Lost in translation: What do we do with the borderline scenes of Japanese anime?

Even those who advocated cancellations were not in a hurry to admit that, at bottom, the effects were merely symbolic. And then this August arrived: TikTok wanted to censor the cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” (and its protagonist denounced the band for using child pornography), Instagram censored a poster of Almodóvar, and in Argentina Cartoon Network took off the air “Dragon Ball Super ”, one of the great successes of its grid, after the Ministry of Women, Gender Policies and Sexual Diversity of the Province presented a note to the National Public Defender’s Office regarding the broadcast of an episode that it showed a scene of violence against women.

“Censorship,” he shouted to himself. Strictly speaking, it was about self-censorship: corporations that out of fear of offending their main consumers, the youth, overact. The same Estela Díaz, minister of space, explained that the objective was not to provoke the censorship of “Dragon Ball”, which was never asked to lift the series. “We only ask that it be notified that they were content not suitable for children,” he said in dialogue with the radio program “Things happened”, which has already erupted in controversy.

And he recalled that “the series had problems in many parts of the world”, not a minor fact: there was and is resistance to Japanese animation in much of the world, and its consumption had a forbidden taste for a long time during the last century in the West , because many of their stories and ideas are read from the West, and much is lost in translation. In cultural translation, of course.

In principle, there is a hearing problem. Many of the animated Japanese fictions that came to our country have been broadcast on child-youth cable channels: any 5 or 6-year-old creature could, for example, sit down to drink milk and come across the scene in question from “Dragon Ball Super ”, where Master Roshi tries to fight his perversions by asking for the help of a cat that transforms into a woman and must then resist the sensei’s libidinous onslaught.

The anime industry is highly segmented in Japan, with products dedicated to each age, gender and interests, while the rest of the world comes in a blind box: they are all little cartoons, and on this side of the world cartoons are supposed to be for the boys, for the whole family, when in fact a good part of the anime aims at young people who struggle with their hormones. And certainly, the most successful are those that target a male audience, the main consumer of these animated and sexual fantasies, to whom they provide “fan service”, gratification to their fantasies in the form of panties, some nudity and the famous subgenre of the harem where all the girls chase a shy boy.

These divergences between the recipient of the East and the West have long led to the confusion of anime programmers in Latin America. And to the censorship. In “cartoons”, fictions that were thought exclusively for the youngest, suddenly there were boobs in the air, raised skirts, boys transforming into girls, in short, a mess to which the programmers proceeded with simple criteria during the 90s: snip and something else (and that was not too different from what happened in “Rebelde Way” and its high-voltage scenes, or what happens today with “Elite”, on Netflix …).

But it is not just a question of segmentation and age: Japanese animation is part of a foreign cultural universe, part of a society that lives sexuality in another way, and which resulted in another picaresque, and another set of rules. It’s easy to pinpoint the ones that are most problematic from our perspective, from the veneration of lolitas and the vast amount of animated underage pornography (which is not a crime in Japan) to the infamous and widely reported sale of used underwear. But they are peculiarities, marginal customs or fetishes of another way of being and living sexuality (and surely we would have fun in the same way counting the bizarre practices on this side of the world). Around these practices, however, there is a system that embraces and exploits them, a million-dollar industry of pornography and related products, and in parallel, for a new generation of Japanese “the concept of a couple is somewhat obsolete and they opt for a limited sexuality that they tend to channel towards virtual sex “, as Julián Varsavsky relates in his sexual chronicle of Tokyo for the magazine Anfibia: in a hypercapitalist, vertical and extremely rigorous society, he theorizes,” stress and loneliness reach extreme levels in this Society and alienation have repercussions on sexuality ”, resulting in the“ celibacy syndrome ”: 60% of single men between 18 and 34 years old do not have a girlfriend and 50% of women in the same group do not have a boyfriend. And most say they have no interest in getting married or looking for a partner either. In a hypereroticized media world, “Japan is at the technological forefront of global cyber morbid,” with hologram-shaped lolitas that are pop stars, life-size anime character figures, and other fantasies to sublimate desire crushed by rigors. of the life. As anticipated by “The Demolisher”, in the capitalist avant-garde desire is merchandise and sex is virtual, because the asepsis of this exchange is preferred to the mud of the real world.


The heart of the matter is the otaku culture, a term that designates the obsessives of anime and manga and that in Japan has had a mostly negative connotation. A good part of the anime is produced for them, and for this reason the aforementioned “fan service” proliferates, but it is not that all anime is reduced to a succession of perversions: there is resistance to the industry, entire programs thought as a response to culture otaku (such as the emblematic “Evangelion”, for example, which asked its followers to leave their fantasy havens), and others that, in parallel to the fictions that helped to cement established and toxic gender roles, appeared with other stories, other sensitivities and other sexualities, even with gay or queer characters, such as “Sailor Moon” (whose love stories between people of the same sex were rewritten and disguised), “Utena” and “Ranma”, in those same 90s in which “Dragon Ball” broke in for the first time. How many queer characters were there in late 20th century teen fictions produced in Argentina in the meantime?

But even in “shonen” fictions (intended for boys) like “Dragon Ball”, almost always the actions of characters who cannot control their impulses are repudiated: Master Roshi, for example, is from the first series of Goku and company , plain and simple a pervert. “The limits that the rest of the characters put on Master Roshi were part of my Comprehensive Sex Education. He is the old page … disowned for his actions and fiction shows it. It’s part of the story, “the journalist Florencia Alcaraz analyzed on Twitter, adding that” my 8-year-old nephew now watches Dragon Ball and understands it perfectly. Master Roshi’s actions ignite his alerts of an adult world that may be a threat to him. He doesn’t like the things he does and his idol isn’t the old page … it’s Goku ”.

For the LatFem journalist, the censorship of the series “does not open a debate, it polarizes it.” “This is a problem for everyone and it goes beyond the Ministry because the reading is that ‘feminists’ censor. We need more responsibility with the time and the huge and powerful movement that we built that put them there, less literalism and more connection with reality ”, he closed his thread.

Roshi receives: for many, Roshi was always set limits


In short, the path of censorship does not seem to have an end: shouldn’t it be necessary to eliminate all Disney fictions, all the fairy tales that contributed to the construction of gender stereotypes with their passive princesses? Doesn’t eliminating them mean denying the past instead of confronting and discussing it? And what about violent shows? Do they also have to be removed? What values ​​do we want, and who decides?

Censorship underestimates the viewer, because it considers that it is not he who can decide. And what is more, he thinks that television is brainwashing, when not only is there always resistance, an active viewer interpreting and being critical of what he sees, but also that the media are, in any case, only a factor in the formation of each viewer: media representations are important, and that is why they have become a very important aspect of the struggle of women, sexual dissidents and ethnic minorities who want to see themselves represented on the screen stripped of stereotypes that oppress them and narrow their horizon of possibilities , of dreams (and more and more fictions reflect this desire for responsible and inclusive representation), but it is only one aspect of the real.

“TV is not the main educator of the boys, because they are not even the parents, who are the most important educational nucleus. School, the media or classmates also exert their influence on boys and girls. For this reason, many other factors come into play when initiating sexual relations ”, explained to EL DIA Mariana Passaro, a psychologist from La Plata specializing in adolescence, when a few years ago the controversy over sexuality broke out on the screen.

What to do, then, with Roshi? What do we do with that teacher who at the time of milk decides to try to abuse a cat transformed into a woman? Do we control the content or not? With the dilemma raised in the networks and the media this week, a debate that seems to reproduce the debates around the political model in Argentina and also other discussions around freedoms and morals, the role of the ESI took hold as a potential guide for the young people through the turbulent sea of ​​representations that fiction makes about sexuality, and that often reproduces oppressive and violent structures (such as Roshi … or Francella): in Argentina since 2006 we have had the law that obliges schools to provide sex education in their classrooms, although this right is not guaranteed in all educational settings. “That”, as Emilia Ruiz de Olano and Ana Montes wrote, “creates a void that young people tend to fill by themselves, often in a hidden way”.


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