Arcade Fire

Unsurprisingly, gaming arcades have been on the wane in Japan since their peak in 1986 of 26,000 sites. Thereafter, consoles took arcade games into the home, and miniaturisation took gaming onto your phone. Feeding dozens of 100-yen pieces into a Starblade machine, essentially buying one’s way through difficult levels, as your correspondent once did in Osaka for much of 1992, started to look like a silly option when you could own the thing outright and play it in your lounge.

These days, there are only 4,000 registered arcades in Japan, along with another 9,000 sites too small to count, having less than fifty machines. But with the closure of Anata no Warehouse, a five-storey grunge palace in Kawasaki, modelled on the Walled City of Kowloon, it seems that something has dealt a killing blow to the old gaming palaces.

The culprit is a simple 2% increase in consumption tax (Japan’s VAT). That puts up the cost of the average manga magazine by 0.0006p, hardly anything to write home about, you might think. But Japan’s arcade sector has been struggling for years to maintain its “one-coin” slot machine charges. Whereas the average slot machine in the UK takes pound coins, the nearest equivalent in Japan is the 100-yen piece, which is only worth 71p. Under the old 8% tax, 8 yen of that was already going to the tax man; since 1st October, that now goes up to 10 yen. Or in British terms, Japanese arcade games are only bringing home 63p per play. The next coin up is the 500-yen piece, which would mean each play would cost £3.58.

Put it another way: the arcade sites in Japan have declined not only because of new technologies and habits, but because the games are still charging 1986 prices! The consumption tax is liable to wipe out what little profits were left for suppliers, and is sure to lead to many more giving up the ghost. Anata no Warehouse is probably only the first to shut down.

I wonder, though, whether this will affect pachinko quite so much. Japan’s frightfully dull ball-bearing games are in a class of their own, often seem to be a cover for money-laundering anyway, and feature under-the-counter prizes that can be downgraded at will by site owners. So I expect that pachinko will continue to endure, as it bafflingly has for decades, even as the nature of the 100-yen coin leads to a shake-out in more everyday arcade games.

Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of Japan. This article first appeared in NEO #195, 2019.

The End of Saturday Morning

“Certain non-Japanese producers, post-Pokémon, were indeed actively reverse-engineering its success, asking what it was that made anime special and attempting to implement that – I know this because I was paid a lot of money to tell them… [O’Melia] focusses on some interesting areas within reception studies, particularly regarding the hybridity of global broadcasting. She notes that, like British television in days past, Japanese television has exerted a recognisable impact on American broadcasting, contrary to many scare-mongering claims that American media are being hurled at the world on one-way tickets.”

Over at All the Anime, I review Gina O’Melia’s account of the time that American children’s television began turning Japanese.

Netflix Nations

“Lobato details in depth with the panoply of widgets, laws and infrastructures required to put an episode of, say, Evangelion on your television, and the degree to which such provisions tie up local bandwidth in different countries. He details Netflix’s cunningly low-tech Open Connect service, which puts an actual, physical box into the server farms of 1,000 Internet Service Providers around the world, so that Netflix users can go direct to a particular machine for their content. In other words, it is ‘a private network built on top of the public internet.'”

Over at All the Anime, I review Ramon Lobato’s Netflix Nations.

Shunted to Saturday

As noted by the Asahi Shinbun, anime passed a grim milestone in September when its last two representative serials faded from primetime. Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, once heavy-hitters of the early evening schedule, are now pulling audience shares that struggle to hit 7%, which has caused them to be shunted aside this October. They will now air on Saturdays, leaving the primetime weekday slot for, I don’t know, inane panel shows and something about a cat that drives trains.

The news sits at the nexus of a whole bunch of metadata and statistics, tied up in part with technological shifts and the changing demographics of Japan. Time was, when the average Japanese nuclear family had two school-age kids who needed to be distracted on the single television in the lounge. Now, they are more likely to have just one child, halving the number of hours a TV is liable to be turned to children’s entertainment. And that notional Japanese child, certainly by his or her teenage years, is liable to have a TV and/or a computer screen, and a video-compatible phone.

And while this is probably a tad academic and nerdy, even for NEO, I feel obliged to point out that primetime is still keeping animation companies busy – there are logos and idents, eye-catches and adverts, a vast number of which not only require animation, but pay substantially better second-per-second than a 22-minute cartoon. We should also remember that the anime that you enjoy – your Death Note and your Ghost in the Shell and the like, have never been part of primetime. Most of the shows that score high with a foreign audience tend to air in Japan late at night, in the graveyard slot, when nobody is watching. The otaku audience has not been served by primetime since the last century.

So don’t cry for the “loss” of anime from primetime. This is an accountant’s decision, to do with who is liable to be watching at those hours, and what advertising space is most lucratively sold for them. I was sitting in the departure lounge at Narita airport last month, and the primetime adverts that assailed me were for writing a will, retirement homes, and a commercial for Tokyo Gas. Then again, the latter featured pop star Kyoko Fukada, dressed as devil-girl Lum and singing a pastiche of the Urusei Yatsura theme song. Anime isn’t gone just yet.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #194, 2019.

Turning Japanese?

“… it’s all totally worth it as long as the end result is Kirsten Dunst, dressed as a schoolgirl witch, singing ‘Turning Japanese’ (a song about wanking), while dancing down a Tokyo street. ‘No sex,’ as she points out, ‘no drugs, no wine, no women, no fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it’s dark.'”

Over at All the Anime, I review the new book by Patrick W. Galbraith.

100% Perfect Sunshine Girl

Up on the All the Anime blog, my take on Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You.

“Shinkai was plainly unequipped for the fame that Your Name brought to him. He has spoken in interviews of being recognised in the street by enthusiastic fans, but also of overhearing people bad-mouthing his film in public. The reaction of some celebrity critics was particularly tough. Hirokazu Kore-eda, director of the Oscar-winning Shoplifters, diplomatically commented that the film was packed with elements of a hit, ‘…perhaps too packed.’ Yoshiyuki Tomino, the notoriously prickly creator of Gundam, declared that he doubted anyone would be watching Your Name in five years’ time.”

“I asked myself,” a wounded Shinkai told Matt Schley of the Japan Times, “should I make a film my critics will like, or should I make one they’ll hate even more?”

Archiving Anime

Over at All the Anime, I review Niigata University’s free publication on archiving Japanese animation materials, with special reference to their test case, The Wings of Honneamise.

“Other elements of the book include Dario Lolli on history and technology in Honneamise, Jaqueline Berndt on the history of overseas anime/manga exhibitions (written before the British Museum’s recent triumph), a revealing interview with Hiroyuki Yamaga about the financial underpinnings of Gainax and his own struggles with creating the characters, and Kim Joon Yang asking what archived materials can tell us about anime. He delves deep into some of the directions on storyboards, noting that, say, a Star Wars inspiration is far more arguable in an analysis if we have the director’s own scrawl in the margins, reading ‘Make this like that scene in Star Wars!'”