By now I think pretty much everyone who follows anime is aware of the tragedy at Kyoto Animation and its effects on anime as an industry. Of course those effects are still going to be felt for years to come and we do not yet have a proper idea of the extent of the impact but one small and immediate result was that Fire Force suddenly became way more topical and political than it had bargained for.
Very soon after news broke out, it was announced that the show would go on hiatus as they tried to figure out how to handle the situation. In the end, they skipped a week in the scheduled airing as they adjusted the third episode out of respect and sensitivity for the events. This was a move that has been widely seen as reasonable and commendable but still generated some backlash.
I read about it here. In short, episode 3 had been censored and fans are grappling with the implications. Today I would like to talk about it a little with Karandi. These are complex issues that benefit for diverse points of view and opinions.
I will be using Fire Force for exemplary purposes here but there is a greater conversation on the place, use and value of censorship in media to be had that goes way beyond this particular case. We may wander into details that don’t directly apply. But I’m still going to give you a few details on the Fire Force situation for context.
First you should know that the story has already been altered in adaptation from Manga to anime. The manga is a lot more disturbing when it comes to graphic carnage. Secondly, the changes made to episode 3 were fairly minor. An extra explosion scene had been removed in the flashback sequence as it was too eerily similar, the other explosion scene had the colours dimmed (you can see it pretty clearly in the screencap gallery) and a frame of walking burning corpses was removed from the end credits (although you can still see it in episodes 1 and 2 if you really need to).
Overall, I don’t think these changes are likely to make that big of a difference on the narrative flow or theme of the show. Nevertheless, some fans are outraged, saying they should just scrap the show if they are going to censor it as a matter of principle.
And I don’t know where to stand….
I mean on a purely pragmatic basis I enjoy Fire Force a lot so clearly I don’t want it to stop airing but I do understand the idea of it setting a precedent for censorship being acceptable. But is it?
Is there any place for censorship in anime?
By default, I tend to err on the side of free information – my dystopia of choice would be Brave New World, rather than 1984! This said, there are no countries in the world right now where complete freedom of speech exists. And I see that many places in Europe as well as my neighbours to the south are in fact audibly thinking of restricting freedom of information (as has been done on the internet recently). So the modern trend is definitely pro censorship.
Moreover, there might be situations where it’s warranted. Like suppressing the spread of dangerous misinformation, maybe trying to curve the propagation of hate speech or the encouragement of violence and crime. All of these seem like they would be good ideas. It’s just that once you start, when do you stop?
This one is really tricky. Like you, I err on the side of free information and particularly when it comes to arts and literature, I am very against censorship. I feel that provided content is properly described and tagged then it is a matter for the consumer to decide whether or not something is likely to be harmful and to make sensible decisions. However, then we have to ask whether what is happening with Fire Force is censorship?
Certainly a lot of people online are crying out against it, but it isn’t like someone stood over the production company with a big stick and made them change their vision of the story (although, who knows what happened behind the scenes and maybe someone along the food chain did make some noise – we’ll never know). But assuming the group making the anime made the choice, all on their own, out of some inner feeling of empathy and sensitivity (or out of the self-interest of at least appearing to have those traits) decided to change elements of their own artistic endeavour, is that actually censorship, or is that the artists’ choice? Reflecting their current reality they altered their view of what they wanted to create? Who are we to argue that this isn’t what they now want to present in the form that they have chosen?
Of course, I remember after September 11 how suddenly a lot of movies were photo-shopping out a particular set of towers and nobody cried censorship. They saw it as a reasonably tactful move given the current sentiment of their potential audience. So with this it is really going to come down to what people define as censorship and whether the decision was an internal one or one externally imposed upon the production company.
That is a good point. Although it brings up the questions of what exactly constitutes censorship.
For example, moderating could be seen as a form of censorship. I have not actively deleted comments on my blog but I have asked people not to use certain slurs or harass other commentators on my blog. The spam filter has also occasionally caught some pretty disturbing messages which I did not actively reinstate. You could consider those acts of censorship. What about you Karandi, do you moderate your comments?
I don’t have comment moderation on, and of all the comments on my blog I’ve probably only deleted about four – all were legitimate spam links that for whatever reason hadn’t been picked up by the spam filter. Given I left the comment that essentially attacked my view on an issue as ‘PC Bull****’ right where it was on one of my posts, I feel that I largely stand by my position of inviting people to share their thoughts whether I agree with them or not. That said, if I ever get really explicit comments I’ll either edit them or have to make the decision about whether the person is sharing a legitimate opinion or just being a troll.
As to messages in the spam filter, I tend to only reinstate those by known followers. The rest I allow spam to simply dispose of as it will.
There’s also this line between censoring and editing. By definition censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship) So if you have an anime or manga with a suddenly very disturbing scene and your editor (or director) opts to remove it because they feel it would unbalance the tone of the series or overshadow the greater narrative arc for instance. Would that be censorship?
And this is where it gets tricky. Because it depends who makes the decision to remove it and for what reason. Editors are there to help authors get their works ready for an audience so they might very well ask for the removal of certain material. I think where it becomes censorship is where the original author or artist refused to alter the material as someone has suggested and then the material is altered anyway without the consent of the artist.
But it becomes trickier when you look at what control people have. So if we were talking about a movie, the original writer or director might very well walk away but the changes might be made and the film still released in an altered form.
Karandi, have you ever lived anywhere with strictly controlled art and media?
Fortunately no. And honestly I’d rather not.
I have, in many places. It makes for generally boring art with occasional flashes of absolute brilliance. Trying to outsmart the censors can force artists to create masterpieces they may not have otherwise. This isn’t a pro censorship screed, it’s just a random observation. And an appreciation of smart art.
So where did we end up on Fire Force and whether it was censorship or a rare corporate display of tact?
Long story short, I still don’t know exactly where I stand on censorship in general. I tend to take it more as a case by case scenario. However, if the creative team of Fire Force chose to edit a few scenes out of respect. I personally wouldn’t even consider that censorship and I fully respect their choice. If it sets a precedent, I believe it’s one of empathy and I’m o.k. with that. How about you Karandi?
It isn’t bothering me. I don’t think they’ve altered the overall story significantly (or at least from what I’ve read about the changes made given I haven’t read the source) and given the circumstances it would make sense for the creators to want to show empathy (either because they have it or at least don’t want to be accused of not having it). Again, if we later find out that it was network or distributor that put demands upon the creators, then that’s another discussion. So as you said, case by case depending on intent and purpose? That’s really vague, though.
I was kind of hoping to get through an anime season without a huge controversy for the sake of it.
Even if someone really believes that the changes to Fire Force count as censorship, I feel that there hasn’t really been a measured discussion around it. I’ve seen a lot of angry comments and declarations that it was ruined and might as well just be cancelled if it is going to be changed, but not a lot of genuine discussions about why it was changed and whether those changes actually make the final product worse or just a little bit different (which it would be anyway being adapted into anime).
And this is why these topics work better as conversations than essays, in my opinion. Unfortunately, (this time) Karandi and I are in fact quite similarly minded on the topic. Although we both believe that censorship is better kept at a minimum, we are not so ideologically opposed to it as to blindly renounce it. As for the specific case of Fire Force, the reported changes seem rather inconsequential to the narrative and justified under the circumstances.
But it’s more interesting when you get a few more opinions in the mix. And there certainly are many ways to approach the topic. So please, give us your opinion, the more the merrier. No wrong answers!
Thanks for Reading From
Irina and Karandi