Are Artists Apologizing and Self-Censoring More These Days?

by Justin Sevakis,

Matthew asked:

I've recently read several stories about anime creators who have either censored, apologized for, or otherwise regretted explicit content in their programs (Sword Art Online comes to mind). Do you think that the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics are really playing a part in this toning-down of content, or are there other factors at play? And do you see this as a continuing trend, or one that will reverse itself when the industry feels that it is no longer under heavy scrutiny?

No, I don't think the Olympics have anything to do with this at all. The pre-Olympics clean-up has more to do with making Japan appear "better" to other visiting nations when it's on the world's stage, things like its homeless population, its human rights and human trafficking records, and porn that would run afoul of international moral standards.

There are a variety of factors at play here but in my estimation, this is the impact of social media. For the first time in history, manga creators are getting near-real-time feedback from fans on Twitter, Instagram, mixi and other platforms. It used to be that artists and writers were kept well away from readers, and their interactions and feedback was all filtered through their editor. A lot of creativity in the past was the product of being sequestered away from the audience, only hearing reactions through fan mail. Most of this fan mail was pretty positive and formal, as written fan mail tends to be. Sure, some creators probably browsed through the threads about their work on internet forums before the proliferation of social media, but platforms like Twitter knocked down the wall between fan and creative in an unprecedented way.

It goes without saying that creators are now encouraged to have social media accounts so that they can interact with fans directly. And even the ones that don't are getting a lot more "real time" opinions coming through to them from their editors. And while Japan is stereotyped as a culture that promotes politeness and restrained conversation, the Japanese language internet can get just as catty and toxic as the English internet. And all of the belligerence that happens when fans get pissed off is pretty much the same.

And, just like in the West, you see creators occasionally stepping over the line, often not knowing when they are doing so. Very few creators are actively trying to let down their fans, and so when they realize they have, they're extremely apologetic and try very hard to change course. Manga and light novels, after all, are meant to be consumer products, and usually are intended to please fans. Failing to do so, for many creators, is a sign that they missed their mark.

And it's relatively common for an artist to look over an old work and think that, in retrospect, they may have pushed things too far. Satoshi Kon has said as much about the simulated rape scene in Perfect Blue. ("I think I overdid it," he says in an interview.) Even Urotsukidoji creator Toshio Maeda was a little taken aback when seeing the animated version of La Blue Girl without the video censorship applied in Japan. Sometimes the creator is simply trying to make as much of an impact as they can in the moment, and is too deep into the work to have the perspective of an outsider reading or watching it. In other cases, they're pushing the envelope at the suggestion of their editor.

It's common sense that, when something went wrong and the fans are angry, most of the time a creator would try to apologize and make it right. And in cases where the creative choice that pissed everyone off was very intentional, the artist might dig in their heels and ignore the fans, or be curt with them. And it's also quite possible that a creator will reflect on something he or she did, and wish that they'd not gone as far, and admit that publicly.

All of these things can and will happen. It's simply how the world works now, when fans have direct access to creators... for better or worse.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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