Posted on the BBC website on April Fool’s Day, and hence not attracting any attention until it turned out to be serious, was the news that China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television had declared war on “borderline pornographic” Japanese cartoons such as Blood C, Highschool of the Dead, and Terror in Resonance. SAPPRFT promises to draw up a blacklist of proscribed Japanese cartoons, all the more to save Chinese streaming sites the trouble of licensing them.
Even in China, the news was greeted with a degree of hilarity. SAPPRFT, after all, was the same body that tried to ban time travel (fortunately only on TV, my time machine is still legal). But as the Qianzhen news site in south China pointed out, SAPPRFT was making the perennial error that has dogged anime all over the world for the last 30 years, confusing cartoons for adults with cartoons for children, and then making the false assumption that children would be watching them.
It’s Japan that’s really in SAPPRFT’s sights. Anime was dragged off-air in China in 2006, where it was proving far too popular. Anime continued to sneak in on video, since apparently Ghibli films didn’t count as evil cartoons. Then, a survey in 2008 concluded that 75% of Chinese undergraduates were watching anime on their computers. Television might have been stamped out, but anime continued to find an audience in pirate editions and on streaming sites. And consider that percentage for a moment: China generates seven million graduates every year – that’s a big audience.
Streaming sites didn’t count as television, so now they are on the hit list, not the least because of the titles listed in the SAPPRFT press release, only Terror in Resonance appears to have any legal presence in the People’s Republic – it’s got bombs going off in Tokyo, sure to entertain the kids. As for Blood C and Highschool of the Dead, both were released in Hong Kong and Taiwan – in other words, they are sneaking in across the border, unhelpfully subtitled in Chinese by the running dogs of capitalism. Long-term readers may remember a similarly absurd situation a few years ago, when Death Note was “banned” in northeast China, despite not actually being legally available there in the first place.
What’s going to happen? Nothing. Servers at Chinese universities will continue to host terabytes of torrented foreign media. Chinese fans will continue to watch anime on their computers, just now without paying a penny to Japan. And distributors everywhere are doing cartwheels at the thought of being able to say that their anime titles are now “banned in China.” Nothing will bump up audiences more than the idea that the cartoon they’re watching can excite such ire.
One wonders, however, if SAPPRFT has bothered to check the credits on Highschool of the Dead and Blood C, which feature listings for companies such as Xuyang and Xing Yue Animation, both based in Jiangsu province. That’s right: the horrible foreign cartoons that SAPPRFT is targeting were partly made in China.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History (UK/US). This article first appeared in NEO #137, 2015.
[Time travel footnote: and here’s me in the LA Times, explaining why Attack on Titan qualifies as “pornographic”]