Sharp-eyed anime fans may have noticed the shenanigans in America. On 24th March, Nihon Ad Systems and TV Tokyo jointly filed a lawsuit against the distributor 4Kids, citing irregularities in the payment practises regarding the extremely lucrative anime franchise of Yu-gi-Oh.
There are always irregularities in accounting. There are always numbers that are forgotten, costs amortised, losses adjusted in later reports after they were overlooked in previous ones. Moreover, there are always lawsuits in Hollywood. The notoriously litigious people of the West Coast will lawyer up over everything and nothing, not necessarily because of any wrongdoing, but to ensure that there is no mistake that they are serious and expect swift replies. Peter Jackson and the Tolkien estate both took New Line to court over missing earnings on Lord of the Rings, and still ended up working for them on The Hobbit. It doesn’t mean that relationships are unsalvageable. But the Japanese aren’t like that. The Japanese will do everything in their power to avoid lawsuits, because even starting one means trouble. In Japanese terms, a lawsuit means you have already lost face by not being able to sort things out over a beer.
So if the Japanese are sending the lawyers in, it’s because they are deadly serious about getting their money. It means they have already waited long enough.
4Kids tried to buy time by handing over a million dollars. But in fact, almost four million dollars turn out to be at stake, in what the Japanese regard as unreasonably withheld earnings, including for example, a dollar per copy scraped from the profits from Yu-gi-oh on the GameBoy Advance.
4Kids retaliated by filing for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy protection, plainly in the hope that they could ring-fence their intellectual property, and thus prevent the Japanese from bringing the company down, at least in the short term. Meanwhile, investigations continue, over who did what, and who should pay for what, in terms of dubs, spin-offs and merchandise. But, miraculously, the new Yu-gi-oh movie is out in the UK on schedule, and without a whiff of hassle – hiding some sterling double-checking, contract-auditing and arse-covering behind the scenes.
This article first appeared in NEO magazine #85, 2011.