The Lost Era of Movie Rentals

As I was growing up, I looked forward to Saturdays. That was the special day when my family drove to the local movie rental store. We’d stock up on movies, and I’d rent a Super Nintendo game. The best part? They weren’t due back until Monday at 6pm! Of course, this was a big event for many families in town back in the day. You couldn’t leave in under an hour. Not only did we heckle the staff, but we met with other people in town as they browsed the VHS shelves. Renting movies involved sharing the events of the past week with neighbors. The battered pressed-wood paneling, worn burgundy carpet, and heavy shelves straining with VHS tapes fill me with nostalgia. It wasn’t a clean store. All of those rental shops had a musty funk unique to them. The scent stood someplace between the musty comfort of an old book and the geek funk that oozes from the nerd shops that attract Magic players. The dim lights buzzed low overhead, but they made the battered VHS art look so good. The best rental shops felt a little seedy compared to the later, glossy chain rental stores.

As a kid, I’d swap video game strategies with other kids while secretly hoping they didn’t save over my file from last weekend. Of course, this was back before the Internet and its walkthroughs. Back in my day (queue old man voice) we had to draw our own maps and figure things out. That is, unless you had a subscription to Nintendo Power.

James Rolfe of Cinemassacre turned a section of his basement into a 1990s movie rental shop.
It resembles the shops I frequented.

The dirty, worn carpet and wood paneling felt welcoming. I’d shove open the squealing steel door (it had such a unique squeal) and bolt straight to the Super Nintendo rack, praying Final Fantasy III (or Final Fantasy 6 as we know it now) or Chrono Trigger waited I couldn’t afford to buy games (and still can’t). I’d buy perhaps one or two a year. I eventually received Chrono Trigger, but I never got Final Fantasy III. It’s ironic considering that’s my favorite game.

Back in my time, anime wasn’t a thing. Well, there were a few tucked away behind the desk with other…special videos–okay, I’ll just say it: porn. That little cubby teased my curiosity as a kid even after my dad told me what was back there. The mysterious and the unexplored always grabbed my attention. Wanna know something funny? I never did go back there, even as an adult. To this day, I have no idea exactly what they stashed there (was it really porn or did they stash the coolest movies and video games?).  Anyway, back to anime.

Anime was limited to Voltron, Robotech, Speedracer, and other oldies. I didn’t think much of anime when I was growing up. Like I said, it wasn’t a thing as it is now. Voltron and other big robot cartoons were just a part of my Saturday morning cartoon watching and something to rent. Video games shaped my childhood more than anime. I didn’t have shows like Naruto to grow up with. You guys are lucky to have them. Even DBZ wasn’t available in my area in the 90s.

So why am I rambling on about this? In a word, anticipation. These weekly outings taught me the value of anticipation and patience. I wrote about anticipation before, but I consider it important enough to flog the dog a little more (poor puppy!). Instant access to everything, including anime, encourages impatience. Patience remains the key component of enjoyment. Looking forward to something increases our ability to enjoy it. For example, I look forward to October. Turner Classic Movies often schedules Peter Cushing films for the night of Halloween. I could find these films on a stream and watch them now, but I prefer to wait. Waiting will increase my enjoyment of the films after a busy workday.

The lost era of movie rentals taught the young me the importance of patience. Oh, at the time, I hated it. I wished I could just play Chrono Trigger until I finished it. But the excitement I felt as Saturday grew closer taught me the value of waiting. The technical term for this is delayed gratification. The problem with this is how American culture and human nature work against it. Nature wants us to fulfill desires immediately. If we have an itch, we scratch. American society allows us to scratch whatever itch we have immediately. Craving salt? Potato chips are within reach. Craving anime, Crunchyroll is a click away. Outside influences don’t hamper our desires anymore.

Final Fantasy VI still remains my favorite video game. And the best Final Fantasy game.

Crunchyroll’s simulcasts help this a bit. I’ve started watching current season anime instead of binging on something older. I find myself looking-forward to the days the next episode of, say, Laid Back Camp releases. I don’t mess with cable television anymore so I’ve gotten used to binging when I do watch a show. Simulcasts help anchor my week.

Human needs developed in a time of scarcity. Craving salt and sweet drove us to seek them out. Now we don’t have to seek. The cravings for content work the same way. In high school, I craved escape. Diablo II was readily available, and I lost an obscene number of hours to it. Scarcity needs to be self-imposed now, and that takes discipline and incentive. It benefits us to delay gratification. It increases enjoyment and builds character. Patience helps us in everything we do, from work to love to enjoying anime. But patience also goes against society and nature, making it, perhaps, the most difficult virtue to cultivate.

Its difficult to talk about abstract ideas like patience and anticipation so I thought I’d offer you a glimpse at my childhood to give you some idea as to why these virtues matter. You can also cultivate them by making your own “rental” day. Abstain from certain Netflix or Crunchyroll shows until your designated day. Refuse to scratch mental itches. Anime teaches us to train in order to improve our characters. We too can train by withholding things we enjoy and use them as rewards.

Lessons Learned from 7 Years of Anime Blogging

January 2018 marks my 7th year of blogging. JP began as your average anime review blog and morphed into the history and analysis blog you read now. It’s also a platform for my writing hobby. At first, I had delusions of making money off of JP, and I guess, in a way, I have through book sales. Although the sale of my books only covers the hosting fees. Editors are expensive, after all. But I find writing and educating people in the process rewarding. I am pleased with between 1200-1800 readers visiting JP most days. I used to have advertising on JP, as I’m sure some of you remember, but after some thought, I stopped that income stream because, well, I loathe advertising. There is far too much of it, and I felt morally obligated to stop adding to the problem.

So what have I learned in 7 years? Well, that I still have a lot to learn for one. I’ve learned, much to my surprise, that I can stick with a single topic (as broad as it is) for 7 years. That is quite a feat for me. I have a bad habit of jumping from project to project before any are finished. It’s been a source of frustration for me, and I still flit to and fro, but I’ve managed to finish several books (of various quality) and stick with JP. It’s quite an achievement.

I’ve also learned about fear. People have quoted me, used my articles in academic articles, and even as part of high school and college lessons. Many see me as an “expert,” that amorphous word that makes people view just some joe as important. As if my keyboard mashings mean something more than another person’s eloquent pose. I keep waiting for someone to point at me and call me out as a phony. All of this adds more fear to the writing process. As any writer will tell you, fear always lurks whether you are drafting a novel or banging together a blog post. We fear how other people will receive our writing. Is it good? Or rather, did I minimize its sucktatude? As people accept your sucktatude as worthy of citing, you add in the fear of being revealed as the schmoe you are. But here’s the secret, every writer and researcher is just a schmoe. Writing is profoundly human. After all, writing is just a form of drawing. We have a habit of viewing experts as more-than-human. The only difference is the level of practice and carefulness of thought experts do. I make no claims of being a careful thinker, as many of you have noticed with my sloppy image selection and sometimes slapdash writing.

Fear can be debilitating at times, but only if you allow it to be.

Over the last several years, I’ve seen how the Internet can shape behavior offline. As I study the anime community, I notice how much the hobby affects identity. It’s no different with sports. People often identify themselves with a certain team or another to the point where it becomes a part of who they are. Identity is a complex topic. Habits shape identity, and identity shape habits. We tend to behave as we think we should behave which becomes a habit that reinforces that sense of self. I’m a writer (identity), and writing (habit) reinforces that identity. Likewise, writing has created that identity. In fact, the habit of writing came before anyone began to identify me as a writer (I still don’t see myself as a writer). Anime as a culture has the same influence and habits associated with it. Cosplaying, attending conventions, watching each new anime season, blogging, chatting about anime, reading manga, collecting figures/manga/anime, and other habits form the identity of otaku. Much of the behavior is done online.

I’ve been reading a book about Christian ethics that spends much of its space speaking about how narratives shape identity. The Internet contains various narratives that shape who we are. The anime community is just one example. You also have 4chan and various other subgroups that have their own narratives. I’ve noticed whenever I dig through Reddit, 4chan, or even just browse Facebook for research ideas my attitude and views change a little. I find myself feeling depressive or angry as I read so many depressive, lonely, or angry comments. The narrative begins to shape my perception. Of course, it fades when I stop reading, but if you consume that narrative day after day, hours at a time, it will shape your viewpoint for the worse. Likewise, the messages of anime–seen hour after hour–will shape your perspective. Of course, much of anime has positive messages of loyalty, friendship, perseverance, and the like, but it also have negative views of women and skews perspective of sexuality. Habitual consumption of such stories will affect your identity. We are often not even aware of such influence. For example, most societies today believe in the narrative of scarcity, the idea that resources are finite and we are in competition for them. Consider how different it would be if we lived by the narrative of shared, plentiful resources. Yet, we often don’t consider the narrative of scarcity in our everyday lives even though we live according to its narrative. Likewise, those who consume the Internet’s delusional negative messages or those who consume anime’s messages will live according to those narratives, often without awareness of that fact.

Of course, over 7 years I’ve learned the value of citations and how misleading Wikipedia can be. I’ve also changed how I write and research. I’ve shared those realizations in the past. Change is the only constant. Well, that and typos and grammar fowl ups (see what I did there?). As I’ve changed my perspective over the last few years, I’ve moved away from anime reviews and rather superficial editorials to more academic-styled articles. I hope I didn’t write them academically. After all, when one pontificates as academia would desire the one writing to do, writing can be difficult to comprehend and assimilate into one’s own collective experiences to reduce vicissitudes within one’s own life.  Academic writing hurts. But the change in writing has brought more of you to my website, for which I am grateful and humbled.

I’ve considered what new directions JP will go in the future. As I write this, I have about 1 year of articles waiting in the queue. I like to write ahead so you get a new article every week as you’ve come to expect. It also lets me take breaks. Seeing the number of drafts drop is oddly motivating too, but I’m a gamer so I guess that makes sense. I’m also a Christian, and I’ve been considering writing a few more anime and culture related posts from that perspective. So far, I’ve mostly been writing from my secular, well as secular as anyone can be, librarian perspective. My first research love is early Christianity. I enjoy reading Pliny the Younger, Josephus, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Eusebius, and other early Christian (and Roman) writers outside of the New Testament. My interest in Japanese culture and history is secondary. But I’ve been considering how (and whether) to merge these two interests together. Is this something that would interest you?

I am always open to suggestions for articles. In fact, some of you have sent many that have turned into articles. I do what I can to dig up information, but sometimes I’m limited in what I can access (I’m still searching for an accessible copy of the book The Catalpa Bow for an article, for example. It’s an expensive book that’s out of print.) so it can take some time for me to write to your suggestion.

Over the last 7 years, I’ve learned (or rather, I am learning) anew how to learn. And that has made writing JP for you a great experience. I can’t say for how long I will continue to write about Japanese culture, otaku culture, and anime. Life can force change when you least expect it, but until then I’ll see you each week.

Anime as a Teaching Method

I didn’t grow up with anime. In fact, I didn’t grow up with television shows at all. Sure, I had shows I watched as a child–Voltron, Super Maro Bros Super Show, He-man. But I didn’t grow up with them as many have with anime. Anime like Naruto and Bleach grow with you. The protagonist starts as a whiny, annoying kid at the same time you are a whiny, annoying kid. As you grow into a teen and start facing the social pressures of dating, relationships, and approaching adulthood, so too does your anime hero. Finally, many anime heroes follow you into marriage and full-on adulthood.

I didn’t have that.

Now, I don’t write this to make you feel pity or to whine about this. Rather, I want those of you who grew up watching shows like Naruto to appreciate the experience.

Growing up with anime shares similarities with growing up with folklore. Many folktales contain stories that hearers appreciate only as they grow older. Growing up with such stories helps you navigate events as you come to them. For example, Naruto experiences awkwardness toward Hinata and Sakura just as many of its viewers begin to experience that awkwardness. Experiencing this with a protagonist helps you feel less self-conscious. Knowing others go through the same isn’t the same as watching it unfold in a story where it provides possible solutions.

Stories Teach Best

Believe it or not, fiction provides the best means of learning. Characters can make mistakes and face the consequences of decisions we too may have to make.  Fiction that grows up with you helps even more. Characters will face the same challenges as you encounter them, providing timely guidance. It seems silly to say an anime like Naruto can provide guidance, but for most of human history that was what stories did. It wasn’t until fairly recently our education system developed this silly idea that learning has to be dry and mind-numbingly boring. We remember the shocking and the funny easier than facts and figures. We remember stories! The Greeks studied the Illiad and the Odyssey. The Japanese studied the Tale of Genji.

Today we segregate entertainment from learning. Today’s fiction offers entertainment and not much in the way of guidance or lessons. Although there is some great fiction that still do. Television shows, our modern version of folktales, offer tripe for the most part. Stories don’t have to moralize to teach lessons. Naruto, for example, rarely sermonizes outside of Kakashi’s lectures. Instead, the anime uses events and the actions of the characters to provide examples of moral behavior: loyalty, stick-to-itness, and the like. If you read Odyssey, you will see a similar method. Likewise, folktales teach in indirect ways, such as this short folktale:

In Wasedochi, there is a small persimmon tree that never bears any fruit. Sometime in the 1150s, there was a battle between the Minamoto and Taira families, and many warriors died. It is said that his persimmon tree was planted on top of the mound where the corpses of the soldiers were buried. Legend has it that this is why, even though the souls of these soldiers make the tree’s flowers bloom, there is never any fruit.

The tale speaks about a conflict that lasted several decades between the Minamoto and Taira families. The conflict eventually erupted into the Genpei War. The skirmishes before the war ended with dead on both sides and neither side gained anything. While samurai considered the battles and heroics beautiful, they ultimately didn’t matter. In other words, they didn’t bear fruit.

Mistakes of Modern Teaching

American teaching methods suck. They focus too much on tests and textbooks. While there is a place for textbook learning, it’s tough to retain that information. However, if a story features the information, we are more likely to remember it. This is especially true if the information helps the hero. I’m sure many of you remember Naruto’s jujitsu hand gestures. Why? Not only did you think they were cool, but you remembered them because they helped the hero. You probably remember the elemental attributes (which are based on Chinese and Japanese lore) too. And the memory comes effortlessly. For those of us who grew up watching MacGyver–yeah, I’m really dating myself here–we remember many of the physics lessons that helped him get through his jams.

We remember information based on context. Without context that matters, we can’t remember, and tests really don’t matter. Tests measure the ability to take a test. How did the world of Naruto measure performance? Through real-life application of their ninja skills. Barring ninja fights, stories provide a framework to help us learn information.

Modern teaching, at least in the United States, focuses on getting the right answer. Well, reality doesn’t typically have right answers. It has actions and consequences. Multiple jujitsu can potentially win a fight. Teaching should impart how to think instead of how to arrive at a correct answer. Again, stories provide a way of teaching this. In many stories, the thought processes of the hero is available to the reader. Even more important, these thought processes don’t always result in a victory. Sometimes there is no correct answer. But the thought processes behind a hero’s failure helps us avoid the same faulty thinking. Naruto’s thinking matures as the anime progresses. We can see his mistakes in logic and learn from them.

Fiction provides an important method for learning, one often ignored. Sure, schools analyze Shakespeare and Homer, but analyzing isn’t the same as growing up with them. Perhaps schools should consider analyzing Naruto or Bleach or Sailor Moon for lessons. Many of you grew up with these stories and already have the lessons deep within you. Examining these anime would drive home the importance of fiction as a way of educating people. History and other dry facts can be woven into the discussion. You are more likely to remember the Japanese Iga clan that way. Such a lesson would help students learn how to think rather than merely seek a right answer. Speculative writing that merges the world of Naruto with the Sengoku period of Japanese history doesn’t have a right answer, but it does teach students how to think.

The Advantage of Growing up with Anime

Growing up with anime gives you unique guidance that I didn’t get to experience. Characters grew with you close to the same pace. After all, the Naruto manga ran from 1999 to 2014. That’s 15 years. The anime ran from 2002 to the present, or 16 years as of this writing  (including Boruto). Growing up with a story like this gives you a specific framework that teachers can leverage, or you can leverage for yourself. Often, what the characters struggle with align what you struggle with. In that way, you don’t feel as isolated.

A long-running story like Naruto or Dragonball Z shapes some of your most formative years. From 10-21 or so, you are shaping your identity. Stories shape identity far better than any textbook. Heroes matter. They instill values within us, values that ingrain into our bones. I know, I am in danger of being hyperbolic, but stories really do matter that much. They shape how we think about the world. Stories teach as no other method can. It isn’t an accident that Jesus, Buddha, and other spiritual teachers used short stories to share their messages. They understood how stories worm  into our minds and souls.

As I watch Naruto and Dragonball Z now, I envy those who grew up with them. They provide great entertainment, great lessons, and great role models. They are not without their problems, nor could either be considered high literature. But they are stories that shape character, and teachers would do well to leverage stories like them.

My Favorite Articles to Write in 2017

I’m always a bit late with this sort of post. Well, I’m a bit late in reviewing anime too. I have a review slated for Oreimo soon, and that show is 8 years old. I had thought to post a short article about my favorite anime posts from other websites, but I’m sad to admit that I don’t spend a lot of time reading about anime on other blogs. I read articles that catch my attention in the various feeds I track, but I am pressed for time so I can’t keep my fingers on the anime community’s pulse as much as I would like. That, and I abhor Twitter. Much of the anime community has moved there it seems. However, I regularly read Manga Therapy and Beneath the Tangles. Sadly, my list of regular reads has shortened as bloggers stopped writing.

2017 marked a fun year for writing. These articles challenged me as I wrote them. I prefer a good challenge when I research.

Japan’s Hidden Christians
This is the longest article I’ve written so far. It was hard to write because of what I had to leave out. There’s a lot of history on this topic, but space is limited here. It’s hard to know what to cut. This is also my favorite article for the year. It’s a topic dear to me as a Christian. It’s hard to fathom a religion almost disappearing as Christianity did in Japan. I was fascinated by the oral traditions that survived in the Christian community.

A Look at Japanese Feminism and Misogyny
I learned quite a bit as I researched this one. I didn’t know how closely the early Japanese feminists worked with American feminists. The differences in concerns and approach also caught my interest. Sadly, misogyny is common online and comes out in some areas of the Men’s Rights groups. I’m all for men’s rights, but it isn’t a zero-sum game against women. Rather, both should have the right to choose what they wish to do.

Anime, Eating Disorders, and the Body Image of Men
Speaking of men, society doesn’t pay enough attention to male-body image problems. I didn’t realize how pervasive the problems are until I started digging into academic research. I am self-conscious about my body despite (and because of) being thin. Media pressures men just as much as women if from a different angle.

I enjoyed researching many articles in the last year. Yellow Fever – The Sexual Preference for Asian Women and Anime’s One-Piece Swimsuit Fetish and the History of Japanese Swimsuits also numbered among my favorite articles to research and write. Of course, 2017 was a good year for anime too. I actually watched a few current-season shows! I’m not sure what 2018 will bring, but if you have any article suggestions, I am always looking for ideas. Send them to me.

I’ll see you each week throughout 2018. Have a safe and auspicious year.

Do Reviews Really Matter?

Some of you may have noticed that I don’t post anime reviews all that often. It’s not that I’m not watching anime. In fact, I’ve watch more recently than in recent months thanks to the Crunchyroll app on the Nintendo Wii-U. In part, I haven’t been writing reviews of these stories because I haven’t felt the drive. I’ve had various editorials to write. However, I’ve also been wondering about the worth of reviews. I don’t know about you, but I tend to read reviews after I watch something. I’m often curious if anyone else felt the same about a story or the messages as I did. Not to mention most anime fans go to the big sites like My Anime List for reviews instead of small blogs like mine. My traffic stats are conclusive–editorials just do better.

Of course, the problems with reviews aren’t limited to anime. If you look at Amazon, you will see how reviews become noise. Sure, I will glance through them before buying something, but I’ve seen how most reviews skew toward this-product-is-the-best-thing-ever to 1-star reviews because of shipping problems–which has nothing to do with the product quality itself. There are standout reviews that look into the pros and cons of the product, but I’m finding these are scarce for most of the products I buy–books mainly. Reviews are also bought or, as in the case of many self-published books, subject to Good Samaritan reviewing. Good Samaritan reviewing is when a fellow author or family member or friend gives you a glowing review without actually reading your book. Now, you might think this is good. After all, reviews tend to sell books. But the ethics of this is, well, a problem. It’s lying.

Reviews are subjective. Shipping issues for an otherwise great product can be a deal breaker for one person and a non-concern for another. When reviewing something like anime, taste plays more of a factor. Reading a review from a random writer, like myself, doesn’t really help you all that much. You don’t know how much my tastes align with yours. Now, for some of you who have been with me since JP started, you’ve gotten to know my tastes, and this will lend more weight to your decision to watch an anime or not after reading one of my reviews. But this takes time. Unless you follow a certain reviewer on MAL, one who reviews regularly, the review isn’t all that useful. The point of reviews is to find something that you would want to consume, but if the reviewer’s tastes clash with yours more often than not, then you had best follow another reviewer. It’s akin to a friend recommending a movie. The friend knows you well enough to offer something to your tastes. Unfortunately, here all I do is talk at you without getting to know you like a friend would. Yes, I know. I could take to Twitter and fix that….but I loathe Twitter. With a passion. There is just no room for nuance or a proper conversation with all the noise and limitations. Not to mention I’m just not a conversationalist like that.

Okay, back on topic. Most of the time I know if I will enjoy an anime after two episodes. There’s been few times I’ve read a review and tried the anime–you know, like you are supposed to do–only to dislike the story. That’s that thing about reviews. They are subject to a person’s filter, which may not align with your own. And that filter may also change based on how the reviewer is feeling. They may be going through a rough time and find harem comedies appealing escapism when the reviewer may normally eschew them.

Sometimes, I will purposefully seek out anime I dislike. I do the same with books for that matter. But again, reviews don’t play a part of my selection. I just scroll through Crunchyroll’s most popular anime and pick one I know I will dislike. Why? Because I want to be aware of what other people like or see why something is popular. Much of the time it is because it is sexualized fluff, but that’s a topic I’ve covered many times. As an anime and otaku culture researcher, I have to watch and study things I dislike in order to understand anime and otaku culture better.

Now, I’m not saying reviews are completely worthless. But they also aren’t critically helpful. My voice is just one of thousands of anime watchers who speak into the void. Free blog networks teem with anime bloggers reviewing episodes and stories. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to express your thoughts. JP began as one of those review sites. My very first post was a review of Eureka Seven. That was about 7 years ago. JP didn’t really take off until I started writing editorials about history and Japanese culture. However, I’ve noticed posts about current season anime do better than mining old anime as I tend to do. After all, many of you have already seen older anime that I am only now watching such as Izetta. But then I don’t watch a lot of new stuff. My American movie tastes are back in the 1930s-1970s.

So basically I’m saying I’m not convinced as to the value of reviews. Most of the time I’ll enjoy movies that are poorly reviewed by critics more than well-reviewed films. I grew up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, however. I have a high tolerance and a guilty affection for bad films. But also unless you follow someone for a long time, you don’t get a lot of value from reviews. Only someone who knows you can offer a film you may enjoy that you may not pay attention to otherwise. And there’s the rub. You can seek out reviews that align with your tastes, but that isn’t the same as a friend’s suggestion about something different. Starred reviews are terribly subjective. I don’t like to rate anything 1 or 5 stars just because I don’t like using the low or high end of scales. It’s a resistance within me. Few things are 5 star good or 1 star bad, yet there are other people who avoid the middle of the scale. In fact, many people seem to avoid the middle on Amazon.

So what do you think about this? Are reviews helpful? What skews or problems have you seen in review systems?

Nobuhiro Watsuki, Child Pornography, and The Tangle of Reputation and Writing

Rurouni Kenshin  is now tainted. 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 scale shows popularity of a search with 100 being highly popular and 50 being half as popular. "Teen" has been a fairly popular to highly popular search for a long time.

The scale shows popularity of a search with 100 being highly popular and 50 being half as popular. “Teen” has been a fairly popular to highly popular search for a long time. Taken from Google Trends.

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.

Photo of Alice Liddell taken by Lewis Carroll in 1860.

Photo of Alice Liddell taken by Lewis Carroll in 1860. Alice was his inspiration for Alice in Wonderland

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.”

 Rurouni Kenshin won't be viewed the same.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.

References

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