To Canada, where being an anime or manga fan has become an increasingly difficult enterprise over the last four years.
The origins of the problem, such as it is, lie back in 2005, when a man from Edmonton, Alberta was convicted of importing material depicting children committing sexual acts. Specifically, they were comics from Japan – so here we go again. He was put on the sex offenders’ registry for five years, given a suspended sentence, 100 hours community service and fined $150. He had broken Canadian law and he paid the penalty.
The Edmonton Journal section of the Canada.com website inadvisably reported the incident with special reference not to the content (which we shall presume was obscene and justifiably prosecutable), but with the fact that the offender possessed manga and anime. In a fantastic non sequitur, the site gushed: “Anime is illegal in Canada, but not illegal in Japan or the United States.” See, suddenly we’re onto anime!
Needless to say, this was bullshit. The bogus claim was thankfully soon retracted, but the sequence of events became a new cycle of the eternal orbits of manga and anime censorship and backlashes. Nobody, I am sure, told Canadian Customs to slacken their search for obscene and illegal materials. That is part of their job, after all. But someone within the organisation seems to have begun associating manga and anime, yes, all of it, with obscenity and illegality.
In June 2006, a wheelchair-using academic returning from a trip to the US with some manga in her luggage, was subjected to a humiliating interrogation while customs officers went through her new purchases page-by-page. She had admitted, you see, to having manga, and one of the customs officials observed: “That’s the stuff from Japan; there is some really obscene and filthy stuff.”
Erm… no, she said. This is stuff I bought in American bookstores. There’s, like, age advisories on the back. In her case, the advisories were for teenage readers, specifically a copy of Tokyo Boys & Girls from Viz Comics. The officers later confessed that the word “boy” had made them suspect that the material might be obscene. So they were probably very disappointed.
In the end, nothing was damaged except her dignity, as she was forced to sit and wait while someone thumbed through her manga as if she was an offender. But two years on, Canadian customs has informed importers that no “hentai” (i.e. manga/anime erotica) is to be permitted across the Canadian border. The question is, for me, not one of the obscenity of hentai – after all, if it were not obscene, it would be pretty poor hentai. Instead, the question is, how are the fine people at Canadian customs going to tell hentai from normal manga? Where is the line? Can they distinguish between, let us say, something genuinely, illegally obscene, and Adventure Kid, which is revolting (but still presumably legal), and Junk Boy, which is merely puerile, and Tokyo Boys & Girls, which is as about as obscene as the Gummi Bears.
I’m genuinely curious. They can’t honestly plan on reading everything that passes in front of them. They must have a list, right? Because if they haven’t got a list, someone who’s used up his overtime allowance is going to look at a big stack of manga one day and just ban the lot.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #56, 2009.