Speculate to Accumulate

battle_004It’s been less than a year since this column (NEO #123) called attention to the intricacies of J-LOP, a funding scheme designed to generate foreign revenue for Japan by helping the translation and marketing industries. Ever since the Aso administration, Japan has been particularly wise to the potential of intellectual property, and the excellent opportunities it offers a recession-hit economy to sell something without actually losing anything, all the better to sell it all again. Renting access to viewers and readers is the ultimate post-modern money-maker, and the Japanese government is determined to encourage the very sort of thing that you, dear reader, love.

Or is it? Already with J-LOP there was the faint whiff of jobs for the boys, with the money being handed in a “trickle-down” format, given to the bigwigs and copyright holders, and then passed on down to their minions. Now comes the news that Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods went into production with a new “Unijapan” development grant of fifty million yen. That’s almost £287,000.

Now let’s be honest, Akira Toriyama is hardly standing outside in the street with an eye-patch and a tin cup. Nor is Toei Animation on the skids. Battle of Gods got its money because 20th Century Fox was able to match it pound for pound, but it also came with a guarantee of success – first DBZ film for 17 years, sure to pack Japanese cinemas. Doubtless the movie earned back its money at the box office, and generated plenty of cash and tax and talk. But in backing such a self-fulfilling prophecy, wasn’t the funding body going for the easiest and least risky option? Maybe, if you were a Japanese tax payer, you would welcome the idea that arts funds were going on something that was sure to make a profit, but is that really what arts funding is for?

However, Unijapan isn’t about arts funding, it’s a hard-nosed scheme to generate capital investment. It’ll only give you a maximum of 20% of a film’s budget, which means four times as much money has to come from real investors. Perhaps more interestingly for us, its qualifications for animated productions do not require production in Japan – you can make the whole thing in China if you like, as long as the top staff are Japanese. Hmm… wonder how that’s going to work out…?

This article first appeared in NEO 132, 2014. Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, in shops now (UK/US).

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All Aboard the Gravy Train

doraemonLike some magical artefact pulled from an Anywhere Door, the Doraemon manga suddenly arrives in English, in its entirety! Yes, that’s 12,000 pages of one of Japan’s best loved comics, a valuable missing piece of the manga puzzle.

Publishing Doraemon in its entirety is a big risk, but not as big as it once would have been. E-publishing means that the owners, Fujiko Pro don’t have to print ten thousand copies of a 12,000-page manga, but can store it on a hard-drive and wait for your money. More crucially, the long-running adventures of the time-travelling blue cat arrive part-funded by a Japanese government initiative.

It’s been five years since this column speculated about the likely bail-out package for Cool Japan (NEO #60). But finally we have the Japanese Contents Localisation or Promotion fund, or “J-LOP”, as it appears to have been termed by whimsical policy wonks with a love of Jennifer Lopez. One of the few schemes to survive the collapse of the Aso administration, J-LOP offers millions of pounds to subsidise the translation or promotion of Japanese works.

J-LOP is an impressive exercise in trickle-down economics, an incentive scheme for copyright owners (not publishers or distributors) to push their work in new markets. And while it can front up to 70% of the costs, the owners still have to come up with some of the cash themselves – this is mainly going to be a scheme that benefits the rich, in the expectation that their ventures generate employment for the rest of us.

So it’s a job creation scheme to attract foreign money, thereby creating work for Japanese tax-payers on which they can pay tax. It is, according to its website at j-lop.jp, also a tourism initiative, in order to keep foreign readers and viewers enthusiastic about Japanese stuff. One wonders if Doraemon is merely the first of many classics to get a leg-up, but I suspect that canny form-fillers will soon be at the trough, applying for subsidies not for worthy wallflowers, but for fan-bait that would have got translated anyway. A heroic tribunal will apparently be on hand to stop this happening. Now there’s an anime waiting to happen…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, published by the British Film Institute. This article first appeared in NEO #123, 2014.