Entertainment

The Battle Against Hentai Is Killing Indonesia's Manga Community

Another chapter in the unintended consequences of censorship.
July 26, 2018, 4:45am
Illustration by Daniella Syakhirina

As Indonesian censors' tentacles slither deeper into the internet, blocking everything from the blogging site Tumblr to the Chinese music video app Tik Tok for "negative content," the war over what Indonesians are and aren't allowed to see online has found its latest battleground: manga.

Or, to put a finer point on it, hentai, the (sometimes) tentacle filled, (usually) problematic pornography that originates in Japan, but is really popular all over the world. Hentai is the kind of thing that a lot of people won't admit to enjoying, but plenty actually do, at least according to the data team over at the (also blocked) site Pornhub, who found that hentai was the fastest-growing segment of its website last year.

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Now the logic here should be easy, right? Hentai is porn. Indonesia blocks porn. So Indonesia blocks hentai. Simple, right? The country's former Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring even name-checked the genre in a tweet patting himself on the back for another year of scouring the internet for nudity and then smashing that block button.

"We've blocked websites with manga, hamster, and hentai comics due to pornographic content," his tweet read. "It clearly violates the law…"

So, what's the issue? What's this have to do with non-pornographic manga and anime? Turns out a whole lot. You see, the issue here is that hentai is never just one thing. It's tentacle porn. It's (creepy) lolicon porn. It's harems and gender-swaps and piss pigs. It's basically everything under the sun and, on the kinds of fan-run translation sites where most people read new manga, it often sits only a few clicks away from mainstream fair like Bleach and Attack on Titan.

So when the censors block a site for hentai, they're also blocking a site that offers non-sexual manga that would fall well within the confines of what the ministry deems acceptable. And this makes it pretty hard to be a manga fan in Indonesia.


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What about the sites that don't publish hentai manga? Aren't those safe? Maybe, but also probably not for long because, you see, some other long-accepted facets of manga, namely softcore genres like ecchi and the prevalence of fan service in mainstream manga push even non-pornographic titles deep into what the government deems "negative content."

Anime and manga is often so full of fan service that even titles held up as the peak of everything the genre could and should be, think Ghost in the Shell or Neon Genesis Evangelion, are marred by the inclusion of pervy, hyper-sexual images. ("Oh, no, not GitS," you say, to which, I say, "read the original manga, or, even worse, its sequel.")

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This is why, by and large, a lot of manga aren't necessarily in-line with Indonesia's wish for a "safe internet," explained Rizky Sumintardja, of the podcast Indo/an/icast. It's the fan service, or what he called the "groping," or "nosebleed" scenes, that makes people like the censor body think all manga and anime is just softcore porn.

"When it comes to ‘fan service’, the creator will show content that’s promoting problematic and toxic relationship dynamics," he told VICE. "Personally, it sucks, I wish manga/anime would tone it down."

But, until they do, the same sites where most Indonesian anime and manga fans find their favorite series exist under the constant threat of being blocked. This is because much of fandom relies on "scanlation" sites—"scan" and "translate"—to find new manga to read. These sites offer fans both scanned copies of manga for free, and translations at a far quicker pace than official licensing sources can provide.

Without these sites, fans would be unable to latch on to popular newer series, like My Hero Academia, or follow long-running series, like Berserk, without spending a small fortune on expensive physical books.

The sites themselves should offer a way to separate adult content from the everything else, explained Muhajjir Esyaputra, another anime fan and (full-disclosure) a former VICE employee.

"They should've chosen what to censor," Esya explained. "For adult manga, they can allow access, but to appropriate age groups only."

The online censorship doesn't affect Esya as much, since he prefers physical comics over scanlations, but whenever he does want to read something online, there's always a workaround with an uncensored app.

“It’s easy to find alternatives when you’re a dedicated fan," explained Ares Margautomo, who said that the fan base is what keeps the medium alive and able to react quickly to bans. "There are lots of manga communities out there. Unfortunately, unlike in other countries, anime or manga niche communities are difficult to find here in Indonesia."

And, in a country that grew up on Doraemon, it might get even harder to find new communities of anime and manga fans in the future, regardless of whether or not tentacles make an appearance three pages into the first chapter.