A Discussion on the Censorship of Fire Force

Laughing RiniBy 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).

Fire3g
see, it’s dimmed

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?

cropped-karandi-avatar-1This 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.

Fire1e

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/CensorshipSo 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.

Fire3e
art is altered at so many points

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

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40 thoughts on “A Discussion on the Censorship of Fire Force

  1. My view on censorship is that, it differs from medium to medium and also from content to content as well. When it came to fire force I didnt read the manga but there was not much difference for me when it came to enjoying the show.

    That being said If people who have read the manga think that the censored parts adds more depth to the story they might be right on that.

    Ultimately it comes to the genre and the age group you are targeting. If you are targeting people from all age groups then certain censorship are needed in order to appeal to a wide audience, in this case I think fire force is right on their cuts.

    But we also don’t know why they did that. for example the reason could be money or they didnt have time to accomodate it or finish the scene properly during the drawing stages. Unless we the proper reason we can’t give an honest answer as well.

    I really liked your article and was hoping you would read my review on classroom of the elite and offer your opinion. Keep up the good work.

    https://sennin.home.blog/2019/07/21/review-classroom-of-the-elite/

    1. As you say, we just don’t know what went on behind the scenes here as to what led to various decisions and who made them which makes it difficult to determine what really drove changes here. Thanks for your comment.

  2. My mentality tends to be ‘Say whatever you want, just don’t be a [insert swear word] about it’, so while I’m pro free speech I’ll always accept a little censorship, just a little. With regards to Fire Force I see what they did more as an act of compassion than anything else and I will always applaud that.

  3. Hello Karandi,

    I did not know about this situation involving Fire Force, I just started watching this anime because it is in the Toonami lineup now, and so thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    I think that you bring up some good points and questions when it comes to censorship and freedom of information et cetera, in the library world things lean toward the freedom of information, and I lean in that direction as well; but I do understand some of the minor forms of censorship that you mentioned, and I also follow a similar approach when it comes to comments on my blog.

    Thank you for sharing this post,
    -John Jr

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post.
      I remember my school library had books 1, 2, 3, and 5 of a series but not the 4th book. I asked why and didn’t get a good answer. When I found the book in a public library and saw the cover image I knew exactly why that book never made the shelf of my school library. Seemed a pointless gesture to me and I wondered why they hadn’t just pulled the whole series rather than leaving part of it there given any bookworm was clearly going to try to track down the missing book but if we’d never seen the series at all we might not have known about it.

      1. Hello Karandi,

        Thank you for giving that example, especially since I forgot to mention that I work at a public library, and so your example shows that things vary depending on the type of library as well.

        -John Jr

  4. As a watcher of ecchi/harem anime, censorship is something that comes with the genre. I don’t mind the censorship during the first viewings, it’s the price to pay to enjoy the shows, but when it is done on AT-X (the mature anime channel) then I have a problem. Why the Hell are You here Sensei is the perfect example of censorship run amok, I mean it ruined that show.

    As for Fire Force, I didn’t really notice anything, but I understand that they wanted to be respectful, especially since it seems Japan doesn’t have tragedies like these very often, and it was kinda close to the chest. It’ll be restored in the Blu-Ray.

  5. Actually Fire Force is not the only series influenced by the fire. BEM episode 4 will be remade and the show is going on a 2 weeks hiatus while the animators remake the episode. I guess they will not be working 40 hour weeks anytime soon..

  6. I remember after 9/11, Cartoon Network edited an episode of Dragonball Z, cutting out a few seconds that featured a city in burning ruin. It made sense, they didn’t want to be showing children that image, but they also didn’t censor it out of the show entirely. By which, I mean they left it in the uncut version that people could buy. That seems to me like a tactful, respectful way of both not throwing disturbing, and highly sensitive, images into the audience’s face while also maintaining the show as it was originally intended to be.

    Fire Force is… well, it’s about fires, and fireman, in anime form, so they convert the horror of an ordinary fire into one of living, burning people, with people with fire-based superpowers specializing in putting them down. The very premise of it is disturbing at first glance, and certainly not meant for people who have prior fire-based trauma in their lives. This little bit of censorship feels, to me, cheap, more than anything else. It’s obviously not meant in any sort of disrespectful way, but Kyoto Animation isn’t the only fire that’s ever claimed human lives. If they meant to be considerate to KyoAni, and other victims of fires, then the entire show would have to be scrapped. Such a slight toning-down is immaterial, like removing a single pebble from a mountain. It doesn’t actually accomplish anything useful.

    Better to leave it be, in this instance, I think, and let the audience know, if they haven’t figured it out yet, that there are fire-related images which people might find disturbing. It’s simple, it censors nothing, it addresses the issue of concern directly and respectfully… that sort of thing.

    1. Warning labels are good giving the audience a choice. And yes, making the explosion smaller really doesn’t accomplish much and the few removed images isn’t exactly removing all disturbing imagery so you are right that a label would be better or if the content is really unpalatable in the current social climate in Japan then maybe delaying would be a better option.

  7. It is not censorship if the change originated within the studio. Say you owned a newspaper.. The fact you have control over editorial content does not make you a censor. It makes you personally responsible for the final product.

    True censorship comes from an external authority with power.to impose penalties. In most cases, that is government. Or it could be a trade group formed under pressure by government. Or it could be a mob with pitchforks and torches.

    Much off what we call censorship is really editorial cowardice and much is just marketing. I’m as guilty of this intellectual laziness as any one else.

    1. In this case we don’t know if the nerworks didn’t have a word to say before airing it and if the state doesn’t have a known stance.

      If you own a newspaper and can’t have it distributed in stores if you write negatively about a certain politician so you scrap all those stories, that is also censorship in my opinion.

  8. Hmm I think this counts as editing more than censorship. I don’t know if I support or not per se but I understand it. It’s only natural people might want to edit the fire scenes for now because the KyoAni fire was just so horrific.

    1. I’m with you. Particularly given the people making this are in the same industry it is likely they feel far more connected to the event and may want to distance themselves a little.

  9. It looked to me like the studio wanted to send a message to KyoAni: “You’re in our thoughts,” and instead of just using words, they changed their art as a show of respect and compassion.

    If a government comes in and says, “Under threat of violence, you will change this or that or face the consequences,” that’s tyranny, and whatever strength I have left I’d use to oppose it.

    If a studio says, “You’re hurting; we don’t want to make it worse. We’ll make some changes to our art,” that’s compassionate.

    I think it was a gracious gesture, and I hope the folks at KyoAni and their families took some comfort from it.

    1. I can’t guarantee there wasn’t a touch of “if you want it to air on national tv you have to tone down certain scenes. We can’t have the population thinking we’re out of control…” I mean it wouldn’t be crazy

      1. “I can’t guarantee there wasn’t a touch of…”

        You’re absolutely right!

        And the production company didn’t make a big public deal if that was the case, and that, too, feels like a generous gesture.

  10. “Is there any place for censorship in anime?” Yes, although editing is always preferable, instead.

      1. In the simplest of terms, editing is done from within (by those creating the piece), while censorship is applied from without (on the piece itself). . .

        1. I think studios both edit and censor pieces as do directors quite frequently. During the CCCP days it was often directors censoring films

          1. We’re obviously using two very different sets of definitions, and that’s OK. I’ve never had the pleasure of dealing with leftover communist regimes (nor fascist, for that matter). In fact, I dedicated 8 years in a Navy uniform trying to make sure that neither I nor mine had to encounter such over here. But using the subject episode 3 for an example, I would say that the changes made during the delay were, by definition, editing. What I wish Crunchyroll had done–simply blurring the image of Shinra’s hand palming Tamaki’s breast–would have been censorship. Honestly, I’m quite disappointed in CR for letting that scene through like that. I believe that–given their primacy in the U.S. anime streaming market, combined with the fact that Fire Force has many younger viewers–they should have given precedence to protecting younger viewers from a disturbing and easily misinterpreted image rather than pandering to the fan service angle. The following grab to her posterior was not quite so blatantly graphic, so they might have left that in for a hit of fan service. But I believe that they did their younger viewers and their parents a serious disservice by showing the palming incident.

          2. That I’d disagree with. I’d rather they simply put a clear rating system for content that was very visible so that people opening content knew whether something was suitable for children or not and could make an informed choice. Just because content isn’t suitable for some viewers, or not liked by some, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be shown.
            Incidentally, I really disliked that scene because it felt utterly pointless and they followed it in episode 4 with the whole dominatrix sitting on top a chair of men so to be honest, I’m starting to feel that there’s just going to be content in Fire Force I don’t like. That doesn’t mean I don’t think other people will enjoy it or want it covered over.

          3. Well, I can certainly agree to disagree. And, yes, Fire Force is rapidly losing my interest. This is just my opinion, mind you, but what a waste! So much originality to the story; such beautiful artwork; such initial emotion depth! All thrown away, and for what? Cheap fan service and some gimmicky action shots. . .

          4. I’m kind of with you. I know lots of people are loving it, but I found episode 4 just painful to watch not because of the plot elements, but because of everything around that.

  11. Honestly I wasn’t aware of the censorship either, until I read about it early last week. I don’t have a problem with it either. There is however a fine line to walk, and at what point does something become censorship. Because no disrespect intended, this is something that always seems to happen when something bad happens. And then over time, it dwindles away to nothing, and we go back to things as they were. The example you named of 9-11 is pretty much perfect for that. When that very tragic event happened, action movies were put on hold, and there were even talks to never make them ever again. Now several years later, these films are back again, some even more violent than ever. It’s pretty much human nature.
    But then again I do think that something like this, when it’s done out of pure respect, is something that well should honestly be commended. Imagine how the creators of Fire Force must have felt when this tragedy became known. I mean really, how would you have felt? Can one honestly say that you would have not done something similar? Or at least adressed the issue in some way? Because really what if they had not gone on a week’s rest, or did some editing? Would the backlash have been as big then, or maybe even bigger? I think we all know the answer to that question. In short: it’s a delicate balance to keep, and there will always be people that find fault in it, no matter what one does. I for one like you don’t have a problem with it either: as long as it doesn’t become too much. But really, when is it too much? Tough question and one that I don’t think will ever have an easy answer. Great post you two: I mean that! 😊

    1. That’s kind of it in that even if they do stop something for a time, eventually it seems to become ‘okay’ again and the only real question is how long that takes and which company is the first to test the waters (and what backlash they get). But yeah, it is a tricky issue and one where the intent has to be looked at as much as the result before a real decision can be made and even then some people won’t like it.

      1. Exactly: that pretty much sums it up. How long is it that you need to keep adjusting things in order for it to become normal and accepted again: a month, two months, half a year? It’s such a difficult question to answer. But well, honestly I think that what they have done here could not have been avoided. They handled it with as much care and respect they could, and seriously I would not have wanted to have been in their shoes to make this decision.

        1. Normal shifts and that’s ok. All media is already pretty heavily censored but less now than it has ever been in the past. The overall trend seems to be towards free information so I’m not too worried about setting precedent but I do understand the principal behind the complaints even if I*’m not certain I agree with the basis

          1. Yeah, it’s like you both said here: it’s just a very difficult and hard line to walk, and I’m not sure there is ever going to be a “perfect” solution for this.

I'd love to know what you think.

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