Japan Comics Publishers to Fight Sex, Violence Ban

Restrictions on sales to minors draws protests from publishers.

TOKYO -- Japan's comics and animation industry intends to fight a ban on the sale to minors of comics and film depicting "extreme sexual acts" including rape, incest and child sex imposed by authorities in the capital, Tokyo.

Publishers have criticized the ban, included in a bill passed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly on Wednesday, as an infringement of free speech.

But supporters, including conservative Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, have praised it as "common sense."

"We feel a real sense of anger over this," Tomio Suzuki, head of industry group the Publishing Ethics Council, said in a statement.

Although Japanese comics, known as manga, cover a wide range of topics including romance, action -- some are even devoted to food -- a number feature violent sex acts, incest and sex with children or clearly underage characters.

The bill calls on the industry to regulate itself and prevent people under the age of 18 from buying or gaining access to both manga and animation, known as anime, containing material the government deems "unhealthy."

Violators will face fines of up to 300,000 yen ($3,573).

In a nod to criticism about freedom of speech, the legislation includes a clause that the assembly will consider "artistic and social expression" in considering what material will be restricted.

The sales restrictions come into force on July 7.

"We will continue to use every possible chance to oppose this bill until it takes effect next July," Suzuki said.

In response to the ban, a group of 10 major publishers are refusing to take part in the 2011 Tokyo International Anime Fair, which is sponsored by the government, next March.

The dispute puts the government, which wants to promote Japan's wildly popular comics and cartoons globally, in a bit of a bind.

"Bringing up children properly is an extremely important issue," prime minister Naoto Kan wrote on his blog on Monday.

"At the same time, it's also quite important to spread Japanese anime throughout the world. I hope everyone involved will make efforts to bring the International Anime Fair off successfully."