The Pocky Poisoner

pockyIt can’t have been the best of days for the 73-year-old Katsuhisa Ezaki, president of Ezaki Glico Foods, when he opened his mail to discover an apparent blast from the past. A correspondent signing himself Monster #28 was demanding 50 million yen, lest he make good on a threat to poison the company’s food products on supermarket shelves.

This was not the first time this had happened. Back when Ezaki was in his 40s, he was kidnapped by masked men and held hostage in a warehouse while the criminals tried to extort money for his release. The following month, a man calling himself “The Fiend with 21 Faces” threatened to poison Glico’s food products, which include Japanese staples like Pocky and Pretz. Nobody was ever brought to justice, although there was a flurry of media activity around a suspicious “Fox-Eyed Man”.

For something that is supposed to be a light-hearted news source on Japanese media, this column seems to spend an inordinate amount of time reporting on murders, scandals, thefts and other criminal activities. But they often seem to dovetail with the anime world, not least in this case – the original 1980s scandal was the inspiration for the Laughing Man storyline in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

…and it seems, the Laughing Man storyline itself was the inspiration for this 2014 reboot. This time, the police were smarter, staked out the money-drop, and arrested a man on 1st December 2014 who turned out to be a film producer fallen on hard times. His name was initially made public, but has since been scrubbed from the Internet, seemingly in tardy recognition of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty – although, you know, being caught red-handed with the money is going to be a tough break.

So let me phrase this as a lawyer will no doubt have to: if you’d been associated closely with the Japanese cartoon world, if your company was on the skids and your forays into other media had failed, would you consider rifling through your anime collection in search of ideas for money-making schemes? And if so, what anime would you rip off? Budding criminals, write in to NEO and let us (and the police) know your plans…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, and the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation. This article first appeared in NEO 133, 2014.

Fifteen Minutes of Infamy

kurokoOne almost doesn’t want to comment, lest it amount to either feeding the troll or mocking the afflicted. But in the interests of chronicling Japanese popular culture, warts and all, this column reluctantly reports that a Tokyo judge has sentenced Hirofumi Watanabe (36) to the full four-and-a-half year jail sentence called for by the prosecution. The crime: being a colossal douche.

Since 2012, Watanabe had been harassing manga creator Tadatoshi Fujimaki, and anything connected to the artist’s popular manga Kuroko’s Basketball. I say “popular”, although it is bitterly ironic that Kuroko’s Basketball, the tale of a high-school sports team trying to make it to nationals, has barely attracted any foreign attention apart from the hate campaign directed at by Watanabe.

Seemingly jealous that Fujimaki was successful, and determined to drag him into a suicidal vortex of his own making, Watanabe sent poisoned packages, including one containing hydrogen sulphide to Fujimaki’s alma mater, and threatened terror attacks on any convention or event that included coverage of Kuroko’s Basketball. Japanese stores, fearful of some sort of big-eyed al-Qaeda, removed Kuroko’s Basketball from their shelves, and cinemas started demanding ID and proof of invitation from anyone older than 16 trying to get into an anime roadshow.

Why? Because Watanabe was jealous of Fujimaki’s success. Jealous and, frankly, mentally disturbed enough, and idle enough to send 250 threatening letters in a single calendar month, signing himself The Fiend with 801 Faces (a punning reference to 8-0-1 = yaoi). Watanabe was carted off in handcuffs to begin the sentence, still bragging that the whole exercise was a “good revenge” against his parents, and that as soon as he was out of prison, he intended to kill himself.

Stories like this break my heart. In a fandom that crowd-funds artists and has whip-rounds for local charities, in a subculture that welcomes and embraces all lifestyles and all kinds of weirdo, it saddens me that press column inches get expended instead on nutjobs like Watanabe. The Japanese system now has four-and-a-half years to get to the bottom of his problem before he’s out to cause more trouble. Like life isn’t difficult enough. His life, your life, mine…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 128, 2014.