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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.