Simon Turner and his manga research
I first heard that I had been offered a fellowship at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC) whilst working in Thailand. I was honoured to accept the opportunity to conduct research at such a prestigious institute. Since the beginning of my fellowship in September 2016, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here at SISJAC.
My research focusses on the international reception of Japanese popular culture, namely anime [animation] and manga. I am particularly interested in the socio-legal aspects regarding international flows of anime and manga related to legal definitions of obscenity and indecency. Usually, this leads many to think I examine explicit texts but that could not be more distant from the truth. Rather, I am interested in those texts that are not obviously obscene nor indecent to the average consumer, but which may legally be considered so due to legislative definitions.
With the proliferation of the internet there has been international political concern regarding the public’s access to child-sex abuse material and Japanese anime and manga with legal cases emerging in Australia (McLelland 2005), Canada (McLelland and Yoo 2007), and Britain (Madill 2015). In late 2014, a fan of Japanese anime and manga, Robul Hoque, became the first in England to be convicted of possession of prohibited images of children and was ordered to complete a sex-offender treatment programme (Palmer 2014). The images that he was in possession of were of anime and manga characters. After the announcement of the verdict, the defendant’s barrister warned that this case “should act as a warning to thousands of manga fans across the United Kingdom who ‘may find themselves’ in the same position” (Lightfoot 2014).
One might wonder why a case regarding child pornography and sex offenses should act as a warning to thousands of anime and manga fans in the United Kingdom. This is likely because the vast majority of anime and manga consumed in the United Kingdom, and perhaps the world, today is conducted online via sharing websites. Videos and texts are uploaded, translated, subbed, or dubbed by increasingly proficient fan groups thus violating copyright legislation (Leavitt 2010; Lee 2009). However, copyright violation is not the only law fans risk breaking by accessing media online. Fans are also possibly consuming media that would otherwise by banned or censored for obscenity and/or indecency.
A particular piece of legislation in the United Kingdom which has drawn my attention is the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (figure 1) that, in conjunction with the Protection of Children Act 1978 and Sexual Offences Act 2003 protects children from harm by prohibiting indecent and obscene images of children under the age of 18. The legislation includes drawn images that, according to the Crown Prosecution Guidelines, may include manga. The goal of my ongoing research is not to criticise legislation that protects children from harm, indeed, this legislation is necessary, important and should be upheld. However, some texts may inadvertently contravene legislation. An example I often I like to give to illustrate this is a series titled Ouran High School Host Club that is legally available for purchase in the UK from mainstream vendors including Amazon, Waterstones, and WHSmith. The series is written by manga artist Hatori Bisco and ran from 2002 to 2010. It began as a manga originally but which has seen anime, television drama, and film adaptations. In this series, there is a character named Haninozuka Mitsukuni, otherwise known as Honey (figure 2). He is 18 years old making him a legal adult able to engage in romantic relationships legally. The problem, however, is that Honey appears to look under the age of 18. Individuals could not be faulted for thinking that he looks 10 years old. Therefore, could this drawn image constitute obscenity per the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 if he looks underage in certain scenarios? There are no sexual depictions of this character but he is engaged in everyday secondary school dating and romance. It is unclear where legally available manga such as this would fall within the context of English and Welsh legislation.
As part of my fellowship, I have welcomed opportunities to present my work publicly including talks given at Kings College, London as well as upcoming international conferences such as the International Communication Association to be held in San Diego from the 25th – 29th May 2017 attracting over 2000 participants. I have organised an international workshop to be held at SISJAC on the 19th May 2017 with talks to be given by well-known manga studies and legal studies scholars. Furthermore, I look forward to discussing this topic in Norwich as part of the Third Thursday Lecture Series to be held on the 15th June 2017. More information regarding these events and registration details can be found on the SISJAC website. I welcome all to attend and look forward to meeting you.
Leavitt, A. (2010). Inside Scanlation. Transformative Works and Cultures, 5.
Lee, H. K. (2009). Between fan culture and copyright infringement: manga scanlation. Media, Culture & Society, 31(6), 1011-1022.
Madill, A. (2015). Boys’ Love Manga for Girls: Paedophilic, Satirical, Queer Readings and English Law. In Ringrose, J., Renold, R., and Egan, D (Eds). Children, Sexuality and Sexualization (pp. 273-288). Palgrave Macmillan UK.
McLelland, M. (2005). The World of Yaoi: The Internet, Censorship and the Global ‘Boys ‘Love’ Fandom. Australian Feminist Law Journal, 23(1), 61-77.
McLelland, M., & Yoo, S. (2007). The International yaoi boys’ love fandom and the regulation of virtual child pornography: The implications of current legislation. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 4(1), 93-104.
Palmer, E. (2014) ‘Manga and Anime Fans Warned after British Man Convicted of Possessing Cartoon “Child Porn”’ available at < http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/manga-anime-fans-warned-after-british-man-convicted-possessing-cartoon-child-porn-1471040>
Lightfoot, G. (2014) ‘Fan of Japanese Anime Makes British Legal History after Conviction for Having Pictures of Cartoon Children’ available at
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