During the Heian period of Japan it was fine, at least in literature, for an adult man to bring home a prepubescent girl and raise her to be the perfect wife. Not so much any more.
I feel sexually explicit content in literature and media is far too often considered taboo in popular culture. While I fully respect and understand pornographic content has to be censured for younger audiences, there is a large quantity of material that falls into a grey zone. I’m sure we all have encountered some in literature studies courses—I know I have, seeing as it’s hard to forget pieces like The Tale of Genji or the Kojiki—as well as reading some for our personal enjoyment. But is there sexually explicit content that’s not pornographic in literature and media that’s so shocking and abhorrent it should be censured? I think not, but the international anime community seems to think Kaworu Watashiya’s work Kodomo no Jikan (こどもの時間) should be subjected to just this type of censorship.
The argument is actually quite compelling; the relationship between the series protagonist, Daisuke Aoki, and heroine, Rin Kokonoe, is disturbing not only because Daisuke is Rin’s teacher, but also because there is a significant age difference between the two. I tend to agree a romantic relationship between an adult and minor is disturbing, but it’s important to point out that for much of the series their relationship resembles that of a teacher caring for a student. It’s a shame really because it seems when this series is the topic of discussion, Daisuke and Rin’s relationship dominates it, and people forget there are a number of characters with significant issues and that the author covers philosophical and primary education related issues, though very loosely.
Again, when we consider some of the greatest pieces of literature, it shouldn’t be too surprising some have content many find disturbing, especially when it comes to sexual acts and lusting after the opposite sex. Some notable pieces include Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and perhaps to a lesser extent Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Take into consideration the first three pieces I mentioned quite literally have: a son killing his father and marrying his mother, who then bears his children in Oedipus the King; an adult man who at one point brings home a nine-year-old girl so he can raise her to be the perfect wife for him in The Tale of Genji; and a man who lusts after a girl in Lolita. All three are quite disturbing in their own right, but they are also all lauded as great pieces of literature.
Frankly, they are great pieces of literature. No literary scholar would argue otherwise, and millions of students are asked to study these pieces every year for literature courses. It begs the question, if these works, read and studied by so many people, have such salacious content, why isn’t there a movement by publishers to censure them or even stop publishing them? Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not calling for these works to be censured, but I would like to put into perspective that works we consider to be great can be just as disturbing as a manga that began syndication in 2007.
It’s infuriating the topic of Daisuke and Rin’s relationship dominates any conversation about Kodomo no Jikan, and while I fully recognize and appreciate concerns people have with it, I also feel as though that is just a surface look at the series. There is no arguing Daisuke and Rin’s relationship does develop into a romantic one, but this really only happens in the final two stories. Yes, up until that point Rin does some very risqué things directed towards Daisuke, but he never actively peruses her in any romantic way. It’s as if the two have a slightly more personal relationship as a teacher and student, but they never cross a line where it becomes obscene. In fact, one of the reasons Daisuke has such an intimate relationship with Rin is because he helps her, and subsequently her family, overcome the trauma of losing her mother years prior to their meeting.
This is one of the major points of discussion I feel many people overlook when examining this series. The subject of that trauma is almost always a central part of Kodomo no Jikan’s story, and it’s quite clear Rin and her caretaker, her cousin Reiji, have suffered quite a bit after the loss. Added to this, Reiji has a number of his own personal traumas he suffers from, making him rather emotionally unstable. To say the Kokonoe household is an emotional mess is an understatement, but Daisuke is constantly helping the two through their troubles. Possibly the best early example of this is near the end of the fifth volume when Rin’s estranged father comes to take custody of her. At this point in time Daisuke believes Reiji is abusing Rin, but has no proof. And while he’s certain Rin would be safer with her father, he comes to realize perhaps the adults should listen to what she wants. This is possibly not the best overall decision he makes, but it brings some piece of mind to both Rin and Reiji, which they desperately need.
It’s not just Daisuke helping the Kokonoe household through their troubles that makes the series more than just awfully disturbing. Among the other main and recurring characters, many have their own problems they are dealing with. Actually, the two outside of Rin and Reiji are Rin’s close friend Mimi Usa who not only feels an almost constant shame about her rapidly developing body, but who also has an unstable relationship with her mother, and Daisuke’s colleague Sae Shirai who is on bad terms with both her parents which results in her having issues communicating and connecting with other people. Though Daisuke doesn’t have a large hand in affecting change in Sae, as Mimi’s teacher, he always has her best interests in mind, and often uses indirect methods to help her through her problems.
Without these characters I feel as though the series wouldn’t be much more than watching a heavy-handed drama unfold. They really bring the series to life, and most just felt like throwaway characters when they were introduced, especially Daisuke’s colleagues. At first they just seem to be there so Daisuke can have an adult to converse with, but as with Sae, they each develop their own distinct personality and become an integral part of many conversations regarding school policy and ongoing events in the school.
This is where I feel Kodomo no Jikan not only shines, but is also the aspect of the series people seem to overlook the most. The author, Kaworu Watashiya, uses some universal issues of primary education to propel the story forward. These issues include bullying, both by teachers and other students, sexual education, children of single parents, and sexual assault, along with a few others. For the most part they are covered loosely, but these are issues that once we’re out of the education system we tend to turn a blind eye to, unless news agencies cover one of them in depth. For example, the right age to begin teaching children about safe sex practices is brought up in the tenth volume of the series. I think most people would agree the earliest should be after primary school, but when a student makes a post in an online forum that he or she has had sex, what is the proper action to take? Trivial as it may seem to someone like me—I’ve got no child to worry about yet—I feel from whom, when, and how we learn about safe sex practices is a good question to pose to readers.
How we interpret literature can tell us a lot about who we are. Do we allow others to dictate how we should perceive a work, or do we actively peruse our own interpretations? I’ve almost always disliked literature courses, not because of all the reading, but because I’ve always felt instructors hardly allow students to explore avenues of thought outside the prescribed analyses. Because of this I feel as though many of us have a difficult time formulating our own thoughts about different works and so we allow ourselves to fall in with popular opinion. This is what I think happened with Kodomo no Jikan. People were very quick to judge the story and those who joined the conversation opted not to read the series at an analytical level, and thus the idea was perpetuated that the series has a high amount of disturbing content, so much so an English language translation was pulled because the president of the publication company seemingly only saw images of Rin doing lewd acts directed towards Daisuke and failed to understand the content of many of the story arcs.
Literature at times addresses very controversial issues, and those issues are at times quite disturbing. Kodomo no Jikan may not be the greatest piece of literature, but it does have its merits, and to deny them because there’s some disturbing imagery is irresponsible. I will reiterate, I did find what Rin and Daisuke’s relationship evolved into was troublesome, but most of the series is a story of a teacher caring for his student. But if that’s all you wish to focus on, do not read the series. You’d be better off finding a benign manga series and enjoying it. I would suggest most any shonen series. But if you want to read a series with some challenging content, Kodomo no Jikan is a sound choice.