How Tokyo Changed The World


I am interviewed in the Emirates in-flight magazine, talking about Japanese inventions that are actually useful:

“For demographic and geographic reasons – a high population and very little flat land for building – the Japanese were generations ahead of the rest of the world in terms of having to cope with living piled on top of one another,” says Dr Jonathan Clements, author of Modern Japan: All That Matters.

“This has led to a greater interest, in terms of design and technology, in being able to isolate oneself from the people around you. The Walkman was originally designed so that the boss of Sony, Akio Morita, could listen to music on a plane. Can you imagine air travel today without it? The Walkman then kicked off a revolution in fitness, but miniaturisation and falling costs have also been instrumental in the migration of TV sets from lounges to bedrooms, and the diversification of media into narrowcasting, whereby different people can watch the TV programmes or videos that they want, even in the same house.”

What Next?

marnie_hires_6There were two notable absences from the screenings at this year’s Scotland Love Anime – or rather, two notable presences at the London Film Festival. Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie was There, the last feature film from Studio Ghibli, and The Boy and the Beast, the latest feature from Mamoru Hosoda, both made it onto the LFF roster instead. You might call this a victory all round – Hosoda’s films are often snatched by the LFF ahead of SLA, thereby leaving a slot in Scotland for less mainstream fare, as well as guaranteeing that Hosoda doesn’t sweep the Scottish Judges Award every year. But London’s programmers, as they are wont to do, are also snatching the most commercial and audience-friendly Japanese animated features. What are they going to programme next year?

Almost everybody in the anime business is tired of the “next Miyazaki” argument, in part because there can be no such thing. Hayao Miyazaki was a one-off, as was the synergy formed by his partnership with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. Moreover, the conditions that made their Studio Ghibli such a world-beater were also, in themselves, unique. The putative successors to Miyazaki are competing in an environment that is worlds away from the situation that saw Princess Mononoke rise to fame.

But concerns about who might be anime’s new poster-child aren’t just about the search for a new creative force. They are also all about money. For a Japanese movie to break even at the domestic box office, it has to be in the top twenty films released that year – a benchmark that only Studio Ghibli and a couple of long-running franchises (your Pokémon, your One Piece) could ever manage. A Studio Ghibli film (let’s be honest, a Miyazaki film), was a blue-chip investment, guaranteed to put bums on seats in Japan, and to monetise in foreign sales. Nobody else in Japan currently comes close, and that doesn’t just affect the likely enjoyment of family audiences. It affects festival programmers looking for something Japanese for their slates; it affects retailers planning how many feet of shelves to give to anime; and it affects distributors allotting budgets to those weird Japanese cartoons we keep hearing about. With Ghibli removed from the equation, the investment value of the entire anime medium drops by a significant factor, forcing everybody – distributors, retailers, and cinema owners, to work a lot harder to keep it in the public eye. So do your bit: go and see a Japanese animated film in a cinema this year… It’ll show up on someone’s balance sheet, and might make all the difference.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #143, 2015.

Harem Scare ‘Em

32243-ComicArtAsst_3Yuki Aito is living the dream… in a way. His comic Haji Café has become a hit, dragging his art career from a hobby into a full-on profession. Like many a manga artist before him, he’s discovering the hard way that a weekly schedule never lets up, taking on a bunch of assistants to help him grind out the pages. But because he’s a self-acknowledged pervert, obsessed with knickers, he has only hired pretty teenage girls.

Even if you’re not an anime or manga fan, you’re probably familiar with the look of the “harem show” – a romantic comedy that places a single hapless boy in the company of a whole gang of pretty women, every one of them girlfriend material. The genre has been visible in Japan for the last 20 years, serving the anyone-will-do desperation of horny teenage boys, with just a dash of wish fulfilment. These fantasy women aren’t just beautiful and theoretically available for Yuki, they are also comics fans like him.

Should he plump for Sahoto, the hard-working artist who cherishes a dream of being a comics creator all on her own? Or should he go for Rinna, the talentless assistant hired only for her looks, and the fact that she is a fan of his work? Maybe he should chance his arm with Sena, the pathologically childish teenager who nurses a hidden sadistic streak? Or perhaps he should return to his past with his old schoolmate Mihari, once a childhood crush, now a hard-nosed editor at his manga publisher?

The Comic Artist and His Assistants is based on a manga about creating manga, one of a burgeoning sub-genre of self-referential titles that have also seen tales of wacky sci-fi shop-owners, convention costumers as the heroes of their own show, and a chronicle of behind-the-scenes shenanigans at an animation studio. For everyone who keeps hearing that anime and manga are taking the world by storm, it’s a gentle reminder that some of anime’s appeal actually stems from its ability to go small: narrow-casting to niche audiences such as, in this case, boys who like drawing comics and ogling girls, and who don’t see anything creepy in the very obvious exploitation of workplace power. Original creator “Hiroyuki” first found fame with a manga about creating amateur manga, and now he’s gone pro in every sense.

As you may have noticed, it’s all about Yuki’s choice, his options and his desires. The women in The Comic Artist and His Assistants are less characters than they are gaming objects, clusters of attributes and quirks – this one’s got small tits, that one’s got blonde hair, that one’s too weak to open an ink pot. There are plenty of anime and manga for a female audience (and this column will get to them soon enough), but this month’s offering is resolutely chauvinist, deriving much of its humour from putting the girls in embarrassing situations and subjecting them to sexual harassment (boob-grabbing now counts as “research”).

Takeshi Furuta’s animated adaptation seems to instinctively know that its one-note perving is going to be difficult to sustain. Consequently, its episodes clock in at a quick 15 minutes each, just long enough to set up a pantomime situation of ooer-missus innuendo, and to slap our priapic protagonist with some sort of half-hearted retribution. One typical episode focuses creepily on Yuki stuck in an elevator with the childlike Sena, as she reveals that she is desperate to go to the toilet. The show takes evident pleasure, like Yuki himself, in the prospect of her humiliation, turning their dilemma into a comedy of manners when he offers her an empty bottle to piss in.

This isn’t a show with morals as such, although every now and then it pays lip service to the idea that Yuki needs to grow up before he can achieve his true potential, and, it is implied, bag himself a girlfriend for real. But personal growth was not the message of Hiroyuki’s original, nor should we expect it to be. This is an anime show about wobbly bits and cat-calls, pulling girls’ pigtails and peering down their dresses. You will also learn the Japanese for knickers, which is pantsu.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Modern Japan: All That Matters.This article first appeared in Geeky Monkey #1, 2015.


3518686_1399254412953.75res_400_300I appear in my role as the Scotland Loves Anime jury chairman in this month’s All the Anime Podcast, in which we discuss the four features in competition: Miss Hokusai, The Case of Hana & Alice, Expelled from Paradise and Empire of Corpses. For anyone interested in the kind of dialogue that goes on behind the scenes at a film festival, it should be quite illuminating.

Since Anime News Network’s Justin Sevakis was one of this year’s judges, talk then turns to his career behind the scenes in US anime distribution, most notably the hellish life of a hentai trailer maker, with reference to the notorious Night Shift Nurses (pictured). As a result, this podcast is most definitely Not Suitable For Work, unless you work at at anime company — trigger warnings for necrophilia, scatology and incest, and that’s just the guests, everything from the Golden Partridge to the Golden Shower.