Recently, the creator of Rurouni Kenshin Nobuhiro Watsuki admitted to possessing child pornography (Baseel, 2017). He told the police that he likes young teens about the ages of 13-15 years old. Possession of such materials, according to the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Protection of Children, is punishable by up to one year imprisonment or a fine of up to 1 million yen. The Act doesn’t cover drawings, animations, or games. It focuses on images of actual children (Umeda, 2014). In response, his publisher is putting his current work on hold. Japanese publishers are quick to distance themselves from anything that resembles a crime (Baseel, 2017).
The word “teen” has been a popular term since Google started tracking its data–see the chart above. Of course, most of these searches are innocent. Pornography accounts for about 4% of websites and 10-15% of searches (Ogas, 2012). This information may be a little dated. Many pornographers get around child pornography laws by having legal-aged women dress–erhm, undress–as teens. These videos and images cater to men who seek women to emulate their school-boy crushes (Paul, 2005). Of course, these women are legal adults selling a fantasy and not the real deal as Watsuki was caught possessing. But the data suggests Watsuki’s attraction isn’t uncommon. For most of history, girls married older, sometimes much older, men as soon as the girls had their first periods. It was a sign of adulthood, even if it was at 13 or 14 years old. If we were from that time frame, we’d wonder what the problem was. I don’t write this to defend Watsuki’s actions. I find such behavior deplorable (as with pornography in general). At the same time, we need to understand context. We agree today that such behavior is wrong and unlawful, but that also wasn’t always the case. Each view impacts how we would consider Watsuki and his work. There are some who still hold onto the old, historical view of adulthood and sexual attraction. I ponder if these men may have a neurological reason, but I digress. We don’t know from the current information if Watsuki shares this historical view. It wouldn’t provide any defense; it would help explain why he would put his career and creative life’s work in jeopardy.
We could look into how otaku culture and child pornography mix–remember that Japan’s child porn laws do not cover anime or manga–but let’s focus on how reputation and writing tangle. It looks possible that Watsuki’s work will be blackened by this. I’ve already seen some people wonder if it’s okay to still like Rurouni Kenshin in some discussion boards and comment areas. How much does a writer’s character matter when it comes to a work? Is it okay to like a work from a writer that is…unsavory? The second question assumes a pattern of behavior instead of a mistake that can be corrected. In Watsuki’s case, there isn’t enough information as I write this, but his admission suggests an pattern of attraction for the young instead of a recent habit.
Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll the author of Alice in Wonderland, is believed by many to have been a repressed pedophile. But this view isn’t without contention. Many people believe it comes from a projection of modern views onto what was, perhaps, a common practice in the Victorian period–photographing nude children (Woolf, 2010). How much of the tangle of reputation and the author’s work is our own projection? How does it make you feel that Lewis Carroll photographed nude children? How does that change your view of Alice in Wonderland? It has led some to analyze Alice for signs of repressed sexual feelings toward children. It is possible that Rurouni Kenshin will undergo the same. The trouble with this, as anyone who does literary analysis knows, you can read in what you expect. This confirmation bias mixes with the projection of modern sensibilities.
Of course, in the case of Nobuhiro, it is okay to project modern sensibilities because he lives in the modern era. This event is similar to the Bill Cosby sexual abuse and harassment issues in recent years. It has tarnished Cosby’s work to the point where it has all-but disappeared. I suspect Rurouni Kenshin will share a similar fate among the wider anime fandom. Tony Yao over at Manga Therapy (2017) sums up how all but the most hard-core Rurouni Kenshin fans will likely treat the work: “To be honest, I think it’s fine if fans don’t support Watsuki’s works. I don’t care anymore because I have other series that take up my mind at the moment.”
For those of us who create, whether it’s writing books, writing manga, creating videos, blogging, or any other creative work, Watsuki’s poor decision should give us a warning. Reputation matters. It tangles with your work and a mistake (or a pattern of behavior) can ruin your work. It takes years to build trust and only a single catastrophic mistake to lose that trust. And when it comes to creative work, trust is a part of it. You may enjoy the story of Rurouni Kenshin, but you are also trusting that the story is as it appears. As with Lewis Carroll, once that trust is broken or cast into doubt, you won’t view the work in the same way. Although Lewis Carroll’s pedophilia is up for debate, I can’t read Alice without seeing signs of it. It ruins a story I once liked.
As a fellow creative, I feel more sorrow than disgust toward Watsuki. After all, its possible his life’s work may be disparaged and, worse, forgotten. He has broke his trust with many of his fans. In short, Rurouni Kenshin won’t be the same even if Watsuki never has another issue with child pornography. It is possible publishers may not publish his work again. The event will impact his wife and family too.
When it comes down to it, all the questions I’ve asked are for you to decide for yourself. Is Rurouni Kenshin tarnished because of Watsuki’s behavior? Have you moved on and don’t really care? No matter how you answer the questions I’ve posed, remember that Watsuki is human as are those who remain fans of Rurouni Kenshin. Liking a work with a tarnished author doesn’t tarnish the fan. Otherwise, there would be millions of people tarnished because of Alice of Wonderland. If you are a creative, take Watsuki’s poor decisions to heart and develop your moral character. Your work depends on it.
Baseel, Casey (2017). Creator of Rurouni Kenshin anime/manga admits to possession of child pornography. RocketNews24. https://en.rocketnews24.com/2017/11/22/creator-of-rurouni-kenshin-anime-manga-admits-to-possession-of-child-pornography/
Ogas, O. and S. Gaddam. (2012) A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sex and Relationships. Plume, NY, .
Paul, Pamela (2005) Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. Macmillion.
Umeda, Sayuri. (2014) Japan: Possession of Child Pornography Finally Punishable. Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/japan-possession-of-child-pornography-finally-punishable/.
Woolf, Jenny (2010). Lewis Carroll’s Shifting Reputation. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/lewis-carrolls-shifting-reputation-9432378/
Yao, Tony (2017). Scars Larger than a Cross. Manga Therapy. https://www.mangatherapy.com/post/167944099388/scars-larger-than-cross