A discussion over at MangaBlog about racial stereotypes in a recent volume of Eyeshield 21 (originally highlighted at Digital Femme) reminded me of how another publisher handled similar material. Here’s an introductory piece in the second volume of Dark Horse’s printing of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, published in 2002:
“Many non-Japanese, including people from Africa and Southeast Asia, appear in Osamu Tezuka’s works. Sometimes these people are depicted very differently from the way they actually are today, in a manner that exaggerates a time long past, or shows them to be from extremely undeveloped lands. Some feel that such images contribute to racial discrimination, especially against people of African descent. This was never Osamu Tezuka’s intent, but we believe that as long as there are people who feel insulted or demeaned by these depictions, we must not ignore their feelings.
“We are against discrimination, in all its forms, and intend to continue to work for its elimination. Nonetheless, we do not believe it would be proper to revise these works. Tezuka is no longer with us, and we cannot erase what he has done, and to alter his work would only violate his rights as a creator. More importantly, stopping publication or changing the content of his work would do little to solve the problems of discrimination that exist in the world.
“We are presenting Osamu Tezuka’s work as it was originally created, without any changes. We do this because we believe it is also important to promote the underlying themes in his work, such as love for mankind and the sanctity of life. We hope that when you, the reader, encounter this work, you will keep in mind the differences in attitudes, then and now, toward discrimination, and that this will contribute to an even greater awareness of such problems.
“—Tezuka Productions and Dark Horse Comics”
The cases are obviously very different. Tezuka is an undisputed manga master, and republication of his work for wider audiences has archival significance. Also, Astro Boy was originally published in the 1950s, where as Eyeshield 21 launched in 2002, like the Dark Horse reprint quoted above.
But I do admire Dark Horse’s straightforward approach to questionable material. It seems like a frank and sensible way to respect both the creator’s rights and the sensitivities of the audience.