No, No, Nymphet! Why Kodomo no Jikan Is a Bad Plan for DMP

I swear I didn't intend to write another piece on Digital Manga Publishing so soon, but I didn't expect them to do something so mindbendingly, jaw-droppingly stupid in such a short amount of time that I felt compelled to address it.

So recently DMP announced not only a new ecchi-themed imprint, but a Kickstarter campaign to go with it.  What's the goal of this campaign?  To localize and publish the entire run of Kodomo no Jikan - A Child's Time by Kaworu Watashiya.  To say that their choice is controversial is like saying that water is kind of wet.  The moment the announcement went live, there was a lot of hue and cry from those who were against the campaign and those in favor of it.  The crazy thing is that this is not unprecedented.  This is not the first time someone has tried to publish this book in North America, and even then it was a disaster.  So what on earth happened before, and why would DMP try it again now?

 Kodomo no Jikan is the story of one Daisuke Aoki, who is starting his first proper teaching job as a homeroom teacher for a class of third-graders.  Amongst his students is Rin Nakonoe.  She instantly latches on Daisuke, but her crush goes far beyond declaring that she will marry the teacher.  No, she takes every opportunity she gets to flash her panties, attempt to entrap him, and otherwise go out of her way to make him uncomfortable with sexually charged comments.  Worse still, this is meant to be humorous.  We're meant to smile and shake our heads at Rin and her little friends acting like saucy little least until things get serious.  Those who continued reading the series through scans learned that Rin has a tragic backstory, complete with a dead mother and an uncle/guardian who is grooming Rin to be her replacement.  At this point, Daisuke declares his intentions to save Rin and ends up falling for her, and the series ends with the two getting married and consummating their relationship.

I feel like I don't need to point out why such a story might be seen as troublesome.  Trying to make a sexually-charged romantic comedy out of a little girl trying to turn her teacher into a pedophile is something that would be viewed as repellent and exploitative by people on both sides of the Pacific.  The manga might have not have spurred any protests in serialization, but its later animated counterpart was not only heavily censored during it original run, but some Japanese TV stations went so far as to pull it from its late-night slot. That was still in the future, though.  Unaware of what was to come, the then-fledgling manga publisher Seven Seas Entertainment was proud to announce this license alongside works like Kashimashi and Ballad of a Shinigami at Anime Expo 2006, with the first volume to come out that December.  It would be released under the title "Nymphet," a suggestion which came straight from Watashiya herself.  At least, that was the plan.

The release date came and went without a single volume to show for it and no comment from the publisher.  It didn't really come up again until May of 2007.  That was when Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network addressed the release during his tenure on the Hey, Answerman! column.  In retrospect, his comments are fairly mild.  He disapproves of it, of course, but he presumes that like most sketchy manga releases, the public would turn a blind eye to it and it would fade into obscurity.  Neither he nor those who yelled at him in the comments expected Seven Seas to turn around and announce that Nymphet was first going on hiatus, then cancelled shortly thereafter.  Seven Seas founder and CEO Jason DeAngelis initially defended the series as being a harmless, outrageous comedy, something along the lines of Funimation's edit of Crayon Shin-Chan.  His stance on the matter was "if it's good enough for the Japanese, then it's good enough for us."  A week or so later he revealed that the release was cancelled partly because he was made aware of more objectionable material in later volumes and partly because their vendors refused to stock the title.  While some localized copies of Volume 1 were known to be produced (mostly for the sake of the vendors), those quickly disappeared into the ether.  The last word on the subject was from the mangaka herself on her own blog.  In it, she decries people objecting to the content but shrugs it off with "It's unfortunate, but what can I do?"  That's where it all least, until today.

So what on earth possessed DMP to return to this title?  What could have possibly changed to make them think Kodomo no Jikan would be better received by manga readers now?  Maybe it was because they thought the concept of lolicon wasn't quite as taboo as it was it was back then.  While the subject still ignites fierce arguments in comment sections and forums, lolis slowly but surely became just another tick box on the Otaku Fetish checklist.  Their inclusion in anime and manga was no more controversial than tsunderes or *shudder* imoutos.  Even Seven Seas was willing to give another loli-centric series a chance when they licensed Dance In the Vampire Bund, which in turn became a big hit for them.  Perhaps DMP thought that if these other anime and manga publishers could get away with it, then so could they.  Another possibility is that maybe DMP thought that by going through crowdfunding, they wouldn't have to worry about offending the middlemen.  It's not like they worry much about maintaining a large stock of books any more for Amazon, RightStuf, Barnes & Noble, etc.  These days, DMP Kickstarter campaigns seem to cover only enough books to meet demand with maybe a few dozen left over for their own storefront.  Perhaps they presume that if they are the only vendor for the book, then no one can object to it without paying for it first, which benefits DMP regardless of their opinion.

These are all strong possibilities, but those points are not the ones that bother me the most.  What truly bothers me is how DMP is selling this series to the public on its own campaign page.  I'm scared that the real reason they think that this campaign will work is that they think their audience is dumb enough to accept marketing spin as the truth.  They are trying their hardest to spin this series as something innocuous and I believe this approach is both dishonest and naïve.  Their statements make clear that they are fully aware of the previous controversy with this license.  They are also perfectly aware that this series has a reputation for being pure pedobait.  Their plot summary dances around the controversial subject matter with a lot of vague statements and the suggestion that maybe a little girl could be actively trying to seduce her teacher.  They try to dismiss their critics as close-minded cynics who are jumping to to all the wrong conclusions, despite offering body pillows with suggestive imagery for their higher tier rewards.  It's not child porn!, they cry.  No one actually has sex with a child!  All the suggestive stuff is there for plot purposes!  It's not porn, it's merely M-rated seinen, and thus no different from manga like Nana or Evangelion!  It's written by a woman, it can't be that bad!  There are no laws banning such materials in the US!  You just have to approach it with an open mind!  In many ways, DMP's arguments aren't all that different from the one Jason DeAngelis tried to use back in 2007, and it's no more convincing now than it was then.  They can't plead ignorance about the content and they can't pretend that its reputation doesn't precede it.  They also can't pretend the internet isn't more aware and wary of such content than it was in 2007.  The details of the plot and pictures of the merchandise are just a short Google search away and the rise of social media guarantees that any and all criticism will be out there for anyone to see.  DMP had better wish on every star it can find that this campaign doesn't start getting press beyond the anime- and manga-centric parts of the internet.  If so, they will find they will take a lot more than an open mind to justify this license to the world at large, especially to nations that define child pornography far more strictly than our own.

I don't know what DMP hopes to achieve from this.  Is it all one big publicity stunt, with the hope that the bad press will be enough keep their company and the imprint on everyone's lips?  Do they really think there are enough lolicons with cash to spare to make this a success?   Wait...don't answer that one.  I'm still distressed that there are enough of them to spend over $50,000 on this before the campaign is one day old.  One thing is for certain: I am well and truly done with DMP.  I've participated in some of their past Kickstarters, but this is a license choice that taints not only this particular campaign, but the company as a whole for me.  Their repellent reactions towards criticism on the Project H Twitter feed only reinforces that decision. For the sake of their future, DMP had better hope that Kodomo no Jikan is a manga series that's worth destroying what little credibility their company had left to offer.

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