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)