‘Recklessly’ sexual characters

A bill to revise the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s bylaw to promote the healthy development of youths has been voted down by the metropolitan assembly amid some controversy. Its main feature was to limit where a store could display cartoons and animation that depict the sexual activities of youths. Many creators of these materials feared infringement on their rights of expression.

The bill stipulated that cartoons and animation belong in the “adult corner” of stores if the materials “recklessly” and “positively” depict the sexual activities of characters presumed to be 18 or younger in a manner thought to hamper children’s judgments about sex. The bill listed such factors as clothing, belongings, school year, voice and visual backgrounds as criteria for deciding whether the characters portrayed were 18 or younger.

In addition, the bill said that cartoons and animation that “positively” depict activities that run extremely counter to social norms, such as rape, should also be displayed in an adult corner, irrespective of the presumed age of the characters portrayed.

Opponents of the bill asked how one could clearly decide the age of characters? Clear-cut meanings of some sentences contained in the bill were hard to determine because of the use of such words as “recklessly” and “positively.” The bill is said to have made many creators of cartoons and animation uneasy because it directly touched on how characters are depicted.

Defenders of the bill said that some depictions might lead children to think that there was nothing wrong with being involved in the sexual activities depicted. They added that since cartoons and animation with problem scenes could be sold from an adult corner, freedom of expression would not be infringed on.

The metropolitan government already has a system for restricting books and other items to an adult corner if the materials are thought to cause excessive sexual arousal, encourage cruelty, or induce suicide or murder. It plans to revive the bill in the future. The metropolitan government, though, should clarify why the bill is necessary. Wide public discussions involving both citizens and creators should be pursued.