St. Pius V Corner: Kissing KissAnime Goodbye, Again

One must try to form a practically certain conscience, since it is never lawful to act with a practical doubt about the lawfulness of an action. A direct solution to doubts of conscience in matters of frequent occurrence and lesser importance can usually be obtained by reflection, by investigation and by asking counsel. Such a solution is necessary as long as there is well-founded hope that the doubt can be solved in this wise if a degree of care in keeping with the importance of the matter at hand is employed, provided one does not choose to do the more certain thing in every case.

Fr. Heribert Jone, Moral Theology (1957), pg. 43

It has been over a year and a month since the release of Kissing KissAnime Goodbye, a post which discussed the history of fansubs, their growing popularity, and the morality of one’s involvement with them according to traditional Catholic theology. In that post, I came to the following conclusions:

  • The act of directly participating in pirating an anime series, and distributing / modifying it as if it were your own, constitutes an act of formal cooperation in a sinful activity, and thus is morally wrong, since you are claiming ownership of something that legally does not belong to you, and doing whatever to it – be it fan-subbing it, publishing it on a web service, or making unauthorized DVD copies of it. Square it however you want, but I believe that no one has the right to claim a product as their own and tinker with it for distributive use – intellectual property laws and all notwithstanding.
  • However, the act of watching fansubbed anime, typically from a pirate site such as GogoAnime or 9Anime, warrants a different question, since by viewing the video itself you are not actively participating in the taking of something that’s not your own; your participation therefore would only fall under the lowest category of cooperation in sin (remote material), and I argue that under certain conditions that it would not be sinful

Upon the initial release of the article, I was surprised to wake up to find multiple individuals replying to it on my Twitter post announcing it, either to get clarifications about the conclusion, provide counter-points to some of the points I posed (especially with regards to fan-subbing proprietors), or on how helpful it was. Apparently, even as late as December 2021, the issue of whether or not this kind of behaviour was moral was, understandably, a very hot-button issue, and since then I’ve come into both dialogue with commentators from both sides and reached some interesting viewpoints on the subject matter, as well as having developed some new insights on traditional Catholic moral theological principles that have influenced my outlook. In this article I will attempt to follow-up with some other points that I’ve come across regarding the second point, and provide my thoughts as well as the principles underlying them.

IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES IS WATCHING A FANSUB OKAY?

To follow an uncertain law, or not, has been at the forefront of controversy in Catholic moral theology since the time of St. Alphonsus Liguori

Using the concept of formal/material co-operation and the principle of double effect, first formulated by the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas, I argued that there were four reasons which would justify watching fansubbed anime – assuming the series in question is not of disrepute. I still stand by with these justifications and I think they’re fairly reasonable points to consider regarding the topic; however I failed to elaborate on why I felt that way about them. Ranked from strongest to least, these include:

  • The show has not aired on television for at least 7 years; some examples include, but are not limited to Digimon AdventureSpirited AwayNichijou, etc.
    • In my opinion, this argument is the strongest. After a certain period of time, the show will have run its course, having been displayed on the television, the workers paid, and made additional profits through DVD sales; after that, it will likely be shelved, before the studio rinses and repeats the process with another series. Though I used 7 years as my own middle-ground benchmark to constitute acceptable fansubs, anywhere between 5-10 is fair as well; generally, the older a series is, the less graver it will be. Practically speaking, I find it highly improbable that the producers will still actively be profiting from a show that has reached an age that has passed its lifespan, or is largely forgotten by the public. The same principle can be applied to shows from inactive studios, video games that are hard to find outside of emulation, or software products that are obsolete, such as Adobe Flash CS8. Personally, I would have no scruples about watching an older series on a site like 9Anime if it’s old enough that it’s passed its prime, but for a show that recently aired, probably chasing it legally is the more ideal route.
  • The costs / time to find shows legally would be unreasonable and unaffordable on your end.
    • You might call this “lazy”, but it’s possibly practical. Whether it’s because one does not have an adequate place to store a large bundle of DVDs, lacks enough funds to afford them, or because finding it legally would pose a grave inconvenience to oneself, such as a loss of time that could be spent in other worthwhile activities, these are some reasons I can think of that would suffice. One such example I can use from my personal experience was in 2016, when due to childhood nostalgia, I wanted to watch an anime series I watched as a child in Indonesia, titled Dragon League. If you think finding a place to watch this show, legally or otherwise, was a piece of cake, think again. This show has only ever aired for a limited time in Japan, and outside of it, only South Korea, Latin America, and Indonesia got access to it. Consequently, DVDs for this show only accommodate the PAL region, which North America doesn’t support. Finding a good, English-subbed version of this series online was virtually impossible (trust me, I’ve looked everywhere) which left the only available options being on Youtube, dubbed in either Indonesian, Spanish, and Portuguese which I barely understand, or a live-stream of an Indonesian TV channel. Added to its general obscurity, its venerable age (23 years at the time I watched it), and extreme obscurity, even by its creators (Studio Gallop, of Yu-Gi-Oh fame), I believe this wouldn’t pose a morally problematic fiasco to mull over.
  • You use it to highlight an important life lesson or acquire the practice of a particular virtue thanks to the good conduct of one of the characters in your personal life.
    • As I mentioned, this is what I personally try to do when I watch an anime series – rather than use it for mindless entertainment, try to learn something out of it – which isn’t impossible! Little Witch Academia made me more radically anti-Modernist and to “stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned” (2 Thessalonians 2:14) of the Catholic Faith, Angel Beats inspired me to pray more for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, 5 Centimeters Per Second made me to understand that life goes on, even if the girl you like isn’t part of that story, and Hyouka taught me that friendship (and, optionally, a IRL waifu) are important, and that no man is an island; among many other pertinent examples. However, I ranked it pretty low in comparison to the other two because although anime can be a good place to find these virtues in action, it’s not the only place to look. I beg you to look at other spiritual classics like True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis De Montfort, Read Me Or Rue It by Fr. Paul O’Sullivan, and even Fr. Alban Butler’s Lives Of The Saints or other venues of classical fiction, non-fictional biographies or daily life examples.
  • You intend to make some amends to whatever losses could have come about by buying official merchandise or supporting the creators alternatively.
    • Although the action is laudable, and a decent way to show your support of the anime community, let’s be honest – we’re very cheap and we take our anime for granted. Even if there were persons who made up for this by buying lots of anime posters, figurines, or related games to make up for any supposed losses and support the anime industry in another manner, it’s marginally practical.

ALTERNATE REASONS

Love Live’s Honoka Kousaka recommends you a dope anime. Do you accept?

Other arguments for supporting watching fansubbed anime were the classic “The quality is much better than official ones” or “It’s cheaper, therefore it’s better”. If this is your reason, please reconsider them. Such arguments are extremely weak and no better than the fourth point above; it makes one’s personal enjoyment into the primary motivation for leisure to a level which, I believe, is dangerously close to hedonism. In my opinion, one should not use leisure for its own sake; rather, it should be used as a means of exercising the mind and uplifting themselves to a better version of themselves. Even more common is “Intellectual property doesn’t exist”; let me just say that this probably should be handled in another post, because I am not qualified to discuss this at the moment, nor have any idea how it relates to the current subject at hand.

However, a recent point of contention that I’ve heard from certain individuals has emerged, and it goes like: “A service which offers anime legally is supporting a cause which I morally object to. Therefore in order to avoid any notion that I’m consenting to their beliefs, I withhold my funds from them and prefer fansubs, even if on a pirate site.” The argument runs similar to a person who refrains from buying a product from a company that uses animal abuse to manufacture it; their conscience makes it appear that purchasing this product would be a tacit approval of the company’s methods. Is this a valid argument, and if so, how effective is it in relation to the ones I’ve already included? Once again, we are dealing with the question of co-operation in another’s sin; let us recall the forms by which this can take place. According to, Fr. Heribert Jone, an American Roman Catholic moral theologian from the Franciscan Order:

Formal co-operation in the sin of another, i.e., concurrence in which one takes
part in the external sinful deed of another and at the same time consents to his evil intention
, is always wrong.

Immediate co-operation, i.e., a concurrence in positing an action, which, according to its nature (ex fine operis) apart from the intention of one’s accomplice (finis operantis) directly tends to produce the evil effect intended by the principal agent, is likewise wrong, even when done under grave moral duress. An exception is made when there is a question of damage to another’s property, but only in certain cases.

Material co-operation, i.e., concurrence in an action which is only a preparation to a sinful deed, is also wrong as a rule. It may be permitted if the preparatory action is good or at least indifferent, and a correspondingly good reason is had. The reason must be greater, in proportion to the gravity of the other’s sin, or the more certain it is that the sin will not be committed without one’s co-operation or the greater one’s obligation is to prevent the sin.

Fr. Heribert Jone, Moral Theology (1957), pg. 87

In no way is buying a product from a company that supports an immoral cause an act of formal or immediate co-operation. It is material, and since the purchaser’s relation to the company itself is so far removed from each other, it is remote. But is this thinking acceptable? Remember, what suffices for a remotely material cooperation is either a strongly justified reason, such as necessity of work or duress, or a reasonable explanation. Someone who financially supports said company with a subscription will most likely explain it’s because they want legal access to the content. That’s fine and all, and on the surface kudos to them for preferring the safe route. However, one is also obliged to, if possible, seek out less morally compromising alternatives if necessary. So someone who works in a hospital that performs abortions, but does another unrelated duty (such as administrative or janitorial ones), who also conscientiously objects to abortion as evil (as they should), but remains employed there to provide for their family, would be justified in their decision – but it would be more laudable on them if they found work at a place that doesn’t swing against their values, for example a Catholic hospital or another neutral institution, such as an office complex.

Given this, we know that a streaming service isn’t really the type of thing one would consider absolutely essential as with the described scenario. All things considered, I conclude that the person who turns to fansubs as an alternative because of the reason I described, does no wrong either – provided they have fully considered the issue and approached it with an informed conscience. It isn’t enough just to throw out this reasoning for the sake of feigning a justification, if one doesn’t really believe or is convinced of it. As to the strength of this argument, given its appeal to a legitimate concern, and a desire to refrain from the appearance of evil, I think it trumps all arguments except for the “7 year rule”; otherwise it would just be a slightly better mid-tier moral argument.

OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED

“One does not simply call 9Anime a den of thieves”
  • Why not just deny yourself if you’re not willing to get your anime legally? (This was an actual counter-point I saw)
    • Response: This is not a sound theological rebuttal. At no point did you even attempt to respond with something that is even remotely connected to the subject at hand. Pardon my crassness, but everyone is now dumber for having read your objection. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. (Shout-out to Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison)
  • My priest says watching such is a sin. Since he is an authority figure, I am obliged to believe him, therefore it is a sin.
    • Response: That is only the opinion of a single priest; which is fallible. Since the Church has not weighed judgement on this issue, it can hardly be authoritatively binding on others except, perhaps, for the inquirer. On another note, I’ve come across several users on miscellaneous forums whose priests, some of them Traditionalists, give a different answer than the above provided. Providing a subjective response to an unsettled issue holds no objective weight anymore than if I were to say “Bigfoot exists, because I saw him in a dream.” In this case, one may be free to follow one opinion or the other. Again citing Fr. Jone:

In practice the confessor should endeavor to freely choose the more perfect thing himself and should likewise ad vise his penitents to do the better thing. Let him not forget, however, that he has no right to impose his own opinion on his penitents as long as the contrary view is solidly probable.

Fr. Heribert Jone, Moral Theology (1957), pg. 46
  • St. Paul writes in Romans 13:1-7 that we must obey civil law as long as if the law seems reasonable. Laws discouraging people from watching anime on pirate sites exist for a just reason, namely to protect the owners’ right to their property. Therefore it is a transgression of the law, which is a sin.
    • Response: Unfortunately, this reasoning is not at all adequate simply because civil laws regarding its licitness is not universal. In Canada and the United States, there’s no law which can criminally prosecute you for watching anime from such sources. However, in a place like Germany, the Netherlands and Italy one can get fined for doing this exact same behaviour. Therefore, an appeal to civil law is the lowest bar one can possibly go to; and even then, hardly passes as the ultimate be-all and end-all; hence why this post appeals to a more universal standard in Catholic moral theology.
  • The sin of theft is the unlawful taking of someone’s property against their will. Watching anime from a pirated site makes you equally as responsible as the person who uploaded it in the first place. Therefore, it is sinful.
    • Response: This is an example of the logical fallacy we call “begging the question”. It presumes that the claim being made is true, and proceeds to work a conclusion based on that assumption. First of all, what is being stolen by the viewer? If a person goes to a bookstore, reads a book and doesn’t buy it because after previewing it he decides it’s crap, or if the Nostalgia Critic, in a review of Biodome displays clips of the film in an attempt to dissuade others from watching it, is that stealing? Moreover, would it be considered as such if the content in question is over 5-10 years old, not being publicly used anymore, or if the content’s owners are no longer active? In all these I would have to answer in the negative. The burden of proof, however, is on the person making the claim to justify how this is theft by demonstrating whether or not they’re claiming any profit or ownership stakes on the fansub.
  • To boycott an established anime streaming service because of one’s opposition to their beliefs, in favour of a “dubious” site like GogoAnime, is to deprive the wages of those who work in the former. However, the Church has always taught that it is wrong to harm workers this way. Therefore no Catholic is justified in doing this.
    • Response: How about this? In the years following Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Vigilanti Cura (1936), which authorized the establishment of the Legion Of Decency – a nationwide group whose purpose was to inform Catholics of what motion pictures were lawful, okay with certain restrictions, or condemned – Catholics were not allowed – under pain of mortal sin – to attend or patronize creators of films from the third category. Catholic bishops took part in this activity, and encouraged their flock to denounce theatres that showed such flicks. They were not doing it to deprive the workers who created the film or who were employed at the theatre: but rather, to oppose something that was dangerous to public morals.

      Therefore precedence for such a behaviour exists. Because a Catholic’s duty to refrain from proximately supporting immorality ranks higher, and thus I would say their acting on their informed conscience is justified. It is not vigilantism, but an act of prudence for one’s salvation – the supreme law of the Christian life. In addition, Fr. Jone also gives two similar examples on donating to groups with non-Catholic agendas:

(Can a Catholic give) Donations for the building and maintenance of non-Catholic schools and orphanages?
Since the principal purpose of such institutions is instruction and the exercise of charity one may contribute money towards such projects in mixed localities, provided no scandal results therefrom and the institutions will not be used for proselytizing.

(Can a Catholic give) Contributions to socialistic or liberalistic societies?
If the purpose of such societies is the care of the poor, sick, etc., one may contribute towards them for a reasonable cause. If their aim is opposition to the Church, or the election of a socialistic, liberalistic, or communistic candidate, it is wrong to support them.

Fr. Heribert Jone, Moral Theology (1957), pg. 88
  • If the DVD of that particular show is available, just purchase that instead of streaming it online.
    • Response: If one has the resources and space for it, sure – more power to them. Given though that everything is going digital though, and the overwhelming popularity of streaming services in recent years, only God knows how long it will be before this becomes an unviable solution.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

Keep truckin’, fellow weebs; just don’t trespass the over-indulging scales of anime-watching.

Ultimately, since I’m no cleric with a doctorate in sacred theology, this is, all in all, a layman’s theological approach to this hot-topic issue. The most important thing to remember is that, when there is room for multiple opinions, we must be careful not to fall into two moral theology pitfalls, both condemned in the 17th century: that of rigorism (only act when the law for/against it is absolutely certain, with no exceptions allowed; condemned by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690) or laxism (follow your dreams – and subscribe to whatever opinion, no matter how ridiculous it seems; condemned by Pope Innocent XI in 1679). The true Catholic moral system to be used is one (of three) popularly proposed by St. Alphonsus Liguori, the patron saint of moralists, called probabilism: that is, when there is doubt about the existence of a law, one may act on a decently-founded opinion so long as if they have strong, justified reasons to support it. Hence the axiom, “lex dubia non obligat” – a doubtful law does not bind.

This moral system can be applied to cases where the Church has not definitively settled it, such as this one; BUT NOT WHERE IT HAS PRONOUNCED A DEFINITIVE JUDGEMENT. Therefore, probabilism cannot be used to justify what the Church considers forbidden, like procuring an abortion, joining a Communist network, adulterous acts, or approvingly partaking in non-Catholic worship. Until then, at best all arguments for/against this, even those that refer to traditional Catholic tenets can only be at best a mere, unauthoritative theological opinion. In that case, we must remember not to condemn as sinful those who choose to partake in this route of watching anime, and to heed calmly the advice of Pope Benedict XV:

As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline – in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See – there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.

Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (1914), no.23

3 thoughts on “St. Pius V Corner: Kissing KissAnime Goodbye, Again

  1. I never actually used Kissanime to watch anime for free on the internet although have used other sites similar to what kissanime is offering (most of them already shut down). I guess I’m okay on watching legal physical anime but the means on getting them where I’m located is being outweighed by free fan-subbing sites. On the one hand, I can just get Crunchyroll or whatever streaming sites to watch anime but the thing is, I can’t afford that since I’m already paying a lot of things every month (utilities, food, insurance, medical) and even if I got it, I won’t be able to use it to my money’s worth due to the hectic work load I have right now (and also my mood swings which prevents me from watching anime ‘properly’). But of course, I would go and buy legal anime to support the industry.

    Liked by 1 person

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