Specific censorship is nothing new or strange when it comes to China – only a few years ago they were banning films with time-travel. Yet, while that was a move to prevent a variety of drama common to the country which clashed with the government’s desires for its people, their new departure – which was foreshadowed a couple of months ago – against ‘scenes of violence, pornography, terrorism and crimes against public morality’ in anime is a different kind of step, being labelled ‘anti-Japanese’ by multiple voices on-line who are finding their enjoyment of media unjustly oppressed. The issue for me, though, is not what China censors; it’s what they haven’t, and how their list of 38 shows demonstrates a lack of tact if they are indeed aiming to cleanse the internet of everything they find undesirable in anime.
Our main man, Liu Qiang, announced that ‘the list is the result of evaluations by investigators, reviews by the ministry and the opinions of experts’, but also that more shows would get added to the list. So it seems that we’ll have a short while longer to watch Mirai Nikki, a series featuring a homicidal yandere-beyond-belief and enough fascination with different varieties of death to write the next Saw script. The show revels in its bloodlust (and doesn’t shy away from some unnecessary nudity either), so why was this not on China’s radar when something as old an unremarkable as When They Hunt Elves is on the list? Not only that, but shouldn’t there also be something said about the entire premise of becoming God – how are the Marxists going to handle that?
While Mirai Nikki’s lack of attention could be due to it’s use of time-travel, which was already banned three years ago, said ban was directly for its film and television industry, making that unlikely to be the case. It’s not like it’s alone, either. Hellsing, another gore-fest (and, funnily enough, the first manga I read), has eluded them thus far, while Higurashi also remains as a treasure trove of murder, torture and all those other words you shouldn’t use around a day-care centre, along with other worthy mentions like Baccano and Darker Than Black which both have enough violence to tip the scales against their favour. Kill la Kill is perhaps the most surprising omission, considering its central representations of pornographic culture, coupled with its celebration of violence and a militaristic Japan. Then again, you could make a good case for One Piece’s use of violence and its censorship-heavy World Government that some would argue promotes the Chinese Government as a laughing stock.
Considering the dominance of popular titles on the current list – Death Note (a guy playing God, basically what Mirai Nikki was centred around), Attack on Titan (maybe that makes some political stabs at mainland China too, aside from the violence), Psycho-Pass (another society full of arguably unjust censorship, aside from the violence) – it’s surprising that China’s research delved deep for a sparse few titles while ignoring what it could only consider to be far more prominent and immediate threats to its people.
But it should concern them more that they’ve only scratched the surface on ultra-violence in anime.
I don’t make it a habit of watching old blood-soaked, gore-strewn shows, but I know they exist regardless. Since China is banning well-known shows, many have noted that fans will find a way to get their Attack on Titan fix anyway. But I’m more concerned about those who, with certain bodies of ultraviolence arrested, will seek to find others that still walk free. I’m talking about Berserk, Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D, and titles more obscure yet still famous for their gore like Angel Cop and Genocyber. Anyone into violence in anime only has to shop around for a short while before finding a gif from a series where a demonic hand is pulling the top half of someone’s head off, and the spine with it (that’s Genocyber). With China’s list currently so incomplete, one has to wonder how far it will reach, and for how long fans of violent anime will be diverted to even more gruesome titles, which would be counter-intuitive to China’s overall goal.
I don’t see the publication of this small blacklist as beneficial to China’s approach; in April they fired warning shots, but now they’ve unleashed a loosely-directed barrage for a number of popular and unpopular titles while ignoring, for now, a striking number that remain. It’s perhaps a second warning for sites to take down other shows that obviously violate the government’s demands before they get blacklisted, but the viewers who enjoy anime in all its controversial forms will see little prowess in China’s inability to cast its net wide enough. Perhaps its budget or time constraints were too tight, but nevertheless, starting with only a small number of shows will potentially open up viewers to rarer and, for China’s government, more threatening ways of getting a violent, pornographic or morally-violating fix.