By David Cabrera
#37 - Cultural Mismatches and the Story of Nymphet (Kodomo no Jikan)
What can't you try and sell American anime/manga fans? Note I'm not asking what American otaku aren't willing to buy: that's actually a long list, one with “anything that looks old” at the top.
I mean “what won't people let you sell?”
Well, extreme violence isn't really a problem. Nor is sex. At conventions, one of the few surviving US anime distributors mostly sells pornography. And softer stuff that's mostly about girls getting naked, like Sekirei or Heaven's Lost Property (Sora no Otoshimono), routinely appear in high spots on Amazon.com's anime DVD sales rankings. We are not a prudish nation.
But you can't sell lolicon stuff here. It's legal to do so, yes, because the subjects are drawings and not real people, but I wouldn't advise it unless you wanted your company shunned and scorned by just about everyone.
So let's take the case of Kodomo no Jikan, Kaoru Watashiya's comedy about a third-grader who's trying to seduce her teacher.
I don't really need to say anything else, do I? That's completely taboo subject matter here. Here in America, if the police searched your house and found a copy of Kodomo no Jikan, they might just take you to jail. Ask Christopher Handley (a story for another day).
The comic understands its target audience, and to be quite blunt, its target audience likes little girls.
So a small publisher, Seven Seas, somehow got it into their heads that it would be a great idea to try and sell Kodomo no Jikan in the States. Worse yet, they wanted to call it “Nymphet”, a word that immediately calls Nabokov's Lolita to mind.
The announcement of the title by itself set of a firestorm of bitter argument online between lolicon fans and just about everybody else. Many otaku were worried about the title tarnishing the image of American otaku (what, had it not been tarnished already?), and others scared of an honest-to-goodness scandal if America's concerned parents found the book. On the other side, people were saying “Oh, what are you talking about? There's nothing sexual about it!” I assume these people don't get out much.
Weeks before release-- and with printed copies in existence but not yet shipped to bookstores-- the release of Nymphet was cancelled. The president at Seven Seas said that amidst the fan controversy, he went to retailers who had already ordered copies of the book and actually told them what was in it. Seven Seas lost its orders on the spot, and the project was killed.
But you know, titles that unsubtle aren't the only titles that might give mainstream America some pause. I always wondered why there was never any trouble with Evangelion's heavily sexualized and frequently nude 14-year-old pilots. Here's the policy I've always assumed was followed: “So long as nobody notices...”
Seven Seas has published 12 volumes of Dance in the Vampire Bund here, after all.