Can you separate the art from the artist?

Child Abuse Awareness Ribbon

Like many of you, I awoke this morning to some shocking news: the creator of Rurouni Kenshin has been arrested for child porn. In addition, he reportedly admitted to liking girls from late elementary to mid middle school.

I first became hooked on Rurouni Kenshin thanks to Toonami, Cartoon Network’s old afternoon anime block. While Serena and Tenchi spent most of their time reluctantly having to defend the galaxy, Kenshin sought out to defend his little corner of the world. Even now, not a lot of anime/manga protagonists are in their late 20s, and those that are tend to be dark or moody. Rurouni Kenshin had a healthy dose of comedy thanks to its lively cast of characters, but it also featured great action sequences. The dub was solid and quite progressive considering the series being a historical piece.

So it wasn’t a surprise that VIZ later licensed the manga. While the anime is better in some aspects, I think every RuroKen reader and watcher has mourned the fact the manga’s final arc was never adapted into anime. It’s a moving conclusion that brings everything full circle versus random adventures. As for VIZ’s release, while their adaptation has some rough spots, it remains one of their few works that has honorifics and Japanese name order. The company later rereleased Rurouni Kenshin in large, oversized omnibuses, and they have started publishing a smaller version of the omnibuses.

Watsuki himself has struggled over the years to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder. Buso Renkin achieved moderate success, having an anime adaptation produced, but the reader response to the manga was so lackluster that Watsuki couldn’t even publish the final chapter(s) in the magazine he was serializing Buso Renkin is because it was canceled. Every series he’s written since then has suffered a similar fate.

However, the 90s nostalgia has helped propel a resurgence for Rurouni Kenshin in time for the series’ anniversary. While RuroKen continued to be featured in projects like video games, a movie version of the series’ second arc kicked off the first of several major announcements. This was quickly followed by a live action remake and a short manga reboot. A couple of side stories were also published, but the big news was the announcement of a proper continuation. After a series of delays, Rurouni Kenshin: Hokkaido Arc debuted this past September, a collaboration between Watsuki and his wife. A new live action project was also accidentally outed.

For many of us, all eyes have been turned toward one goal: a Jinchuu arc, either as part of a remake or a sequel to the original anime series. Most of the cast has reprised their roles for the other anime, and Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc is already showing signs that some anime can pick up right where they left off.

However, Watsuki’s sudden arrest has thrown everything into jeopardy. And rightly so: this isn’t a case of a speeding ticket, a minor amount of drugs, or even a fistfight. He was allegedly caught with pornographic videos of minors. If he did admit to preferring elementary and middle school girls, then we shouldn’t be surprised if these DVDs feature prepubescent girls. Yes, he didn’t create the videos. But just as I preach that buying manga volumes and anime DVDs directly supports the creators, he spent money on DVDs that perpetuates the creation of child pornography. Explicit images of children probably half, a third, even a fourth or more of Watsuki’s age. Victims that no doubt the titular character would have risked his life to save from exploitation.

THIS IS ABHORRENT.

We shouldn’t rationalize by saying how Toriko‘s creator once hired a 16-year-old prostitute or the author of Chihayafuru had all of her printed works immediately seized after it was revealed she was plagarizing or that Toriyama stashes money overseas . Is it possible that he can or will beat the charges? That the early reports are exaggerated or confused? Certainly. Will Watsuki’s reputation be damaged either way, even if he is completely innocent? Absolutely. Is it possible there are more charges to come? Of course.

Personally, the news comes at a complete surprise to me. I wouldn’t have been stunned to find out Watsuki used or sell drugs or something like that. After all, he hasn’t found success since his first major work while his former apprentice could quit working today on his first serialization and still spend the rest of his life in comfort. The cynic in me suspects Watsuki thought his success on RuroKen would mean his other works would be looked at as favorably. When you compare to other Jump series, I don’t think he had to wrap up the series when he did; I believe with fan support it could have gone on for at least another arc or two. Or maybe longer, who knows. I certainly don’t think he’d be accused of “jumping the shark” just because Kenshin had settled his past.

If you’ve been following news here in the United States, a lot of famous people have been outed as acting like — or being — sexual deviants. I’m sure many of my international readers have heard about allegations in their own country. I’ve seen people I’ve gone to school with or who I knew by name from store on my state’s sex offenders list. So should we be surprised that a manga creator has been revealed with abnormal, unhealthy sexual preferences?

With this news just breaking, Shueisha is currently trying to decide what to do with Watsuki’s work. No one imagined Watsuki’s cancellation curse would strike again in a horrid way and of his own doing.

But now fans of this Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story face a dilemma many of us would rather not face. I know I’m not the only one who has spent a large amount of money over the years on RuroKen-related products. The first premium box set remains gorgeous even after all these years, and I still regret not buying the second season in that same format. (I later bought the economy version.) I don’t subscribe to Shonen Jump, but I was wholeheartedly excited about purchasing the Hokkaido Arc volumes. (I was not, however, looking forward to trying to redo my shelves to put the volumes next to its prequel.)

No doubt some will argue — and it’s a convincing argument mind you — that owners of RuroKen, Buso Renkin, or any other Watsuki works should burn the products themselves as well as burn the memories from our minds. Perhaps donate the money spent toward a child sexual abuse fund. “If you feel so strongly about being against child pornography, why are you supporting a pedophile?” I mean, can you imagine a conversation like this:

“Hey, you should read this! It’s about a swordsman who doesn’t kill and it’s got a lot of action and comedy!”
*reads*
“That was great! Has the author written anything else!”
“Oh, a few, but he doesn’t write anymore because he was charged with possessing child porn.”
“…………..”

Wouldn’t you be taken aback if someone had recommended a series for you written by a man who would often end up on your local sex offenders registry?

But RuroKen has been around for years. Watsuki has already received from me what most creators strive for: financial benefits in the form of royalties and years of devotion to his product. I recently chose Rurouni Kenshin as my favorite Jump series ever. Even if I feel betrayed, disappointed, or anger, those dollars and years are long gone.

So what about not buying any more of his works? At the very minimum, it is likely sales of all Watsuki works will either be suspended or discontinued while his court case is proceeding.

But should he be? By boycotting Watsuki’s works, others will suffer indirectly. The editors at Shueisha who are now out a series. The translators and retouch artists fixing up the latest volumes. The actors in all the various RuroKen media who may now have one of their works pulled off the shelves. No doubt Watsuki gets some money from each of these, and I’m not saying, “Well, his work is popular, so his sentence if convicted should be minimal.”

I’ve been wanting to see the live action remakes, as they’ve been reviewed as one of — if not the best — cinema adaptations of a manga ever.  Even if a person buys Rurouni Kenshin books or DVDs used, Watsuki will still receive a indirect benefit. And any reseller worth their salt thrives for moments when a product goes out-of-print, as then they can demand a premium from buyers who long to fill their holes in their collection. They then reap the benefit while all the people who actually helped create the work get nothing.

We have the actual victims in the video, and the indirect victims where anyone associated with this series is left with an indirect taint or financial hit.

So, can you separate the the product from the creator, the work from the worker, the art from the artist?

No.

I say no.

I say no but…

I say no but I can only avert my eyes.

I’m not naive enough to not know where the burger I eat comes from despite finding the idea we raise animals for the slaughter abhorrent. I’m not uneducated enough not to celebrate pride for my country despite the killings of innocents in the name of justice. I’m not stupid enough to not know that $8 shirt I love probably meant someone somewhere worked a full day just to buy milk or eggs. I’m not heroic enough to lead a revolution. I’m not forgetful enough to not remember watching Kenshin and Shishio fight. I’m not kind enough like Kaoru to ignore a person’s past history.

Worst of all, I’m not innocent enough as to not quickly buy the last used volume of Rurouni Kenshin 9 VIZBIG edition that contains the side stories and the light novel so that I can have a complete collection before it goes out-of-print.

For the victims in Watsuki’s tapes and in all similar videos across the world: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can separate the art from the artist, even if in a minor degree.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

Canadian Child Abuse Association (Canada)
Casa Alianza Mexico (Mexico)
ECPAT (International)
International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (International)
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (US)
Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children (International)
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation (UK)
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) (US)
Rock Against Child Pornography and Abuse (UK)
UNICEF (International)

 

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9 Comments

  1. dreager1

    Definitely a terrible situation all around. Yeah, I’m not going to be selling my Kenshin volumes or anything like that either, but I won’t really miss the sequel since I think he definitely deserves to be going to jail and for the series to be permanently cancelled. You just can’t commit a crime like that and go back to writing manga again. His career is effectively over.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      At least the sequel was just getting started. For fans’ sake, it’s better now than in the middle of a story or during the climax. No idea what he can or will do during the future, as it’s easy to imagine his royalty benefits will be drying up.

      Reply
  2. jakecoker

    Well fuck. I even have the battosai on one of my posts tomorrow… I can separate the art from the artist in theory, but it’s never been that easy. Really not a fan of this planet right now.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      If you manage to find a rocket ship off of here, let me know. 2016 and 2017 have been rough. I hope 2018 doesn’t try to outdo them…

      Reply
      1. jakecoker

        I can’t help but think it’s only getting started.

        Reply
  3. The Fullmetal Narcissist

    It’s not a great situation, but yes, I can separate the art from the artist, because that art doesn’t just support them, it supports the people who published it, the people who licensed it, and every single person that those people hired, etc. I still watch Mel Gibson movies, I still listen to Michael Jackson music, I still watch Chris Benoit wrestling matches, and I’ve even praised the voice acting talents of Scott Freeman.

    It’s a matter of weighing the awful things a person has done with the idea of what the world would be like if they hadn’t existed in it.

    Edgar Allen Poe, Elvis Presley, Charlie Chaplin and even plenty of ancient Greek Philosophers were sexually involved with minors, but can you separate THAT from the work they did?

    You don’t have to condone the artist’s behavior to enjoy and appreciate the work on it’s own merits.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      No doubt a lot of deviants, perverts, and downright disgusting people have contributed to history in one form or another. But as society progresses, people are going to be less tolerant and forgiving. After all, a lot of people rose and stayed in power by the argument that so-and-so has done so much.

      No doubt a lot of hard-working people are affected by this and other similar revelations. A good work has much of its creators’ soul in it, and once that piece is tainted, it spreads. In RuroKen’s case, was Tsubame written just because he was a Sailor Saturn fan, or was he fond of Hotaru because she was his type? These types of thoughts just taint everything.

      Reply
  4. The Otaku Judge

    This happens a lot. It seems like many talented people have dark sides to them (just look at what is happening in Hollywood for example.) If I boycotted everyone who is a jerk I probably wouldn’t have many options left when it comes to entertainment. This artist isn’t someone I was a fan of anyway. I liked the second season of Kenshin and the first movie. Other than that I never understood why this samurai series was so popular.

    Reply
    1. Krystallina (Post author)

      The Kyoto arc definitely is the highlight of the series, although since Jinchuu was never adapted, it might have become even more popular than Kyoto.

      Reply

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