Speculative Japan 2

Although cover, front page and spine are all in disagreement about this book’s exact title, it contains stories of SF and fantasy from Japan, many lifted from a 2006 best-of survey. The oldest story here is Naoko Awa’s fairytale “A Gift From the Sea” (1977), while the most recent are a bunch from 2007. Clustered among them are superlative works such as Yasumi Kobayashi’s super-hard SF “The Man Who Watched the Sea” (2002) and Issui Ogawa’s “Old Vohl’s Planet” (2003), a first-contact tale told by the last survivor of a race of creatures from a gas-giant planet. There is a wide range of tone and quality in both stories and translations – one tale inadvisably attempts to make Japanese-speaking space-farers speak like 1930s English sea dogs, while another is a superior translation of a sub-standard sentimental romance. But in bringing thirteen Japanese authors to the attention of a wider English-speaking audience, this is one of the most important contributions to Japanese prose SF abroad in the last twenty years.

Jonathan Clements is a contributing editor to the new edition of the Encylopedia of Science Fiction, with special responsibilty for Chinese and Japanese material. This review first appeared in the SFX Ultimate Guide to Anime, 2011.

Party Like It's 1889

Over on his blog, Andy Frankham interviews John Ainsworth and me about our work on the Space 1889 audio dramas. I can’t believe it’s already been six years since they came out.

Doing this reminds me I must write up my discoveries on Japanese steampunk soon. There are some really amazing stories I uncovered while working on the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, including Rhett Butler vs samurai and Byron’s daughter in space.

The Ties That Bind

The manga artist Mutsumi Akazaki was having a bad day. She had been slogging through the latest instalment of the Fractale comic, a tie-in to the anime series of the same name, and mused on her blog that she wished she could work on something she actually enjoyed, that wasn’t “uninteresting.”

Fractale’s notoriously prickly director, Yutaka Yamamoto, hit the roof, demanding that Akazaki be fired, and adding insult to injury by suggesting that she sod off and draw her heart’s desire, instead of riding the coattails of others.

Akazaki had been very stupid. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, particularly when you are just starting out. And bitching online about how harrrrd your life is is a rookie error, particularly when you are drawing comics for a living, and not, say, packing sardines in a factory or huddling in a tent in Fukushima. Nor are any fans (Fractale presumably still has some) likely to smile on a creative who makes it plain how much they hate the show that Fractale fans love. Fans like to think that creators are other fans, otherwise they feel bilked and cheated.

But Yamamoto’s knee-jerk response offers a glimpse of the way that tie-in writers are often treated – ridiculed by some other creators for not being “original”, even though fitting one’s creative output to meet the restrictions of someone else’s franchise is no mean feat in itself.

However, at the end of June, the Gangan Online website posted the next instalment of the Fractale manga bang on schedule. Akazaki had already delivered it, after all, and there was the upcoming compilation release to consider. It was, perhaps, a subtle little reminder that Fractale doesn’t actually belong to its director either. The story is by Hiroki Azuma, the show-runner is Mari Okada, and a committee of six executive producers form the actual Jedi Council that steers the franchise through the media. In other words, Yamamoto himself had been given quiet notice that he, too, was working for hire on a product that actually belonged to someone else.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #89, 2011.

Tea Time

An unexpected highlight of the Scotland Loves Anime Festival has turned out to be a surreal quest narrative that has been screened before every film on offer in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It’s the new advert for Twinings tea, “Getting You Back to You”, (see it here) and according to its makers, is intended as an allegory of ten minutes of “me-time”.

“Women today juggle such a wide variety of roles, on a day to day basis, whether it is being a mother, housekeeper, cook, employee or friend. Recent research has revealed that women all over the UK are so focused on looking after others, they do not have the opportunity to take any “me-time”, and as a result are sometimes left forgetting who they really are.”

By “recent research”, I think they mean a focus group at Red magazine, but rediscoveries of the wheel aside, the Twinings advert brings to mind a subject that has been recurring throughout the festival, and particularly at the Education Day on Friday. Here we are, at a week-long series of events dedicated to animation, including not only Scotland Loves Anime, but also showcases for Polish animators and presentations from Aardman and a workshop from Axis. And yet the animated works seen on the most occasions, by the most attendees, regardless of what they actually paid to see, are commercials.

Psyop, the company that made the Twinings advert, are the latest in a long line of animators who have used advertising as a patron of the arts. All three presentations at the Education Day showed commercials as part of their studio showcase, and noted that it was a far better way of paying the bills than animating stick-men in a garret and waiting to be discovered.

The Twinings advert has met with repeated hilarity at Scottish screenings, largely, I think, because some people have confused it with a festival bonus film, only to discover that they are being sold a cup of tea. But in terms of generating interest in the product, it already has people talking. Since part of my job here is to introduce the films, I have had to sit through the adverts before every single one, and have been noting the number of times that animation plays a part. Red Bull, entirely animated. M&Ms, integrating animation and live-action. Even Orange, in their “Phone Break” satire, have had to pay someone to go away and make the “Phone Break” animation that appears on movie screens as part of the advert.

I’ve written elsewhere about the most widely seen piece of Japanese animation in 1958, which, contrary to expectations, was not the feature-length colour movie Hakujaden, but a 60-second commercial for Torys Whisky. The recent book Anime-gaku claims that up to 70% of early Japanese commercials used animation in some form, even if it was just a simple graphic presentation of the way that an indigestion tablet worked, or a striking product logo. This has always been the way, and the Festival Director Andrew Partridge and I will be discussing the presence, absence and enduring value of short animation at our Q&A later today.

But first I have to go in for my last day of duties. Firstly, herding cats at the festival jury, in order to pick our winner. Still no name for the award. I have suggested the “Golden Partridge”. Someone else has mooted the Scotland Loves Anime Vaginahands Homodolphin. I think we’ll just call it the Judges’ Award. Then I have Ryosuke Takahashi for a Q&A on his career and an introduction to the Tekken movie. OH…I nearly forgot, I am off to London on the sleeper tonight. I’d better pack!

Get Lost…

Although the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is only partly complete, interested readers can access the working text now at the website. I warn you now, with 3.2 million words up online already, it is a time-wasting machine. I’ve been writing entries on a number of Asian subjects, including a new contender for Japan’s first science fiction anime, a forgotten master of pre-manga art, and an ongoing effort to write entries for everybody who’s won a Seiun Award. Plus entries on all sorts of fun things, from Korean costume dramas to Chinese feminists, the science fiction of Yukio Mishima and the steampunk of Hitoshi Yoshioka. Since the Encyclopedia focusses on authorship, there are entries on the original creators of Sky Crawlers and Akira, 2001 Nights and Star Blazers. There are details of the Japanese variants of Flowers for Algernon and the translation of Neuromancer, Japanese experts on Jack the Ripper and the big names in yaoi.

And how much does this all cost you? Nothing. It’s all free. It won’t be finished for a year or so, but it’s being hosted and paid for by Gollancz as part of their SF Gateway. But I’m warning you: it’s a time hoover. Do not click on any of the above links if you haven’t got an hour or so to spare getting lost in the labyrinth.

The Footprints of a Gigantic Mind

Out now in the US, and coming in a couple of weeks to the UK, Sherlock Holmes & Philosophy. This collection of essays on matters Sherlockian includes my own “Curious Case of the Dog in Prime Time”, a discussion of the Japanese cartoon series Sherlock Hound. See what I did, there?

In fact, my chapter is partly about the reception of Sherlock Holmes in Japan, and partly about the development of anthropomorphic anime. Other contributors have written pieces on, amongst other subjects, Sherlock Holmes and Buddhism, Sherlock Holmes and Hip Hop, unreliable narrators, Star Trek, marriage, feminism and the overall Holmes canon.

Scotland Loves…

Today I’m packing for Scotland Loves Anime, two weekends of Japanese cartoonery held in Glasgow and Edinburgh. This year’s line-up has four, count ’em, four Japanese guests, which means I have my work cut out for me interviewing Yumi Sato (Brains Base) and Shuko Yokoyama (Aniplex) about Hotarubi, and Shunsuke Oiji about Colourful. And the cherry on the cake is the legendary Ryosuke Takahashi (that’s him in the picture), father of “real mecha”, and show-runner on Armoured Trooper Votoms, who will be in Edinburgh to show off his new Pailsen Files, and answering questions after the premiere.

I’ll also be talking to him on Sunday 16th about his long career in the Japanese animation business, beginning with his early days at the famous Mushi Production. I might also bring up his segment of The Cockpit anime, since I translated it 16 years ago.

Scotland Loves Anime is actually part of a broader remit called “Scotland Loves Animation”. This is reflected in the education day on Friday 14th which sees a number of animators, directors and producers from the global animation community talking about their work. Also, the Polish animation house Platiges Images are sending Daniel Nenow to talk about his superb dogfight animation Paths of Hate. And all the while, Jonathan Clements, author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis (that’s me), will be darting about on stage imparting Quite Interesting facts and odd anime trivia. At some point, I think that festival organiser Andrew Partridge is interviewing me… or I am interviewing him. We will probably end up interviewing each other, and as per usual it will turn into a stand-up routine about Bonkers Things the Japanese Studios Have Done This Year.