Another month, another anime industry strop – this time with Aloha Higa actually suspending her own manga, Polar Bear Café, in protest at her treatment by her publishers. Her grievance is that she hasn’t seen a penny for the anime adaptation, and discovered that editors were signing off on approvals without even telling her.
To play devil’s advocate for a moment, there are a lot of manga artists who would love it if someone took away all the drudgery. She can get on with drawing the manga, and leave the “What colour hat works best” nonsense to some studio underling. Even so, that’s no excuse for discovering that one’s name is on a TV show before any money has hit the bank account.
Interestingly, one of her complaints is the sort of thing that might have easily been settled over a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Higa doesn’t like the fact that the anime version of her titular bear only has four fingers. This is, I am sure, a deliberate decision by the animators, dating back to received wisdom from the distant past, when Disney and Tezuka both agreed that in animation, four fingers looks like five at a glance, whereas five fingers looks like six. The animators could have probably demonstrated that for her, and she could have made her case the other way. But now it’s all gone sour, as she discovers that the animators have been assuming that she has approved scripts that she has never even seen.
Polar Bear Café may well be a one-note joke, but it belongs to Aloha Higa. It’s hers to do with as she pleases. And perhaps she fears, as do all creatives, that this might be her fifteen minutes in the spotlight. So if she wants to tell the anime company how to draw her characters; this might be the one time in her life when she gets to do that. Imagine how she’d feel if Polar Bear Café came and went on-air, before she had the chance to influence so much as a single brushstroke. So, good for her for giving her publishers the cold shoulder. The icy atmosphere led to a swift apology, and, hopefully a thaw in relations… [That’s enough – Ed.]
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #101, 2012.