Finder's Keepers

To Germany, where Ayano Yamane’s manga series Finder has been been rated as “harmful to young persons.” From the shocked reaction on some message boards, you’d be forgiven to think that the Germans were dragging up every copy of Finder that they could… er… find, and burning them in the streets. In fact, the story has been simply “indexed” by an organisation with the Teutonically exacting title of Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons. The name pretty much does what it says on the tin – they look for harmful stuff, and then make sure people know about it.

We can learn a lot from the German censorship system. Dodgy anime, unpleasant porn, morally suspect manga, all these things are freely available in Germany. You can buy anything you want, but you won’t find it in the high street or the shopping mall. If you want to find something that is unsuitable for children, you have to go to a place where only adults are welcome to buy it. Hence, in Germany, there is none of the tiresome brinkmanship and false “surprise” that hounds the anime and manga business elsewhere in the world. You won’t find German parents accidentally picking up a Toshio Maeda anime in the video store, and assuming that it will make a nice gift for their kids (this has happened in the US). You won’t find German journalists combing eagerly through the comics section of a sci-fi store, doggedly, desperately hoping to find something to which they can react with feigned indignation (this has happened in the UK). You won’t find German customs officers probing your luggage in case you are carrying one of those awful manga books that so notoriously corrupt the young (this has happened in Canada).

You won’t find any of these things, because fine, upstanding, conservative citizens, by definition, would never go to a sex shop or the adults-only section of a comics store, and hence cannot possibly be taken by surprise by what they see there. Nor, of course, will you find anyone underage in such places. Ten years ago, in the afterword to the Erotic Anime Movie Guide, I made a modest proposal, that other countries might examine the German model as a means of keeping everyone happy.

Finder is not “banned” in Germany. It’s simply been rated as unsuitable for children, along with Legend of the Overfiend and a host of other titles, such as the computer games Duke Nukem 3D, Command & Conquer: Generals, and Mortal Kombat II. If you want it, you have to go to a place that sells that sort of material. If you are a child, you are not supposed to encounter it. You can’t point at it at the shelves and pester your parents for it, because you won’t see those shelves. What criticism there is about the German model revolves around two other issues. One is the question of who gets to decide what is “harmful”. The other is how far this indexing goes. It remains unclear, legally speaking, whether the indexing of a title makes it illegal to even talk about it. Advertising an indexed title is a problematic area, although of course, merely turning up on the index adds an element of notoriety and publicity. I’ve never been moved to mention Finder before in this column, but now, because of this… here we are.

(This article first appeared in Neo 62, 2009)

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3 thoughts on “Finder's Keepers

  1. I recently discovered SMC the book, and even more recently discovered SMC the blog, and just now found this post. As this is an older post, you may not see this comment, but just for the record:

    I disapprove of the German indexing system. I consider it a form of economic censorship; by restricting the places where the material is sold, it restricts its availability even to those buyers who have the legal right to purchase it. The answer to the “anime/manga corrupt the young” hysteria is to make it clear that not all anime and manga (or comic books, video games, etc) are intended for the young, not to force material for adult consumers into an invisible and inaccessible ghetto.

    It is particularly harmful in this case; yaoi appeals largely to women, who in general do not feel comfortable visiting porn shops even in Germany, and the notable success of the genre in both Europe and in the US (especially compared to explicit erotic manga aimed at men) is strongly linked to its wide availability in mainstream bookstores, where its readers prefer to shop. (I will also point out that much manga that is indexed is so because of violence, such as several volumes of the seinen manga Hellsing; judging from the German reporting, Finder V1 was indexed due to suggestions of masochism, not for sexual material as such.)

    Finder is a well-known and extremely popular yaoi series both in Germany and in the US, and I doubt that your mention in Neo had a significant effect on its visibility. The indexing, however, did have a significant negative effect. Only the first volume of the series is indexed, which creates a situation where Amazon.de will happily sell you volumes 2 through 4 of the German edition, or volume 1 in your choice of French or English, but does not carry a listing for the German V1. Likewise, the Tokyopop Germany series page does not mention V1.

    The general consensus of German fans of my acquaintance is that the book became significantly harder to find after the indexing; some bookstores have it under the counter, some others will consent to special-order it (and apparently Amazon.de will sell it to you if you know how the system to confirm your age and request an unlisted title works), or you can make a trip to Austria or Switzerland. It is widely suspected that delays in Tokyopop Germany’s publication of the character book (originally scheduled, before the indexing announcement, for late last year) is related to the fact that it contains the cover and color art from V1, which may or may not violate the “advertisement” provisions of the law. Since Tokyopop Germany cannot openly discuss the title, they haven’t said whether sales were affected, but I doubt that a book in a genre that is strongly driven by mainstream bookstore sales will see a positive effect from having the book become harder to buy from those same stores.

    Finally, you imply that the German system does not attract criticism for making works less available. This is quite untrue; the indexing system is widely reviled by German manga fans, who generally would prefer more consistent enforcement of publishers’ age ratings over draconian measures applied to a unpredictable handful of titles that attract the attention of moralists (as the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien reviews only material that has been the subject of complaints).

  2. Thank you, Juliana, for making a series of excellent points, and making them so well. It truly brightens an author’s day to see someone treating his work with such interest — particularly on this blog, which, as you can imagine, attracts acres of snake-oil spam.

    As you may have already suspected, my adoration of the German system is not quite as clear-cut as it seems. Even in the afterword to the Anime Erotic Movie Guide in 1998, I felt compelled to append to it the Swiftian term “a modest proposal”. What interested me, then and now, about the German system was the way it avoided the UK’s own invasive processes, that can slice entire scenes out of films. Debate on censorship in Britain is often polarised, and my occasional mentions of other countries’ systems are intended to remind UK readers that alternatives do exist.

    Of course, as you point out, the German system merely shifts the nature of the invasion elsewhere from direct interference in the construction of a work , to the “economic censorship” that disappears entire volumes from general view, or makes it impossible for a potential consumer to know about the existence of something they might like in the first place.

    As you know, much of manga’s meteoric 21st century rise outside Japan can be ascribed to the liberation of manga from the comic store, and its racking in bookstores, where many female consumers (now officially 50% of the market) were happier to browse. The German indexing system does indeed shift yaoi to a new ghetto, and one that surely scares off less adventurous manga fans once more, particularly women.

    If you have SMC, then you have probably already read my account of my attempt to persuade a British radio station (it was Radio 4) that not all manga is porn. It was a shocking experience, not so much for the bait-and-switch manoeuvrings on-air, but for the persistence beforehand of the researcher in her attempts to drag porn into the argument at all. We are still living, even after 18 years, in the shadow of the initial advertising campaigns that pretended that all anime comprised sex and violence.

  3. “As you may have already suspected, my adoration of the German system is not quite as clear-cut as it seems. Even in the afterword to the Anime Erotic Movie Guide in 1998, I felt compelled to append to it the Swiftian term “a modest proposal”.”

    Haven’t gotten to the AEMG yet, in part because I don’t watch that much anime and in part because I don’t think there was any erotic anime out before 1998 that I’m particularly interested in (although I was a bit surprised to find that my local library system actually has a copy).

    “What interested me, then and now, about the German system was the way it avoided the UK’s own invasive processes, that can slice entire scenes out of films.”

    But at the same time, the German system creates a financial incentive to do exactly that, so that the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien will pass the censored version. In the case of Finder, there was apparently some consideration of a censored edition, although as the issue was with thematic/ relationship elements rather than the sex scenes as such, the necessary edits probably would have required juggling the storyline (which fans objected to vociferously) rather than merely fuzzing the art (as is often done for US yaoi releases, quietly by publishers, to make them more acceptable to bookstores).

    “The German indexing system does indeed shift yaoi to a new ghetto, and one that surely scares off less adventurous manga fans once more, particularly women.”

    As far as I know, Finder V1 is the only yaoi manga to have been so shifted, in Germany or, as far as I know, elsewhere in Europe. Yaoi has done quite well by European publishers, who have in turn embraced it with much enthusiasm, in large part because it is not ghettoized. I think that much of the success of yaoi outside Japan, and its relatively smooth integration into the bookstore market even in conservative parts of America, is due to evading the “porn” label and positioning itself in the much more bookstore-friendly “romance” category. And of course it’s “for girls” and tends to be pink and flowery, so it can’t be that bad, can it? 😉

    “We are still living, even after 18 years, in the shadow of the initial advertising campaigns that pretended that all anime comprised sex and violence.”

    In America, currently, I think the “it’s comics/animation so it must be for kids” theme is stronger and more damaging. The average person-on-the street either doesn’t know anime and manga from his hat or associates it with Pokemon and Saturday morning kidvid, so when concerned parents come across anything that isn’t appropriate for first-graders it is treated as shocking!, even if the book is labelled by the publisher as suitable for teenagers/adults.

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