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!?
But since this a global recession, there is a global response. Over in Japan, Prime Minister Taro Aso decided not to give money to the banks. After all, they’d already proved they couldn’t be trusted with it. Instead, he decided to give it to everybody, doling out roughly £86 to every man, woman and child in Japan, and telling them to have fun with it. It is, like many of Aso’s other decisions in office, a strangely endearing kind of bonkers.
Among many stimulus packages, he has also announced a vague bailout plan to help the anime and manga industries make it through. This is not a necessarily a new direction; under the previous administration in 2005, Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa announced that Japan was placing intellectual property and “contents” – games, anime and movies – at the forefront of its economic policy. Of course, not long after Aso came to power, Nakagawa was fired for being drunk in charge of a ministry, but it’s the thought that counts.
However, nobody really knows what form these measures will take. Will there be a government subsidy for getting a new anime off the ground? Tax breaks for new companies? Tax relief for shows released on a new format? Subsidies for foreign co-productions? Whatever the eventual nature of the bailout, the accountants in the anime and manga industries are poised, ready to get their noses in the trough.
Keep your eyes peeled for weird behaviour. Perhaps we can expect the foundation of several “new” anime companies staffed by people who mysteriously continue to work on the productions they were working on before, or perhaps “new” anthology magazines that amount to little more than pre-existing magazines rebranded to qualify for some sort of tax break.
One thing is certain. This will be money from the Japanese taxpayer, and so the Japanese want to spend it at home. The most amusing side effect, so far at least, has been a move by Japanese organisations to use the word “manga” with considerably greater care in their documentation. The Morning International Manga Competition, for example, has suddenly become the Morning International Comics Competition, on the understanding that if we’re speaking English, comics can obviously come from anywhere, but manga can only come from Japan. Why? Because only Japanese people will qualify for this putative manga subsidy, and as a result, institutional paperwork is likely to become a lot less vague, a lot more carefully translated, and a lot less facetious in its employment of this infamously divisive term. Feel free to write in to the Neo letters page and assert that manga is merely a state of mind, or a comic about dogs, or whatever crazy definition is in fashion this week. Really, Neo’s editor just loves the what-is-manga “debate” and wishes more people would write in about it! Anyone who says otherwise is clearly bonkers. Oh, wait…
(This article originally appeared a couple of months ago in NEO 60, 2009. Usually, I wait longer before posting my magazine pieces up on this blog, but current affairs are catching up with us, so I thought I would make an exception.)