The headline seemed intriguing enough: “Manga Translator Appeals Child Pornography Charges”. The story: Simon Lundström was prosecuted in Sweden for being in possession of child pornography images. Mr. Lundström was a Swedish translator, apparently a Japanese into Swedish translator of manga comics. The story articles, vacuous as they so often are, of course do not reveal anything of the important details: who was this Simon, apart of some Swede accused of possessing child pornography, and why did he translate these comics? Was it commissioned work or was it for his own pleasure? Was said pleasure limited only to the pleasure derived form the art of translating by a translator, or was he in fact a pedophile?
The incriminating images found on his computer belong to a style of manga called “Lolicon”, short for Lolita complex. The case is interesting because the man is being judged solely on the possession of the images and not the reason for said possession. If he indeed was just a translator, then that could justify him possessing said images. I can only imagine Simon, the translator, utterly perplexed and shocked, pitifully sitting in court with puppy eyes wondering what happened to him: one day he was a translator, going about his business, a rarity, working with that improbable language combination; the next he is sitting in court talking to his lawyer, being eyed with suspicion and disgust at the local supermarket.
In reality Simon is a leading manga expert in Sweden. He possessed about three million manga images, with only a few dozen portraying the offending material. He also happens to be a translator of manga and taught manga classes. My questions are partially answered. But not quite. Can he still claim he possessed the images for work reasons, much like the members of a pedophile-busting operation might possess related images? The law will decide, but he is already suffering the consequences. If he is found guilty, he will have to pay a fine of less than a thousand euros, but his reputation has been tarnished and he has already lost his job translating for his biggest employer. Furthermore, he will no longer be able to work as a manga expert in Sweden.
Looking beyond the undeniable horror of child abuse, the case presents some interesting subtleties about legal systems and their interplay with societal perceptions of guilt that should not be overlooked. For example, are the consequences he’s suffered on a par with the crime Simon stands accused of? While it is true that he has violated Swedish law and will be made to pay by the authorities, his accusation has earned him opprobrium and unemployment. Would it be possible to justify his possession of the images from a purely research-oriented point of view? Should someone who has made a living from studying a particular art style and comic genre as part of his wider cultural studies of a country be chastised for what may be an attempt to understand all aspects of that culture and genre?
Most of us would readily agree that anything that hints at child abuse and sexual crime should be banished and eliminated from existence. Yet it is also difficult to draw a line between true perpetrators and artists, scholars, writers, and the like. Does possession of hand-drawn images indicate intent necessarily? Simon will now forever be labeled a deviant. Is he truly a deviant? Perhaps not. Perhaps he actually was just a researcher, a scholar. Or perhaps his possession actually did hint at a perversion that needed to be curtailed. It is difficult to tell. But by this same standard, if I were translating a text, say a novel or article, where it is discussed how to make a bomb and I download research text and diagrams for linguistic and visual reference, could I be accused of planning a terrorist attack? This is one of the questions that I find most interesting about Simon’s case, because whatever the truth of him, it seems no attempt has been made to understand his character better, the reasons that led him to search for this material and save it on his computer. I think it would befit translators and scholars alike to consider these wider implications of this accusation.