The Pocky Poisoner

pockyIt can’t have been the best of days for the 73-year-old Katsuhisa Ezaki, president of Ezaki Glico Foods, when he opened his mail to discover an apparent blast from the past. A correspondent signing himself Monster #28 was demanding 50 million yen, lest he make good on a threat to poison the company’s food products on supermarket shelves.

This was not the first time this had happened. Back when Ezaki was in his 40s, he was kidnapped by masked men and held hostage in a warehouse while the criminals tried to extort money for his release. The following month, a man calling himself “The Fiend with 21 Faces” threatened to poison Glico’s food products, which include Japanese staples like Pocky and Pretz. Nobody was ever brought to justice, although there was a flurry of media activity around a suspicious “Fox-Eyed Man”.

For something that is supposed to be a light-hearted news source on Japanese media, this column seems to spend an inordinate amount of time reporting on murders, scandals, thefts and other criminal activities. But they often seem to dovetail with the anime world, not least in this case – the original 1980s scandal was the inspiration for the Laughing Man storyline in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

…and it seems, the Laughing Man storyline itself was the inspiration for this 2014 reboot. This time, the police were smarter, staked out the money-drop, and arrested a man on 1st December 2014 who turned out to be a film producer fallen on hard times. His name was initially made public, but has since been scrubbed from the Internet, seemingly in tardy recognition of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty – although, you know, being caught red-handed with the money is going to be a tough break.

So let me phrase this as a lawyer will no doubt have to: if you’d been associated closely with the Japanese cartoon world, if your company was on the skids and your forays into other media had failed, would you consider rifling through your anime collection in search of ideas for money-making schemes? And if so, what anime would you rip off? Budding criminals, write in to NEO and let us (and the police) know your plans…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, and the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation. This article first appeared in NEO 133, 2014.

Ask Us Anything

10612807_10152983401630600_2142389238260967136_nHelen McCarthy and I are doing a Reddit AMA on 21st March 2015.

**Title of AMA**: We are Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy, the authors of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation, out now from Stone Bridge Press.
**Date/Time (EST)**: 21st March 2015, 5pm-9pm EST

**Background/description of AMA subject**: Anime super-fans Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy, authors of the 1200-page, 1.1 million words of The Anime Encyclopedia: Revised 3rd Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation, will be answering questions about Japanese animation, comics, and fandom. Why does the world need an encyclopedia of anime? Is print dead? Why have they got such big eyes? What’s so wrong about Tenchi Muyo? What’s the worst anime ever? The best? the craziest? How much is too much? Is there a tentacle limit? Is there hope for the future? What is the flight velocity of an unladen swallow? All these questions, and more, can be answered or at least sarcastically dodged by the authors of the biggest book on anime to be found in any language, including Japanese.

Back in the Japan Times

AnimeEncyclopedia3 copyAnd I’m back in the Japan Times again, this time in a review-interview by Roland Kelts, in which he compares the Anime Encyclopedia to the ravings of an Irish drunk.

“The book is almost Joycean — you can dip in and out of its pages and entries at any point and derive delight. My favorite entries make me want to watch titles I haven’t yet seen and revisit those I have, and the authors’ disquisitions on related topics such as fandom and the future of anime consumption make further exploration irresistible.”

And if you’re wondering how I can publish a 1200-page book only a month after Modern Japan: All That Matters, it’s because the editorial process of the Anime Encyclopedia is so long and complex that it took more than year from the initial delivery to lay-out, check and augment.

China’s Cleopatra

24999580The Indonesian edition of my biography of Empress Wu has just been published, with a racy new title and an even racier new cover.

“Dalam kisah nyata yang sensasional ini, Jonathan Clements menuturkan kisah kelam dan dramatis satu-satunya kaisar perempuan dalam sejarah China, Wu Zetian: selir, manipulator, politikus, pembunuh, dan titisan dewi. Inilah kisah Cleopatra dari China; kisah tentang pembunuhan, seks, cinta, kekuasaan, dan pembalasan dendam…” or “In this sensational true story, Jonathan Clements tells the dramatic tale of the dark and only female emperor in Chinese history, Wu Zetian: concubine, manipulator, politician, murderer, and incarnation of a goddess. This is the story of China’s Cleopatra — a tale of murder, sex, love, power, and revenge…” In your face, Game of Thrones. For the English original, recently reissued on paperback and the Kindle by Albert Bridge Books, see here in the UK or here in the US.

Bodacious Data

b-pirate-1-2Work continues over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, with yours truly writing entries about Yuichi Sasamoto, creator of Bodacious Space Pirates, and Kazumasa Hirai, creator of Harmagedon. The wordcount of my combined Japan and China entries in the SFE is now actually bigger than Anime: A History, and it’s all available for free.

Obscenities in Spartacus

Lucy-Lawless-SpartacusThe Romans can be charming. They are justly regarded as the foundation of much of our modern culture. But they were also a bunch of bloodthirsty fascists.

Rome shouldn’t be too much fun. Spartacus is going to rise up one day. He is going to lead a revolt, which means that my novel Swords and Ashes needed to make it very clear that we shouldn’t like the Romans. This is harder than it looks when the main mouthpieces for the Romans are Lucretia and Batiatus, so winningly played in the TV series by Lucy Lawless and John Hannah. Sometimes, it’s possible to forget that we’re supposed to hate them. The readership has to identify with the slaves, not the masters. Because when the new season of Spartacus: Vengeance kicks off, you need to know what side you’re on.

If a reader finds someone with whom they identify, they have to be on the losing side, crushed and broken by the powers that be. This isn’t too hard with a wide-ranging underclass of slaves, although it can be jarring in an age of overbearing political correctness to write dialogue for a bunch of impossibly privileged, grasping, murderous bigots. So I set out to find a way to disgust, at least once, literally everybody who was likely to pick up a copy of Spartacus: Swords & Ashes. You have to close the book thinking what a great thing it would be if someone stood up to these bastards, and that means you should be offended.

SpartacusSaga_Marquee8_1440x651Women? Easy to do with a society whose foundation myth is based on rape, and whose ladies were regarded as chattels. Animal-lovers? Plenty of opportunity with ‘entertainments’ comprising repeated cruelty to an entire menagerie of innocent creatures – I knew I was onto a winner here when even my editor said she was a bit queasy after reading one scene. She took it out. I sneaked it back in.

Ethnic minorities? The Romans saw no colour, but that didn’t stop them being casually racist about almost everybody. ‘Asians’, which is to say, people from the Middle East, were mistrusted as a bunch of oriental weirdoes. Greeks were envied and despised, for having all the culture that the Romans plundered, and answered in turn by snootily dismissing the Romans as a bunch of philistines. And if you are from northern Europe – lawless, wild places like Britannia – the Romans think you are a savage. I even managed to get in a snide comment about wine from France being ‘barbaric’ – it would be another generation before Caesar conquered Gaul.

Your grandmother? When the show’s best-loved line is “Jupiter’s Cock!”, I think we’ve got that covered.

Gays? Now there’s a tough one. Spartacus has a huge gay following, particularly for the tender romance between the Carthaginian gladiator Barca and his lover Pietros. So I made it as clear as I could that just because there were homosexuals in Rome, and in open view in the TV show, it didn’t mean that their social position was necessarily welcome.

The Roman author Seneca once wrote of the layout of a ludus which had so many gay gladiators that they had their own wing. Homosexuality, it seems, was no bar to success in the arena, but the Romans certainly did not condone it. Instead, Seneca writes of how the gladiators who love men get to practice their “obscenities” in private, where none might see their “disease”. I made sure I’d have someone say that.

The entire human race? If you’re a human being (Yes? Check.) then the mere notion of slavery should be enough to set you off, particularly when I go into such detail about what it could mean for people on a daily basis. In particular, I delved deep into Roman law, to show how terrible a slave’s life could be, and the true side-effects of a life with no control whatsoever over one’s fate or body.

So that was everybody taken care of, except possibly me. My wife saw to that at Christmas, when she eagerly snatched up my advance copy, and started reading some of the sex scenes out to my mother. It made me feel distinctly uneasy… I had even managed to offend myself.

This article originally appeared in January 2012 as a guest post on Blogomatic, to promote my novel Spartacus: Swords & Ashes (US/UK). I repost it here because the original site seems to have disappeared.