After a campaign from crossbench senators and South Australian legislators, No Game, No Life has found itself on the refused classification list. And in reports provided to Kotaku Australia, the Classification Board has revealed that three of the Japanese franchise’s light novels were banned primarily for the sexual depiction of minors.
The bans do not apply to No Game, No Life‘s anime or manga adaptations broadly, but only the light novels that were on sale through manga and book distributor Kinokuniya. Kinokuniya pulled the novels earlier this year, along with other series like Eromanga Sensei, following complaints from legislators to Kinokuniya’s president and vice president.
At the time, the novels and manga series were unclassified when they were being sold. This is fairly common in Australia: Literature is only required to be classified if it is brought to the Classification Board’s attention and the Board deems that its content warrants classification. And given the complaints from Senator Stirling Griff and SA Best’s Connie Bonaros, who likened the manga and light novels to “child pornography” and “kiddie-porn manga”, the Classification Board naturally decided a formal classification was necessary.
That meant all seven series could no longer be sold in Australia until they were classified — and under Australia’s classification laws, every volume of a manga or light novel has to be classified separately. In effect, this meant that No Game, No Life was effectively banned in Australia from that point on, because the novel’s actual publishers weren’t going to foot the bill to have them classified.
In a statement in late July, Kinokuniya said the publishers “are the ones best placed to have their books classified” and that publishers are responsible for ensuring that “all book and comic stores” can sell novels and manga in Australia “without fear that they are breaking the law”.
At the same time, Kinokuniya’s statement noted that the Classification Board indicated that some of the removed series were likely to be refused classification, and volumes 1, 2 and 9 of No Game, No Life have been permanently banned for precisely that reason. In the decision report, the Board outlines an “eight-page colour section” in the first volume that violates Australia’s classification laws on sexual depictions of minors:
Content warning: the below contains descriptions of a sexual nature.
The publication contains an eight-page colour section that contains stylised illustrations of the narrative’s characters as well as a list of contents. This colour section does not contain folio numbers and is inserted at the start of the publication so that it is accessed immediately if the front cover is opened. Pages 2 and 3 of that colour section contain a double-page illustrated depiction of two female characters, Stephanie, who is described on page 21 as a red-headed girl “who looked to be in her mid-teens” but is later (on page 160) said to be 18, and Shiro, who is identified throughout the publication (for example, on pages 4 and 160) as being 11 years-old.
The image depicts Stephanie and Shiro in a bath scene. Both are nude, with strands of hair, puffs of steam and stylised drops of water (which cover both their bodies) partially obscuring breast and genital detail. Stephanie, pictured on the left-hand page, kneels behind Shiro at the edge of a large bath, holding a long strand of Shiro’s hair. She is drawn as a voluptuous adult woman, with exaggerated breasts and hips. She addresses Sora, the male protagonist of the narrative, in a rectangular speech bubble, which reads, “- Sora… why do I have to be naked and washing Shiro’s hair?”
Shiro, pictured on the right-hand page, leans back at the edge of the bath. Her undeveloped chest is covered with strands of her long white hair, but her legs are parted and lifted in a sexualised manner. Her right foot and drops of water partially obscure her genitals, although the outline of her buttocks and vulva are visible. Her left foot is lifted higher, as she implicitly pulls a strand of her hair between her toes. In a stark contrast to the depiction of Stephanie, Shiro is drawn with the flat-chest, thin arms and narrow hips suggestive of pre-adolescent development. She is, in the Board’s opinion, clearly depicted as a child under 18 years of age. She also addresses Sora in a rectangular speech bubble, which reads, “… Nggh… Brother, I hate you.”
The report on the first volume says the scene “is later given narrative context in the body of the novel”, but the context “does not mitigate the impact of the depiction, especially having regard to its placement at the very front of the publication”.
No Game, No Life volume 2 violated the same 1(b) clause on child and minor depictions. The Classification Board took a similarly dim view of the eight-page colour section at the front, with the novel’s assertion of Stephanie as a six-thousand-year old member of the Flügel species not a sufficient enough explanation for the following:
Pages 6 and 7 of that colour section contain a double-page illustrated depiction of three female characters, Stephanie, who is described on page 23 as a girl “in her late teens”, Jibril, a member of the Flügel species who is described as being over six-thousand-years old on page 156, and Shiro, who is described on page 21 as being eleven-years old. The image depicts a scene in the book, described on pages 75-78, in which Stephanie, Shiro and Jiro’s clothing disappears during a game of shiritori. Jibril, who is partially visible in the background, is pictured with large bare breasts. Although no nipple detail is depicted, the outline of one of her breasts depicts the contours of a nipple.
Stephanie is pictured in the foreground of the right-hand page, fully nude with her hands covering her large breasts and her genital region featuring no detail. Shiro, pictured on the left-hand page, is depicted from behind, leaning forward slightly and looking over her shoulder. She is nude, with the exception of thigh-high stockings. While her pose obscures her chest from view, which the contour of her partially turned body implies is underdeveloped, her buttocks are pushed outward and some labial detail is depicted.
The illustration is accompanied by text from the scene being illustrated, including: “There can be no doubt that this is appropriate for all ages! Healthy and wholesome! Tasteful erotic! But not obscene! For this is – what I shall henceforth name: the Great Wholesomeness Space!” Within the context of the scene, the three girls’ vulvas have disappeared as a result of the game of shiratori prior to their clothing disappearing, causing Sora to comment that the nudity is not “R-18” as there are “no genitals”.
Despite the context provided within the novel, the colour, shading and line employed in the illustration of Shiro strongly resembles labial detail which, combined with her pose, positioning on the page and framing which bring visual focus to her buttocks and genital region, is depicted in a manner which sexualises the character. She is, in the Board’s opinion, clearly depicted as a child under 18 years of age and the subsequent narrative context does not mitigate the initial impact of the depiction, especially having regard to its placement at the very front of the publication, where it exists as a standalone illustration that is likely to attract the attention of anyone who opens the publication’s front cover.
The second volume didn’t contain the same amount of narrative justification or context as the first volume, and certainly not enough to get around the depiction of a minor in a sexual manner.
If that wasn’t enough, the Board found the ninth volume also breached the classification guidelines in regards to “sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena”.
The volume featured more sexual depictions as well, along with Sora in a simulated scene where robots are trying to convince Sora to “reproduce with them in order to save their species from extinction”:
The publication contains a stylised black and white illustration which can be found on page 62, illustrating a scene described on pages 60 and 61. The illustration features three young girls dressed in school uniforms and wearing school backpacks. The girl in the foreground is depicted with a large bow in her hair, the zip on the side of her skirt undone, causing her skirt to hang loosely around her hips, exposing her abdomen as she lifts up her shirt. One of the girls in the background, characterised by a braid in her hair and an underdeveloped chest, is depicted bending forward in the act of pulling down her underwear. Her bare pubic region is visible between her arm and skirt. Another girl is viewed in the lower left corner of the page, depicted from behind. The girl’s skirt is partially visible around her thighs, exposing her buttocks. Some vulva detail is depicted.
Within the context of the scene described in pages preceding the image, the girls are robots which are thousands of years old and are simulating a number of scenarios with the aim of appealing to Sora and convincing him to reproduce with them in order to save their species from extinction. In the context of the scene, the robots choose to simulate a teacher-student scenario in which the robots are in the role of the students and Sora is in the role of a teacher. The girls proceed to say, “Teacher’s thing belongs to me!” and, “Um, Teacher? When I think about you, I start to feel all funny…down here.” The girls are described as appearing “…as small as Shiro-or even smaller-who we are certainly not saying were elementary school-aged.”
When Sora is outraged by the scene unfolding around him, the robots ask him, “Don’t you know all characters depicted are age eighteen or over?!”
In the Board’s opinion, this highly sexualised depiction, particularly that of the girl removing her underwear, contains an aspect of fetishisation of a person under the age of 18 which lacks narrative and contextual justification and depicts a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 as well as matters of sex in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.
The ninth volume was the only novel to violate the Code’s 1(a) clause, while the other two were banned under clause 1(b).
The banning of the novels comes ahead of the release of the Government’s Review of Australian Classification Regulation. A report from the review has already been filed to the Communications Minister, but when asked if the report would be made public, a representative of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications said the “public release of the report is a decision for the Minister”.