Battle Angel Alita – Last Order has been forced out of publication due to Shueisha’s objection to such unacceptably discriminatory language as “psycho” and “crazy” – its mangaka’s refusal to bow before publisher pressure has resulted in publication being cancelled.
The manga at issue is a new reprint edition of Yukito Kishiro’s popular sci-fi action manga Battle Angel Alita (Ganmu – the original series, not Last Order), released to celebrate the 100th chapter of Last Order.
The editors of Shueisha’s UltraJump magazine, where the title is currently being serialised, identify three passages to which they object in this case, and demanded Kishiro change them:
1. “So the criminal was a mutant which went crazy?” / 「犯人の女は発狂した突然変異（ミュータント）だったのか」
2. “I went mad and became a monster and now all I dream of is revenge” / 「発狂した俺は怪物になってすべてに復讐しようとする夢だ…」
3. “Die! Psycho bastard!” / 「死ね！ サイコ野郎」
The cite a desire to impose political correctness on their mangaka as the reason for the censorship:
1. “Go crazy” is a phrase which is tied to schizophrenia. We want to avoid showing this “crazy” person as a violent and threatening.
Our legal department requests we remove references to “going crazy,” but because this changes the nuances we have provided alternatives:
“So the criminal was a mutant which ran wild?”
“So the criminal was a mutant which lost her sanity?”
“So the criminal was a mutant which went mad?” [the phrases are practically identical in either Japanese or English – the choice of “mad” or “crazy” or otherwise in translation is not a nuance reflected in the Japanese]
2. The reason is the same as 1.
[The editors/censors offer “Lost my sanity,” “Became an aberration” and “I went mad” as replacements]
3. “Psychopath” implies a mental illness, “someone who ruthlessly manipulates those around him in an antisocial manner.”
As the the three major classifications of mental illness – mental illness, mental disability and psychosis – may be permanent and incurable, we wish to avoid any language which suggests being a psychopath is a dangerous and unpredictable state of being.
“Die! Perverted bastard!”
“Die! Filthy bastard!”
“Die! Shitty bastard!”
Kishiro explains his bemusement at the choice of restriction:
Why is it OK to say “he’s mad” (狂ってる) or “madness” (狂気) but not “went crazy” (発狂).
I asked the editors and they started spouting some incomprehensible nonsense… it was pathetically stupid and I’ve no intention of writing it here.
Due to extremely tight deadlines on the pages in question, Kishiro felt he had no choice but to accede to the demands, though he extracted a promise that further demands would not be made.
However, he reports he soon regretted folding to the demands of censorship, saying that although as a professional he has a duty to keep his deadlines, he also has a duty as an artist.
He also reports being told by editors that publication of all his upcoming releases would be cancelled if he did not agree to the changes.
He then describes a subsequent meeting in which a representative of Shueisha’s legal department explained to him that Shueisha was committed to “eliminating discriminatory language”:
They already had their conclusion, they were just trotting out rationalisations for it. They had no intention of discussing it in a fair manner from the start. So, I had already lost. I lost the moment I agreed to their demands – this offer to explain or discuss the issue was all just a farce, with them stringing me along as part of it.
At this stage I’m not sure if I’ll continue to work with Shueisha or whether I’ll examine other options.
He continues in a later message:
Before I criticised the mangaka of “Burayoro,” Satō-sensei [who famously started his own online manga distribution outfit – prior to his run-in with Shueisha Kishiro had written critically about him], but I take it all back. You were right. Big publishers are shit.
They are happy to stab their trusting mangaka in the back when it suits them, knock them down and the stamp on their face. If you try to fight back you’ll discover they already tied your arms and legs and there’s nothing you can do.
As if to further insult him, he reports that the legal department cleared other places he used the same phrases in previous editions:
Fans pointed out “went crazy” and “psycho bastard” in volume 1 and 2 of Last Order. There was “no issue” with these they said.
Why it is OK in the old edition of Last Order but not OK in the new version of Alita I have no idea.
The UltraJump editor-in-chief gave some bullshit excuse but I certainly couldn’t understand it. I told him to write the reason down and mail it to me but he never did.
He later received an explanation stating that the censorship was “case by case and according to context,” not merely a politically correct exercise in word-hunting, which is a practice so entrenched in Japanese mass media that it is actually referred to as “word-hunting” (kotobagari / 言葉狩り).
He is so perturbed by his treatment that he no longer has the stomach to write for UltraJump, he says. Serialisation of Last Order has already ceased.
Kishiro explains that he is now in negotiations with Evening magazine (Kodansha), but that a variety of legal hurdles exist.
He also issued an ultimatum to the UltraJump editors – either withdraw the censored editions and allow them to be published unmodified, and have the legal department issue an apology, or he will publish elsewhere.
The editors are non-committal in response – “We can’t guarantee anything but we will try negotiating with the legal department.”
Little wonder there are those who say mangaka would be better off without their editor-imposed straitjacket on what language and content they may include, and the majority of their earnings soaked up by the publisher and its editorial and legal staff.