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The Censorship of Hentai in the International Community

(This article will not be taking a position on the issue but rather explain the various standings that exist in Japan, the United States of America, and Australia.)


In early October of 2020, J-list, an online retail company that “ specializes in the sale of sex toys, anime, cosplay, figurines, and manga” (Butler, 2020), stated that “Australia is killing off any chance of waifus entering the country because we’ve had to stop shipping there.” This was in response to the Australian Customs releasing a statement that “Publications, films, computer games and any other goods that describe, depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, … in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency, and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults are not allowed.” When this was posted in r/worldnews under the subreddit of “Japanese Hentai is Now Banned in Australia,” a few Redditors had this to say:

"Cedriceent: Super Mario Bros is now banned as it depicts animal cruelty and glorifies illicit drugs."

"sl236: Pac-man leads to teenagers eating dubious pills while listening to repetitive music."

All jokes aside, this is not a new thing in the international community as there has been a long debate concerning if hentai should be banned, untouched, or regulated, due to the large scope of material it encompasses.  Due to various cultural differences and a country’s authority to regulate media content, there have been various approaches to censoring “obscene” material, primarily controversial genres such as lolicons which in this setting depicts a seemingly adolescent female, possibly an adult woman who looks like a child or an underage female, engaging in sexually explicit behavior. Although a multifaceted predicament, prominent issues with banning hentai include defining censorship in regards to obscenity and defining the legal standards for animated characters that appear to be minors.

Australia has continuously expressed discontent towards allowing animated cartoons to visually display sexual conduct of minors regardless of if the character is not a real person or is animated to legally be of age.  For example in 2008, Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams of New South Wales Australia had equated a “pornographic cartoon parodying the characters on the Simpsons (Bart and Lisa)” to child pornography.  The rationale behind the decisions was “a cartoon character might well constitute the depiction of such a person” and that it may possibly promote the abuse of children. The former is an aberration in the international community as it applies the concept of human rights to cartoon characters. The latter is a common argument as many arguments suggest that the content of violent or sexual relations with minors might stimulate others to mimic that behavior although this is controversial in itself. 

The general pornographic industry naturally promotes situations that are not socially acceptable in some states such as rape, incest, manipulation, torture, etc. to promote and/or appease different demographics’ sexual urges. As a result, solely censoring subjectively appropriate content that depicts animated people becomes a more controversial issue as one would have to constitute what is defined as obscene. This is not to condemn anyone’s sexual fantasies but to widen awareness of what should be censored and if something is subjectively censored, what else is within the scope to now be censored? This was objectively addressed between 1996 and 2003 within the United States with the Supreme Court case, Ashcroft v. Free Space Coalition and the 2003 Protect Act. Within the Supreme Court case of Ashcroft v. Free Space Coalition, the justices establish that the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 was unconstitutional since it was inconsistent with the Miller test to categorize the content to be obscene and that the act prohibited “speech that records no crime and creates no victims by its production” since no real child is involved within the content. It is important that this was a decision of constitutionality to address and resolve legislation contesting the constitution. Within six years Congress would be more socially active on the issue with the implementation of the 2003 Protect Act which “strengthens law enforcement's ability to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish violent crimes committed against children.” It also established  more definitive phrasing such as objectively changing “appears to be a minor” with “indistinguishable from that of a minor.”

Contrary to this, Australia maintains a zero-tolerance policy towards any sexualized depiction for adolescents below the age of 18 within Australia. The interpretation of how each country perceives the condition of what is obscene and culturally associated with women is essential to understanding how countries have tackled the censoring of hentai. For example, “In 2015, a 52-year-old man in Adelaide was given a suspended jail sentence for having more than 300  anime images that were classified as child pornography.” (Butler, 2020) Although the man believed that he was participating in “fantasy rather than contributing to the production of child exploitation material,” the justice ruled that it was not “that great of a step” to advancing towards the consumption of real child exploited material. This draws the conclusion that those who partake in watching loli hentai will or are more likely to watch the abuse of real-life children.

Countries such as the United States present a definitive stance against the consumption of such content but for countries such as Japan where the age of consent is thirteen, the standard becomes more blurry. The banning of hentai within a state will be based on a totality of circumstances but it will need to address a citizen’s freedom of speech and the censorship of obscenity that accompanies sexually explicit content concerning underage children. 



























Citation:

"Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition." Oyez, www.oyez.org/cases/2001/00-795. Accessed 8 Jun. 2021


Butler Gavin, Japanese Hentai Is Now Banned In Australia, VICE, October 2020, https://www.vice.com/en/article/xgz8md/japanese-hentai-is-now-banned-in-australia 


Esmaili Tala, Obscenity, Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute OPEN ACCESS TO LAW SINCE 1992, June 2017, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/obscenity 


"H.R.4123 - 104th Congress (1995-1996): Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996." Congress.gov, Library of Congress, 4 October 1996, https://www.congress.gov/bill/104th-congress/house-bill/4123


"S.151 - 108th Congress (2003-2004): PROTECT Act." Congress.gov, Library of Congress, 30 April 2003, https://www.congress.gov/bill/108th-congress/senate-bill/151.


Warner Marigold, What does Australia’s hentai ban say about how we view Japanese sexuality? Gal-Dem, November 2020, https://gal-dem.com/australias-hentai-ban-views-japanese-sexuality-as-deviant/ 


Wikipedia contributors. "Child pornography laws in Australia." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Nov. 2020. Web. 9 Jun. 2021 


Wikipedia contributors. "Legal status of fictional pornography depicting minors." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 Jun. 2021. Web. 9 Jun. 2021. 





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