Sayuri: About a Voyage (航海の唄)

The ending song to My Hero Academia‘s fourth season, which aired in Japan this fall, could have been just another anisong. A high-tempo, catchy, emotional, and vaguely lyrical monologue from a J-pop artist, interviews with music magazines on what the song means for the TV show, a “TV version” cut down to size for broadcast, and CD singles for sale at your nearest Tower Records. Rinse, and repeat.

But The Stand News reported from Hong Kong that the full version of ‘About a Voyage’ had disappeared from Sayuri’s YouTube account, and from a streaming site popular in Mainland China called bilibili, one day after the music video was released. Apparently, the music video’s incessant motifs of uniformed students wearing gas masks and piling up classroom furniture to create makeshift barricades against prominent yellow backgrounds was a little too much for China’s keyboard warriors to handle.

Every attempt to censor something generates more publicity for it. So the Streisand effect also applied to ‘About a Voyage’—at least in Hong Kong. The “TV version” of the music video remains (which also contains the allegedly offending motifs) with a sneaky link to the full song on Spotify or Apple Music. And it doesn’t seem like people in Japan cared that much. A search for 酸欠少女さユり MV削除事件 reveals one article by Bunshun Online which subsumes Sony Music’s decision to remove the video as one incident in a long history of body corporates deciding whether to kowtow to China:

中国での市場規模がまだ大きくないさユりが中国人のバッシングを受けるくらいならともかく、全世界のソニー系歌手が中国で軒並みボイコットやコンサートの妨害を受けたり、中国・香港・台湾などのソニー系の大物歌手が中国市場への配慮から他レーベルに移籍する「愛国的」なアピール行動を取ったりすれば、企業としては目も当てられない事態になる。早期の火消しが必要な事態だ。

Apart from having Chinese people bash on Sayuri, who doesn’t have yet have a large market in China, there could be boycotts of and disruptions to concerts in China for all Sony Music artists from all over the world, and popular artists from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan signed up to Sony could, having the Chinese market in their minds, move to other record labels in an act of ‘nationalistic’ appeal. This would become an unbearable situation for a company. It was a situation where Sony would put out the fire quickly.

グローバル経済のもとでは、大企業を通じてリリースされる表現は、たとえ企業幹部による1本のツイートや“酸欠少女”のMVであっても、14億人の市場を擁する中国の基準で「政治的に正しい」表現を意識せざるを得ない。いまや日本発のコンテンツであるJ-POPですらも、中国を怒らせる表現を自主規制せざるを得ない時代とも言えそうなのだ。

In the global economy, large corporations have to consider whether what they publish, from a single company treat to Sayuri’s music video, is considered ‘politically correct’ to the standards of China, which has a market of 1.4 billion people. It could be said that even J-pop, which comes from Japan, is now in a time where they have to self-censor anything that would anger China.

Chinese record artists might move off Sony’s label, but I’m not sure if Hong Kong or Taiwanese artists would want to do the same. Fans might smash their priceless vinyl collections out of anger and disappointment.