by Justin Sevakis,

Writing this column a little early this week. I'm flying to New York City on Wednesday to attend a friend of mine's live show. And then I am flying back the next morning. I will literally be spending more time in flight than waking hours on the ground in New York.

This is insane. Why am I doing this again?

Vincent asks:

It would seem that several shows in the last few months (Sword Art Online II, Cross Ange, and earlier Valvrave the Liberator) appeared to use rape, attempted rape or sexual assault as a tension building mechanism. I don't think it's controversial to state that anime can have some issues with fanservice but why have a few shows gone beyond fanservice and gone into full on sexual assault? These aren't H-anime either but highly advertised anime so it seems unlikely that they were aiming for the late night porn audience, but a sizable chunk of teenage anime viewers. Could my perspective in the increase of implied and actual sexual assault be simply due to a narrow perspective, or could something be happening in the market overseas and the audience of teens and young adults?

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but anime and manga have always been a little rapey. To American eyes, Japan has always been weirdly cavalier when it came to rape and sexual violence. I think the moe boom of the 2000s saw an ebb in how often it came up (moe was all about doe-eyed innocence, after all), but now that we're seeing a swing back to more action oriented anime, I'm afraid it's going to be more of a thing.

Western countries generally respect that rape is a horrifying, potentially life-destroying trauma for the victim. Add that to American puritanical nature when it comes to anything sexual, and you basically have a culture where it's nearly impossible to have fictionalized rape at all. People are so sensitive to the idea and find it so disturbing that its inclusion in most stories will automatically force it out of the mainstream. I think this is too far. Art and literature (I'm including film and animation in that) need to be able to freely discuss ideas without censure, and acts of violence, however horrifying, are an essential part of any exploration of the dark side of human nature. I might argue that some of the stunningly gross things said by politicians about rape and sexual violence might've been mitigated had we been able to have a more open dialogue about such things in this country. Stories about overcoming the worst life has to offer, if respectful, can often be an important tool for victims to use in overcoming their own struggles.

Japan has pretty much the opposite problem. Rape is everywhere. Japan has a tradition of artistically depicting taboo subjects, but often it doesn't even seem taboo there. A stunning percentage of Japanese porno deals in simulated rape. As rape is (obviously) sex, most of the anime and manga dealing with rape is hentai, or at least ecchi, but many ecchi manga and shows are actually aimed at teens. Of course, hentai has the most horrifying examples, often including girls as young as 14 being tortured sexually, with the expectation that the viewer will find this arousing. Sometimes the victim is depicted falling in love with their abuser, even mid-coitus. Sometimes it's even played for comedy. (The manga of La Blue Girl has protagonist Miko Mido rolling her eyes and muttering, "aww, am I gonna get raped AGAIN?")

But it's not just porn. Even shoujo manga often uses rape as a plot point, in series as mainstream as Fushigi Yuugi. More horrifyingly, you have manga like Miho Obana's Honey Bitter, in which the protagonist breaks up with an older man who raped her, only for the man to be hired by her aunt and told to just get over it. And it's not just with women, either: rape is one of the most common genre trappings in yaoi manga. Let's not even go into all the horrors of what happens in doujinshi.

Not every cultural difference is one to be celebrated. Japan is horrifyingly behind the times on a number of (usually sex-related) human rights causes. Rape is one of them -- while the official numbers are low, it's estimated that a stunning number of incidents go unreported. Stories abound of rape victims being laughed out of police offices when they try to file a report, or even being accused of enjoying it. There's also a huge sex trafficking problem, placing the country in Tier 2 of the 2011 U.S. State Department's report on human trafficking worldwide, one of the few first-world countries to do so. Japan is a great country that does many things well, but its attitudes toward rape and sexual violence are at the bottom of the list.

But nonetheless, fans get weirdly defensive about this stuff. Recently, Cross Ange brought out a lot of fans arguing that the scene in question wasn't actually depicting rape, but whether it was or not is somewhat beside the point: a woman is being violated, and the way the scene is shot implies that it's supposed to be arousing for the viewer. And that is the problem, largely, with how Japanese media depicts rape: it's often asking us to identify with the abuser and enjoy the view, rather than identify with the victim and feel their trauma. It's like how torture porn movies ask us to wallow in the depravity of doing great harm to another person. These things should give us a visceral grotesque feeling, and if not, doesn't that imply a certain deadness within us?

I'm not advocating for censorship here, I'm advocating for people to be decent in nature. This isn't about the harm that befalls a fictitious character, it's about the harm being done to ourselves. Being a good person, in my book, precludes being able to get off on the suffering of others. Depiction of violence in media hasn't necessarily shown to be harmful, but violent porn may be a different story: some studies have shown a huge jump in the belief that women enjoy rape and sexual abuse among heavier Japanese porn consumers.

So where does this leave us as anime fans? In an uncomfortable place, that's for sure. I think we all want to be good people, and part of that is recognizing that there are parts of the media we love that are, frankly, kind of gross. Not all depiction of rape and sexual violence is deadening our souls -- if we feel for the victim and are not identifying with the abuser, then there's empathy at work there. We enjoy art because it helps us connect with and relate to other people, but we have a responsibility to ourselves to be thoughtful about who we're connecting with. There are people and ideas out there that we really, really don't want to bond over.

We don't have control over what Japan puts in the anime. We can only passively watch. Everyone is going to have a different level of tolerance as far as what they think is OK and what's going too far. For many of us, this won't come up too often, but when it does, I think we have an obligation to ourselves to see it for what it is. If we see rape and abuse played for titillation, let's not make excuses for it, but rather, think about our own comfort level with it. If it's too much, know that there's no harm in bailing on the show. We might not be able to control what anime Japan makes, but we can always control what we watch.

Nik asks:

At AWA this year, during the FUNimation Industry panel, someone asked about the likelihood of them licensing the first season of FREE!, which they already have the rights to the second season for. The answer given was that Crunchyroll had the rights to the series and that prevented a release, as they were the only ones that could do that. Crunchyroll, to my limited knowledge, has only physically released one anime (5 Centimeters Per Second). Why would CR, a streaming service, hold the "home video rights" to a series that it was not going to release?

I was unaware that this was now public knowledge. Okay then. Yes, Crunchyroll has the home video rights to FREE! Some licensors do not like to break up individual pieces of rights to a show -- if you want to license it, you have to license EVERYTHING. No streaming without home video, and vice versa. It's a way for them to cut down on paperwork -- smaller outfits simply don't have time to deliver masters and negotiate contracts and go over approvals multiple times with different companies for the same territory.

And so, Crunchyroll is now stuck with home video rights to this, and a small handful of other shows. What they'll do with those rights is anyone's guess -- maybe they'll sell them off, maybe they'll try to do a release themselves. But releasing DVDs and Blu-rays are a lot of work, and their previous path to distribution (via Bandai Entertainment) no longer exists, so they'll have to start from scratch. I don't think they'll just sit on the home video rights to this show; they're too valuable. The only thing I don't see happening is them giving the rights to Funimation. Those two will likely not work well together.

We can only wait and see what will happen. I just hope that both seasons get (well) dubbed, and with the same cast.

Jake asks:

I enjoy attending conventions once or twice a year and one of my favorite things is attending panels with the Japanese animators, directors, producers, and voice actors. I find it interesting to find out more about there experiences in the industry and their influences. One thing that bothers me is at least once a convention someone will bring up some incredibly inappropriate thing the guest worked on (doujin, ecchi, hentai) or their personal life that doesn't need to be dredged up. Its one thing if they have had a checkered past like Masami Ōbari, but in most cases it was some minor thing they did that doesn't reflect on there overall work. Why do people find it necessary to bring this up? Do they think that they're cool by bringing up some obscure factoid? Do they honestly think they will answer them, or are they just trolling? You don't see people walking up to Sylvester Stallone and harassing him for being in a porno 40 years ago. It's just rude and uncomfortable thing to ask, especially to a guest.

How do you know people don't go up to Sylvester Stallone and go, "HEY, it's the Italian Stallion!" I would bet money that happens every once in a while. People can be REALLY obnoxious to celebrities. In fact, just last week some friends of mine saw Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, Sons of Anarchy) at a restaurant. Unfortunately, they happened to be dining with some true lowlives. Said lowlives interrupted his meal to hassle him for a picture (which he was happy to accommodate), then KEPT snapping pictures of him throughout the meal, even as he was leaving the restaurant. Then one of them even called a paparazzi friend to tip him off. I wasn't there, but I was really upset to hear that happened. Nobody deserves that, and Hunnam seems like a genuinely nice guy. But it happens all the time.

To us, these convention guests are celebrities, and around celebrities, some people's brains just stop functioning. Most people aren't like those jerkwads my friends were dining with; most people are being genuine. But something in them is intimidated, flustered, or trying too hard to be funny. They want to make a connection or an impression with this important person, and their brain is frantically pulling out every file they have on that person, trying to find some obscure, weird thing to forge a bond over. They forget to think about how their words will sound to other people. Most of them aren't trying to insult them or get them angry, and most of them just come off as nervous or tongue-tied. But occasionally someone will ram their foot so far into their mouths that it comes out their butt.

The stories of this happening, particularly at anime conventions, are endless. Many years ago I was hosting a Q&A with the late, great Satoshi Kon after a screening of Millennium Actress. An audience member told him that they didn't like the ending, and asked if he could make a new one. At a Q&A with Shinichiro Watanabe, an audience member proudly told the man he had just pirated a copy of the Cowboy Bebop movie. Voice actresses have been asked about long-forgotten roles in hentai. And worse. Much, much worse.

Every time it happens, a chill goes through the crowd. People immediately face-palm, and if there's a translator, they tense up, and hesitate before trying to politely explain to the guest what had just happened. Usually the guest just maintains a polite smile and keeps on truckin'. I mean, what else are they going to do?

These are exceptions, of course, and it's important to remember that. Most people are quite nice and cordial, and most guests have, on the whole, pleasant experiences at American conventions. But that "OMG IT'S A CELEBRITY" jolt of adrenaline -- it's made fools of so, so many people. All anyone can really do is laugh it off.

Jacob asks:

When will we have anime back on Free to air Television (i.e. anime on MyNetwork TV) in the US?

We get a few anime broadcast here and there on local stations, often Japanese-oriented stations in areas with heavily Japanese populations, like UTB here in Los Angeles, or KIKU-TV in Hawaii. But nationally? Probably never. Kids' television is quickly becoming a thing of the past on free-to-air television; it's all moved to cable. Even mainstream anime is way too niche for primetime or daytime television audiences here.

Now, with the enormous availability of streaming anime online, the need for television broadcast is all but gone. Fans can now watch shows for free before deciding to pay for discs, we get the majority of shows simulcast from Japan, and new fans stumble across programming on Hulu and Netflix all the time. It's a great thing. Free-to-air is for sports and an occasional prime-time sitcom or drama series, and that's pretty much all anyone needs it for these days.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.

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