Will Anime Ever Come To My Country (Legally)?

by Justin Sevakis,

Vahid asks:

I'm from Iran, and I always read your answers on ANN. (Access to ANN is denied in Iran and i have to use proxy software to visit.) My country doesn't allow us to buy or sell anime and manga (because of Islamic issues, you know... naked girls, kissing, etc.), but there are many people here who watch anime and read manga. Just like other forbidden stuff in Iran (foreign music and movies) we have to illegally download them. It is so sad and annoying. Amazon and Ebay don't ship anything here because of US sanctions against Iran. Do you think someday it will be possible for us to have official anime and manga stuff? Does the anime and manga industry have any interest to be in Iran's market? Our currency is very weak against the US dollar. For example, most people earn only $300 per month. Does such a country with these difficulties have any reason to hope for involvement from the anime industry?

First of all, thank you for writing in. It's really, truly gratifying to know that even people in countries we've never anticipated read our site (and my column) and enjoy it. That really made my day. I'm printing your letter not just to answer your question, but also to show our other readers how tough it can REALLY be to be an anime fan when you're not lucky enough to live in a country that permits such things. Think you have it tough because you can't afford a premium Crunchyroll subscription, or a Blu-ray release isn't to your liking? THIS is worse. Way, way worse.

So anyway, to answer your question, I have to get a little bit into current politics, and to be honest I am not an expert in middle east policy or politics, so I'm going to tread very lightly here.

From what I can tell, there are three major things standing in the way of anime being freely and legally available in Iran. The first are the sanctions against the country. This not only makes it illegal for someone to export an anime disc or merchandise item to Iran from America, but from basically any country in the United Nations -- so that takes out the entire European Union, Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia, and nearly every other country with an organized anime industry of any size. Any attempt to do business with Iran in any way is basically a non-starter until those sanctions are lifted. The good news is that a recent nuclear non-proliferation treaty between Iran and the US that would significantly ease those sanctions has been reached, although whether or not it'll be enacted is currently a hot political debate. Regardless, tensions do seem to be easing a little bit, so there's some reason for hope here. When trade is possible, a country's economy tends to recover, and the value of its currency will slowly get back to a level at which it's possible to do business again. It'll take some time.

The second major barrier is the big national ban on international entertainment products that are in any way sexualized. This is a political issue in Iran with its government censoring what people can see, based on their interpretation of Islamic morals. As long as that's as strict as it currently is, there's simply no way for anime to get imported in any form without it getting cut down to nothing -- there's simply too much the current regime would find offensive. I'm not qualified to say whether there's any indication that the government will liberalize its censorship practices, but countries do change, and they do change fast. Not necessarily all censorship needs to be lifted before anime can find its way in, but internet filtering of mainstream anime websites like ANN, Crunchyroll and Daisuki needs to happen, if nothing else.

The last barrier is the speed of most people's internet connection. According to the data I've found, only Tehran has broadband connections over 2 Mbps, which are necessary for decent quality internet video. This is important, because physical media and merchandise can be confiscated and seized at the border, making any venture dealing with that stuff a non-starter. Legal streaming sites, however, can be operated overseas and simply grant access to Iranian customers. If internet censorship gets loosened up and bandwidth speeds improve just a little, suddenly it becomes possible to grant legal access to the entire nation. It will probably take some years and a lot of smart people to figure out how to make it work as a business, but it would be possible.

Those are a lot of very tough obstacles to overcome. They will take years, perhaps even a generation, to enact. But change can happen very fast. Huge chunks of Asia, from China to Vietnam to South Korea, opened up and transformed in a major way in the last few decades, and it's possible for Iran too. I want that for you, and I hope the politics of the world allow it to happen someday.

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.

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