Up now on the All the Anime blog, my review of Rayna Denison’s book Anime: A Critical Introduction, which delves into such matters as how nasty was the reaction to the video nasty Legend of the Overfiend; how classy is the whole output of Studio Ghibli; and how is anime sold at Japanese trade fairs?
Doraemon is such a popular figure in East Asia that he has sneaked under the radar to entertain kids in Korea and China, many of whom still don’t know he’s Japanese. Despite being a hapless, accident-prone robot cat, he is much beloved, and the centre of a merchandise industry that keeps his owners very well-off. Gundam, meanwhile, is a show about children dragged into a conflict in space using majestic bipedal war machines. It is a vital influence on much anime in the last 40 years, not merely in terms of straightforward imitations, but of entire studios and franchises conceived in reaction to it. Although that’s less important to its owners than the vast numbers of robot toys they hope to sell you.
Doraemon’s appearance on UK TV is not that of a 42-year-old show – it’s starting with episodes that were first broadcast in 2005. But the classic Gundam on offer really is the first series from 1979. It’s older than most NEO readers.
As an anime historian, I am very pleased to see these shows turning up – both are vital to understanding the business of the last 40 years. As a consumer, I can’t help but wonder if both are less about Japanese culture going global, and more about a recession-hit Japan, desperately scrabbling in its bins for any off-cuts it hasn’t sold yet. As this column has noted in the past, there’s a lot of Japanese government boondoggle money available, but only to people who already have something to sell.
There has been much talk recently about exporting media. A cynic might suggest that this is less about a breathless passion for Cool Japan, and more about a bunch of companies sitting on intellectual property that has been paid for and isn’t doing anything. Somewhere in Tokyo, someone in a suit has been pointing at a chart and enthusing about “new” markets. To an accountant, the money that Gundam or Doraemon have racked up in Japan looks like a cash-cow waiting to be milked. If x million people pay for these shows in their home territory, then surely there are y billion people waiting overseas to pay for them?
Are there? It’s a gamble for the foreign distributors, although the Japanese rights-holders are largely playing with other people’s money, or perhaps misguidedly equating their own nostalgia with a niche in overseas markets. Who really stands to lose if these “new” releases turn out not to wow modern British audiences the way they wowed the Japanese all those years ago?
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 142, 2015.
Packing my suitcase for this year’s Scotland Loves Anime, which begins on Friday in Glasgow. Keiichi Hara is in town to introduce the UK premiere of his Miss Hokusai, while I shall be fronting the UK premiere of Ryotaro Makihara’s Empire of Corpses, the steampunk epic based on the novel by Project Itoh and Toh Enjoe. I’m also looking forward to Production I.G’s latest Ghost in the Shell (another UK premiere) and the studio’s own self-inflicted competition over the same genre ground in Psycho-Pass: The Movie (which is, in case you hadn’t guessed, a UK premiere).
Behind the scenes, I shall be speaking about the state of the anime industry, both at the Edinburgh Education Day and in a pop-up lecture in Nottingham next Monday. I shall also be chairing the jury in Edinburgh as four opinion-formers argue over the conferral of this year’s
Golden Partridge Judges’ Award. Shunji Iwai has a film in competition, and almost everybody is liable to be distracted by the Attack on Titan quadruple-bill (two anime movies and two live-action), but I’ll make sure the jury is in the right place at the right time.
My review of Rebecca Suter’s Holy Ghosts: The Christian Century in Modern Japanese Fiction, is up now on the All the Anime blog.
“[The book] does not shy away from Endo and his ilk, but as her beautiful and striking choice of cover image makes plain, she is not afraid of digging around in the maze of manga and anime in search of new and exciting comparisons.”