The title may sound a bit dramatic there but it’s a serious question. Over the years, there have been numerous outcries in the anime community about censorship. In the past 10 years, I would say. Before that, we international anime fans would take what we could get even if it had huge black rectangles over it. But things have evolved since and fans are no longer forced to accept the one or two shows available.

As such, when these fans see distributors tamper with anime, they get upset. Occasionally very upset.

I should say that I had already written this post when Karandi sent me her own take on censorship. She discusses a slightly different aspect and I think the posts are very complementary. If you missed it, please go read it here: The Reason Anime Fans Should Care About Banned Shows

that’s not what I was going for

And here’s my question. Some fans do honestly believe that if they are going to censor an anime then they shouldn’t bother distributing it at all. And I’m curious to know whether my readers agree with that sentiment.

One of the issues I see is that companies that take the chance on distributing more risqué anime are the ones that will probably feel pressure to censor more titles and ultimately get a lot more flack from their audience. If they hadn’t bothered to pick up the title at all, then they could have avoided all the trouble in the first place. This said, trouble often equals publicity so that may not be a bad thing. But, if they actually see sales go down then it wouldn’t surprise me to see them adopt the much more careful approach of simply not picking up titles that could upset anyone since censorship is no longer a viable option.

And some may think that’s fine. We’ll simply seek out the non censored version somewhere else. 10 years ago or so I would have agreed, more or less. Personally, I prefer knowing a title exists and then seeking out the non censored version. I’m a bit lazy so if I have to do the research myself on what has been released, I’m likely to miss out on most of the stuff not picked up for international distribution. But you know, in theory, I have no issue with this line of thought.

I find this type of censorship entertaining

But then, the international anime market exploded! Like it just about doubled every year. And right now, I believe international market value is way higher than the national one for anime. And that’s where I get a bit more antsy.

You see, even without various audiences imposing their biases, (Because there are a lot of censorship biases around the world, most of them way more restrictive than North American ones) this could be a problem. Let me try to explain.

Let’s say no one is crying will someone think of the children!!! and anime audiences are just minding their own business watching One Piece and MHA or something. But big distributors have learned from past events that taking on titles that are either too risqué or too weird for general audiences isn’t really worth it because they either have to censor them to conform to national guidelines and restrictions in the countries they distribute to, or to please advertisers simply because they won’t attract general audiences otherwise.

basically you have to change the culture not the distributors

In the past, they may have tried their luck figuring they could always adjust the titles if it became necessary during production. But if censorship is seen as a huge assault by audiences, they might just avoid those titles all together to avoid the associated PR drama.

No big deal at first. For a while, those of us willing to put the effort in will simply go find these anime through some less than official sources.

And that’s how it’s always been. Heck, 99% of all anime was only available through those less than official sources in the past and the industry thrived. But because it did thrive, it sort of changed the variables.

Up until 5 to 10 years ago, the difference in potential revenue of a domestic anime vs an international one was not quite as important. An international release may have netted you an additional 50% or if you are lucky, double the profits. That’s still a lot but considering how much anime is made every year, some may still prefer to cater to niche domestic audiences. However, increasingly that difference in potential revenue is so overwhelming that it just makes business sense to makes sure your anime at least has the potential to be picked up for international distribution.

this is going to be my favourite anime earth for a while

And if those international distributors will not touch certain types of anime, there is a good chance studio will simply stop making them. Not right away, it will probably take years for the market to catch up to the demand, but it is an outcome that can be reasonably considered.

This is regardless of who the distributors are. Thankfully, in North America, our broadcasting laws aren’t too bad. They don’t always make much sense, but I have seen way worse. And the oversight on online broadcasting/distribution is still very slight. Sadly, this will likely change, especially in how the US has put in stricter internet guidelines in the last few years.

There are also other large markets that have some restrictive guidelines on what is appropriate to share with their citizens. So if a distributor, any distributor, wants to have access to those markets, they have to make sure the content fits within those guidelines.

And there are only so many ways to do that. Alter original content to fit or only pay for content that already fits. I hope you see where I’m going with this.

don’t even think about it

I could be completely wrong of course. Maybe the industry won’t care as much as I think about profit. But I have seen way more creators quit because of censorship laws rather than simply self-release content and make much less profit from it. Obviously, profit is still very important and for some, it’s necessary. So I do think some of these fears are at least justifiable.

Which brings me back to my original question. If we agree that countries have broadcasting laws and that advertisers will want to reach as many people as possible and therefore favour a product made for the widest possible audience, then we can understand that from a business standpoint, distributors will carefully curate their content. Is it better for them to never interfere with a creator’s vision and only pick up titles they do not need to mess with in any way, or is it better if they pick up a wider variety but occasionally have to censor titles?

And I do realize the question is much wider. When we set a precedent, it can get slippery. How much or what type of censorship do we accept. Are we cool with propaganda? Cause there is a lot of it in anime already. And if so what type? Is it worth running the risk that distributors will sanitize all originality and spice out of anime because we were passive with early censorship?

And by is it better, I mean for us the audience, not them the distributors. They can figure out their own business. I don’t think there is a right answer and it’s really a question of balance. Personally, I prefer pixelated boobies over no boobies at all but I can see the arguments for the other side and frankly, they’re pretty good arguments.

For the record, I think that censoring unsavoury content is not the greatest risk here. It gets much scarier when big companies or governments start censoring undesirable ideas. And sadly, I think that’s already happening in a much more subtle and insidious way in both anime and a lot of media. But that is a much larger and more complicated question better left for a more talented blogger than I.

30 thoughts

  1. My view is sure. I would much prefer to watch some censored anime than none at all. Just as long as they don’t censor stuff that’s ‘undersirable’ like you said.

  2. I’ll be honest I’m not the biggest fan of censorship, mainly with nudity . I feel like the big blocks over the characters look worse than the actual nudity . But I can see why certain shows aren’t picked up by distributors. I guess it all depends on context too . A show like Redo Healer is very bad ( context and everything and I can see why no distributor picked it up ) vs a show like Peter Grill ( which is more eechi hijinks) .

  3. In theory I am fine with censorship as long as it means having stuff more available.
    Different laws and different cultures, I think not having material available whatsoever is a form of censorship as well after all. If we reject anime for not having shots of naked girls, and it doesn’t become available we would censor ourselves… so if censor happens by corporate regulations or by us boycotting said product it will be “censored” content anyway.

    I feel that censorship should be allowed.. BUT much like those warning symbols that tell if a video has sex, violent content, scares or whatever.. I think censored content should be labeled to show WHAT has been censored… So say we add an icon that shows nudity has been censored, or political ideas have been censored. Ideally by creating a webpage or a database (behind age verification) you can look up what is censored.

    Let’s take Sailor Moon’s “Cousins” for example, by having a database you can look at a boring text document that explains they are actually women in a romantic relationship but that this has been censored to for (xxx reason) .
    That way the orginal artists vision is not negated.. but it is also not out there for everyone to see and I think it would still fit the brief and goal of censorship, while also still offering people a chance to find out and form an opinion on what it is that is being censorred.

  4. MVM here in the UK have just announced that the BBFC has passed the upcomjng Blu-ray release of Paranoia Agent as completely uncut – meaning the hanging scene from episode 8 which was removed from the original DVD releases in 2005 should be reinstated into the show. (NB – the BBFC website has yet to be updated to reflect this so it remains to be seen if this is true).

    As you might expect this news has been met with much rejoice, which sounds a bit silly on the surface to outsiders but the real issue as that the scene should not have been cut in the first place. The BBFC state they cut the scene because it was worried younger viewers watching might be tempted to emulate the young girl trying to hang herself. The DVD had an 18 rating so young kids shouldn’t be watching it at all, but that is a parental decision to be made, not one by an official arbiter.

    In relation to the topic under discussion, the reinstated two minutes may not make any overall difference to one’s enjoyment of the show but the psychological aspect of finally having the complete uncut product ends 15 years of UK fans feeling somewhat cheated by official interference on their viewing experiences.

  5. I feel like if you don’t want to see it, don’t fucking watch it. Problem solved. 😛 So, yes, I’m a knee jerk no censorship, who would gladly watch what I can get if I can’t get the original. I would like to know that the original is out there and I’m capable of digging around to find out what I missed. But of course, not everyone is going to do all that.

    One thing to keep in mind in this monster subject is that what was considered much to rique’ for the public in 1980 is now shown daily on prime time TV. Censorship is very subjective and is a moving target. Censorship of ideas worries me a lot more than censorship of sexual content – but as a former sex worker that really pisses me off because I adamantly feel that there’s nothin’ wrong with sex.

    As an anime fan I think the appropriate stance would be to watch what we get, seek out what we cannot, comment and share the information when something is censored and we know about it. Making the effort to seek out uncensored versions should tip the distributor, and maybe our government, into seeing that we want the “real thing”. (Which might get you on a government watch list – no shit – in some places, and anyone in those places will no doubt have to keep that in mind).

    Distributors are going to do whatever is most profitable for them.

    Creators going to create. Even if it’s “dirty” or “forbidden” and find a way to share their creations with those who want them.

    Good thoughts, both the article and comments.

  6. Overall, yes, but like you said, where’s the line. Even ignoring the government part of censorship, how much can an animanga/game licensor localize a work before it turns into straight-up self censorship? Otherwise, if so much has to be made acceptable, why did they license it and not let someone else take the risk. But if so many changes are made, they should be at least up front about it, unlike, say, the recent Seven Seas situation.

    1. To be fair, Fans tend to really crucify companies when they are upfront about it. I can kind of see where the decision to try to go under the radar comes from. I don’t agree with it but I understand it

  7. Censorship is always going to be a vexed issue because, like art, censorship is always subjective. Different societies and cultures have different understandings of what does – and doesn’t – constitute “appropriate” content, and different individuals and groups within those societies and cultures will likewise differ on their views about what is and isn’t censorship.

    Some will maintain that censorship, in and of itself, is not a bad thing – what matters is the use to which the process of censorship is put. Likewise, others will argue that every society has the right to censor material in order to protect vulnerable persons (minors) as well as ensure inappropriate or illegal material (eg: child abuse material) is not being distributed, let alone being made.

    And, of course, there will be the counter-argument that “protection” is not a matter of state control, but of individuals exercising their “responsibility” and individual choice in order to make judgements about what is and isn’t appropriate material and who gets to watch it.

    As a dedicated anime watcher, I won’t deny there are aspects of anime that I find problematic. One is the sexualisation of young women and even girls that occurs across many genres of anime. Another is the fetish aspect that appears in many anime, such as the upskirting panty fetish. The former I think can be an “issue” in terms of the general culture about women it creates and the attitudes toward women such a culture fosters, especially with respect to objectification and defining women’s “role”. The latter I just find tedious, puerile, and immature..

    But can either of these things be “censored”? Sure, we could make it so that female characters in anime are not depicted to be universally (or near-universally) endowed with over-sized breasts, or that every time a female character jumps in the air, the audience is not treated to a flash of her underwear/crotch. But will simply removing these images likewise delete the thematic ideas and attitudes behind the images? Or is some other process of “education” and personal formation required? And, of course, some will argue – what’s wrong with a bit of titillation or risqué portrayal, so long as it is directed toward both genders equally?

    In this age of immediate interconnectedness and social media saturation, I personally think most forms of censorship are pointless, precisely because uncensored versions are almost inevitably and immediately available. Pornography is a case in point. The internet is literally awash with free, easily accessible porn – included animated “hentai” – to the extent where some observers think it may eventually send the porn industry (with, perhaps, the exception of a few major studios) broke. And even though the distribution of mainstream anime is somewhat more tightly controlled, the current trends in copying and distribution technology mean it is inevitable that it is almost inevitable that such content will be widely available outside the distributors networks. Indeed, many creators are using technology already to break free from the control of studios and distributors to get their (uncensored) content out there.

    Ultimately, I think the most important and relevant part of your interesting reflection is your final paragraph: that the real issue is not the censorship of content but of ideas, especially the censorship of ideas to suit corporate and political agendas. This is nothing new – as George Orwell, Yevgeny Zamyatin, and Sinclair Lewis demonstrated – the difference, however, is the capacity which technology gives both governments and corporations to censor ideas to suit their own purposes. There are a multiplicity of examples in modernity: the NSA’s illegal surveillance of US citizens as part of the “war on terror”; the threat by Facebook and Google to withdraw their search and newslinking services in Australia because the elected government wanted to regulate that part of their business; the inclusion of “investor-state” dispute resolution clauses in trade agreements that allow corporations to sue governments for enacting laws that protect workers, consumers, and the environment but which impact on their ability to make profits; the use of AI-driven face recognition technology by authoritarian governments in China and Russia to control minority and dissident populations; corporations using “codes of conduct” to ensure employees, as private citizens, cannot express any point of view that impacts on their “brand”. The list is endless!

    So, yes, I ultimately think the issue is the application of censorship to ideas not content – although I recognise that the two are not entirely unconnected.

  8. Profit may determine what gets made but government – and even certain highly organized special interest groups – can also censor by influencing what is profitable. Do you remember the Hayes code? The Comic Book Code?

    The big distributors won’t call it censorship, They’ll sweep it under the rug of localization and then deny censoring anything. But it is still de facto censorship, even if not de jure.

    The reason we can see things today like interracial couples, unwed sexuality, age restricted nudity, and LGTBQIA+ relationships is because society as a whole has accepted them. The people who would object are a small enough minority that they can’t raise enough of a stink.

    Lest we imagine we’re in a golden age of free speech, we’ve merely replaced those with new taboos. And we’re still hung up on simple nudity though we can *imply* all the sex we want.

    If you compare the content of anime with the content of what is available on any other cable or internet network, anime is far more heavily censored because the distributor assumes it is directed at children and we have very different standards for children’s viewing. We have, after all, banned alcohol ads aimed at adults because they were too cute and maybe might catch a child’s attention.

    Directing traditionally adult content at children – especially using childlike characters – is still a very big taboo. Even though adults may be a big market, it is impossible to say that anime is not produced specifically for and directed at children since 90% of all anime have children as the protagonists and a large majority of its viewers are under age.

    I generally frown on piracy but if I have to jump through a few hoops to get the original version of something that was butchered for export, I’ll do it.

    I think Netflix is way ahead of the curve on this. “Devilman Crybaby,” anyone? But even Netflix has its boundaries. I can’t imagine them showing the uncensored version of “Kite.”

    I don’t have any good solution except to see where the winds blow us. I’m just glad to live in a country that pays some attention to free speech issues because of our first amendment. Censorship would be much worse in the People’s Republic of China.

  9. This is definitely an interesting question and while my first respose would be no to censorship if I am offered a choice of no access or a censored version I will take the available option. Of course that then raises regional questions of who is deciding what is and isn’t acceptable and how is censorship occurring? Is it just blurring scenes or are they removing them? Or whole episodes? Are they changing dialogue and was it because it was offensive or are they painting over ideas they don’t want the audience to hear? It is a slippery slope and ultimately you have to wonder just who is better off in a world where we deem artistic works offensive just because they contain content not everyone wants to see or feels is appropriate.

  10. As you say, the question posed in the title is part of a much larger topic which would hard to discuss without numerous hours of research and the like.

    The two most prominent questions that come to mind though are firstly censorship or just no release? I don’t think this is a new issue at all, even just taking anime into account. Some examples being editing guns out of Yu-Gi-Oh episodes and just not bringing episodes over at all like one from Pokémon. There’s also silly changes like calling rice balls jelly doughnuts. I would suggest that a lot of it isn’t done with some malicious plan but just as the distributors feel necessary to make the new target audience comfortable. Obviously getting the original vision would be the best but often times dubbed versions infringe on this vision anyway.

    I think the more pressing question to ask is whether there is any point to future releases being made if they strictly stick to such guidelines? If I’m being honest I would have to say no, probably not. It’s one thing for the original vision to be changed down the line, with s bit of effort said original can still be obtained. An example of this would be the original Star Wars films. If the original vision is being butchered before it is even released there’s a high chance you just end up with a worthless product which has nothing to say.

    1. That’s an excellent point. Distribution end censorship based on market is much more reversible than censorship made at the source on the production side.

      1. Unfortunately, as far as I know, the changed editions is all you will be able to find through legit avenues. Basically every physical release has changes, obviously the earlier releases have less and it ramped up from there.

        With a little digging it seems a “Despecialized” edition was put together as a fan project to get the films back to their former glory. looks to be the original place for it, so I’d suggest that’s your best bet. Seems worth a look at the very least.

  11. I grew up under the watchful eye of the BBFC who would monitor every movie and suggest cuts and edits before it was acceptable for British consumption. I don’t know who they were or why they felt it their right to decide what we could and couldn’t see. So, I’m absolutely against censorship in any form.

    Release dates would be delayed so that changes could be made. Most of the movies in the Oscars had not even had a cinema release in the UK when the awards happened.

    As for anime, I had a VHS of a horror anime called Guy, Double Target… or at least that’s what I thought. It had an 18 age rating, but just a couple of years ago, I discovered that it was actually a hentai and they’d cut about 30 minutes of footage to make it available for release.

    The bottom line is yes, censored is better than none, but we really shouldn’t be striving for the bare minimum. Put proper age ratings and restricted streaming services if they have to, but why should someone else decide what I can or can’t watch.

    1. Aren’t age ratings and restricted streaming someone else deciding what people can watch?
      I don’t disagree although I think it’s more distributors deciding what they can sell and ultimately studios producing what will get picked up for distribution that is the more long ranging issue. As for having problems with local legislation, that’s a different question that has to be dealt with on a jurisdiction basis since it’s different everywhere.

      1. Sure, but if it’s just someone putting an age rating on it or content warning, it’s pretty different to removing a scene.

        Gate keeping is always going to dictate what gets made and what doesn’t and short of making my own studio, there’s not much I can do about that. Maybe the increase in independent studios will improve that.

        I think the problem is when someone dictates what parts of a show are or aren’t allowed. In the UK, violence was heavily censored where as in the US nudity got that attention. And again it will come down to some panel of unelected individuals that will put their moral interpretations on everything.

        Get the wrong people on one of these panels and things could get silly very quickly.

        1. Isn’t profit going to dictate what gets made?

          I haven’t researched regional broadcasting laws but maybe I will write a post about that some day. It’s actually super interesting as the jurisdiction gets very murky when it comes to international virtual distribution. Like if the server is in India and the audience is in England, which rules apply and all that. Of course you could just have no rules at all. I think my personal preference leans that way but once again, I haven’t done the research on that. I really just focused on the business of distribution and the investment costs for the distributors.

          1. Profit is definitely an element. I know it’s not exactly the same but in publishing lots of books get held back because of rules such as an author should only publish one book a year or they believe there are already too many vampire stories. You could argue that’s tied to profit, but a lot of it is just archaic rules and practices.

            1. My understanding is that are contract clauses that the publishers believe will maximize sales. It may not be accurate but my guess is that if a sturdier business model had a proper proof of concept, they wouldn’t mind adopting it in the least.

  12. Interestingly, these days the anime I’m likely not to hear about are stuff like “Netflix Originals”; the stuff that’s released out of the seasonal schedule, maybe dumped all at once. I eventually hear about (some of?) them. For example, until a review appeared at animefeminist I had no idea High Rise Invasion existed. Censored anime have been a thing for ever; there’s a certain site (?) in Japan that airs the uncensored version. Some shows get creative with the type of censoring. I’ve never seen uncensored Crime Edge, for example, but I actually liked the sepia tones for the bloody scenes. They looked sort of otherworldly. Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls had calligraphy like brushstroke censhorship that was pretty (but lost on me since I didn’t watch the show). Often, censored shows have a fairly reliable niche audience, which means its fairly easy to calculate (as far as anything is easy to calculte) sales. Some of them make their money with limited edition phyisical releases (a little more expensive than usual, but with goodies). Sometimes that’s the only physical release availabe. But, well, I’m not that knowledgable about the market, and in the age of personalised search results and search engine optimisation, the truth is rather hard to find for someone casual like me.

    Weird shows with no clearly definable audience are much more likely to fall to marketing considerations.

    As for “undesirable ideas”; that’s a tough topic; I’d need examples. I see a lot more catchphrase wars, but I’m not sure anyone’s controlling that (though companies are certainly going to try to profit off of them if they can).

    1. I’ve noticed that in the past 5 years or so the strong environmentalist edge that anime use to have has died down considerably. But I can,t tell you if that’s a guided effort or a coincidence. Or like how Sports manga sort of took over war manga in the late 40s and 50s when it became politically incorrect to publicly state pro-war sentiments.

      By the way, that’s something I read in Manga An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives which I am digging. If you are interested I found it here

      1. That’s interesting. Thanks for the link. I haven’t read it yet, but I will once I have the time. I have this mushy continuum in my head, between a rather vague overall zeitgeist and very specific, policy based changes to very specific lines or pictures. It’s something that doesn’t come together well, so I’m basically mostly confused.

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