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Everyone in Japan has been talking about the character, and now her owners are too.

It’s hard enough to get junior high school kids to care about their textbooks, so it was a definite surprise to find people all over Japan, including those whose student days are far in the past, excited about English text New Horizon this month. Coinciding with the start of the new school year, publisher Tokyo Shoseki has released a new edition of the widely used junior high school text, with a newly designed cast of anime-style illustrated characters.

In particular, people have been smitten with Ellen Baker, the blond and bubbly teacher who moves from Boston to Japan as part of New Horizon’s in-book backstory. It didn’t take long for fan art of Ellen-sensei to start showing up online, with some tributes being less than chaste.

But whereas lascivious unofficial depictions of anime characters are nothing new in and of themselves, said characters usually aren’t also acting as representatives of youth educational materials. While a little excitement among hardcore fans is one thing, teachers and parents obviously aren’t going to be happy if the textbooks their children are using feature a character who’s become chieflyknown for fetishized drawings of her, regardless of whether such depictions are officially sanctioned or not. New Horizon’s character designer and artist has already asked fans to be tactful in how they express their admiration of Ellen-sensei, and now the character’s rights holder, Tokyo Shoseki itself, has issued a statement regarding her soaring popularity.

“The characters featured in the edition of New Horizon which went into use with the start of this school year have elicited an unexpectedly large reaction on the Internet.”

“In this age when English education is becoming increasingly important, the characters were designed to foster an enthusiasm towards learning English in as many junior high students as possible.”

“Prior to publishing, we took many factors into careful consideration in order to best convey the subject material, including guidance from educators that the characters’ clothing, hair styles, and the like not be distracting. Our hope is that through the energetic characters seen in the text’s pages, we will be able to improve junior high students’ abilities to transmit Japanese tradition and culture to other parts of the world, and to deepen their understanding of other cultures.”

“We ask parties and individuals wishing to make use of the New Horizon characters’ images to contact the Japanese Association for the Copyrights of Textbook Publishers and apply for an official license. Please understand that, in cases where the intended use represents a significant deviation from the above mentioned purpose of the characters, permission may be denied.”

While that would be a pretty standard-sounding statement regarding a character in an anime TV series or video game, it’s rare to hear of a textbook publisher going to the trouble of formally reminding everyone that the characters appearing within its books are the company’s intellectual property. Still, it’s an understandable move by Tokyo Shoseki, given the surge of attention Ellen-sensei, and by extension the company’s brand-new text, have been getting.

However, this doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the character’s fan community. While there’s no doubt that Tokyo Shoseki is hoping people read between the lines and stop drawing Ellen-sensei porn, it’s also notable that the statement isn’t a simple “cease and desist” to anyone wanting to produce derivative works or products. Just as it’s unusual for a publisher to have to remind everyone that it owns its own characters, it’s also rare to see such a company broadcast a willingness to license their use, provided the proper channels are gone through. Sure, Ellen-sensei huggy pillows are probably off the table, but officially licensed notebooks, pencils, or language-learning mobile games would all be in-line with the character’s intended purpose.

In other words, just because Tokyo Shoseki wants us to see less of the character’s skin, that doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily be seeing less of Ellen-sensei herself.

Source: Tokyo Shoseki via Jin
Top image: Twitter/@haiyore_audio (edited by RocketNews24)