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Dr. Susan Napier Responds to Attempt to Ban Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle

posted on by Kim Morrissy
Two Ohio lawmakers called to ban allegedly 'pornographic' book after Kent State assigns it to teen undergrad

Dr. Susan Napier spoke to Otaku USA regarding the recent call from Ohio lawmakers to ban the academic book Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation from the curriculum of the Kent State University. She said that she was "absolutely floored" at the news, and that she had never heard of any calls to ban her books before this incident. She mentioned that this particular book has been in publication for twenty years.

When asked what material in the book could have caused offense, she answered: "It's one chapter. The chapter on pornography in Japanese animation. Some of the stuff is very unpleasant. It does show real violence against women. I thought it was actually important to bring up pornography. It was reasonably widely available and I knew people in the West were looking at it, so I thought some people should explore it. I thought if you wanted to understand anime as a total part of Japanese culture, you have to be aware of this. You don't have to watch it. I never suggested that."

The complaints about the book originated from a parent of a high school student who took Kent State's Freshman Composition course. Most of Kent State's student body are adults but the college does allow students from 7th to 12th grade to take courses at the campus. The legal guardian of an underage student must sign an acknowledgment that materials in a course may include mature adult themes before they enroll in a course.

Ohio State Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus and Representative Don Jones referred to the book as "pornographic" and sent a letter to Kent State urging the administration to not assign adult material to underage students and review its policies. Rep. Stoltzfus told Fox19 News that the administration disagrees with the representatives about the book's contents. The congressman said he intends to purchase copies of the book for his "friends" in the general assembly to review and the results may affect the school's funding.

“We're gonna look through this book, and we're gonna decide if this university is worthy of giving 150 million dollars of taxpayer dollars to it every year,” Rep. Stoltzfus stated.

On the Intellectual Freedom Blog, John K. Wilson, a 2019-20 fellow at the University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, described the incident as a "shocking act of censorship [which] received no national media attention, even though it's one of the most dramatic examples of the power of conservative cancel culture to repress free expression." Napier said that she first heard about the incident from Wilson, and that she thought that his piece on the topic was "very good."

On the larger topic of academic censorship, Dr. Napier issued the following statement:

Nowadays we're very concerned about what we say. Which in many ways is a good thing. We need to be careful not to engage in hurtful or hate speech. But I think there's this tendency now where you have to not deal with controversial subjects. And I think that some pornographic anime is disturbing. But I think precisely because it's disturbing it ought to be dealt with. We do have to engage the things that are ugly or distasteful in a rational, objective fashion. I think if we ignore things, if we try to put a fence around certain subjects, I think all that does is hide them. I think this kind of issue of finding controversial things you don't want to read and judging an entire book by it is also disturbing ... Most of the book is about the variety of Japanese animation. It was shocking to me they would want to have the book banned and use terms like “pornographic” about the book. The idea of feeling that if you don't like a subject you ignore or suppress anything controversial is not a very sensible way to approach a subject. It can come back and flower even more because it's seen as forbidden.

Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation was first published in 2001. The updated version of Dr. Napier's book was released in 2005 by publisher Palgrave Macmillan. The book is described as an "authoritative source on anime for an exploding market of viewers who want to know more."

Dr. Napier is a Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese Studies at Massachusetts' Tufts University and a formerly a visiting professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard. She has previously published Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art, When the Machine Stops: Fantasy, Reality, and Terminal Identity in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain, and 'Excuse Me, Who Are You?': Performance, the Gaze, and the Female in the Works of Kon Satoshi.

Source: Otaku USA (Danica Davidson)

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