Problematic Content in Anime and Manga

Note: This page is written to be linked from three other pages on this website: Anime (and Manga) for Parents (and Other Grownups), The Librarian's Guide to Anime and Manga, and The Teacher's Companion to the Anime Companion.

Anime and manga are not just for children. Much of what is produced is for young adults and adults. Now children often enjoy viewing or reading many anime and manga aimed at an older audience just as children may enjoy reading many novels or watching movies that are intended for adults. For this reason it is important to consider the age group one is buying for. Also in Japan the definitions of children's and adult's entertainments are more ambiguous than in the US, for example some types of sexual humor, often at the expense of adult dignity, are found in some works written for children and teenagers.

For parents discussing something taking place in an anime or manga can be a good launching point for dealing with subjects which an adult may be reluctant to bring up with teens or children.

Companies are very good about adding warnings to their packages for works aimed at an older audience. If you have questions about at particular anime or manga feel free email me and I will gladly attempt to answer your questions. For librarians good place to ask is gn4lib, the Graphic Novels in Libraries email list.

Note: Be aware that much of anime's bad reputation is a result of coverage in the British tabloids and New York press in the early 1990s. It seems that Manga Entertainment and Central Park Media decided to choose, along with some great classics, some of the most violent and sexually explicit anime available for their early releases. They apparently felt that the likely market was fans of more violent action films, and in the case of CPM wanted to emphasize that anime was not just for kids. Reporters with short deadlines usually simply repeat much of what was said in other newspaper articles so certain opinions and views from those early reports have been around for years and still occasionally pop up.

Violence:

Much of the anime and manga translated into English is of an action-oriented nature, science fiction and fantasy being two genres well represented. Now these are usually no more violent than what can be seen in American comics, on TV or in movie theaters. But there are cases where violence can be carried to an extreme and be quite bloody, simply flipping through a few pages of a manga or checking the notes on a video box often will provide a clue on this.

One book I would like to recommend to adults who are concerned about the impact of action shows on children is Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence by Gerald Jones. This is an excellent study by a father who has been involved in manga publishing in America and teaches writing, including comic book writing, to children.

Note: Be aware that some U.S. anime companies have exaggerated violence or sexual content in their ads or notes to encourage sales and the content may actually be milder than implied.

Nudity:

Nudity is not unusual in some anime and manga, even TV shows and manga for children. This is a result of a different culture's views on naked bodies. Often nudity is used for comic effect and the characters involved may be highly embarrassed. Or a character may simply be taking a bath as in the delightful children's classic My Neighbor Totoro when the father and his daughters take a bath together, a normal parent child emotional bonding activity in Japan. Sometimes nudity or partial nudity may be used simply to sell the product, much like the U.S.

One amusing, or sad, detail is when the Dragon Ball children's TV series was brought to U.S. television computer generated shorts were added to an infant who liked to run around nude. In some series bath or hot spring scenes on US TV have featured digitally added swim suits.

Gender Identity:

Anime and manga aimed at all ages may have characters who are gay, lesbian, transgender, cross dressing, or bisexual. Many such titles are not-sexually explicit, they simply have characters that fall into those categories. In some cases the a character's gender may change involuntary, such as in Ranma 1/2 where it is the result of a curse, or in Kashimashi where a boy was changed into a girl by aliens in the process of saving his/her life.

With the popularity of Boys Love (aka YAOI) manga and anime the number of titles with male male romance is wide and again these range from platonic to explicitly sexual.

Sexual content:

"Etchi nanowa ikenaito omoimasu"
("I think dirty thoughts are bad")
Mahoro in the ending sequence of the first season of the MahoRomatic TV anime.

Given that some anime are released in the OVA format for specific market niches it should not be too surprising that erotic and pornographic anime exists. The same applies for manga which has even more specialized markets. Now in the U.S. anime market this genre of anime is actually quite over represented compared to the total percentage of anime video releases in Japan. It is possible to easily create a huge collection of anime and manga without any explicit sexual content.

In most series sexual content is usually hinted at rather than explicit, one example is a young impressionable lesbian character in the first El Hazard OVA series (a series I highly recommend) or off screen hints of sexual activity late in His or Her Circumstance and Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Adult genitals are only shown in pornographic anime or manga and even then only rarely. In the original Japanese releases of anime and manga genitals are either not shown, covered over with a black dot or with large pixels due to Japanese censorship laws. Some American companies have had, in manga, the genitals redrawn by the original artists, or, in anime, cut scenes restored or computer generated pixels removed. Recent changes in Japanese laws are allowing a larger percentage of an explicit image to be shown not only in adult anime and manga but in photography and film. However censorship of images still exists in Japan just not as broadly as in the past.

Avoiding explicitly sexual anime and manga is easy as they often are special product lines put out by subsidiaries of larger companies or separate companies. In some cases they may be a very small portion of an anime or manga. On the other hand some series may be rated 18+ and actually not be pornography in the American sense of almost all sex and little story. An example is the 18+ rated manga IWGP Ikebukuro West Gate Park which has a few pages of nudity and sex in every volume, however the story is not sex driven and the age rating comes from just a handful of pages.

The U.S. press has made statements of it's own about sex in anime and manga that are in fact untrue. A case in point is when the character Belldandy in the Oh! My Goddess OVA series was referred to as a "soft porn goddess" in the Village Voice (Sept 3, 1996 p.34). Oh My Goddess! is a very tender romantic comedy in which Belldandy actually kisses her boyfriend a couple of times, and not on the mouth. Her trendy sister Urd is a little more outrageous but again for comedic effect and only in one scene in the OVA. Fortunately in recent years the press has done a better job of covering anime and manga.

One result of this kind of reporting is that an East Coast video chain at one time classed all anime as for adults only, even titles for little kids.

Smoking and Drinking

As animation in Japan is not considered to be just a medium for children's stories it is not surprising to find scenes where characters are smoking and drinking. One will even find occasional cases where a delinquent teen may light up a cigarette, or have a drink. However such behavior in anime and manga is the exception and usually has a place in the story being told. Alcohol and tobacco are almost always consumed by adults and in a proper adult context.

The response of American TV with anime has been an expected one where such scenes are either cut, digitally altered to remove the offending substance or dialogue is re-written so sake becomes bottled water or tea. Such work is often crude, in one case a cigarette was digitally removed but not the smoke. On video such alterations only exist if the release is of the edited TV version of the show. Regular releases leave the material in it's proper place and form.


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Created December 21, 1996 | Content last updated May 19, 2012