Human Lost

Over at All the Anime, I write up Fuminori Kizaki’s Human Lost, a distaff sci-fi adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human.

“The year… is ‘Showa 111’ – playfully extending Emperor Hirohito’s imperial era as far as the year 2036. But does this mean that this anime takes place in a world where the Showa Emperor has been ruling for 111 years? Is Hirohito still on the Chrysanthemum Throne, a wizened, cyber-emperor in his thirteenth decade, sustained by dark technologies and underhand upgrades?”

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Birthday Wonderland

“The story is famous, not only for its critical acclaim and awards nods, but because it was considered by Hayao Miyazaki as his next movie project in 1998. When Miyazaki put the idea aside and went on to make the thematically similar Spirited Away instead, Kashiwaba’s illustrator Kozaburo Takekawa publicly accused the Studio Ghibli director of plagiarism.” Ahead of Birthday Wonderland’s UK premiere next month at Scotland Loves Anime, I write it up for All the Anime.

The Trouble with Budori Gusuco

Over at All the Anime, I write up the path to the screen of Kenji Miyazawa:

“It is difficult to overstate the impact of the author Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) on Japanese literature, and anime. He was still in his thirties when he died, a largely unknown poet living in provincial obscurity, and only really read outside local newspapers after the publication of a Complete Works a decade later. In the post-war period, which saw most of the Japanese school curriculum bleached and purged of any authors with wartime associations, Miyazawa’s gentle, pastoral tales, suffused with Buddhist imagery, swiftly took root, becoming the set books of an entire generation of schoolchildren.”

Miyazakiworld

The new issue of Science Fiction Studies is out, including my long review of Susan Napier’s Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art.

“Perfectly judged for the undergraduate reader, Napier’s book offers a commendable balance of analysis and insight, production gossip and historical contexts. Its references diligently cram in signposts for delving deeper into untranslated sources, but not in such a way as to alienate scholars who can only work in English. There is sufficient material here to turn a fan into a critical viewer, but also to inform artistic appreciation of films that are already well-loved. It is sure to become part of the introductory toolkit for many a course on anime, not the least for its nuanced coverage of the life and works of Japanese animation’s most famous creator.”

Statue of Limitations

Just a couple more years, and Bandai accountants might have thrown away all the relevant documentation, allowing two former employees to get away with deceptively simple crime. But someone got a surprise when checking over old invoices, leading at least one man to get caught cooking the books at the Japanese company most famous for Gundam.

I say “at least one”, because so far among the accused, only Takashi Utazu (44) has pleaded guilty to the charges, which include talking up the costs of installing the giant Gundam statue in Odaiba in 2013, and pocketing the surplus. LED lighting, which should have cost 10 million yen, was billed to the company at 20 million, leaving Utazu and his alleged accomplice with almost £70,000 in pure profit. And that’s only one incident in a four-year scam, thought to have netted the embezzlers a total of 200 million yen (£1.4 million).

Because of the sheer size and volume of certain franchises, toy companies have to deal with sums an order of magnitude above what simple folk like you and I are used to. A few years ago, when the Japanese government was dickering about the expense of the much-mooted National Media Arts Centre, it was a Bandai staffer who put everybody in their place by pointing out that the sums under discussion cost no more than a single new theme-park ride. It’s very easy, said another, to spend a million dollars. He meant that when you’re dealing with numbers this big, the overheads of simply making enough toys for something to stand a chance of becoming a bestseller turn into phone-number sized entries on a spreadsheet. Bandai won’t miss a few thousand, right?

Well, wrong. Their bean-counters are super-powered, transforming maths robots, and the dating on these reports makes me think that someone flagged up something fishy, seemingly in projects connected to another employee – a man who is currently continuing to protest his innocence, even though he was fired in October 2017 over the audit findings. There’s a statute of limitations on financial reporting – in Japan as in the UK, companies aren’t obliged to hold on to records for longer than seven years. So the thieves might have got away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling accountants.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #186, 2019.

 

Animated Encounters

Over at the All the Anime blog, I review Daisy Yan Du’s new book about the inspiration and influences of Chinese animated films, which includes substantial detail on cross-pollination with Japan.

“Du’s concentration on Chinese animation in an international context is a rewarding account not only of films released, but of unexpected influences and projects that never happened. She regards the Wan brothers’ Princess Iron Fan (1943), for example, as’“far more influential in wartime Japan than in wartime China,’ but also reports that when Japanese animators came to Shanghai in 1988 looking for subcontractors on the Saiyuki TV anime, the Shanghai Animation Studio refused to work on it, because the Japanese version of the legend of the Monkey King deviated too far from acceptable norms.”

Top Men

At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones was assured that his priceless, powerful archaeological find was being looked after by ‘Top Men’. But as the credits began to roll, we saw it nailed into a crate, dumped in a giant warehouse full of similar boxes, forgotten and abandoned. The image was Lucas and Spielberg’s homage to Orson Welles, a little piece of Citizen Kane recycled for a modern audience. But in Japan, Hiroshi Takashige asked himself: what was in all those other crates? And more importantly, who were these Top Men?

In collusion with artist Ryoji Minagawa, he decided that they were a secret, self-sustaining unit within the Pentagon, tasked with nabbing any weird and wonderful artefacts that come to light, many of which had been left behind by an ancient, highly-advanced civilisation. They began work on the comic project that would become Spriggan, only to find themselves influenced by real-world events.

They were writing at the time of the First Gulf War; a very difficult prospect for the Japanese. A nation, supposedly sworn to avoid violence and military aggression, was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch while the rest of the world got involved in a conflict about resources in the Middle East, the cradle of civilisation, resources that Japan itself needed as desperately as everyone else. It resulted in such tales as the desert robot combat anime Gasaraki, and in an interest, partly fuelled by The X Files, in presenting the Pentagon as the bad guy.

There is more than one agency searching for these artefacts. The Pentagon competes with the KGB, and both are in opposition to ARCAM, a global corporation that wants the artefacts for itself. Its crack, super-powered agents are spies-cum-archaeologists named after ancient Celtic temple guardians, the Spriggan.

Minagawa and Takashige initially wanted to feature an adult agent, but ended up selling their concept to an anthology magazine aimed at boys. Consequently, they moved their original lead into the background, and concentrated on his teenage nephew, Yu Ominae.

Rights for a movie adaptation were soon sold, and Spriggan went into production as an anime. The film-makers plumped for a script that emphasised the Indiana Jones parallels, chasing after a different Ark (Noah’s, in this case) at Mount Ararat, with cyborg Pentagon agents roughing it up with the ARCAM Spriggans in an action-packed thriller.

As Ominae, producers cast Shotaro Morikubo, better known in Japan as the movie-dub voice of Johnny Depp. Originally intended to go straight to video, the budget received a massive injection of cash, sufficient for a movie, when Katsuhiro Otomo announced he would be ‘involved.’ Akira creator Otomo was supposed to be working on his own project, the long-delayed Steam Boy, but fancied Spriggan as a kind of busman’s holiday. In fact, he is rumoured to have been the director in all but name; his fingerprints are all over Spriggan, in the design of the space-faring Noah’s Ark that the agents unearth, in the blue-skinned Pentagon child-telepath General MacDougall, and in the large amount of night-time shooting – an expensive luxury in animation that relies so heavily on light coming through the cels, but one that Otomo often enjoyed for the artistic hell of it. The credited director, Hirotsugu Kawasaki, has not had another movie to his name since, only emphasising the impression that Otomo’s more nebulous title of ‘General Superviser’ may have been adopted for contractual reasons. But for those in the know, there was no mistaking who the Top Man on the Spriggan production really was.

This article first appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine #236, 2005, and was subsequently reprinted in Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. A new adaptation of Spriggan has just been announced, forthcoming from Netflix.