This issue, we observe disgruntled film-maker Charlie Lyne, trolling the British Board of Film Classification by submitting a ten-hour movie of drying paint. Since the BBFC is obliged to scrutinise every second of every film sent to them, Lyne solicited online donations to send the censors the longest possible sequence of nothing, and to pay the boggling £7/minute fee required for all submissions. Paint Drying was passed on 26th January with the comment “no material likely to offend or harm.”
I’m not going to get into the ins and outs and the rationales for the existence of the BBFC – there’s a letters page for that, get stuck in. Instead, I want to talk to you about Lyne’s reasons for this Situationist protest in the first place: the tax on creativity he had to pay just to release a movie. Although nobody ever thanks me for pointing out how small the anime world is, we live in a world now where some releases underperform to the extent that their audience would literally fill a single cinema. When there is a likelihood, or even a mere risk, that a DVD will only sell a few hundred copies, the producers have to make some tough decisions about how much financial exposure they want.
Sure, I hear you say, but that’s the price of doing business. If someone’s forked out £5,000 for the rights to Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, they might as well have another grand on top to pay for the certificate, otherwise they shouldn’t be in the game in the first place. But for many anime, the BBFC fee is the last straw that kills off any extras.
Although this is rarely discussed among fans, extras also have to be certificated. That 30-minute making-of you wanted to see? That’ll cost over £300 just to get a BBFC nod. That feature commentary track you want to hear? That still has to be certificated at £7 a minute, even though it’s just some guy (usually me) talking about the thing you’ve already seen. I strongly suspect that the reason for the recent proliferation of art-books and sleeve notes in Anime Ltd releases like Sword Art Online and Durarara!! is because the £700 fee for certifying a feature commentary track feels like a protection racket. Someone could probably mount a legal challenge, arguing that a commentary was “educational” and hence exempt, but someone would still have to pay the lawyers to fight that corner.
But spare a thought for the BBFC, having to literally sit and watch paint dry for ten hours. They had to watch Legend of the Overfiend. Haven’t they suffered enough?
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 148, 2016.