Shock Treatment

“Oh, you just wait!” she said. “Our exhibition has got all kinds of manga stuff in it. But the coolest part, the really amazing part, is an Adults Only bit. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we understand that manga and anime cross over all kinds of genres and areas, and that there’s manga for kiddies and manga about pets, and manga for old people as well. So we get that. But we also know that the adult stuff is part of the whole picture, and we don’t want to leave that out.”
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Big Ideas

Sadly, it wasn’t the first time I had been called in to translate from English to English. The Japanese producer had once spent three years at University College London and was fully fluent, but he wasn’t quite getting through to the American producer. By the time I arrived they were talking at insanely cross-purposes.

The American thought he had the greatest idea ever: a samurai drama about a girl in Japan’s medieval wars – a woman warrior in the midst of all the conflict, kicking arse and taking names, all done in that wonderful anime style we hear so much about. All he needed was a co-producer. So he’d gone to a big Japanese studio and offered them the Chance of a Lifetime to invest in his brilliant idea. The Japanese had told him to get stuffed, but had done it so politely that he hadn’t realised.

The big issue, as far as the Japanese were concerned, was that the American was offering them nothing. Worse than that, he was pitching them something that they already had, and then adding a pointless extra to justify his name on the credits. It was like me offering to tell the true story of Prince Charles and Lady Di, but from the perspective of their previously unmentioned cousin, Hagbard the Barbarian. Why were the Americans inventing a samurai heroine when there already was one in the historical record? Her name was Tomoe Gozen, and if the Japanese decided to make an anime about her life, they wouldn’t really need any help from abroad.

In fact, the Japanese were rather affronted that the Americans had suggested it at all. Their own company had made a very similar show, which we shall call Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, only two years earlier, and the breathless excitement of the foreign offer seemed to come from a producer who had no knowledge of what the Japanese had already made and recently sold. It would be like me calling up Zack Snyder and saying: “I know, why don’t you do a film of Watchmen!”

“It’ll make a great manga!” suggested the American, hopefully.

The Japanese honestly didn’t know where to begin, and left it to me. I tried to point out that there were already a lot of manga in Japan. The Japanese are up to their eyeballs in Japanese comics. They don’t really need anyone else’s help coming up with new ones. They’ve got that pretty much covered.

Instead, they offered the American an olive branch. If you think this is such a good idea, they said, go away and publish that comic. If it’s so good, it’ll be a bestseller, and then you’ll have people beating down your door to film it.

The American was baffled.

“But it’s a good idea!” he protested. The Japanese sucked air in through their teeth and began to bow their way out of the room.

“What did I do wrong?” the American asked me accusingly. “All I wanted was a coproduction deal. I bring the world-beating idea, and the Japanese bring the… well, the money. And do all the work. And then I tell them if they’re getting anything wrong.”

Yes, I said. I can’t imagine what put them off.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #58, 2009.

Oh, Canada!

To Canada, where being an anime or manga fan has become an increasingly difficult enterprise over the last four years.

The origins of the problem, such as it is, lie back in 2005, when a man from Edmonton, Alberta was convicted of importing material depicting children committing sexual acts. Specifically, they were comics from Japan – so here we go again. He was put on the sex offenders’ registry for five years, given a suspended sentence, 100 hours community service and fined $150. He had broken Canadian law and he paid the penalty.
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The Secret of the Sword

“It seems that there were three generations of smiths signing their names Muramasa. As Muramasa’s work was considered unlucky for the Tokugawa family, the “mura” was sometimes obliterated and the character “mune” inscribed beneath the remaining character, thus transforming the remaining character into the far more palatable Masamune. It might have been this process which gave rise to the popular belief that Muramasa was a pupil of Masamune of Soshu, yet his earliest-known work is dated 1501, almost two centuries after Masamune’s time.” –  Harris and Ogasawara. Swords of the Samurai. London: British Museum Publications, 1990.
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The Selfish Germ

Con crud is one of those conditions that has been around for years, but is starting to become a serious issue. When there was only one convention a year, someone might decide to risk coming along, even if they were feeling a little bit under the weather, if it was the only annual chance to see their pen pals. And if a few people picked up a bug, well… who was to know who was really to blame?
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Some Kind of Bonkers

So while I was looking the other way, somebody loaned mortgage money to a chancer who was never going to pay it back, and then an investor offered to buy the debt off a banker, and someone loaned him money to do it, and somebody bought the debt off him… and suddenly, trillions of pounds are missing and we are apparently in a recession. Gordon Brown props up British banks by throwing money at them, and everyone starts telling me they’re cutting back. When were they not cutting back!?
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Pictures from the Sea of Death

Last week, the blog rolled away on autopilot without me. This is what I was actually doing…

I was secretly hoping that Helsinki would be cool in summer, but it’s as warm as London, if not warmer with all the extra daylight. Today there is not a cloud in the sky and the Finnish girls are wearing little shorts. Because I can, I decide to take a route past the statue of Gustaf Mannerheim. I am, after all, in town to look at his photo albums.
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Summer Shivers

It was the most scandalous media event of its day – rehearsals plagued by arguments, a big-name star determined to rewrite the script, and a story ripped from gory urban myths. Even the marketing provoked controversy, with a giant kite-shaped billboard, depicting a woman’s severed head, holding the edges of a kimono in its mouth. But audiences loved it, and it became the most famous story of its kind. It was remade eight times with different casts, then turned into over a dozen movies, several TV series, and, of course, an anime. This month, it is 179 years old.
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