For the past twenty years in the United States, political correctness, despite its good intentions, has been a source of growing controversy. More than a reasonable number of people cannot deny that not wanting to offend people of different backgrounds is not at all a bad thing. However, there are some that think significant factions of political correctness can go too far and consequently restrict free speech, and that goes into including artistic expression.
Though Japanese society does not have concepts of what some critics would consider being part of the present American PC climate of check your privileges, trigger warnings, safe spaces and cultural appropriation, its earlier concepts in the United States are now slowly coming into Japan and entering into anime and manga.
The Change in Times with Standards
Some people in America today believe that we should hold literature, TV shows, songs, and movies of previous generations to the standards of what is acceptable in present day society. No one can deny what may have been portrayed in pop culture from fifteen to fifty years ago which may not be accepted today, but does that mean we should change what’s already been done just to suit how society has changed since then? Though this has been a controversy in America in recent years, this practice has finally come to Japan.
Though there is a recent visual novel game called Katawa Shoujo or Crippled Girls, that has become somewhat of a cult hit, the word katawa itself is considered very offensive in Japan as far back as the 1970s, towards handicapped people. In the original publication of a Black Jack manga, the main character meets a boy who has a brother with a disability and refers to him as a katawa.
In fact, Black Jack teaches the boy that referring to his brother as a katawa is not good. In recent publications of that chapter, due to kotoba gari (sort of the Japanese term for political correctness in terms of labels), the word katawa is changed with byounin, meaning that he’s sick, to make it more appropriate and Black Jack tries to teach the boy that he’s not sick. The original word is replaced when its original intended message is to teach its readers that it’s an inappropriate word, to begin with, is one example of how many people can argue that political correctness is counter-intuitive in having honest and open dialogue.
In broadcasts of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders, whenever Jotaro would smoke, his face would be covered. Is this censorship truly the work of political correctness? Some would say so but there are other reasons for this. The reason is because Jotaro is seventeen years old and the smoking age is twenty in Japan, so some would say he would be a bad influence on the youth. But the true question is, is it really necessary? The series is aired past 1 a.m. when most kids should be asleep. Plus, children in Japan can easily buy the manga with the scene uncensored in broad daylight, so does the purpose really serve its intention?
Other articles that have been critical of this tactic have made claims that the people behind the censors are hypocrites because in some episodes where Jotaro notably smokes, he is also gambling, and gambling is illegal in Japan (while the gambling age in Egypt is eighteen). In some sense, some can agree that a line has to be drawn between what can and cannot be portrayed while its intentions once again can be counter productive. In the end, some would argue this could be a tactic to boost DVD and Blu-ray sales where the scene happens to be uncensored, but that’s a different topic for a different Editorial Tuesday.
Last, thirty years ago with the broadcast of Kimagure Orange Road, Madoka, a junior high student, is shown to be smoking with no censors and this show was broadcasted on Monday evenings. Did the young viewers of that show back then grow up to be smokers or delinquents? What is it with censoring that makes people think viewers can’t handle smoking on a show where its audiences are likely to be adults? Yes, smoking is a bad thing, but does it have to be covered by a silly black shadow? Are audiences really that triggered by the sight of a 17-year-old smoking and yet somehow not triggered by that same character gambling for what could consequently be for the fate of the world?
The real issue in regards to this is that some critics of political correctness believe it's ridiculous to say that this is a scenario which can’t be portrayed on TV, but can. Thus, critics believe that broadcasts should either censor everything or not censor anything at all.
Culture Differences with Race
One significant factor to consider is the cultural differences between Japan and numerous countries in terms of race and population. While the United States, Europe, and Australia tend to have diverse populations, Japan is still largely a homogenous society and has an immigrant population of 2.8% and a majority of those immigrants are from neighboring Asian countries such as China and Korea. As a result, Japan doesn’t exactly have the same history as other countries in context to domestic race relations.
Due to Japan’s singular population where they don’t have much first-hand access and exposure to Western cultures and having a history of isolation, some of the ways they can portray other nationalities can, unfortunately, be awfully offensive to non-Japanese though that was likely never the intention, to begin with.
One notable ongoing controversy is the portrayal of the evolved cockroaches in Terra Formars. Due to their designs and coloring, it is understandable that some non-Japanese people on the Internet have ranted that the cockroaches are meant to negatively portray those of African descent. In addition to the questionable use of skin tone, their builds, their athletic abilities and even in one instance they held guns with a side grip, are all reasonable observations on why some people can make such conclusions. But is that the intention?
As far as we know, the original creators have yet to make any comments on such instances. Beyond the design of the cockroaches, some people have been disturbed by the portrayal of Chinese characters, being suspicious, manipulative, and cunning. The reason people can make this assumption is because of the problematic relationship between China and Japan.
Though G Gundam has a reputation amongst Western loyal Gundam fans on how it portrays other nationalities (with the Tequila Gundam design and the Neo Mexico colony being in the shape of a sombrero, the Dutch Gundam being a windmill, the Russian representative being a gulag prisoner, and making Americans loud and obnoxious). The one that paved way for it was a classic example of stereotyping, Ring ni Kakero, based on the manga by Kurumada Masami, most famous for creating Saint Seiya. Though incarnations of the anime have been broadcasted throughout the 2010s, the original manga was published between the late-1970s and early-1980s.
In Ring ni Kakero, the Germans are portrayed as a Nazi party like organization (though the original manga directly portrays them as Nazis), the Italians as mobsters, with the French as aristocratic. The American team was a Motley Crue of a jive talking blaxploitation character (named Black Shaft), a KKK grand wizard named Mr. Whitey, a death row inmate, a leader of the Hell’s Angels, and a drag queen. Considering how post-World War II Germany denounces Nazism, to the point that it is law, there is no way that this anime can ever enter Germany and many can agree that it is not fair to claim that Germans are Nazis.
We are sure readers can come to the conclusion that such a series was never intended to be racist for the sake of being racist or to be politically incorrect, just for drama and/or humor. But sometimes, some people need to know what is and isn't funny based on different backgrounds and upbringings, which is why political correctness was conceptualized, to begin with, in the United States.
Cultural Differences with Religion
Another cultural difference that sets Japan apart from a majority of the world is the role of religion in society and how it influences social norms. While religion plays an important part in most Western nations and neighboring countries, Japan may be culturally spiritual, but by no means religious. Due to Japan’s possible lack of education and knowledge of certain faiths, religious symbols in anime and manga are loosely used as style and have no deep substance to the audiences in Japan.
Citizens who live in countries where religion is the norm, using any aspect of a certain religion for humor or any form of storytelling, regardless of the intention, can be considered a violation of that respective faith. And due to America’s and Europe’s deep connection with religion throughout the centuries as the moral foundations of society, seeing the symbols used in what can be seen as sacrilege or blasphemous, may consequently put a network out of business or worse. For South Park fans, you know what we are talking about.
References to religion have been portrayed in popular anime throughout the years such as Yu-Gi-Oh, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and most notably, Evangelion. While Evangelion was not fully broadcasted on American television, the religious references, no matter how innocent they may have seemed, were subjected to removal due to American society being devotedly religious and having an influence.
For starters, Yu-Gi-Oh has many image references to religion such as the Star of David, which was removed for broadcast. Though the use of the image in the original Japanese broadcast was never intended to be offensive in any nature, and due to the history of Judaism in other countries, it is only natural the symbol be removed to not make any misunderstandings.
Another basic example is Mr. Satan from Dragon Ball Z having his named changed to Hercule, or French for Hercules (which was used in the North American and French dubs of Dragon Ball Z). Since the character himself really has no Satanic connections or exhibits any qualities that would suggest he worships Satan, this name change does not ignite any negative reactions from purists and works excellently with the aloof and yet strong nature of Mr. Satan himself.
Can We Still Have Open Dialogue and Artistic Freedom?
Most reasonable human beings can agree we need to consider the feelings and histories of individuals and groups of all backgrounds before saying anything, regardless of some intentions. Sometimes, a joke may be funny to some, but outlandish to others. The real problem is where to draw the line and it is understandable that not everybody can agree with that. Sometimes what may not be acceptable in one culture, may be normal in another. How do we get around that and still not be offensive to anyone with or without trigger warnings?
There are others who feel the need to say what they want when they want, so they can be honest with themselves and everyone while making engaging dialogue, regardless of consequences. Sometimes, people take things too far with a simple opinion and sometimes, people, regardless of their intentions, take the concept too far and in turn, label people a certain way based on their feelings. It is reactions such as this on why critics of the PC culture feel that it restricts free speech in both dialogue and in art.
What do you all think? Make sure to let us know in the comments below, and we hope you enjoyed this editorial.