Handsome gay boys of undetermined age having stylized sex may not be on every parent’s proper playlist for their children. But Japan has long tolerated the free-wheeling, sometimes mind-blowing content of its manga and animated films.

Now, conservative politicians are cracking down with a controversial censorship law that critics say will cripple one of the country’s few growth industries. The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has banned the sale or rental of comics and animated films (Japanese amination) depicting younger characters engaging in “extreme” sexual acts, including rape and sex. children. This week’s ban calls on the industry to “self-regulate” by restricting the sale of equipment that, among other things, “unduly praises or exaggerates incest” among those under the age of 18.

Government censors will put the word “unhealthy” on offensive books and films. The city’s right-wing governor, Shintaro Ishihara, who led the censorship campaign, applauded the vote. “You cannot show such things to your own children,” he said. “This vote shows that Japan still has some common sense after all.”

Japanese comics, which are read by adults and children alike, are part of the mainstream culture and often explore complex subjects including business, war, and politics. A manga version of Marx’s Das Kapital was recently printed, joining Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and Shakespeare’s King Lear. But while the shelves across the country groan with romance and literary manga, it’s the genre’s hardcore fringe that has long shaken conservatives.

Fetishes, rough sex, incest and so-called Lolita-porn, or erotic drawings of childish female characters are common themes. A genre called “boy love” aimed at young women portrays idealized homoerotic relationships between young men. Debate has raged for years about the impact of such material on children. Violent manga and anime have been cited in the trials of several notorious Japanese serial killers, but sexual and violent crimes are relatively rare in Japan.

Exports of comics, animated films and games have increased over the past decade. Former Prime Minister Taro Aso was a famous manga fan and the government has incorporated popular culture into its “Cool Japan” strategy, which focuses on the commercial and soft power potential of the industry abroad. Prime Minister Naoto Kan recognized the importance of the industry this week when he blogged about the censorship conflict. “Educating young people is an important issue. But it is also important to introduce Japanese anime to the world,” he wrote.

Writers and publishers have reacted angrily to the Tokyo ban, which will impose fines of up to 300,000 yen (£ 2,280) on publishers and retailers.

A group of Japan’s biggest publishers has threatened to boycott next year’s International Anime Fair, which draws around 100,000 visitors and is supported by the government.

Mr. Ishihara is not moved by the threat. “If they are outraged by this, then they shouldn’t come,” he said, but Prime Minister Kan begged the editors to change their mind.

Opponents were not appeased by a clause in the legislation promising to take note of “artistic and social expression”.

The Tokyo Bar Association criticized the wording of the legislation, which focuses on “exaggerated” content, warning that it could be the thin edge of censorship. “This law could be used to restrict freedom of expression,” he said. Tokyo officials have already visited bookstores and labeled around 4,000 publications “unhealthy” in anticipation of next summer when the law takes effect. Manga and anime artists expect the government to expand the definition of adult only and affect the entire industry.

Mainstream manga

A play

Sold 200 million copies to date, the One Piece series tells the story of Monkey D Luffy, a boy with elastic limbs who roams the high seas with a pirate crew.

Fullmetal Alchemist

This popular series follows two alchemist brothers who lose their bodies trying to revive their mother and are constantly trying to regain human form.

Manga on the sidelines

Age called blue

Praised by aficionados, this title “Boys Love” revolves around two male friends who are always closer by their love of music.

Kaze (No stigma)

The first commercially available title “Boys Love”, released in 1976 with tremendous interest, went unpublished for nine years due to editors’ nerves. It tells the story of a light-hearted student mistreated by his uncle.

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