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Manga Answerman
How Do Censorship Rules Work for Hentai?

by Deb Aoki,

When reading hentai manga, I notice that the censoring in some of them is just Black or White bars. Those bars are sometimes used intensely, and other times very mildly that they don't actually cover anything (mostly the old ones). Whereas some them use mosaic censoring which is also used either intensely or mildly, but mostly, it's not as intense as the mosaic in hentai anime since in some manga they don't actually cover the whole thing. The same thing with hentai illustrations posted by Japanese artists.

So why the censoring is different between a doujinshi author and another, a hentai magazine and another, an illustrator and another? Is there actually a standard degree for censorship in hentai? Or how can they say whether it's censored legally enough or not?

For this week's answer, I decided to go to an expert on this subject, Jacob Grady, the founder and CEO of Fakku, a leading publisher of hentai manga in English.

Here's his take on it:

The amount of censorship in an adult manga or magazines is mostly dependent on where it is distributed. Japanese authorities have never released strict guidelines on how much censorship is required, so how much is applied will be at the discretion of the publisher or retailer. Retailers are most often the ones that set the rules that publishers must follow; this is why you'll sometimes see the amount of censorship change between releases. Frequently you'll see censorship decrease from when a comic is released in a magazine and later published in a manga.

Here are the standards as I understand them:

  • Adult manga and magazines sold in convenience stores like 7/11 have to use white out censorship (completely masking the genitalia with white out).
  • Digital releases vary by retailer (Kindle is white-out, DMM is black bars, etc).
  • Adult manga and magazines sold in Japanese doujin specialty shops like Melon Books, Toranoana, etc. allow multiple kinds of censorship (white out, black bars, mosaics, etc).

Specialty shops allow for the most varied levels of censorship that publishers can get away with, which is one reason you'll see different publishers do different things when those manga are only available in specialty stores. In the case of adult manga, most of the time the level of censorship is also approved by the author of the manga, based on what the author is comfortable with.

Doujinshi on the other hand are published on a small scale and are not as scrutinized as magazines or manga. Since they typically only sell at Comiket or similar events directly by the artist, it's really up to the venue to enforce the censorship that appears in those comics. This is where you see the most varied levels of censorship, because it's up to the individual artist. Comiket has guidelines that artists must follow and require approval on comics that are available at the event. I've heard stories of artists accidentally having too little censorship in their doujin releases at events, and then having to physically use a black sharpie to add more while at the event in order to keep selling.

I had a few follow-up questions, so here's our back and forth about a few other details:

What does it mean when Fakku offers "uncensored" art -- are all the usually censored parts from the Japanese edition are shown in their entirety in the English version, or is it just as much as is available from the Japanese version?

In the case of FAKKU, we get the original master files for all of the comics we publish before censorship is applied. Because censorship varies based on where a comic is distributed, those master files have the artwork drawn uncensored. Censorship is then applied on top of the master file and varies depending on where the comic is going to be distributed (a magazine, a manga, etc). I'm not sure how other publishers have dealt with this over the years. But publishers like Icarus Publishing, Eros Comix, etc were all able to publish manga without censorship, so I imagine it was the same way when they were active.

Also, what's considered unacceptable / illegal?

Since there are no official guidelines, the rules that are followed are based on whatever the industry thinks is best (and whatever the retailer decides). At the moment, most everything you pointed out seems to be the general rule the industry follows: censor the clitoris, head of penis, where shaft meets head, etc.

Have attitudes about censorship in hentai manga changed in Japan over the past few years? If so, how?

I don't think attitudes have changed in Japan, unfortunately. It seems this type of censorship has remained a constant and will continue into the future. Hopefully that changes though, I'd like to see a world where censorship of art doesn't exist.

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for About.com Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.

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