Imtiaz Karim explains that the Boards examiners have specific
areas of responsibility, and his include Indian films, some areas of pornography, and
anime. After being initially overwhelmed by Japanese animation, he has now developed a
genuine liking for the genre. For the record, most anime goes through uncut. And
though we are legally obliged to classify and occasionally cut films for public
consumption, Id like to make it clear that our duty as a whole is to make as many
films available to as many people as possible.
However the BBFCs 1994 Annual Report didn't appear to echo these sentiments and
describes anime as an alarming new trend in animation
In all seven hour length
manga cartoons required cuts in sexual violence, in some case quite substantial ones.
Ferman draws particular attention to the depiction of a number of horrendous rapes,
suggesting that in many of these cartoons there seems to be an underlying hatred (or
is it fear?) of women, which can only be slaked by destruction of the female
It is frightening to view the exorcising of such violent fantasies in
cartoons of such technical brilliance.
Manga Mania: What was the Boards first reaction to adult
Imtiaz Karim: To be honest, we werent quite sure what to make of
it. It did present us with problems. Here were cartoons (often featuring large eyed, young
looking characters) which had previously been regarded as a childrens genre and
would have automatically got a U certificate, suddenly dealing with adult issues and
themes. The earlier anime submissions were also less explicit and its only recently
that were getting stronger material submitted. We make a genre allowance for the
fact it is animation, but when the subject matter is sex or sexual violence or sexualised
violence, we dont distinguish between animation and live-action. This is because our
experience shows that to a youngster, even in their mid-teens, an animated sexual act can
be as confusing or as titillating as live action pornographic films. And, frankly, a lot
of what we see in the more adult anime is pornography.
MM: What is the distinction between sex, sexualised violence, and
IK: Sex is simply images of sexual acts. Sexualised violence is when
violence is taking place with a sexual element in the scene. For instance a naked woman
could be in the scene, or one of the victims is naked, but the attack is not of a sexual
nature. Sexual violence is when the attack is purely sexual, as in rape, and its
these scenes which are of the most concern to us. A segment we cut from one of the later
episodes of Crying Freeman illustrates this point. The sequence begins as a purely
pornographic representation of sex as Freeman makes love to a woman while thinking aloud
about his next hit and then abruptly shifts to sexualised violence when he inserts the
barrel of his gun between the womans legs with his finger still on the trigger.
MM: One of the earliest anime releases was Legend of the Overfiend
which has become a legend in its own right. What was the boards reaction to that
IK: The Overfiend series caused much debate within the Board and,
after very long discussions, we decided that there were themes and issues which
were problematic and needed to be cut. The whole series took us into a very fantastical
universe which was so far removed from reality that even with the intense and explicit
images of rape, violation and mutilation, we still didnt treat it as a live-action
film or even an animation set in the real world. Legend of the Overfiend was the first
anime I ever saw and I was very shaken by it; I had nightmares for days afterwards. I
guess Ive become sort of accustomed to it since then as Ive probably seen more
anime now than most of your readers.
MM: How do you respond to the accusation that these scenes of gross
violence have a different meaning for the Japanese people and that we shouldnt be
judging the material from our own cultural perspective?
IK: People often ask us this question, that by cutting or restricting
these films we are ignoring the environment in which they were made. But my argument is
that its the audience in this country which matters, and such scenes of grotesque
violation are simply unacceptable in our culture. Fans also often ask if we ever make an
allowance for subtitled anime because it obviously appeals to a more specialised and
informed audience than dubbed material. We do, but it very much depends on the material in
question. If youre talking about sexually explicit material, a genre allowance
wouldnt be enough for us to leave it uncut or classify it below the adult category.
Take the Rape of Elektor sequence we cut from Overfiend 4. This is a scene
of sustained anal and oral rape, mutilation and much worse in which the woman is crying
repeatedly for the demons to stop. When you show somebody a scene like this there is often
very little argument whether we should censor it or not. There may well be an audience
which is mature enough to watch this and appreciate and understand the scene in the way
the filmmakers intended. But our concern is that this is presented in a very titillating
manner which is not appropriate for an audience in their mid-teens. There is no sense of
horror or disgust at what the woman is going through; the way it is shot and designed
invites the audience to take pleasure from the scene. And scenes like this multiple
rape, gang rape, sexualised violence are about all we ever cut from anime. If there
was a scene like this in a live action film, we would probably hand it over to the police.
MM: Could you explain how "genre allowance" works in
IK: Every video is considered on its merits and for classification
purposes a 25% genre allowance is made for animation. But there is a huge amount of anime
which contains scenes of such a realistic nature, that present sex and violence in such a
convincing way that we sometimes have to treat it as though it was a live action film.
Let me show you a scene we cut from Adventure Duo which features teenage heroes who get
into all sorts of adventures, such as saving the world from a mad scientist. Yet the film
also contains very realistic portrayals of sex including autoeroticism and sexual assault.
This is from Adventure Duo 2 which is set in Japan during the Second World War. We are
introduced to an impotent scientist whose wife is sexually frustrated and the episode
starts with her masturbating in a highly realistic and sexually arousing fashion. Her
husband interrupts her and she asks him to make love to her but he refuses and goes back
to his laboratory. A few minutes later a group of soldiers arrive and decide to humiliate
the scientist by raping his wife in front of him. Its one of the longest, strongest
and highly realistic rape scenes I have ever seen in Japanese animation. And what the
Board found particularly worrying is that this woman is forced to admit to the rapist that
she is enjoying the experience. And when the woman finally orgasms theres no doubt
that the underlying message is that women can enjoy rape as long as its done well.
The Board doesnt regard any theme as being unacceptable if it is treated
intelligently and sensitively. But here our feeling was that this is gratuitous nudity and
gratuitous sexual activity and assault that has the potential to arouse and titillate.
MM: But if this is an 18 certificate, surely responsible adults can
make up their own minds as to what is or isnt acceptable to them. Are you more
concerned about underage viewing in this case?
No, we take both things into account. Obviously the characters are youngsters, but we
felt that this series didnt have the kind of appeal that say Akira or even Crying
Freeman had for a younger audience. I mean, the storyline in Adventure Duo is quite
impenetrable, so we didnt feel that teenagers would particularly go for this
material. Its one of the reasons that we insisted that the name be changed from
Adventure Kids to Adventure Duo.
And in cutting this scene, were making a decision about the presentation of
sexual violence across the board, whether the audience is 18 or 80. It was our view that
even if this material isnt corrupting underage viewers, current social attitudes
dictate that this kind of sexual violence is unacceptable. Not only does the law compel us
to censor material, public opinion does as well, and public opinion is something we
monitor very closely.
MM: How do you do this?
IK: Public opinion is not something you can just look up in the
newspapers, although that is one place where its found. We spend a lot of time
talking to various groups and going to lectures on an individual basis. I follow a whole
range of media and keep up to date with youth culture. And, of course, we commission
academic research from time to time and regularly conduct market research, and I think we
have a fairly good idea of where we are at any given time. But were dealing with an
entertainment medium and we will always find someone with some objection to something. The
majority of letters we get from the public actually ask for more censorship, rather
MM: Have you tried to widen the debate by bringing in opinions from
IK: In general we try to seek out viewer feedback, but we havent
yet done that with anime. However, I think its only a matter of time before we meet
the otaku face to face. And I also think that its only a matter of time before
theres some kind of public debate about Japanese animation, in the way that
theres been one about violence in live action videos in the last couple of years. I
think the fact that this is a niche market has protected anime from that level of public
And because its a niche market, the Board tries to make sure that we know what
were dealing with and the environments in which the videos are being viewed. To this
end I read Manga Mania and most of the anime fanzines. The fact that the average age of
the audience for anime is 15 to 18 is of great concern to us as we are under a legal
obligation to take into account the possibility of underage viewing.
The other thing thats become apparent from the running times stated is that Manga
Mania and anime fanzines are reviewing predominantly uncut material probably the
distributors promotional timecodes. I realise that with your publishing schedules
its difficult to get around this, but its something I wanted your readers to
be aware of.
We also know from fanzines that many young adults like this material because of its
explicitly violent and sexual nature. Most 15 to 16 year olds dont have good access
to pornography, so some of the more provocative material, even though it is animated, can
be sexually titillating.
MM: So the BBFC is, on some level, acting as a proxy parent?
IK: Well, that has only a practical manifestation in a very small
number of cases. It hasnt really affected the way in which we classify anime yet,
because most adult anime is very adult orientated. The kind of material where we
are most concerned about underage viewing at the moment is teenage action films
Schwarzenegger, Stallone and the like which are directly aimed at and appeal to a
mid teen audience and they often contain scenes of extreme violence which are not
appropriate to younger viewers.
The problem for anime is that parents of pre-schoolers can buy the Lion King or
Jurassic Park for their kids because they have decided that this is the kind of film that
they want their children to see. But parents do not go out and buy Tenchi Muyo or Green
Legend Ran or Patlabor. Its the viewers themselves who decide to buy this material.
MM: And some of these viewers recently inundated the Board with mail
complaining about the BBFCs treatment of Kekkou Kamen.
IK: When the Board first saw The Adventures of Kekkou Kamen, we were
quite taken aback as we hadnt seen anything like it before. The series directly
associates comedy with violence and sexualised violence. It features a naked superheroine
who goes around with only a hood on beating up the bad guys with nunchakus, which are
illegal weapons in this country. Though we allowed some scenes to remain in which Kekkou
was just holding nunchakus, if a scene glamourised and promoted their use, then it became
a problem and was cut.
The other, more troubling issue with Kekkou Kamen is that it is a comedy which has at
its heart a sort of sexualised violence. This scene was cut from the first episode.
Its where a group of sadistic schoolteachers make jokes at the expense of a young
girl who is hung up and then whipped and tortured by a sadistic Nazi. This is the crux of
the sequence, where the girl is stripped with a whip and we get an eroticised view of her
breasts and naked torso. This is very over the top and is meant to be a satire on the
Japanese education system, but our feeling was that there was enough explicit sexual
imagery to undercut the satire and introduce an element of arousal and titillation, which
is reinforced by the change of music.
MM: What is the Boards attitude to violence in anime?
IK: For a start some childrens animation is the most violent
entertainment on television, showing acts of gross brutality to animals and people, but
its usually violence without consequences. I mean Bugs Bunny shoots people in the
face but they get up and walk away. In anime, when someone gets shot in the face it
explodes and their blood gets splattered across the room.
As an example, here is a scene we cut from Angel Cop. This is a highly political piece
of anime, set in the near future where the Japanese government have set up a special task
force to deal with terrorists. This is the point where several members of the Red Dawn
Communist group are confronted by Angel, who literally blows out the brains of one of the
terrorists, which is pure mutilation. And the Video Recordings Act places a legal duty on
us to have regard to these kinds of images.
As a comparison, I saw Braveheart the other night, which contained some battle scenes
which I found disturbingly violent, and yet it was released as a 15 for the cinema. What
distinction would you draw between Angel Cop and Braveheart?
Our view of a film like Braveheart is that its a serious historical drama based
loosely on real events and its portrayal of violence, you could argue, is intelligent and
responsible. It shows warfare and bloodshed in a way that would have happened. The Board
didnt feel that the violence in Braveheart was exploitative, whereas in Angel Cop or
Mad Bull, the violence and mutilation are being offered to the audience as pleasure,
without any narrative context or rationale for its excesses. For instance, the way
peoples heads are shot off in Mad Bull in various stages is drawn purely for
MM: What about less obvious films like Wings of Honneamise, which I
understand had a small cut?
IK: Wings of Honneamise was cut in one place. It was a wholly
gratuitous sexual assault in the middle of a film which was otherwise a wonderful
experience for younger viewers. But, and this is important as other distributors often do
the same, it was voluntarily cut by Manga Video to lower the certificate from its cinema
classification of 15 to a PG for the video release. When this happens, it is not
registered as a cut.
MM: What about language?
Well theres a lot of strong language in anime and sometimes I think its
counterproductive. An excellent film like Patlabor 1 was made 15 solely on the basis of
explicit language. I actually think that without the language it would have been passed as
PG. By and large the inclusion of strong language will automatically guarantee a 15, but
will rarely push it up to 18 unless it is used a great deal. But these are commercial
decisions that distributors make about their films.
MM: Another bugbear for some younger anime fans is that
classifications can change in the middle of a series.
IK: This also happens with TV series that are later released on video.
For instance, you can have 16 episodes of Londons Burning which are PG and one is 15
because of its content. Sometimes distributors will ask us to classify the series as a
whole and give it a single category. We will, but it will be the highest category that any
individual episode has been awarded. None of the anime distributors has asked us to do
this, so we classify each episode of a series independently.
Tenchi Muyo comes to mind as a generally PG series that had one or two episodes which
went up to 12 on the basis of some nudity and sexual undertones. Similarly Bubblegum
Crisis Hurricane Live 2033 was passed as PG, while its sequel went out as 15 because if
some stronger images such as blood gushes, a head explosion and a close up stabbing in the