Comment/Response: Japanese Cartoons, Virtual Child Pornography, Academic Libraries, and the Law

Different scholars write about manga in different ways. What a literature scholar can – and may want – to say about Japanese comics will necessarily be different from the perspective of a historian or a sociologist. And, one particular kind of perspective on manga is that brought by librarians and library science scholars. Granted, these contributions to manga studies can also take several shapes. One is the guide for other librarians, to assist them in developing manga collections – such as the books Understanding manga and anime, Mostly manga: A Genre guide to popular manga, manhwa, manhua, and anime, and the article “Basic reader’s advisory for manga: Select popular titles and similar works” (Young Adult Library Services, 5(3), 13-21 – the complete issue is currently available online in open access). Another is the case study based on personal experience – like Paper folding, bento, and tea parties: Programs with a manga and anime twist, Knowledge Quest: Journal of the American Association of School Librarians, 41(3), 42-49. One more is an examination of actual library practices over several years, such as Graphic novels in academic libraries: From Maus to manga, and beyond and The institutionalization of Japanese comics in US public libraries (2000-2010).

This kind of writing – as much of the writing in library/information science is by default and design – is essentially descriptive. Asking questions is not its goal. But, a librarian who is interested in manga from an academic, and really, also from a professional point of view, can find a good way to ask questions.

Masuchika, Glenn. Japanese cartoons, virtual child pornography, academic libraries, and the law, Reference & User Services Quarterly, 54(4), 54-60.

(Ed.: Direct online access to this article is currently available only to Reference and User Services Association members. However, the article is accessible through most major academic databases, including EBSCO Academic Search Premier, Gale Academic OneFile, and the ProQuest Research Library. If you are not able to access any of them, and would like to read it, please contact me for a copy.]

Abstract:

Many academic libraries are adding comics and cartoon in print form to their collections. Japanese comics, called “manga,” are a large part of this collecting. However, in some of these items, there are drawn images of people seemingly under eighteen years of age engaged in highly graphic, uncensored, sex acts. The purpose of this paper is to discuss whether collecting such materials may violate anti-obscenity laws of the United States and expose the collection developer and the library to criminal liabilities. It also suggests that these concerns can lead librarians to self-censorship in their collection development duties.

Author: Glenn Masuchika is an information literacy librarian at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). His publications include a number of peer-reviewed articles for major library science journals, among them, (with Gail Boldt), Japanese manga in translation and American graphic novels: A preliminary examination of the collections of 44 academic libraries, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(6), 511-517 – the first study that I know of on how academic (rather than public) libraries collect manga.

Commentary: The basic question that the author presents is straight-forward: can a librarian be charged with committing a crime for “working with” (keeping in the collection, and/or making available to patrons) pornographic manga?

The question is certainly a valid one, especially given two well-documented recent instances.

In the first one, the defendant, Dwight Whorley was convicted of:

“(1) knowingly receiving on a computer 20 obscene Japanese anime cartoons depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1462;
(2) knowingly receiving, as a person previously convicted of receiving depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, the same 20 anime cartoons, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(1);
(3) knowingly receiving, as a person previously convicted of receiving depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, 14 digital photographs depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2252(a)(2); and
(4) knowingly sending or receiving 20 obscene e-mails, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1462”

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The conviction was upheld on appeal (U.S. v. Whorley, 2008), and his petition for rehearing by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was denied, although the denial was strongly opposed by Judge Roger L. Gregory (who also dissented in part from the original decision).

In the second, Christopher Handley faced criminal charges for:

“Receipt of obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a) (count one)
Possession of obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1466A(b) (counts two through four), and
Mailing obscene matter in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1461, 2 (count five).”

“All of the images at issue in counts one through five [were] drawings from Japanese anime comic books.” The trial court dismissed some of the charges, but ultimately, Handley pled guilty and was sentenced to a six-month prison term.

The article opens with a basic description of the two cases, and an overview of treatment of pornographic/obscene materials (legally, there is a difference: not all pornographic materials are necessarily obscene) in the U.S. legal system. It then proceeds to note that “Japanese manga have an unsavory reputation of containing seemingly pornographic, or even obscene, material” – while also mentioning that this reputation may be a result of unfamiliarity with either the manga style or particular Japanese cultural practices. Next, the author essentially answers his own question – at least based on his own searches of U.S. court decisions, there has not yet been any instances of librarians facing either civil lawsuits or criminal charges for working with or providing access to prohibited materials. Next, he presents several potential defenses that a librarian could use in a response to a criminal charge. The article’s closing is also straight-forward, and can be paraphrased as “no, a librarian will probably not be charged with a crime for collecting or lending obscene manga – but even just the possibility of this happening is worth being aware of.”

In my opinion, while this article is certainly important, it makes some mis-steps, and misses what I think are several clear opportunities. At the very least, while the Whorley and Handley cases are both definitely worth highlighting, it is also important to point out what makes them not particularly applicable to the article’s underlying question. Whorley involved single images, not actual manga. It’s certainly true that this was not the case in Handley – here, the defendant did specifically purchase several manga volumes from Japan (the actual titles in question are listed in CBLDF Presents: Manga – Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices) – but none of them had been released in the U.S., or, for that matter, would be the kinds of books that any American library, public or academic, would even consider adding to a collection.

At the same time, I think the article would have been made significantly stronger had it acknowledged that the reputation of manga as “seemingly pornographic” is often well-deserved. Here, it could also have presented specific examples of manga that are available in the U.S., and, while not pornographic/obscene, certainly contains explicit scenes. Just some titles that come to mind are Love Stage, Sakuran, Shin Sekai Yori, Sundome and Suppli. In addition, the article’s title refers specifically to academic libraries, but almost of the actual discussion in it deals with public and school libraries. Finally, the author bases his conclusions on the result of a search for cases in specified legal databases, and for articles in major library science databases – but, with all due respect, there is no way to tell how familiar he is with the unique features and processes of legal research.

In the end, yes, the question that the article raises is certainly worth asking. But, “can something possibly happen in the future?” is always a harder question to ask than “has something ever happened in the past?” Even then, though, at least highlighting the potential issues that manga in library collections can present for librarians makes it a useful contribution to the professional literature, and to academic writing on manga in general.

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