What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good-For-Nothing Artist and Her Pussy

By Rokudenashiko. Released in Japan by Kinyobi, Inc., partially serialized in the magazine Shuukan Kinyobi. Released in North America by Koyama Press.

Like many people, I first heard about Rokudenashiko via news reports retweeted and reblogged around the internet. In fact, it may have been watching The Daily Show, which covered her arrest (she makes reference to it here). But when I saw that she had a panel at TCAF and was promoting a manga discussing what happened, I decided to seek it out. and I’m delighted that I did, as this manga is fascinating, managing to make the reader angry and outraged at her mistreatment while at the same time laughing hysterically. It actually comes in two parts. The first, written for the weekly magazine, is a light-hearted (but the events are serious) look at her arrest and imprisonment for distributing 3D copies of her vagina via crowdsourcing. The second half retells some of the same events, but as part of her life story, and it’s more serious and personal.


The amazing double-standards of Japanese culture, which has no issues with the word ‘chinko’ (which means dick), but can’t abide the word ‘manko’ (which means pussy) is on display throughout, from the initial sneering and TV-cop stereotype of her arrest to the hilarious points where the officers try to take her statement and she humiliates them by insisting on saying ‘manko’ as many times as possible. We get a lovely tour of Japanese women’s prison, which is as unpleasant as you’d imagine, and she has a variety of cellmates, ranging from the normal to the intensely strange. Interspersed through the manga are various textual articles discussing the nature of obscenity, Japanese law (yes, it really is far more like Phoenix Wright than you’d expect), and the campaign on the outside to petition for her freedom (which we barely see as we’re following her POV).

As I said earlier, the second part of the manga is a short biography of her life, and how she ended up becoming an artist who used her ‘manko’ as an inspiration for various art projects and showcases. The most amusing part for me was that her initial reasoning was seeing that you can have “vaginal surgery” and thinking “whoah, cool!”. She was later told by her editors to change it and make her more ashamed of her body in order to sell to readers better. I am reminded of many other editorially demanding manga series. That said, we also see that using ‘manko’ in her art also led to her divorce, to her friends abandoning her, and to suicidal thoughts. None of that was in the more commercial first part of the book, but it adds a sense of depth and realism that touches the heart.

So rest assured, this is a highly entertaining and moving memoir. But it’s also a wonderful look at the standards that go into defining what is obscene, and the struggles that an artist has to go through in order to be able to express themselves properly. The behavior of the police and courts in this book is jaw-dropping, and if nothing else, I’m hoping that more awareness of the these issues might lead to international pressure for change. In the meantime, the story of Rokudenashiko and her artistic triumphs and struggles is a must-read for anyone who loves freedom of expression.