Sankichiro Kusube (1938-2020)

Over at the All the Anime blog, I write the obituary for Sankichiro Kusube, a leading producer at A-Pro, and then its successor studio Shin Ei.

“Kusube not only dragged Doraemon back onto the air, but pushed for its leap into cinemas as well, personally guaranteeing the creator and the TV channel that he would take personal responsibility if Doraemon: Nobita’s Dinosaur (1980) proved to be a failure. It’s for this reason, his willingness to be the fall guy, that Kusube’s name made a rare appearance on the production credits for the film, which would go on to be the highest grossing domestic animation film of the year at the Japanese box office.”

Death Note en français

I am, perhaps, as surprised as you to discover that my 12-part audio adaptation of Death Note, released in German in 2018, has suddenly been released in French. The French version, available from Audible, seemingly uses the voice actors from the French anime dub, a nice little extra touch. Still no news on an English version; your guess is as good as mine.

“Pour éviter les foudres, des fans — qui n’ont pas épargné l’adaptation de Netflix — le choix de ces conteurs a été soigné,” says the Manga News website. “En effet, le site d’informations Manga News souligne que les comédiens que l’on retrouvera dans ce livre audio sont les mêmes qui avaient participé à la version française de l’anime.”

Mariko Miyagi (1927-2020)

Over at the All the Anime blog, I write an obituary for Mariko Miyagi, the actress who supplised the voice of “anime’s first pin-up.”

“It was like being in love,” wrote one fan, Hayao Miyazaki, decades later, “and Bai-Niang became a surrogate girlfriend for me at a time when I had none… I was hooked when I saw Hakujaden, and I wound up choosing to become an animator because of it.”

Sol Levante

Out now in Italian, my Brief History of Japan. Not to be confused with my Brief History of the Samurai, which was published in Italian five years ago.

“In questo libro Jonathan Clements ci guida alla scoperta della sua storia e delle sue contraddizioni, per conoscerne da vicino le vicissitudini, le tradizioni e gli sviluppi dalle nebbie della preistoria fino a oggi. Un percorso lungo tutto l’arcipelago giapponese il cui racconto si sofferma sui luoghi e i personaggi più significativi, per svelare i segreti di un paese che, dai tempi della mitica Cipango di Marco Polo, non smette di affascinarci.”

Games to Grunts

To San Francisco, where eigoMANGA, the typographically confusing content provider, has announced to the world that they will be doing their bit to support the troops by giving away 5,000 copies of Vanguard Princess. It’s not entirely clear to me whether these games, or rather, the freebie download codes for them, will be actually sent to soldiers on active service, since they are being dispatched via Games to Grunts, an organisation that describes itself as a Veteran Support Ecosystem. But whatever: either battle-hardened men (and women) fighting for their lives in a desert, or possibly old soldiers who like watching big-eyed girls punch each other, will now have something to distract them.

This is, by no means the first time that a company in the Japanese contents field has decided to do something for the military, although in the past people have been rather less brazen about it. Back in the days of the Gulf War, Kiseki Films used to send copies of their new releases out to the soldiers in the field, mainly because many of the staff at Kiseki used to be military men. Their marketing director, for example, once told me he used to drive a tank, although they took away the keys after he parked it on top of a captain’s car.

Manga Entertainment were similarly keen to “do something for the troops”, and would send crates of VHS tapes out to the Gulf, where they presumably entertained, disgusted or otherwise mystified bases full of squaddies desperate to know what happened in episode three of Magic Knight Rayearth.

In neither case, to the best of my knowledge, did either company ever try to make marketing capital out of it. It was a simple act of unsung charity, the sole evidence of which today is me telling you this. Although there was an odd coda several years later, when a handwritten letter arrived from a man in Baghdad, who revealed that some of the Manga Entertainment releases had been copied and re-copied so many times, that the anime fans of Iraq were very keen to buy legal copies, as the requisitioned pirate editions they’d been watching were almost unintelligible.

Perhaps I am wrong, but it’s difficult to imagine that people who’ve been in a dug-out for six weeks dodging ISIS will have much of an interest in “ten girls with unique fighting skills” or using the story mode to “navigate the adventures of a Vanguard Princess.” But maybe eigoMANGA would like to send a copy to the US Army’s Commander-in-Chief…? I bet he’d tweet all sorts of fun things about it.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #179, 2020.

Ultra Scam

It looks like Christmas came early for Tsuburaya Productions, after the Los Angeles Court of Appeal ruled in the company’s favour in the first week of December 2019. The studio that most famously gave the world the Spandex-clad superhero Ultraman has been locked in a legal battle for twenty-three years with Sompote Saengduenchai, a Thai director who claimed that the late Noboru Tsuburaya, son of studio founder Eiji, had sold him the rights to exploit Ultraman outside Japan.

The judgement affirms a ruling already made in 2017, that the contract Sompote has been waving around since 1996, and claims to have signed in 1976, doesn’t have Noboru Tsuburaya’s real signature on it, and even if it did, makes several suspicious errors regarding the names of Tsuburaya properties. Sompote, meanwhile, has behaved with entertaining evasiveness, refusing to provide the original of the passport that, he claims, “proves” he was in Japan in 1976, and being hand-wavingly vague about what exactly Tsuburaya is supposed to have received in return for this deal.

While all this has been going on, Sompote’s company Chaiyo has not only been making its own Ultraman movies, but also selling merchandising deals and even licensing the rights for US DVD releases with reputable companies. The battle has been fought not only in Thai courts, which ruled in Sompote’s favour in 2009, but also in China, which found the whole thing so confusing that Beijing courts ordered the setting up of an Ultraman Copyright Study Group, and finally swung in Tsuburaya’s favour when it was brought to America.

The mystery remains – did Sompote really travel to Japan in 1976 and somehow secure an international rights deal from Noboru Tsuburaya, a deal which conveniently went unmentioned by anyone, Sompote included, until after Tsuburaya was dead? Or is he lying? Or did he meet someone who claimed to be Tsuburaya, who proceeded to sell him the Japanese TV equivalent of London Bridge? If so, that would make Sompote the victim, and the entire, prolonged shambles merely the fall-out from a scammer blagging a few free lunches.

You might think it all unlikely, but Sompote wouldn’t be the first. I know of one prominent Captain Harlock fan who spent several happy hours getting drunk in a Tokyo bar with a “Mr Matsumoto”, unaware that the real Leiji Matsumoto had given up waiting for him in the hotel lobby and gone home after 45 minutes.

Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of Japan. This article first appeared in NEO #196, 2020.