Archive for July 13th, 2008

Toshokan Sensou: The Thorny Problem of Censorship

Yes, I know I haven’t been watching Toshokan Sensou as I should have been (I blame slowness on the part of subbers, and then a general unwillingness to trust Ocha! after watching an early episode subbed by them; thankfully, they seem to have improved to acceptable levels, so I should finish this up soon; Iku-plosions will be scattered but intense, light drizzles of Klan Klan relieving pressure in between bouts)

I just watched 7 and 8 (the arc dealing with Tezuka’s rather sinster brother, if you needed a quick refresher), but what jumped out at me wasn’t necessarily the actual storyline (which had me suitably worried for Iku under interrogation and really mad at aforementioned sinister brother so I was quite entertained on that front) but, rather, the whole underpinnings that kind of ran underneath the arc, fundamental to Toshokan Sensou’s general theme: censorship, and the fight against it.

Very early on in 7, Iku gets upset at Sunagawa for writing scathing reviews of a book–not just any book, mind, but her favorite book, which means that she’s a bit zealous about it and will brook no insult. She, of course, berates him in person for this, telling him how he shouldn’t post such negative reviews of books, because what if a fan of the book saw the review and got upset? “They didn’t have to read it,” claims Sunagawa, “and it’s the kind of thing the public wants, anyway. Besides, even library staff have the right to express their opinions however they wish.”

“Holy crap,” I thought at that moment, “that’s a horribly complicated issue you just brought up!” And it is–the right to free speech, commonly interpreted, states that you have the right to say whatever the hell you feel like saying, and that it is up to the people receiving the speech to accept, discard, or ignore it at their leisure. Of course, Iku brings up my very own caveat to that very principle–what if you trash something (be it a book, a movie, a song, an ethnicity, a sociopolitical entity) and then someone who happens to like (or be) that thing reads or hears it? Does your right to say whatever the hell you feel like saying still stand when you start getting antsy and offending other people?

Well, no; you do have the right to say whatever you feel like saying, but common sense and good manners dictates that you at least consider what you’re saying and whether or not you’re offending people by saying it. I’m pretty sure that no matter how carefully you phrase something, it’s virtually impossible to be completely inoffensive to all 6 billion people on the planet. When dealing with this issue, I’ve always found it useful to remember the axiom that “your right to swing your fist at me ends at my face.” Of course, if your intent is to hit my face (or offend me), then go right ahead, neither I nor no one else can stop you; but be prepared for the consequences, whatever they may be.

Iku takes no sass from anyone, which is an admirable and respectable (if sometimes problematic) goal in life.

And, then, of course, the opposite situation is dealt with later in the episode. Shibasaki is given the chance to cover-up a huge scandal in the library wherein someone is illegally burning books, and she has no idea how to react to it, and hypothetically confesses to Iku about it. Iku, of course, the ALA poster child that she is (I want to see one of those READ posters with her on it so bad, but it will never happen), tells her that the crime shouldn’t be covered up, because it’d just make things even worse when the truth surfaced. It seems somewhat hypocritical at first glance (“Don’t diss my favorite book! Stop being a jerk!” –> “Oh you can’t censor information at all! Truth is truth!”) but with just a little bit of thought in the manner, it’s still consistent with the general philosophy Iku embraces wholeheartedly–information is free, but there are ethics to be followed, and morality to be considered. In the first case, Iku simply wants Sunagawa to show more restraint, morality, and ethics in his opinions; it may be what the public wants to read, but is it really proper to say it in such a fashion? In the second, the issue is dealing with the coverup of a crime of unknown heinousness, and her answer is simple, direct, and (with consideration to pauses for dramatic effect) instantaneous: it’s a crime, and even if it’s going to be damaging to people (or even, as Iku finds out somewhat indirectly, to yourself), you can’t censor it. That is pure ethics right there–even if you want to keep it a secret, even if it’s someone you cared about, it is information, and it has a right to be disseminated to the public at large, for their consideration.

This whole topic is a huge, horrible nightmare of a mess, and even though I agree with the ethics posted above, even I can’t follow them 100% of the time–if emotions are raging and flying or my brain isn’t paying attention to what it’s saying (or if I make a conscious, knowing decision to violate the ethics to make a stand), I do slip up; we all do. But I do find it a good guideline to keep in mind when dealing with people in general, and especially in public forums.

And, anyway, if I really wanted to, I could place a pillow over my mouth and scream that the pope is a homosexual hermaphrodite, and no one would ever know but me. That’s also a valid way to deal with stress and things you dislike, since we all have things we hide under the surface in order to maintain harmony with fellow humans that we wouldn’t dare tell anyone else. But maybe that’s what LiveJournal is for these days!

A Brief Note on Yawara!: Dangerously Cute, or Cutely Dangerous?

This is Yawara. Does she look like she can toss you, judo-style, without even blinking an eye, or even being aware that she just tossed you? No? Not at all? Even that really cute hair ribbon, which looms ominously with its smallness and greenness? Or that cardigan, embroidered with the four suits of a deck of cards?

Didn’t think so. But she can. Oh, she can. The more important question is, does she look like her character was designed by Urasawa Naoki, the same man who drew the seinen modern classics Monster and 20th Century Boys?

I actually first heard of Yawara!: A Fashionable Judo Girl! a year or so before I even got interested in anime at all, so it’s got an ancient history. Someone was using it to illustrate how long anime series could get (I don’t think, at that time, she’d actually seen any of it, but she was in a group of friends who had access to VHS fansubs since this was Back In The Day; Back In The Day is also when I first watched Mahoujin Guru Guru and was the only person in my high school’s anime club who wanted to watch another episode of that over the first episode of Escaflowne, a sure sign of obsessions to come), but, alas, I never really had the chance to pick it up until reminded of it years later, when AnimEigo announced that they had picked the series up for release in the States.

Of course, I noticed right away when checking up on it that, lo and behold, who wrote the manga but Urasawa Naoki. “Wait, wait, wait,” I said to myself, “how does this work? He gets popular via Yawara!, and then goes on to author things that are totally unlike Yawara!, but still amazingly awesome?” I’m not entirely sure when Urasawa switched gears from drawing Yawara, an extremely shoujo manga/anime (even though Wikipedia lists the series as “seinen”, which just confuses me even more, and makes me realize how useless demographics can be in describing anime and manga), to drawing hard-boiled seinen manga, but it’s quite the jump–and, as I have discovered recently, he’s equally good at silly shoujo comedy as he is at thrilling psychological suspense.

AnimEigo has already put up a nice page that explains the basic premise of Yawara (and provides a link to a free+postage copy of the first DVD with four episodes on it, as well as a form to tell AnimEigo that you’d love to give them your arm, leg, and firstborn to own the first 40 episodes–and I have already removed my arm and leg and am searching for a girl with whom to have my firstborn so that I can send it off to them in exchange for blissful Yawara goodness*), so I’ll just step right past that part and explain what, exactly, is good about it.

It actually aired around the same time the far more popular (in the West) Ranma 1/2 aired, and was considered its “sister series” by virtue of being somewhat similar in premise to Ranma 1/2 (minus the gender confusion)–they were both comedies involving martial arts. Yawara!, however, was much more popular than Ranma 1/2 in Japan (Ranma was actually cancelled early on, but resurrected and became the 160+ episode behemoth it is today). From what I’ve seen, the first four episodes of Yawara! were far more amusing than the same in Ranma, but that’s probably just my personal sense of humor jumping in.

I think the humor was more successful simply because of how bizarre and outlandish the characters are: Yawara hates judo so much she refuses to even tell her friends her grandfather, Jigoro, forces her to practice it; Jigoro himself is amazingly hilarious, obsessievely correcting every factual error people make about him and plotting and scheming to give Yawara her big debut. Jigoro goes to far as to intentionally set out to create a rival for her, in the form of pampered rich girl Sayaka. Yawara, of course, cares less about Sayaka than she does judo itself, but that doesn’t stop Sayaka from hiring the greatest playboy in the world as her judo instructor, Kazamatsuri (he is a playboy, all right–not entirely sure how he gets the ladies, though, since he’s amazingly shy, but since Yawara is taken by his rugged handsome looks and dashing personality, he must have SOMETHING going on). They are all pretty standard characters, but somehow it all manages to form a highly entertaining whole–I haven’t been bored at all watching the four episodes I’ve seen up to now, even though effectively nothing actually happened.

It’s not a series for everyone (what series is, but that’s another problem entirely), but for anyone interested in a) old shoujo-ish anime b) old anime period or c) finding out how amazingly awesome and cute and 100% pure Yawara herself is (she’s a totally average girl, except for the judo thing, but that has a strange kind of allure, that probably made the series as popular as it is. I might even call her…moe [cue shock and horror]), it’s definitely worth a look, even if you don’t end up consigning $130 to the first third of the series.

*I complain about the pricing, but considering that AnimEigo is a niche company in a niche market, you’re not likely to get much cheaper than that. I feel bad that I never got ahold of their excellent SDF Macross DVD sets, due to the high price point. There are fansubs that you can obtain that take you through episode 47 if the four-episode sampler disc isn’t enough to convince you (it pretty much was for me), and I can’t guilt or otherwise force you into buying it, but if you watch and enjoy to a noticable degree those 47 episodes, considering the small, practically family-run nature of AnimEigo, it’d just be outright rude not to fork over the cost of the set, or at least fork over the cost of the next two/three sets to finish the series up. At some point in time. When you have the money. And only if you live in North America. And if you have arms, legs, and firstborns to spare. But, seriously, from what I can tell, AnimEigo seems to be willing to work with difficult financial situations, so you can get a $130 box set for just $10 a week for 13 weeks! Or something. I suspect, though, that if you’re reading this post this far, you’re probably the sort that would buy it anyway, because you can. Or something.


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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July 2008