Tokyo Revengers is one of the biggest anime and manga series of the year, but the removal of a symbol used by the series' Tokyo Manji Gang in the Crunchyroll broadcast of the anime has sparked a new debate about what constitutes appropriate localization changes and what crosses the line into censorship.
As reported by Kotaku, all instances of the Buddhist manji symbol have been removed from Crunchyroll's streams of Tokyo Revengers. The symbol is frequently used in the anime by the Tokyo Manji Gang, a violent gang that the story of Tokyo Revengers revolves around. In the original broadcast version of the anime, the symbol is emblazoned on the gang's flag and jackets, and is seen during the show's opening credits. In the English language releases, however, the symbol has been removed completely. The manji is an auspicious symbol, commonly seen in Buddhist temples throughout Japan and the rest of Asia, but to viewers in the West, the manji resembles the Nazi swastika and is understandably associated with anti-semitic and racist hate groups.
In Japan and many other Asian countries, the symbol is seen as distinct from the Nazi swastika, and has many different meanings, ranging from "good luck" to "mercy" and "strength," and is routinely incorporated into slang and memes by younger members of the populace. The manji is frequently used on maps to denote the location of a Buddhist temple, though recently some companies within Japan have stopped using the symbol in order to avoid misunderstandings with Western tourists, a change that has been met with some pushback from Japanese Buddhists and scholars. “We have been using this symbol for thousands of years before it was incorporated into the Nazi flag, so I believe it would be better for us to keep it on our maps and ask others to understand its true meaning,” Makoto Watanabe of Hokkaido Bunkyo University told The Telegraph.
In a tweet from Crunchyroll's French account, the company clarified that they were not the ones who removed the manji symbol, rather, the edited anime was simply the version of the series that they were given by the show's producers in Japan for international distribution. Crunchyroll further clarified that they are actually prohibited by their Japanese licensors from editing or changing shows in any way.
On ne censure rien. C’est la version que le Japon nous a donné.— Crunchyroll FR (@Crunchyroll_fr) April 10, 2021
Il nous est formellement interdit d’éditer ou retoucher les épisodes.
The changes to the international release have sparked a debate on the Crunchyroll forums about the differences between proper localization and overzealous censorship. The process of localization frequently extends beyond literal translation; localizers often have to make changes to a source material in order to, for example, convey the meaning of phrases or idioms with no direct translation, replace puns with jokes that work in the localized language, or account for cultural differences and sensitivities. In this situation, some fans understand the changes, others are vehemently against any changes ever being made, and others have suggested keeping the manji in, but leaving an on-screen translator's note to provide further context for the use of the symbol.
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Tokyo Revengers tells the story of Takemichi Hanagaki, a 26-year old loser who is devastated to learn that his middle school girlfriend, Hinata Tachibana, whom he hasn't seen in years, has been murdered. Following his own near-death experience, Takemichi's mind is transported back into his 14-year old self, and he dedicates himself to changing the past in order to save Hinata's life. The Tokyo Revengers manga has over 25 million copies in circulation and in addition to being adapted into an anime, the manga was also made into a live-action movie starring Takumi Kitamura, who also stars in Netflix's upcoming adaptation of Yu Yu Hakusho.
The Tokyo Revengers anime is currently streaming on Crunchyroll. The manga is localized and distributed in English by Kodansha USA.