Radio Days

In answer to a special request from Anna over at Chocolate Keyboard, a reprint of an article from PiQ magazine, originally published in July 2008, and subsequently collected in the anthology Schoolgirl Milky Crisis.

——

The girl who met me in reception had a badge that said Emma. She didn’t actually tell me who she was, but sulkily informed me that she was here to take me upstairs. She didn’t show an iota of enthusiasm until the elevator reached the designated floor, at which point she practically pushed me into the green room.

“Someone will be with you,” she mumbled, before disappearing.

Someone soon was. Coincidentally, her name was also Emma. But Emma #2 displayed little interest in me. Instead, she was running through the questions with the people who were just about to go on-air before me. A nervy girl whose dog could play the bongos, or something like that. Emma #2 whispered her way through the questions she was going to get, just to put her at her ease.

That’s nice, I thought. I imagined that for a lot of people, appearing live on the radio was quite nerve-wracking. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve done it, and it’s still pretty nerve-wracking for me. There is always that little devil at your shoulder, whispering that now would be the ideal moment to have a Tourette’s Syndrome outburst. And the thought of it makes you giggle. And then it’s too late.

Except Emma #2 didn’t bother to tell me what questions were coming up. Instead, she pushed me into the studio where Emma #3 lay in wait. Another Emma — what were the odds? I began to suspect that this wasn’t going to quite be the discussion of manga’s broad genres that I had been promised.

With a proud flourish, I pulled a selection of manga from my bag. They’d asked me to grab a few titles from around my office: Ironfist Chinmi, which I translated many years ago, Yoshihisa Tagami’s Wild West manga Pepper, and Shooting Stars in the Twilight by Kenshi Hirokane.

“What’s this?” said Emma #3, wrinkling her nose in scorn.

“Oh, that’s my favorite,” I said. “Shooting Stars… is a series of love stories and thrillers for the elderly.”

“The elderly!?”

“Yes. I did say that manga catered for everyone. This particular series is for people in their sixties.”

She turned through a few of the pages with an unhappy look on her face, and then handed it back to me without a second glance.

“Don’t you have any porn?” she asked.

“Er… no,” I said.

“It’s just, I was hoping to see something shocking.”

“I’m not all that sorry to have disappointed you,” I replied. Then I remembered there was one more manga in another part of my bag. It was a copy of Princess, an anthology magazine for teenage girls.

I stuck Princess on the table, too.

“Is it porn?” said Emma #3.

“No,” I said, beginning to get a faint idea of where this was all going. “It’s for teenage girls!”

“Do they like porn?” she asked.

“You do realize,” I began hesitantly, “and I did tell you on the phone, that manga is not just porn. It is kids’ stories, and adventures, and thrillers, romance and drama, science fiction and detective stories—” But she cut me off with an upraised hand.

“By the way,” she said, just as the light changed from happy green to ON-AIR red, “we’ve had to drop a few of the questions. It was kind of boring. Instead we’re going to talk about changes in Japanese porn legislation.”

And with that, I was in the line of fire, lured on-air to talk about the Japanese comics that I loved, and, once more, forced to become a spokesman for and defender of an entire nation’s erotica.

Not that I mind that so much. There have been some fascinating developments in Japanese legislation recently. The Japanese government has spectacularly bowed to American pressure over obscenity regulation. Japanese law infamously rates obscenity on the basis of harm — in other words, it has long argued that if a sexual act, however unpleasant, is shown in a drawn image, nobody is actually being harmed and so the image should not be kept from consenting adult readers. This position has increasingly come under fire, both from UNICEF and from pressure groups like Cyber Angels, who have argued that manga should be subject to the same restrictions as “real” images, since they could be used to “groom” susceptible children.

Remarkably, the Japanese government has been prepared to listen to this. Instead of telling the Americans to leave them alone, the Japanese Cabinet Office issued a Special Opinion Poll on Harmful Materials. They discovered that a surprising percentage of the Japanese population agreed that “harmful” manga images should be censored. 90.9 percent in fact, said that they thought Internet images should be regulated. 86.5 percent said that they thought child porn in manga should be regulated. Interestingly, however, a massive 72.7 percent admitted that they didn’t actually know enough about the materials under discussion to say for sure whether someone would be harmed, or how they would be harmed, or what was harmful.

This is a fascinating legal area. Obscene materials, like green politics, cross international borders in a wired world. They require international agreements, not local fixes. Despite complaints about the slowness of Japan’s response, its willingness to listen to American arguments on the subject has been unprecedented.

And what does this have to do with manga? Not a whole lot, particularly if it’s the only thing you get to bring up, and your time to talk about it has been slashed to less time than it takes to boil an egg. A runny one.

“Manga cover every conceivable genre,” I pleaded in vain. “So, of course there are erotic manga.” But that doesn’t mean that every discussion of Japanese comics should turn into one about pornography. And it’s ironic that Emma, Emma, and Emma’s desperate desire to be shocked should have caused them to discuss Japanese pornography on national radio, giving it far wider coverage than it ever had in the Adults Only section of a comic store.

But that’s what you get in the mainstream media. A promised fifteen-minute slot dwindles to five because someone has a dog that plays the bongos, and before you know where you are, you might as well not have bothered getting up early. It had cost me ten bucks to get into the studio that day. I was already wondering if I shouldn’t have just stayed in bed and used the money to buy cheese.

On my way out of the studio, Emma #1 realized I might be angry about my treatment. She finally tried to make conversation.

“Does my name mean anything in Japanese?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “You’re the ruler of Hell.”

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Epiphanies

Christmas comes late for authors in Britain, as 6th January is when we receive our statements from the Public Lending Right. This is a wonderful body that pays a royalty for books taken out of British libraries. For a sole author, that’s currently a payout of 6.29 pence every time someone checks me out (in the library sense, that is). The numbers are extrapolated from sampled data, so there’s always a bit of wiggle room — this year, for example, one of my books earned nothing at all when I was quite sure it was going to be in the top slot. Depends on which libraries are being asked.

For the last ten years, my highest-earning book has been an obscure work for children that I wrote using someone else’s name (no, I am not going to tell you what it is). This month’s statement ends that reign at last, with the hardback and paperback editions of my Confucius biography officially hitting the top spot.

Here’s the JC top ten loaners for 2009:

1: Confucius: A Biography (hardback and paperback combined)

2: A Brief History of the Vikings

3: Wu: The Chinese Empress Who Schemed Seduced and Murdered Her Way to Become a Living God. This would have easily been number one if it were also available in paperback. Something which I hope the History Press gets around to sooner rather than later.

4: Bejing: The Biography of a City. Which surprises me. But it was a cheap book, and presumably a lot of libraries bought it ahead of the 2008 Olympics, as we hoped they would.

5: The First Emperor of China (hardback and paperback). Surprised this isn’t higher, to be honest. The British Museum was shipping this by the crateful during their Terracotta Army exhibition, but then again, if more people are buying it for themselves, they don’t need to go looking for it in a library.

6: Ironfist Chinmi: Cutting Edge. Yes, even though as the translator I only receive 30% of the PLR fee, Takeshi Maekawa’s Ironfist Chinmi manga occupies the #6, #7, #8 and #10 slots on my earnings from libraries. Heartening to see that it’s still earning after fifteen years on sale, although odd that Cutting Edge, the last in the series, should be the highest ranked.

7: Ironfist Chinmi: Whirlwind Fist.

8: Ironfist Chinmi: Victory for the Spirit.

9: Marco Polo.

10: Ironfist Chinmi: Drunken Master.

You’ll notice that Schoolgirl Milky Crisis isn’t on the list. In fact, although it’s registered with the PLR, it was published in February 2009, and hence unlikely to make it into any library collections by the June cut-off point. Perhaps it will show up next year. Meanwhile, the Anime Encyclopedia, despite selling more copies than most of my other books combined, continues to be low earner for PLR — this is because most libraries don’t allow visitors to check it out at all, and insist that it remains on-site as a reference work. The powers that be in the authoring world are well aware that some books slip through the net, and are trying to come up with a new model that also includes reference works that are consulted but not borrowed. Whatever; I am just immensely glad that the PLR exists at all. It never fails to brighten my Januarys.

Remastering

The idea behind a remake is based on the cold calculations of accountants. It’s known that half of the audience for Story X will come back to check out a sequel. That means, if Story X did big enough business, it’s worth knocking out a follow-up, just to grab the money. Hollywood is the most notorious offender of course, cranking out unnecessary sequels in which we get Another This, Son of That and Revenge of the Other. Manga do it, too. Sports stories take their heroes to the next championship level, martial arts stories bring on new opponents, and girls’ romances find a handy way to split up the lovers once more. In the case of Ironfist Chinmi, creator Takeshi Maekawa simply started renumbering the books – he declared that volume 36 of the old Chinmi was actually volume one of the “New Chinmi”, thereby hoping to attract new readers, even thought the story simply went on as before.
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