Speculate to Accumulate

battle_004It’s been less than a year since this column (NEO #123) called attention to the intricacies of J-LOP, a funding scheme designed to generate foreign revenue for Japan by helping the translation and marketing industries. Ever since the Aso administration, Japan has been particularly wise to the potential of intellectual property, and the excellent opportunities it offers a recession-hit economy to sell something without actually losing anything, all the better to sell it all again. Renting access to viewers and readers is the ultimate post-modern money-maker, and the Japanese government is determined to encourage the very sort of thing that you, dear reader, love.

Or is it? Already with J-LOP there was the faint whiff of jobs for the boys, with the money being handed in a “trickle-down” format, given to the bigwigs and copyright holders, and then passed on down to their minions. Now comes the news that Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods went into production with a new “Unijapan” development grant of fifty million yen. That’s almost £287,000.

Now let’s be honest, Akira Toriyama is hardly standing outside in the street with an eye-patch and a tin cup. Nor is Toei Animation on the skids. Battle of Gods got its money because 20th Century Fox was able to match it pound for pound, but it also came with a guarantee of success – first DBZ film for 17 years, sure to pack Japanese cinemas. Doubtless the movie earned back its money at the box office, and generated plenty of cash and tax and talk. But in backing such a self-fulfilling prophecy, wasn’t the funding body going for the easiest and least risky option? Maybe, if you were a Japanese tax payer, you would welcome the idea that arts funds were going on something that was sure to make a profit, but is that really what arts funding is for?

However, Unijapan isn’t about arts funding, it’s a hard-nosed scheme to generate capital investment. It’ll only give you a maximum of 20% of a film’s budget, which means four times as much money has to come from real investors. Perhaps more interestingly for us, its qualifications for animated productions do not require production in Japan – you can make the whole thing in China if you like, as long as the top staff are Japanese. Hmm… wonder how that’s going to work out…?

This article first appeared in NEO 132, 2014. Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, in shops now (UK/US).

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Choice Award

41bkTuP9TdL._SY445_Apparently my book Anime: A History (US/UK) has just been selected as one of 23 Palgrave titles receiving this year’s Choice Award, a recommendation dished out by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, a publication of the American Library Association. “This list of publications reflects the best in scholarly titles and is designed to attract the attention of the academic library community,” quoth Palgrave.

Undercover Manga

shimajiro appI’ve been wondering for a while when the Doraemon bomb was going to go off. Every time I’ve been to China in the last three years, amid ever-escalating sabre-rattling over the Senkaku Islands, I have found the locals avidly denying any interest in Japanese culture. I have found media students unprepared to work on papers about anime, for fear that the word “Japan” will be on their resumé ever more. And I have watched, every day, as two Japanese invaders march in right under Chinese noses.

One is Shimajiro, an infant tiger cub who appears in a hybrid kids’ show that is part anime, part live-action play school. I’ve watched Shimajiro sing songs about London Bridge and demonstrate how to go to the toilet, and nobody has noticed that he’s really Japanese, because the broadcasters have stripped out the original live-action framing footage and replaced it with Chinese people. Also, they don’t make the mistake of calling him Shimajiro, either. In China, he is known as Qiao Hu Dao, the “brave and clever tiger.”

doraemonThe other is Doraemon, that time-travelling blue robot cat who recently enjoyed the surprising honour of a 12,000-page manga translation funded by Japanese government boondoggle money. Doraemon remains a popular movie and TV figure with anime audiences, but was also the subject of so much manga piracy in decades past that he is known by several different names in the Chinese world. My favourite is Ding Dang the Robot Cat (ding-dang, you see, being Mandarin for ding-dong, if you ever need it). He’s even the subject of an exhibition in Hong Kong, which trilled, unwisely, about his true origins.

The Japanese authorities, excited at the amount of love for Ding Dang all over the mainland, have made Doraemon a cultural ambassador, thereby pushing their soft power agenda by showing the Chinese that a perennial favourite was actually from the other side of the water. This has entertainingly backfired, with a schmuck-bait editorial in the Chengdu Daily pointing out the blindingly obvious – that Doraemon was an effort to make Japan look cute and less threatening – and several lesser newspapers getting increasingly irate about the idea, with the Global Times frothing “we must never let a little robotic cat take control of our minds.” Top tip.

This article first appeared in NEO 131, 2014. Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, in shops now (UK/US).