TOKYO—Cartoon depictions of sexually-active children have a long and rocky history in the United States. While the Free Speech Coalition's lawsuit against the Child Pornography Prevention Act resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing that anyone or anything that merely looks like a depiction of a child engaging in actual sexually explicit conduct or even lascivious exhibition of the genitals is not child pornography—that requires an actual child, even if just the kid's face—it remains illegal to suggest through advertising that you have actual child pornography for sale (even if you don't), and even cartoons of kids having sex can still be found obscene if they meet the three prongs of the Miller test.
The biggest producer of graphic art featuring pubescent kids involved in sexually explicit situations remains Japan, where the majority of the $5.5 billion in annual revenues from the sale of manga—stylized comicbooks—features just such storylines.
Of course, no children are actually assaulted during the creation of manga, but that hardly mattered to Tokyo's governor, Shintaro Ishihara, who recently pushed through a city ordinance prohibiting the sale of sexually-oriented manga—as well as animated DVDs and even video games with similar images—to minors. The new ordinance will take effect in July.
"These are for abnormal people, for perverts," Ishihara charged during an interview, angrily throwing two comic books to the floor. There’s no other country in the world that lets such crude works exist."
The law will also target the growing number of books and DVDs featuring underage models in provocative and/or skimpy costumes that stop short of full nudity—that was banned in 1999—and will create criminal sanctions for the parent or guardian of a child under 13 who lets that child pose or act in such works. However, there are no laws in Japan banning the possession of child pornography, and it is unclear how the definition of that term comports with the definition in American law.
The law also prevents minors from buying works that feature adults engaging in sexual or violent acts.
"Depicting a crime and committing one are two different things," said attorney and manga expert Takashi Yamaguchi. "It's like convicting a mystery writer for murder."
"There are no victims in manga," noted Yasumasa Shimizu, vice president of Kodansha, Japan's largest publishing company, which has announced that it will honor the boycott. "We should be free to write what we want. Creativity in Japanese manga thrives on an 'anything goes' mentality."
As might be expected, enactment of the law has encouraged public figures to speak out about the dangers allegedly posed by such material.
"To a degree, it has become socially accepted to lust over young girls in Japan," said Hiromasa Nakai, spokesman for the Japanese Committee for UNICEF, who believes the material encourages adults to develop pedophilic interests. "Condoning these works has meant more people have access to them and develop an interest in young girls."
But while the ordinance affects only residents of and visitors to Tokyo, producers of the banned material fear that similar laws will be enacted countrywide, and even before that happens, will discourage some book, magazine and DVD retailers from carrying the material in the first place.
As noted above, manga are big business in Japan, and as a protest of the Tokyo ordinance, 10 of the country's largest manga publishers have agreed to boycott the Tokyo International Anime Fair which will take place in March.
As The New York Times noted in a recent article, erotic art has a long history in Japan, dating "at least as far back as the ukiyo-e prints of 17th- to 19th-century Japan, including Hokusai's famous portrayal of a fisherwoman and octopi in a salacious encounter." Adding depictions of children to the erotic mix has been a staple since the early 1980s.
But perhaps the sanest analysis of the effect of the sexually-oriented manga on minors comes from 17-year-old manga fan Koki Yoshida.
"I don't even think about how old these girls are," Yoshida told The Times. "It's a completely imaginary world, separate from real life."