Taxing Problems

maoyuThis month’s big news in the anime world is the sentence handed down by the Tokyo District court to Daisuke Umezu, better known to anime fans by his writing name Mamare Touno. The author of series such as Maoyu and Log Horizon, Umezu had been indicted for tax evasion, on the grounds that he neglected to declare royalties to the Japanese tax man of an extra 122 million yen (that’s £754,000). His company was fined an additional seven million (£43,000) and he will have to wear a three-year suspended sentence, conditional on him not re-offending.

Let me start by saying how pleased I am that there is an author on the planet who can actually find himself owing that much. JK Rowling and Dan Brown are outliers – the average professional writer in the UK still earns barely £12,000 a year. Umezu’s accounts make it very clear that, in Japan at least, there is a thriving market of readers and, presumably, intellectual property spin-offs that will reward someone who writes something that readers and producers love – long may it continue. As my accountant occasionally mumbles, if your worst problem is paying more tax, then you’re not doing badly. And notably it’s Umezu’s company that has been fined – corporate tax law is a whole other ball game, in which ignorance is no defence. If you are running a company, you can’t just shrug and say you didn’t read the small print in the rules; you are expected to know what the rules are.

Umezu has been under house arrest for four months, so one might consider this time served. But lock the average writer in his home for 16 weeks, and he is liable to write another novel, so that’s Umezu already well on his way to paying his next tax bill. It paints a very different picture of the Japanese media than the one implied in a recent Tokyo government boondoggle, which offers a 300,000 yen grant (£1800) for anyone willing to make a ten-minute pilot for a new anime. That’s peanuts, not just to an author like Umezu, but to any anime company, which would be sure to spend ten times that money on such a venture. Your correspondent can’t see the point in it – it seems like a half-hearted measure to kick-start new productions, when as the success of Umezu’s enterprises seems to suggest, there are already plenty of stories out there that real people are already prepared to pay real money for. Long may that continue, too.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #151, 2016.

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