Astronomy is only the latest turning in a minor intellectual odyssey that had begun a few months ago, when Laura discovered anime on the Web. Anime, in case you don't know, is Japanese animation -- somewhat like our Saturday morning cartoons, but intended for adults rather than children.
Laura has loved anime for years. This is hardly surprising -- after all, kids do like cartoons. Also, she's bright, and Saturday morning fare is mind-numbing for anyone older than four. I have thought of anime as a mostly harmless waste of time.
Then Laura learned to use the Web.
It turns out that there is a lot about anime on the Web, put there (I suspect) by college-student aficionados. Laura has found episode summaries, plot discussions, literal translations from the Japanese, and the usual assortment of artwork, fan fiction, argumentation, and flame wars.
It was on the Web that Laura learned that the characters in Saint Seiya, one of her favorite series, are apparently based on every mythology known to man. In an episode summary originally done for a magazine in 1988 she learned that four of the characters and the "evil ring" were taken from Richard Wagner's Nibelungenlied. Shortly thereafter she hunted down a dusty copy of Wagner's operas in her school library. ("They're fun!" she says.)
She also knows a lot about the standard Greek and Roman mythologies. We have a few books about mythology; at the bookstore she just purchased a book that talks about some of the lesser-known deities.
The stars come in because, she tells me, the characters in Saint Seiya get their powers from the constellations. The Web page she had up was one about Black Pegasus, who is one of Ares' (Mars') saints. Laura says that an older meaning of "saint" is "champion of the gods."
I asked Laura about another of her favorite series, Ronin Warriors. She says the original name is "Yoroiden Samurai Troopers", and that the Dark Warlords are supposed to be famous generals from the civil war in Japan 430 years ago. As for me, I only know about one civil war -- our own -- and not much about that.
She hasn't read the Old Testament yet, but it's on her list. We also talked about Dante's Inferno, and I suspect that's next.
Laura prefers English subtitles to dubbed voices. (After watching some anime myself, I can see why.) She likes the music, and found some CDs with a printed copy of the words -- in Japanese, of course. She taught herself hiragana (a Japanese alphabet) so she could sing along. She also knows some katakana and is working on learning kanji (idiographs). She plans to take Japanese next year when she enters high school.
Needless to say, I'm pretty pleased with my daughter's accomplishments. She loves anime; I love all the things she is learning as a result of her involvement with anime.
Now for the bad news.
The Communications Decency Act (CDA), now signed into law, bans "indecency" on the Internet. And anime, as I mentioned earlier, is intended for adults. Nudity is common. In one film I even saw something that, if performed by live actors, would be termed "simulated sex."
Web sites likely to be affected by the Communications Decency Act are the Safer Sex Home Page and the Breast Cancer Support Network. Information about abortion is specifically forbidden by the Act. But while the people providing these services are understandably nervous, it's easy to think, "That's not what the law is for; no one will really use the law to sue these people."
Well, even if the Christian Coalition doesn't use the law for this right away, there is very little doubt about anime. It's indecent. This is exactly the kind of thing that the Communications Decency Act targets.
Personally, I don't believe my daughter has been harmed by viewing anime videos. Mostly she fast-forwards over the nude scenes because, she says, "they're boring." Nor do I think that she has been harmed by the discussions and pictures on the Web. But at least the videos are still legal; talking about them on the Internet isn't. I guess I had better warn her to be very careful about what she posts.
I love my daughter, and I have raised her according to my own beliefs and values. Now Congress is imposing its own brand of "family values" on the entire nation, and I do not approve. In the strongest possible terms, I do not approve.
Neither does Laura.