Mutant Mash-Up

To Ibaraki, where a man has been arrested for selling customised dolls. The unnamed criminal, 39, had modified anime character goods, committing such heinous acts as removing the head of a Love Live doll, and sticking it onto the body of a Girls und Panzer character, before selling the mutant result online for up to £100.

Ibaraki police bragged that they uncovered the crime during a “cyber patrol” last autumn – I imagine because that sounds cooler than admitting someone in the office was Googling teeny-bop merchandise. The cops swept down on his home, confiscated a thousand dolls, and commenced a proctologically unpleasant audit of the suspect’s bank records. This produced evidence of £58,000 in “suspicious” payments over the last three years, suggesting that he had been running his cottage industry for some time.

If you’re wondering why this is a problem, you would not be the first. Is it not a consumer’s right to do whatever they want with the merchandise they own? Toy Story’s neighbourhood bully, Sid Phillips, might have been presented as a bad guy, but when he modded his toys, he wasn’t actually breaking the law… right?

Many countries have a “first-sale doctrine” that allows consumers to do whatever they want with the products they buy. You can tinker with your Blu-ray player, although that might invalidate your warranty. You can write the name of your favourite pop star on your pencil case. You can even, should you desire, put Hitler moustaches and cat ears on all the writers’ pictures on the NEO contributors’ page (please don’t do this). This is true over most of the planet… but in Japan, trademark owners enjoy more leeway in enforcing how their products are resold. A fan in his bedroom is free to sell a doll to someone else, but not to take money for modifying it in such a way as to potentially tarnish the intellectual property. The anime companies charge a lot of money for the licences to sell merchandise, and, on paper at least, selling a Love Live und Panzer mash-up would require a double licence, and double approvals from the makers. Fortunately, the lawmen of Ibaraki are on hand to stop such sordid perversions, and hopefully have also found the time to catch murderers and stuff.

This article first appeared in NEO #187, 2019. Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of Japan.

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