The Day Anime Changed

Forty years after the first broadcast of Gundam, I recount the day that its impact first became truly apparent, over at the AlltheAnime blog.

“The posters were gone by 10am. By midday, Tomino estimated the numbers were pushing 15,000, which threatened to turn the event into a riot. Ever since the Anpo Protests over the controversial US-Japan Security Treaty (an event later referenced in the opening unrest of Akira), ‘public demonstrations’ had been illegal around Shinjuku station. Enough Gundam fans had now gathered to risk attracting police attention, and Tomino fretted that an injury in the crowd could attract exactly the wrong kind of media attention. His “new anime century” risked dying before it could even begin, with future events shut down as too dangerous.”

New Bottles for Old Wine

Doreamon_is_HappyThis autumn sees two iconic anime serials finally reaching the British public – Doraemon, screened on the kids’ channel Boomerang, and the original Gundam, coming from Anime Ltd.

Doraemon is such a popular figure in East Asia that he has sneaked under the radar to entertain kids in Korea and China, many of whom still don’t know he’s Japanese. Despite being a hapless, accident-prone robot cat, he is much beloved, and the centre of a merchandise industry that keeps his owners very well-off. Gundam, meanwhile, is a show about children dragged into a conflict in space using majestic bipedal war machines. It is a vital influence on much anime in the last 40 years, not merely in terms of straightforward imitations, but of entire studios and franchises conceived in reaction to it. Although that’s less important to its owners than the vast numbers of robot toys they hope to sell you.

Doraemon’s appearance on UK TV is not that of a 42-year-old show – it’s starting with episodes that were first broadcast in 2005. But the classic Gundam on offer really is the first series from 1979. It’s older than most NEO readers.

As an anime historian, I am very pleased to see these shows turning up – both are vital to understanding the business of the last 40 years. As a consumer, I can’t help but wonder if both are less about Japanese culture going global, and more about a recession-hit Japan, desperately scrabbling in its bins for any off-cuts it hasn’t sold yet. As this column has noted in the past, there’s a lot of Japanese government boondoggle money available, but only to people who already have something to sell.

There has been much talk recently about exporting media. A cynic might suggest that this is less about a breathless passion for Cool Japan, and more about a bunch of companies sitting on intellectual property that has been paid for and isn’t doing anything. Somewhere in Tokyo, someone in a suit has been pointing at a chart and enthusing about “new” markets. To an accountant, the money that Gundam or Doraemon have racked up in Japan looks like a cash-cow waiting to be milked. If x million people pay for these shows in their home territory, then surely there are y billion people waiting overseas to pay for them?

Are there? It’s a gamble for the foreign distributors, although the Japanese rights-holders are largely playing with other people’s money, or perhaps misguidedly equating their own nostalgia with a niche in overseas markets. Who really stands to lose if these “new” releases turn out not to wow modern British audiences the way they wowed the Japanese all those years ago?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 142, 2015.

Nakama Britannica

The folks over at Nakama Britannica have moved heaven and earth to get their podcast interview with me, Jonathan Clements, out in time for Scotland Loves Anime. If you’re at all interested in the history and direction of the anime industry, there is a lot of information in here, real-world statistics and behind-the-scenes gossip. You can download the podcast here.

0:00 The loss of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, the great unseen anime, disappeared from the record in an unfortunate boating accident. Scotland Loves Anime — the logistics of getting Japanese guests to Glasgow. And a quick plug for my latest book, the new translation of the Art of War.

10:00 What is anime? Nowhere near as dull a question as it sounds, leading to all sorts of gossip about the battle for anime’s soul between the spirits of Osamu Tezuka and Hayao Miyazaki. Includes the words: “Communists”, “witchhunts” and “crappy”.

20:00 Anime as Soft Power. The size of otakudom. The meaning of TV ratings. How anime form follows function. How much is the anime business worth? Includes the words: “chimpanzee”, “over-engineering” and “popular”.

30:00 What is a silver otaku? The impact of Heidi and Yamato.The phenomenology of fandom and misremembering Evangelion and Gundam. The influence of Tadao Nagahama and Yoshiyuki Tomino. Includes the words “pander”, “toss” and “Aznable”.

40:00 Traditional concepts of storytelling, and how unlikely you are to find them. How “traditional” was the Hakkenden. The ethics of tying anime directors to chairs and slapping them. Noh drama and Gasaraki. Jinzo Toriumi’s Introduction to Anime Scenario Writing. Includes the words: “fallacy”, “posh” and “pervy”.

47:00 Wimmin. Do 125 million Japanese people all like hentai? The demographics of female anime fans and the birth of Noitamina. Fujiko Mine and the line between sexy and sexist. The role of women within the anime industry. Includes the words: “mind bleach”, “boobs” and “jellyfist”.

57:00 The chivalry of chauvinism and its impact on anime staff rosters. The evolutionary role of colour recognition. Women in powerful positions, like CLAMP. Includes the words: “xerography”, “concordance” and “primal.”

67:00 Aloha Higa and the unpleasantness over Polar Bear Cafe. How many fingers am I holding up? Includes the words: “sod off”, “Disney”, and “torpid”.

69:00 The nature of originality: giant robots and schoolgirl witches. Downton Abbey the anime, and what a production committee might do to it. Creativity within limits. Includes the words: “tropes”, “Metallica” and “Minovsky particles”.

73:00 Three trends for the future: Kickstarter, mobiles and China. The size of the informal anime market. Issues for intellectual property. What’s changed in Sino-Japanese relations since the publication of the Dorama Encyclopedia. Includes the words: “crowd-sourcing”, “Margaret Thatcher cyborg”, and “sandwich-making”.

84:00 The Death Note backlash in north-east China. Cosplay in China. And goodbye. Includes the words “boobs” and “grabbed”.