The Reason Anime Fans Should Care About Banned Shows

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak because a baby can’t chew it.” – Mark Twain

I really should have learned during 2020 that spending any length of time on news feeds was just going to have me stumble across something that would just really make me feel annoyed in general. There’s no actual target for my annoyance. It is more an irritation at the fact that despite things forever being in a state of change, a lot of that change isn’t necessarily for the better. Today, let’s discuss banned shows.

At the start of 2021 I read a whole bunch of articles where people were calling to ban ‘Grease’ (the movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John) over its sexism and homophobia. While I’m not going to deny either of those issues exist with the movie, if we start banning all media from former eras that doesn’t necessarily align with our current values, we’re right back to the catholic church plastering fig leaves over naked statues just because they didn’t necessarily agree with depicting the naked human body.

Now, if people choose not to watch Grease because of its outdated mentality (or just the fact that it is a boppy musical in which a clear bunch of adults pretend to be teenagers and the overall resolution seems to come about after both main characters discard their whole identity to appease the other) I have no issue with that. People certainly do have the right to not engage with a movie with high pitched wailing and 50’s fashion should it offend them.

They also have the right not to have their kids watch it. What they shouldn’t be able to do is remove something from history or retcon it so that it no longer has any resemblance to its former self, thus making it impossible to actually discuss how movies and their messages have changed over time (or not depending on which modern movie you look at). Or even just to stop other people getting some enjoyment out of it, should they choose to.

Should we care about banned shows?

Amazingly enough, in high school I was in a school production of Grease and somehow still manage to not actually believe in the roles and attitudes that are inherent within it and also don’t feel that non-consensual sex is okay. Who would have thought that exposure to an idea doesn’t necessarily indelibly imprint it upon a person when they are surrounded by other media and family, friends, educators and a whole bunch of other things that provide alternative view points.



Which brings me to the recent news headline about Russia banning Death Note and other ‘violent’ anime (link below).

Now, on reading the article it seems more that the court has ruled to block steaming of the shows on particular sites rather than actively seeking out and destroying copies of the works and there’s potentially a whole bunch of other things going on that I know nothing about. Let’s be real: I’m not an expert in the Russian legal system nor on the nuances of censorship in that country, nor do I really want to jump into an extended conversation on Russian politics.

However one quote provided in the article as a reason for the ban stuck with me as worrying with Death Note being apparently described as, “potentially dangerous for a modern child”.

And here is where I just have to shake my head.

The anime named in the article, Death Note, Inuyashiki, Tokyo Ghoul, Elfen Lied and Interspecies Reviewers, could ‘potentially’ be ‘dangerous’ to a child but are children actually the target market for any of these anime? And if we flow to the next step does that mean all modern media needs to have zero chance of ‘potentially’ causing harm in all potential viewers? What would that do to modern movies and TV shows in general even outside of anime.

While this article is about one decision from Russia and expanding it to a global ban on adult media is kind of a ridiculous over-exaggeration, anime fans do need to at least perk up and pay attention. What anime are restricted in their countries and what laws have been discussed and proposed that might effect anime distribution?

Just last year Australia (prior to the whole global pandemic thing that more or less stole all the attention) had a senator wanting a child abuse anime review citing Eromanga Sensei as a key example of anime that essentially should be illegal. The implications of that for which anime could be released in Australia would have been huge had the discussion gone any further and it isn’t as if these attitudes have disappeared in Australia, there’s just been other things going on that have dominated headlines in the last year.

And the really important question to ask: Does banning an anime actually protect children?

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I’ve discussed censorship on the blog before and Irina and I posted a discussion around Censorship in Fireforce a while back. My view hasn’t changed on this issue. 100% there should be warning labels on media so that people can make informed choices. That’s why classification boards exist.

Children do need some protection so that they aren’t exposed to ideas they aren’t ready to process and that protection needs to come from families making those informed choices and basic age-restrictions on the purchasing of certain things, though admittedly with digital media it is getting harder to age restrict things when you ultimately rely on the consumer ticking a box that claims they are old enough to access it.

Banning something in its entirety doesn’t actually make it go away but it does take away opportunities for actual regulation. And if simply banning a few TV shows and movies could stop people being violent, sexist, homophobic or anything else the world would be a much simpler place.

I would genuinely like to believe that the world will eventually move on from the current prevailing idea that silencing ideas and removing certain themes somehow enriches us. I personally wouldn’t show a child Death Note nor would I recommend it to a parent who asked me if their child should watch it. However that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any value in Death Note. It genuinely asks the viewer to evaluate their own concept of ‘justice’. It demands that we consider the implications of receiving a god-like power. It also makes some harsh commentary on the bystanders in society who don’t stand up and take action.

Anime fans, fans of free artistic expression, should care when any work is banned. And they should know why it was banned and what else has been brushed neatly under the rug because the current people in power don’t believe it gels with their moral compass.

Now, after I drafted this article, I had a quick chat with Irina and discovered that she was also working on a post around censorship within anime. That’s now available on her blog and you can find it here: Is Censored Anime Better Than None At All?


Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.

Join the discussion in the comments.

Karandi James


32 thoughts on “The Reason Anime Fans Should Care About Banned Shows

  1. I recently listened to a comedy short where the comedian is making fun of the banning because a particular school system I think it was, decided to ban… Laura Ingalls “Little House on the Prairie” for “racist language, and sexist attitudes”.

    People, it was written in what, the late 1800s? Back then we called black people niggers and it didn’t mean anything other than when we call them black today – as a description of their racial identity. Girls wore dresses and men and womens role in society was all but fixed in stone. How do we know how much progress we’ve made if we never look back and see where we came from? Are we going to ban all the classics because their language and attitudes are dated? Seriously?

    Warning labels. (eyeroll) Fine. Certainly you can choose what you want your own child to see and hear. One of his friends will sooner or later share a Playboy with him/her anyway. (So would you rather he learn about sex from a factual book or Playboy? But that’s another subject).

    We should care. We should watch what we want, and seek out uncensored material when we can if we want to see it. Censorship has always been with us, and I guess always will.

    An interesting study was done that showed that self-censorship (as you mention some distributors, or Netflix, etc. do) is often far more strict than whatever rules the governing body actually has about what can and cannot be shown. This is because destributors err on the side of caution, rather than risk attack by certain special interest groups, or general public disapproval or even banning. Which is something else I found interesting. Censorship rules are often quite vague, leaving authorities lots of room to decide who, what, and when to come down on something – and distributors more or less quaking with fear not knowing what is and is not allowed. And thus – the stricter self censorship.

    1. The vagueness and inconsistencies of censorship are definitely another discussion point where one piece of media can be attacked for doing something dozens of others have done without comment.

  2. Remember that Sesame Street game “Which of These Things Is Not Like the Others?” Well, I guess those succubi from that one episode of Interspecies Reviewers seemed pretty dangerous. . .

  3. Most of the censorship in the US is not directly by the government. It is primarily by media outlets, either as a proxy for the government or as a way of avoiding a heckler’s veto. A very small number of people can cause a very large corporation to bow to their demands.

    If you are part of that small group, it is a good thing and if you’re not, you may never know what you are missing.

  4. It is one thing to censor what one watches by one’s own choice, and it is quite another thing to censor what someone else can watch. I cannot abide the latter, plain and simple.

    1. It is a good point that we all censor our own viewing in one way or another. However censorship being imposed upon a viewer is very different.

  5. I wasn’t aware of the censorship issues in other countries. I do agree that ratings and warning labels would help instead of straight up banning something. Of course, there have been anime that almost got banned for very stupid reasons (I’m looking at you for trying to block Jungle Emperor Leo in North America, Disney!), but there are worse things to pay attention to. If something is legitimately offensive and illegal, then that’s one thing, but if it’s just an intense show, then they should just stick with the ratings or labels.

    1. Governments banning things is bad enough, and various companies putting their moral spin on things needs to be at least transparent so it is clear what their agenda is, however companies shouldn’t get to ban things entirely for reasons of self-interest. That takes an already slippery slope and makes it so much worse.

  6. I remember a conversation I had with someone a couple of years back, about them letting their kid watch Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan on Netflix and then being kinda disturbed when the titular dragon swallows the main character. I mean I get why he thought the show would be okay, it is a fairly brightly-coloured and cute looking series, but most of us anime fans know that’s no guarantee of it being suitable for small children.

    I think it’s really a case of there needing to be more education on the cultural differences with regards to anime and what people should expect, especially as it becomes more and more main stream. Also people need to start paying attention to rating systems again, I know I’ve tended to gloss over an age rating for a series in the past, but I don’t have kids and it’s only me that pays the price for it.

    For me, censorship doesn’t really solve anything, it just sweeps it under the rug and how are we meant to learn about stuff going forward if we pretend it never happened? I remember when WB put little introductions before some of their older Looney Tunes cartoons to point out that, yes, there are some outdated and, in some cases, downright racist depictions involved in some of the older stuff. That’s the way that these things should be handled, let’s acknowledge and talk about this stuff.

  7. Hiding behind children is the biggest cop out to justify censorship. This has been the case for more years than I care to remember, be it horror films, heavy metal music, video games, or adult videos. Artistic creators should not be held responsible for what parents let their children watch, and other adults shouldn’t be penalised for this either.

    Case in point, Paranoia Agent is soon to be reissued on Blu-ray here in the UK. MVM have said it will be uncut for the first time. This is because on the original UK DVD release ep 8 had a segment cut where the little girl tried to hang herself by the BBFC as they felt it might encourage youngsters or depressed people to imitate this. Even with this cut the show got an 18 rating so he question is what kind of parent is going to let their young child watch an 18 rated show?

    Bottom line: Have rules and boundaries of taste, that is fine, but if someone is too young to understand something they shouldn’t be watching it and that is the parents’ responsibility not the creator or the state.

    1. It makes so little sense to cut something when they already age restricted it… unless they refused it classification at all without the cut initially which just makes you wonder if the scene was really that bad or harming (and most of us will probably draw the conclusion that it wasn’t).

      I think your way of putting this is nice and clear: “Artistic creators should not be held responsible for what parents let their children watch, and other adults shouldn’t be penalised for this either.”

      1. It’s the ambiguity of the language they use to justify censorship that is the key – it “might” offend, it “might” upset, it “might” encourage copycat behaviour. People see that and panic, fearing the worst when there is a 50% possibility it might NOT happen. Nobody looks at that side of the argument…

  8. This was very interesting and thought-provoking. What a coincidence that we ended up doing articles on censorship around the same time. I think a big problem in regards to talking about “anime hurting children” is the limited scope to which parents can be informed. Age ratings on physical anime & manga are either absent or wildly inaccurate, and how can we expect parents to inform themselves when they already struggle to do so with media that is far more prevalent.

    This has inspired me to look through my collection and see what kind of information is present on the stuff I own. Thanks for inspiring a new research project 😉

    1. Sounds like it might be interesting.
      I know DVD’s in Australia are all rated using the same system of all TV shows and media (though there’s a definite discussion to be had around how they determine those in general) but they are all clearly displayed on the cases with a dot point summary usually of whether it is violence, nudity, language or supernatural themes or whatever else that has given it a more mature rating. Even AnimeLab streaming displays a rating for series under the title and episode count so you know before you click what age the show is recommended for.

  9. In one sense of speaking, Death Note and Tokyo Ghoul are aimed at young boys because they were published in Shonen Jump (in the latter’s case, a variant that skews slightly higher than the WSJ readership, but the point still stands). I’m not trying to agree with Russian censorship – rather, I side with you on the case – I just wanted to point out the potential flaw in your argument.

    1. That’s a fair enough point. I would still lean more towards Death Note being aimed at older youths (that might actually be a ridiculous statement) rather than children. And of course that does raise the issue of what age does it become appropriate? Pretty much every person will have their own take on that.

    2. I’m late to the party and can’t really discern what you’re trying to say, but Tokyo Ghoul isn’t a shounen. It’s a seinen. Both Tokyo Ghoul and Re were serialized in Young Jump, whereas Death Note was a wsj work, so it’s a shounen. I’m sure you’re aware of that, but your comment doesn’t reflect it. Sorry if I’m sounding like a know-it-all.

      You basically have to take stuff with a grain of salt because demographics just indicate where a manga is published. That’s essentially it, so that’s why you’re able to have both shounen with dark themes and seinen with light-hearted themes. If you’re going to play devil’s advocate to make that counter-argument to Karandi’s article, it falls flat—at least in TG’s case because it literally was published in a seinen mag. Death Note is a decent example of how it’s better to take things on a case-by-case basis.

      I’m a couple months late, but yeah. I don’t think it’s the greatest way to counter the article

      1. Not entirely sure why it matters where the manga were published when discussing reasons the anime were banned. Though curious to know your thoughts on anime censorship.

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