Cognition Dissemination: Rurouni Kenshin, Nobuhiro Watsuki, and the Viability of Separating Art From an Artist

Rurouni Kenshin was well known as a big gateway anime series for years, as it arrived in America when the “Japanimation” craze was just taking off. The concept of a peaceful samurai who uses a reverse-bladed sword to fight villains wandering through Meiji Restoration-era Japan was intriguing for many looking for more options in the entertainment venue. The main series had its flaws, like having the kind of filler episodes and arcs that bogged down plenty of shonen TV anime adaptations, but it was mostly enjoyable.

And that’s not getting into the Samurai X/Rurouni Kenshin prequel and sequel OVA, which dropped the goofiness of the main series for a serious and violent samurai story. It garnered nigh-universal praise.

I was among the group that discovered the series as I was getting further into anime in the early 00s, after being entertained by series like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and Tenchi Muyo on Toonami, and several offerings on the Sci-Fi Channel. I became intrigued by Kenshin after reading a synopsis and seeing artwork online, and Media Blasters just happened to be there with the start of the series’ release. This was during the dark days when most anime TV shows were initially released with three to five episodes on one DVD. After enjoying the first two volumes, I collected it and became a big fan.

From Rurouni Kenshin

So, you can imagine the sense of bafflement that accompanied some big news last week: Creator Nobuhiro Watsuki was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography, a story that became worse once more details were divulged. He owned around 100 DVDs of nude girls in their early teens stored between his house and Tokyo workplace, which police discovered as part of a different investigation. Worse was his deposition, where he allegedly said he “liked girls in late elementary school to around the second year of middle school,” which implied a harrowing lack of remorse. It’s not what anyone expected from a person whose works weren’t too skeevy, and it was bitterly disappointing to someone who enjoyed his work.

(I should note here that owning child pornography was perfectly legal in Japan until mid-2014, when laws were passed banning its possession. The negligence of legislators here allowed acceptance of it to foster.)

There have been reactions from three key groups to this news. Many who enjoyed franchises like Kenshin and Buso Renkin could have trouble enjoying works related to the franchises from here on. But another significant one believes Watsuki’s actions shouldn’t be imposed on his works, and that those who enjoy them, or could potentially do so, should without thinking of this incident. Of course, since we’re on the internet, there’s a third group that saw the news and said they don’t see what the problem is. Those are likely (hopefully) people you wouldn’t want to meet in real life, and I also hope they aren’t reading this blog.

It’s the group saying those disgusted should separate the art from the artist that’s the most interesting. These types and their augments have manifested a lot lately, in reference to movies and TV shows that starred actors like Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Piven, and films funded by The Weinstein Company, all of which have been embroiled in credible sexual assault allegations. I’ve also seen comparisons to how Adolf Hitler created art on Twitter, because of course that’s happening. If you use this comparison, you’ve already lost the point you were trying to make. Analogies simply aren’t the strong suits of some.

Whether it’s tactful to ask of art and artist separation from people depends on the preferences of each individual person. Telling people this advice won’t help, people already know if they’re capable of this or not. It will be tough for others to enjoy Watsuki’s works and not think of how he’s a pedophile.

From Buso Renkin.

The examples above only count if you already own manga or anime physically, can borrow them, or will watch the anime through streaming. Separating the person from the work will be more complicated if the only way some can watch it is through paying for it. Watsuki himself will get a cut from those who purchase the anime, and a much larger cut from manga purchases. Since the latter can’t be streamed, there’s no way the two can be separated by doing this, meaning you’d be giving a known pedo cash.

That is, unless you pirate it, but that raises other ethical concerns that would require a separate post to delve into.

There’s already been a little fallout to this news, as Shueisha put the new Rurouni Kenshin: Hokkaido Arc manga series on hold, and TV stations in Japan pulled airings of the live-action movies. It’s tough to determine whether this will go further, as the new manga could be cancelled if Shueisha wisely doesn’t want to be associated with Watsuki in the future. It also remains to be seen if other companies involved with him will comment on whether they’ll still carry his work, as the anime and manga are still being sold in Japan. The TV series is also available for streaming on Netflix and Crunchyroll in America, while the manga is still in print from Viz. Given the reserved nature of Japanese companies, I’m guessing they won’t comment, and those outside Japan likely have their hands tied by Japanese companies they’re working with.

They could also choose to say nothing, and assume that anime and manga fans will be more tolerant of misdeeds like Watsuki’s compared to other hobbies and let this blow over. If that’s the case, it speaks to serious problematic attitudes within the fandom. Hopefully saner minds prevail in making further decisions about his works, even if it involves keeping some work up for sale. There’s no need to insult anyone who feels differently.

In the meantime, you’ll have to determine whether you can separate Watsuki’s works from the man himself, and you shouldn’t feel bad regardless of which you choose. Just don’t go defending pedophilia, or I’ll wish misfortune upon your soul.

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