In My View: It’s not censorship, it’s editing

A long time ago, I watched the first section of Sword Art Online.

My wife had started the series on Netflix and I viewed it over her shoulder. Overall, the show was acceptable. As someone who suffered through the BeeTrain-disaster that was .Hack//Sign, it was miles ahead of that.

But a cat that’s been dead on the side of the road for three days in a Georgia summer is better than .Hack//Sigh.

On the other hand, the first section of SAO was the most five out of 10 show that has ever existed. The hero was forgettable. His relation with the main girl protagonist was relatively well done, but it never felt like it had a payoff.

Even the ending was anti-climactic.

Like many of these “stuck in an RPG” stories, I was much more interested in what was happening outside in the real world than I was in the fake world.

But then the first arc ended, and everyone was free, and the completely forgettable main character is returned to the real world, and we’re introduced to the clingy sister that wants to have sex with her brother.

Look, I get it. For some people, incest is the thing that gets them going. I’m not here to kink shame you.

But I’ve read way too many court records to think that it’s safe and normal and acceptable. Incest in the real world often goes hand-in-hand with child rape, child molestation and a whole bunch of other creepy stuff.

When that happened in Sword Art Online, I’ll admit that I tried to hang on in the hopes that they wouldn’t go hard on it. But I was wrong. They went hard. And they kept going hard.

So I checked out, and I never looked back. I will not watch that show ever again. I don’t care if watching it promises to bring me untold joy and money.

Well, maybe if I got untold money.

But one bad choice by the creators has turned me off from the franchise. Now maybe if it had been handled well, or smartly, I would have been more forgiving. If it wasn’t just pure pandering, I might have accepted it.

It wasn’t and I’m not.

But all of this is a long way to bring me to what I wanted to talk about today — editing and censorship.

Calling a duck a fish

I started thinking about this after reading a “Don’t @ me” from Dewbond’s Shallow Dives in Anime. Yes, I am @ing him, but it was a fascinating point.

He was bringing up a recent issue surrounding Seven Seas editing Classroom of the Elite and Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation.

Oftentimes when a company acts on its prerogative to make changes to the text that wasn’t in the original anime, manga and light novel, fans will immediately jump to words like “censorship.” Several news sites will do the same thing,

The problem I have with using “censorship” is that it smacks of using a word for its emotional weight than for the truth of the matter. Yes, by the strictest interpretation of word, it is “removing objectionable material” but the word implies that there is some outside force coming in with a bevy of black bars to cover up the naughty bits.

That’s not what happened here. In this case, somewhere along the way, a rights holder, Seven Seas Entertainment, decided to make a change. And let’s be clear, Seven Seas has at least some rights to make changes. This would probably be spelled out in the contract with the original rights holder.

But as long as they’re not violating that contract, they’re fine.

If they want to cut something out, it isn’t censorship any more than if I decide not to write the next sentence. It’s an editorial choice, and, it’s their editorial choice to make.

Let me repeat that. Assuming it doesn’t violate the underlying agreement, if a distribution company decides to change something in a product that they bought, it’s an editorial choice and it should be treated as such.

I would rather save the word censorship for when an actual censor is coming in and telling a company what they can or can’t publish. Using censorship, in this case, confuses the matter and makes it harder to talk about.

Now reading through the ANN article, it doesn’t appear that these decisions were made at the translator level, so we can only assume that it came from either Seven Seas or the original publisher.

Seven Seas chose to throw their editorial team under the bus in the nicest way possible for Classroom of the Elite and didn’t answer the question about Jobless Reincarnation at all.

Dewbond reacted in a way most anime fans have reacted to people changing the Japanese source material since people learned about Harmony Gold — he got indignant. He worried about what will happen when the stuff on the fringes of the mainstream becomes more mainstream.

These are the questions I want to get to.

Good edits, bad edits and audience choices

Anime fans have been complaining about translations since there have been translations. Whether we’re talking about fifteening in UK dubs or arguments that fansubs were more “legitimate” than corporate sellout subtitles.

This seems like the issue with the Classroom of the Elite changes. Assuming the translator put all of it in the translation, which I do assume that. The edit seems like it was made for brevity rather than for content.

The stuff outlined in the Reddit post isn’t necessary to understand what is going on. It does add color and depth, but nothing in there is content.

The changes that appear to be for content come in Jobless Reincarnation where a scene of the protagonist trying to pull down the panties of a sleeping girl was replaced with him trying to pull her shirt down. They also removed references to rape, according to ANN.

Now, these changes are the ones that seem like they were done for content.

So this leaves me with two questions, “What is a good edit, and what is a bad edit?”

Editing, as a process, really needs to serve a couple of purposes. The first is obvious. It needs to make reading the material easier. A good edit here makes the text easier to process and a bad edit makes it harder to process.

This is where the Classroom of the Elite changes seem to fit in. The editor made a poor choice and made the scenes harder to understand for the people reading them. Or at the very least, removed the emotional impact.

But these kinds of changes are not content-driven. Someone read those passages, and thought, “That seems redundant.” and trimmed it out.

So that purpose for editing is pretty simple, but the other is more complicated. When editors are changing things, they are thinking about the intended audience. If you’re going to present a show to a bunch of parents for their kids, having a bunch of objectionable material in there is probably a bad idea.

This, largely, is the reason for a lot of editing of cartoons in the 80s and 90s. We can’t present the lesbians in Sailor Moon, so they’re cousins.

We can’t have death in a cartoon, so they went to a space hospital. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

Judging this kind of editing is much harder. Let’s go back to my discussion of Sword Art Online. If an editor had cut out the brother-sister relationship, I wouldn’t have decided to hard quit that series. Maybe I would have been willing to invest money.

When they chose not to do that, they lost me as a customer. FOREVER. Not only that, I will tell everyone I know about why I didn’t continue watching that show. There will be some of those people who will NEVER watch the show.

Conversely, there will be some people who are thrilled about that and watch the show just for that relationship. If it wasn’t there, they wouldn’t watch the show. And they will tell their friends not to watch it.

This is the problem with editing for content. You have to decide what audience you’re trying to serve.

All of this is made much more complicated when you’re dealing with a touchy subject like rape. I haven’t watched Jobless Reincarnation, and I’m not inclined to do it, but I can understand why the editors made the choices they did.

Without having read the material, I don’t want to get into whether these were good edits or not. If they drastically changed the tone and character, then they are at least questionable.

Should we be concerned about ‘heavy-handed editing’?

We’re left with the question, “Should we care?”

At this moment, I’m not sure it matters. The original material for both of these books still exists. There are means to read them. So the fans who want the stuff are able to get it.

Where I think it will actually start to matter is when those same values start to affect what is being made.

So when that happens will it be a good thing for anime?

The answer, I think, is more complicated than it first appears.

Censorship and editing have been part of the success of anime in the US. Most shows that have made it to the mainstream have been aired on American television.. The less they need to be changed, the more likely they will make it to airwaves. These are the shows that bring in new fans and expand the market.

And without attracting new audiences, the major conglomerates that own most of the anime distribution in the US will lose interest in it. The money will dry up. It may not go away, but anime and manga will start to cater to smaller and smaller niches.

While this may be good to Dewbond, since stories like Jobless Reincarnation will be one of the niches that will be catered toward, it won’t be good for fans like me who want more Kaiba, Babylon and Dororo and other shows that only benefit from a thriving market.

Having that thriving market does come at a cost, and I don’t think Dewbond is necessarily wrong. As the Western market becomes a larger part of the anime and manga scene, the rougher edges of the material will be ironed out in a way to appeal to that audience.

I don’t think this is a zero-sum game, but on some level, these two forces are working against each other.

Would a show like Babylon or Dororo exist if there wasn’t a larger audience for anime in general? How about Land of the Lustrous or Megolobox or Carole and Tuesday? Would we get releases for Hajime no Ippo or Galaxy Express 999 or Legend of Galactic Heroes?

The answer is that some of those wouldn’t happen and some of them might have.

If the cost of having a thriving marketplace with shows like those is losing the more questionable edges of manga and anime, I’m not necessarily opposed to it.

But that is just me, I’m sure other people will think differently.

As, always, thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “In My View: It’s not censorship, it’s editing

  1. An interesting perspective! I’m glad my little post got you thinking!

    I didn’t have a particular dog in this race, and I’ve been on record with supporting changes to things like High School DxD, which clearly plays loose with their dub script. I’m not a translator, so I leave it to the people who do that. For DxD, the story was still intact, and nothing was pulled out that wasn’t already there.

    Having lived through it, I don’t think anime will ever go back to the 4kids era, where censorship and editing gutted series like Escaflowne, and Cardcaptor Sakura, but I do think that stuff like this again, doesn’t do much to bring those hardcore anime fans on board.

    I’ve always believed that the ‘unsettling’ parts of anime should be presented as is, warts and all, and left up to the viewer to make their own choices. To many, anime is and remains one of the last bastions of art and entertainment that lets the chips fall where they do. Anime doesn’t say “why”, it says “why not?” and that has led to some amazing pieces of work, and equally, a bunch of trash. I think we lose something if we try to play moral arbiter.

    I think you might believe I want anime to remain a small niche. Not at all. I welcome more eyes on the fandom, I love seeing more and more people getting involved, but I also want anime to remain what it always has be (in my eyes at least) telling a variety of stories with no limit or hesitation. “Why not?” instead of “why”

    Again, glad to see my post got your brain thinking! I hope you’ll keep reading my stuff!

  2. Good points. The fact that the original, un-edited material exists and is available is reason enough to prove your point – people can always just cut out the middle man making the changes and find the source.

    That said, I can understand people’s frustration if a company like Crunchyroll decides to change an anime’s script to inject some woke takes or something like this, which doesn’t happen often but has happened before. I’m not a fan of that sort of thing, but then I don’t support companies like Crunchyroll, and others can do the same as you’ve mentioned, and opt out if the editing goes too far.

  3. Have you ever read Dune?

    Do you remember the ultimate objection to the Guild Navigators? It was that they always chose the safest route.

    Which is to say, they chose the path to stagnation.

    That’s what I worry about in the context of this conversation.

    I think your interpretation of “censorship” is spot on. In that spirit, I have no objection to a rights-holder exercising their contractually-protected rights.

    But I think I finally understand why Harlan Ellison pushed so hard to publish Dangerous Visions back in the late 1960s. I’m seeing the consequences of not publishing that kind of material. I’m seeing the impact of safe and “acceptable” choices. And frankly, I worry for our cultural future.

    Of course, I’ve been wrong before. I honestly hope I’m wrong now. Guess we’ll just have to see!

    1. That is the tight rope that all creative products for a mass audience need to walk. Make it too similar and it’ll be forgettable and no one will care.

      And if you make it too edgy you’ll end up disenfranchising your audience.

      I’m not really worried about the cultural future really. Although I do worry about megacorps like Disney owning all of the creative machine. Sure they put out a lot of really classically good movies, but they don’t really push any boundaries.

      But I’m inclined to believe that it all ebbs and flows.

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