply enforcing the law.
Other commentators who share my position are also astounded by this uproar and outrage. Basically, I can't believe I have to tell people that illustrated child porn is illegal in the United States.