Frenchy Lunning Comments on Obscene Manga Case

by Bamboo Dong,

Professor Frenchy Lunning is a researcher and lecturer at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Specializing in Japanese popular culture, she is also the founder and editor in chief of Mechademia, a journal that focuses on anime and manga. She is also the co-founder of Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits: Culture and Creation in Manga and Anime, an annual workshop featuring lectures from notable anime scholars and other events. Lunning was brought in as an expert in the case of Christopher Handley. Lunning answered a few questions from ANN regarding her involvement in the case.

ANN has posted commentaries by other people in the legal community and the manga community, and has posted comments from Handley's lawyer, Eric Chase. Anime Vice has also posted additional commentary from members of the manga and anime community.

ANN: In what capacity was your professional expertise used for the case?

In my capacity as a cultural studies scholar who studies Japanese anime and manga, among other popular cultural practices.

Do you think the ruling will affect academic studies in manga and anime?

It will affect the people - fans - who live under the same myth that Mr. Handley did: that your private mail is private. Under the law that Mr. Handley was prosecuted under - a Homeland security act - we have lost many rights, including the right to privacy in the mail. And since pornography laws state that pornography is established by "community standards" the Lolicon was judged pornographic and thus illegal under this law. One of the positions I took was that Mr. Handley's community was not the good people of Iowa, but our online fan community. Although I feel this is true, that one apparently didn't sell with the court. Scholarship in this area will continue: one of the advantages of scholarship is that it is primarily words, and the academic press is rarely under much scrutiny: we are too dull for most readers, and certainly curious postal workers! I did read recently that Japan was taking a more censorious view toward the dojinshi because of such actions (they didn't mention the Handley case though). Fellow otaku: beware!

One of the reasons cited for the ruling was that the manga he possessed did not have "literary value," as opposed to works like Lolita. Could you possibly comment on that?

It was positioned more as "artistic" value, and yes, that is one of the possible attenuating factors in the labelling of potential "pornographic" works. Having seen the work under discussion, it was average art, except for the orgasm scenes, which were quite interesting, especially when you consider the difficulty in rendering an abstract "feeling." I was prepared to suggest that these scenes were worthy of artistic merit, but the balance of the work was mundane and a little silly.

How would you compare the environment for manga studies in the United States to other countries?

Well, our culture bears the mark of our Puritanical ancestors. Yet our colleagues in other countries have not had that cultural upbringing and it does make a difference. While I was living in Japan in 2008, a book had just come out on Shunga (ukiyo-e prints with what we would call graphically explicit sex scenes - but with high "artistic merit"). It was a beautifully produced book and many people I knew in Kyoto had brought a copy. Japanese do not hold sex to be "horrific" as we do. This is part of the entire problem. I do not know about many other countries, I know it is also easier in France, mainly because they have a stronger comic book culture there to protect and exert a stronger market demand than we do.

Have you come across any other legal cases dealing with other forms of arts that are similar to Handley's case in their implications for the academic community?

No, I haven't, but I just wanted to put in a word for the Comic Defense Fund, who paid for my work and is constantly having to do so in this country. I had been contributing for years at cons and other venues - basically because it seemed like the thing to do. But these people were amazing, and very involved with Handley's case. They work tirelessly on any number of cases that come up in which a comic book creator is prosecuted for similar - and it is usually this sort of case - issues. So when you see the CBDF booth at the next con, put in a contribution. These people are defending our rights for us and for the continuation of the art we love: show them your support.

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