Death Note auf deutsch

My Death Note audio adaptation is finally available for sale in Germany.

Already out in German are:

1: Pattern Recognition

2: Collateral Damage

3: Frenemy Mine

Coming next month:

4: Virtue Signal

5: Deal Breaker

6: Gray Scale

And in 2019:

7: Double Agents

8: Live Feed

9: Legacy Code

10: Karma Police

11: Old Flames

12: Apex Predator

At the moment this is a German-only production. There are supposed to be English and French editions in the works, but I haven’t heard any details of those yet.

All That Matters

1794542_10152891885498054_7621884663292162755_n“Japan is still living five years into the future, but whereas that was once a breathless boast of oncoming technologies and trends, today it’s a warning of the crises that could also face the developed world as a whole.” Over at The Japan Times, I am interviewed by JJ O’Donoghue about my new book, Modern Japan: All That Matters (US/UK).

The 47 Ronin

02Hello brave Googlers, searching for more information about the 47 Ronin after today’s episode of Ancient Black Ops. You’ll probably need this excerpt from A Brief History of the Samurai by Jonathan Clements, available now in the UK and US.

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The year of Mitsukuni’s death saw one of the defining events of eighteenth-century Japan, the infamous vendetta of the ‘Forty-Seven Ronin’. As part of the endless rounds of ceremonial and courtesy calls of the Tokugawa period, Asano Naganori, the young feudal lord of the Ako domain was ordered to entertain envoys in Edo who had freshly arrived from Kyoto. As part of the preparations, he met Kira Yoshinaka, one of the Shogun’s high-ranking officials. The men do not appear to have hit it off, and, reading between the lines, Kira was expecting substantial bribes and honoraria from Asano, even though it was his job to instruct him. Whatever the nature of the tensions between them, Kira had mastered the art of the snide comment, and seems to have made one allusion too many about Asano’s country origins. On 21 April 1701, under a covered walkway at one of the Shogun’s mansions, Kira pushed too far, and an enraged Asano drew his short sword and knifed him in the face (or shoulder, depending on the source).samurai audible

The wound was minor and guards soon separated the brawling men, but the damage was done. Regardless of claims of the right of samurai to defend their honour, drawing a weapon within the Shogun’s palace was a capital offence. Asano was ordered to commit seppuku, his lands were forfeit, and his followers were outcasts – ronin. When the news reached Asano’s castellan Oishi Yoshio, Oishi obediently shut down the castle, disbanded the soldiers, and handed the keys and manifests to the new lord appointed by the Shogunate. Where once there might have been war, the Tokugawa rule was supreme, and a lord could be unseated by simple decree.

However, while Oishi had done his duty to the Shogun by obeying orders, he was also determined to do his duty by the wronged lord Asano. In the company of several dozen fellow retainers (traditionally forty-seven, but possibly more), he plotted his revenge against Kira. Over the two years that followed, Oishi gave every appearance of being a discredited samurai. He was seen in Kyoto brothels, he was publicly drunk, and he was conspicuously on the Tokugawa-era scrapheap. In a move that has often been cited as an indicator of his true nobility, he even divorced his wife and disowned his children, to ensure that they would not have to bear any consequences for his coming vendetta.

Slowly, the Forty-Seven Ronin converged on Edo. One married the daughter of the man who had built Kira’s house, obtaining in the process the plans for the inside of the mansion. Others secretly smuggled weapons into Edo. The vengeful assassins struck on 14 December 1702, in a double-pronged assault on Kira’s snow-bound house.

The mansion erupted in a savage battle between Oishi’s men and Kira’s underlings, which saw sixteen of Kira’s men killed and another twenty-two wounded. Kira, however, had fled through a secret exit, leaving his bedclothes still warm. Oishi bested two other retainers in a dark, secluded courtyard, before dragging the man they were protecting into the light. Beneath the warm glow of the lantern, Oishi saw the scar left by his master’s knife. He had his man.

In one of the strange turnabouts of the samurai world, Oishi dropped to his knees and bowed before Kira, explaining who he was and humbly offering him the chance to atone for his misdeeds by committing suicide. It was only when the cowering Kira refused to respond that Oishi dragged him up by his hair, and hacked off his head. Their job done, the samurai carefully extinguished the lamps in the house in order to avoid accidental arson, and then ran for Asano’s grave with Kira’s head.

As the sun rose, word spread of their action, and they made their way to the temple grounds of Sengakuji amid something of a carnival atmosphere, congratulated and fêted by the townsfolk. They laid Kira’s head on Asano’s grave, and then turned themselves in to the authorities – all except one, who had been sent to Asano’s old domain to pass on the news.

The vendetta was an awful embarrassment for the Shogun’s government – the samurai had behaved impeccably according to samurai tradition, but had also defied a Shogunal prohibition. Edo locals did not help by petitioning the Shogun on behalf of Oishi and his men, pointing out how true they were to the nebulously defined samurai code of honour. Eventually, the Shogun ordered that instead of the death penalty as common murderers, the ronin would be offered the chance to commit seppuku as a gesture of respect. This they did in early 1703, with the exception of the messenger in Ako, who was spared. Their act cleared the name of their late lord, restored the reputation of their many fellow retainers, and eventually led to the restoration of the house of Asano, albeit with a greatly reduced size of fief.

The men were held up as heroes by many, although one noted commentator gruffly wondered how ‘true to tradition’ it would have been if their target had died of an illness during the prolonged execution of their two-year plan. Instead, one samurai theorist suggested that the true samurai way would have been to attack Kira on the day of the original insult. They would still have died, but the process would have been quicker and more conspicuous. Such a comment, made by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, encapsulates the contradictions of the samurai era. Taken at face value, there often seems little difference between a samurai dispute over honour and a fight in a pub between football hooligans over who has the nicest scarf.

A Brief History of the Samurai, by Jonathan Clements is available now in the UK and US.

The Anime Erotic

crisis-header11.jpgAt the request of the Czech convention Animefest earlier this year, I reprised my infamous speech on the Anime Erotic — a transcript of which can be found in my book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis (US/UK). The speech has now been uploaded onto Youtube with English subtitles and, soon, I am told, subtitles in Czech. You can watch it here.

And of course, my Wrong About Anime speech from the Animefest two years earlier, is still available here.

Two Downloads

02After many years of waiting and wrangles, my book on the controversial medieval Chinese Empress Wu is finally re-released on Kindle and paperback from Albert Bridge Books (US/UK). As the blurb recounts:

Empress Wu Zetian (624-705 AD) was the only woman to be the sovereign ruler of imperial China. A teenage concubine of the Tang Emperor Taizong, she seduced his son while the emperor lay dying. Recalled from a nunnery as part of an intricate court power-game, she caused the deaths of two lady rivals, before securing her enthronement as the Emperor Gaozong’s consort. She ruled in the name of her husband and two eldest sons, presiding over the pinnacle of the Silk Road, before proclaiming herself the founder of a new dynasty. Worshipped as the Sage Mother of Mankind and reviled as the Treacherous Fox, she was deposed aged 79, after angry courtiers murdered her two young lovers.

The subject of countless books, plays and films, Empress Wu remains a feminist icon and a bugbear of Chinese conservatism. Jonathan Clements weighs the evidence of her life and legacy: so charismatic that she could rise from nothing to the height of medieval power, so hated that her own children left her tombstone blank.

Meanwhile, it’s a condition of my doctorate that my thesis be freely available to other researchers, but to spare you the bother of going to the Library of Wales and photocopying it, here’s a PDF. The title is A History of the Japanese Animation Industry: Developing Technologies, Changing Formats and Evolving Audiences. I’m afraid what blurb there is is couched in significantly more sesquipedalian prose:

This thesis offers a discursive genealogy of the Japanese animation, or ‘anime’ industry, outlining changes to its prevailing form caused by successive disruptions – fluctuations in economic conditions, applications of new technology, and changes in available formats. Instead of focussing on the content of the anime texts themselves, it addresses the form of the content – treating the anime texts as manufactured ‘objects’ or as performative ‘events’ that are created, refined, marketed and sold.

The approach is historiographical, favouring published testimonials and memoirs from the participants in the Japanese animation industry, and assessing them in terms of possible errors of historical practice. The participants’ activities are categorised as points on a chain from Ownership of the intellectual property to Access to the text, prompting not only consideration of changes in the processes of production, but also in the oft-neglected areas of distribution and exhibition.

Spanning the 67 years from 1945 to 2012, in overlapping periods defined by developments in formats and technology, a picture is presented not only of the anime industry, but of its participants’ changing sense of what that industry is, its traditions and potential. This will present a foundation for future research into anime’s history, not only through this narrative of events, but also through consideration of the theoretical issues deriving from the nature of the sources.

And of course, if you like what you see there, a significantly expanded version, losing a lot of the theory and introduction, but adding four extra chapters, has been published by the British Film Institute (US/UK).

Anime Futures

With Mark Schilling’s permission, I’m putting up the unexpurgated text of the interview he conducted with me six weeks ago for his article on Japanese animation futures in the South China Morning Post, in part to show how much work goes on behind the scenes to get a sound bite and an article.

the-wind-rises-creating-planes-clipMark Schilling: You mentioned recently that several well-known anime studios might soon go kaput, but without naming names. Is it mainly a problem of rising costs? Declining revenues? Stiffer competition from Hollywood and elsewhere? All of the above?

Jonathan Clements: Some of it is economics — we’ve lost several minor studios recently, and their rise and fall, or restructuring and rebirth as “New” incarnations of themselves has been a common factor of the industry for decades. Ghibli itself was at least partly formed from the ashes of Topcraft, for example. Japanese studios in the twentieth century were able to function as subcontractors for American animation. That’s sometimes still true, but so many elements of anime production is now off-shored to China or South Korea that anime studios are smaller, and leaner, and more flexible in their behaviours. As Gonzo showed in the late noughties, it’s possible for a company to go almost completely dark, to give up its studio space, to lay off its animators and just coast for a couple of years as little more than a filing cabinet in an accountant’s office, waiting for the foreign residuals to roll in. That’s good for robust business, but bad for an animator’s job security!

There’s a generational issue that many people have spotted in the case of the high-profile retirements at Ghibli, but which is also common to the anime industry. The vision of a single creator, or team of creators, can steer a company and give it a distinctive style or brand, but nobody is immortal. People retire. The anime industry went through something very similar in the 1990s, where a bunch of the first-wave producers cashed in their shares, took their pensions, and handed over their companies to others — it’s what led to some of the big corporate buy-outs like Bandai taking ownership of Sunrise. That was seen at the time almost as a hostile take-over, but for many of the staff it was a welcome hand-over, with one of Sunrise’s biggest and most trustworthy clients taking a direct interest in its output, and thereby preserving the jobs of the employees.

What we have now, and have had for the last few years, is the aging of the Astro Boy generation, not of fans, but of animators. In 1963, Tezuka quadrupled the size of the animation industry, both directly through hirings at Mushi and indirectly through the creation of competition in the market. Those fresh-faced graduates are now in their seventies. Many of them are the leading lights of specific studios and, you know, some of them want to go off and play golf.

frozenIs the enormous success of Frozen in Japan a one-shot — or a game changer? Will more Japanese studios switch to Hollywood-style 3D CG animation, following the lead of the new Doraemon film? Will Hollywood exploit the fading of Studio Ghibli and become the dominant player at the Japanese box office, especially the animated segment of it?

Hollywood has always been the dominant player at the Japanese box office. There have been occasional spikes in local interest for particular directors or franchises, but Japanese cinema is eternally fighting a rear-guard action to push local product ahead of flashy foreign imports. Until Miyazaki’s late twentieth century successes, Japanese animation flourished like a weed, only in the spaces that The Lion King and Aladdin didn’t grow. Even in the 1990s, only a tiny handful of players like Gainax and Ghibli gave Disney anything close to a run for its money on home video. I think it’s worth considering Disney’s acquisition of Ghibli titles in that light — when Disney (or their subsidiaries) put money directly into Spirited Away, they weren’t just investing in a Japanese talent, they were ensuring that they got a piece of the pie from their main competitor in the Japanese market.

Japan has been slow to take up 3D CG, because it involves massive reskilling and investment in software and hardware. It’s a return to the state of the industry in the 1950s, when Disney product, made at a substantially greater cost to Japanese competition, was swamping the market with a relentless onslaught of material.

I don’t see Hollywood filling any new niche in Japan. Hollywood, in the form of Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks, will keep releasing its big family films and rolling on as before. The likely competition to do what anime does, to compete at a more domestic, perhaps even consciously “Asian” level, is going to come from China. Miyazaki’s retirement merited a sixty-page feature on Japanese animation in one of China’s biggest news-stand magazines, Lifeweek, last October. The implication was clear that this was a business feature, identifying a new market opening, and asking if China had what it took to move in on it.

I’m not saying that China is the new Ghibli. Far from it, the Chinese animation business has a lot to learn, and much of its output is highly derivative. But it is generating an animation labour base bigger than Japan’s every year. Kung Fu Panda 3 is going to be a “Chinese” film for contractual purposes, so even DreamWorks is relying increasingly on Chinese labour. The Chinese already represent two-thirds of the labour pool for what we call “Japanese” animation. Granted, that’s all concentrated in the lower, less-”skilled” echelons, but that doesn’t bode well for the future when the upper ranks of Japanese animation companies are increasingly drawn from the ranks of marketers and managers. It means that there is a very palpable risk that Japanese animation won’t have any actual animators steering it.

wind-rises-main_0You’ve no doubt read the anonymously sourced story about Studio Ghibli stopping production and becoming a rights management company. Do this strike you as credible? Some of the claims in that piece, such as The Wind Rises still being in the red, seem rather far-fetched to me…

You can see the signs very easily. When Toshio Suzuki was sitting on data that told him that “Studio Ghibli” had a 43% trust rating with the Japanese public, but that the name “Miyazaki” had a 64.2% trust rating, what did he do? He got Miyazaki’s son to direct Tales from Earthsea! I think you can see Suzuki’s very canny, very sharp management insight steering much of the last decade. Even as he retires, he puts a former Disney Japan executive in charge of Ghibli. He builds the Ghibli Museum, which is a classy theme park that generates a movie’s worth of revenue every year. He tries the Goro Miyazaki bait-and-switch manoeuvre, and essentially dares the Japanese public to come and watch the car-crash for themselves. He hypes up this father-son tension in the media, but then gets the Miyazakis working together on Poppy Hill. In the case of The Wind Rises, I see it as another calculated move by the studio, to wring one last box office winner out of Hayao Miyazaki. I like to think of them going to his house and begging him to make one last film to keep the momentum going at the museum and on video, and telling him he can make ANYTHING he likes. Because the subject of that film is so personal, and indulgent, and risky, that I can’t imagine anyone else being allowed to get away with it.
My prediction: in a couple of years’ time Ghibli will go into production on a script “written by” Hayao Miyazaki, just to ring that bell again. He’s effectively given them a 50-title wish-list of children’s literature worth adapting. There is undoubtedly a faction at Ghibli who wants to pivot it towards doing World Masterpiece Theatre, and carrying Miyazaki’s legacy in a different direction, by copying his early TV successes adapting children’s books. That’s why they’re moving into TV with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, but you can see the Ghibli is only co-producing it. The animation is actually being done by Polygon Pictures.

That The Wind Rises is still in the red sounds ludicrous to me. If it is, it’s only in the movie-accounting sense that Forrest Gump is still technically “in the red.” The Wind Rises did fine.

garden of wordsPeople have been talking about various “new Miyazakis” for years, but that we are truly in the post-Miyazaki era, who do you see as leading the industry, if not necessarily inheriting Miyazaki’s crown? If none of your names are from Studio Ghibli, why not?

It’s a cliche to talk about the “new Miyazaki.” Japanese animators hate the whole argument, because it usually implies nothing new at all, just a magical cloning of his unique skillset, and his unique, timely rise in the movie market, and with supporters like Takahata and Suzuki. Ghibli was a three-man success story, very much of its time, and you can’t have a new Miyazaki without having a new Takahata and a new Suzuki. It also requires some awareness of what we mean when we ask for a “new Miyazaki”. Because Makoto Shinkai has a lot of Miyazaki’s heart, but none of his “family” appeal. Shinkai has cornered a market in films for people who grew up watching Miyazaki movies, but he doesn’t make movies for tomorrow’s families. I guess that’s the problem, there. It’s not about who the new Miyazaki is, it’s about who the new audience is. It’s now easier in Japan to buy diapers for old people than for kids. The kids’ market is shrinking, and that further reduces your chances of making blockbuster money on a family film.

Studio Ghibli actually tried to grow the new Miyazaki themselves, in several abortive attempts to co-opt big-name talents like Mamoru Hosoda. The fact that Hosoda didn’t fit in at an increasingly management-oriented Ghibli is actually a sign of his true potential, far more than staying there would have been!

They also brought in a dozen promising animation assistants and put them to work directly with Miyazaki and Takahata to foster a new generation of talents. That was called the Higashi-Koganei Sonjoku scheme, and its graduates stand a good chance of making waves over the next ten years. People like Masayuki Miyaji, for example, Masashi Okumura and Kenji Itoso.

But ironically, Miyazaki’s own shadow looms so large that it’s difficult for someone to turn up at Ghibli with a distinctive voice and not have it shouted down by risk-averse managers. Goro Miyazaki’s films often look like a committee trying to recreate his father’s successes, and that should come as a surprise to nobody. Ghibli was lightning in a bottle, and rumours about its move into legacy management are only logical — I think what people forget was just how darn lucky Disney was that Pixar could show up at the right moment and completely revitalise its output with fresh ideas and fresh technology, and real talents. Ghibli doesn’t have that. Ghibli doesn’t have a powerful competitor that it can embrace and merge with.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History and Modern Japan: All That Matters.

Worldcon Programme

My programme has been more or less confirmed for the London Worldcon this August. One interview, two panels and a speech, details subject to change if my fellow panellists get a better offer or end up trapped on the Docklands Light Railway.

Since the last UK Worldcon in 2005, I’ve published a novel, fifteen non-fiction books and a translation from classical Chinese, provided the voice of a cartoon professor and sold two TV options. But the thing that is most pertinent to this year’s event is the book’s worth of material I’ve written on Chinese and Japanese science fiction, buried away within the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, so that’s pretty much all I’m talking about.

mini-logoInterview with John Clute

Friday 15th August 15:00 – 16:30

Jonathan Clements interviews Guest of Honour John Clute. We’re like a double-act with two straight-men. I will prod the Clute and attempt to make it angry. Shouldn’t take long. Members of the audience can play sesquipedalian bingo as I attempt to get him to use words like “guyliner” and “tosswit.”

10013838_620906787987843_989544364_sEvolution of the SF Encyclopedia

Friday 18:00 – 19:00

The SFE is 35 this year, and is now in its third edition. This panel will discuss how the SFE came about, and how it has changed with the times. What are the processes that go into creating an encyclopedia, and what are the pitfalls? How has the transition to an online format shaped the third edition? And in what ways does its increasing internationalisation reflect transformations in the field at large? Graham Sleight (M), Jonathan Clements, John Clute, Neal Tringham, now with added David Langford.

e1shot2_large_verge_medium_landscapeFrom Page to (Small) Screen

Saturday 18:00 – 19:00

We’re used to thinking about adaptation in terms of feature films, but increasingly Western SF and fantasy novels and novel series — from True Blood to Game of Thrones, The Expanse to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell — are being adapted for TV. What are the challenges of this process? Do viewers expect a longer running time to mean a more faithful adaptation? Are there lessons to be learned from, or similarities with, series adaptations in other countries, such as the transition from manga to anime? (Or Western comics to screen, as in the case of The Walking Dead?) And what happens when a series develops a life of its own? Tanya Brown (M), Debbie Lynn Smith, Jonathan Clements, Mike Carey, Steve Saffel

milkycrisis-1The State of the Anime Industry

Sunday 12:00 – 13:30

In this talk, Jonathan Clements examines the boondoggles and delusions, booms and busts of Japan’s animation business as it thrashes around in search of a cure for piracy, an audience that will pay for stuff, and a foreign footprint bigger than some guy’s living room. Warning: contains charts, and possibly a little bit of exasperated swearing.

 

Anime: A History Review Round-Up

41bkTuP9TdL._SY445_Some very nice new reviews recently for my Anime: A History, out now from the British Film Institute. I don’t think I’m able to point you directly at the very positive reviews in print mags such as Neo, MyM and Sight & Sound, although the online ones are just as complimentary.

Over at Cartoon Brew, Neil Emmett notes that: “Anime: A History is heartily recommended for anybody who wants an insight into the industrial politics that lie behind the on-screen images.”

PD Smith at The Guardian says: “This study is authoritative and detailed, and will be essential reading for anime fans and scholars alike.”

At the London School of Economics blog, Casey Brienza says it’s: “a magisterial effort and will undoubtedly prove invaluable for scholars, particularly in the social sciences, who are interested in the political economy of anime production. Indeed, while Clements may profess to be skeptical of history as a narrative project, his book may well shape the discourse on the subject for years, if not decades, to come.”

Andy Hanley at UK Anime net says: “[T]hese links from the past to the present, and the insight they present towards how the industry may change in the future, that make Anime: A History such an important book — it’s educational, but the information you glean from it extends well beyond a historical appreciation of the medium, enabling a deeper understanding not just of the anime that we all love but also how, and why, it has come to exist in the form that we recognise as anime.”

And a woman I have never met before says: “Anime: A History is no tedious chunk of verbiage made purely to advance a clueless academic’s quest for tenure.  From the earliest days of the medium, whose date of origin, first screened title and first auteur still have enough ambiguity around them to drive whodunnit lovers crazy, to the current century where fluidity of formats and markets has introduced whole new areas of uncertainty, Clements takes us on a thrill-ride through a hall of mirrors where nothing is quite as it seems and fifty shades of undisclosed lurk in the shadows.”

Osmond Uncensored

Andrew Osmond’s review on the Manga UK website of my book Anime: A History, was substantially cut down from its original length. He has very kindly allowed me to print the full version here.

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41bkTuP9TdL._SY445_Midway through Jonathan Clements’ book Anime: A History, he tells a fascinating story that – like most of the stories in this book – you’re not likely to have heard before. In the late 1950s, a celebrated manga artist paid a visit to a Japanese animation studio. There weren’t so many back then. The studio, Otogi Pro, consisted of twenty people who did most of their work on tatami mats in a room in their boss’s house. The boss was Ryuichi Yokoyama, a manga artist himself, who’d dreamed of making it big like Disney, but had been disenchanted by the cartoon business.

The visitor told Yokoyama he was thinking of setting up his own cartoon studio. Bad idea, Yokoyama said. Animation would never make money, and would only mess up his life. According to a witness, Yokoyama told the visitor this again and again, ‘until his mouth was sour.’ Eventually, the visitor went away.

A few years later, the visitor – chap called Osamu Tezuka – produced a TV cartoon; Astro Boy.

This story looks like a hinge of fate. If Tezuka had taken Yokoyama’s advice and stuck with manga, then anime’s history over the next half-century would have been profoundly different. Or…  maybe not. Things are always more complicated. Someone else might have done essentially the same thing as Tezuka – used the ‘limited animation’ methods established in American TV toons (The Huckleberry Hound Show), and applied Japanese heroes to them.

Tezuka was hardly the only Japanese artist seeking to advance animation in the 1950s. The Toei studio was churning out massively ambitious feature films, and starting to look at new kinds of cartoon style. Nor was Tezuka the first Japanese animator to mass-produce animation for weekly TV. He’d been beaten to the punch by Tadahito Mochinaga, one of the forgotten greats of Japanese animation. In his long career, Mochinaga had worked on the landmark 1942 war film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, followed by a remarkable career in postwar China – of all the places for a former Japanese war propagandist!

new_pinocchio_1From 1960, Mochinaga led animation onto the world stage, even if no-one noticed. His star was Astro Boy’s literary cousin, the puppet Pinocchio, animated in stop-motion by the studio MOM Production in 130 episodes of The New Adventures of Pinocchio. They were made for the American studio Rankin/Bass, hidden exports, but exports nonetheless.

It’s not the agenda of Anime: A History to argue what might have happened if, for example, Tezuka had been persuaded not to go into animation. But it’s very much the remit of the book to question the stories we think we know, of anime’s rises and falls, its heroes and breakthroughs. The book is about Japanese animation as a messy, multi-stranded medium, always struggling to adapt to new generations, technologies and business models, transforming so thoroughly that a kid may barely comprehend the cartoons his dad grew up with, let alone his grandfather.

In his introduction, Clements sets out what his book is and isn’t. “This is not a book about, say, gender roles in Star of the Giants or manifest camp in Neon Genesis Evangelion… This is a book concerned with about how Star of the Giants, Evangelion and a number of other anime fit within a continuum of a century’s film-making, how they came to be, who the makers thought were watching, and how they transformed the nature of subsequent productions.”

Clements adds that he is “less concerned with anime texts themselves than in their existence in (or apparent absence from) historical memory, what other researchers might call their significance or their artistic heritage.” Or their business heritage. Clements reminds us that buyers and sellers have a perspective on anime far removed from robots or magic girls. “For a large part of the process that takes it from creator to consumer, intellectual property is less an entertainment event, and more like a magical commodity that, if fed the right conditions, somehow spits out revenue. It is these featureless monetising boxes that are traded at film markets, sold on to third parties, and bundled in group deals to broadcasters and video distributors.”

Clements does not treat anime just from this perspective – on the contrary, he encourages us to think of anime from all perspectives – but his book is unlike many media histories. It’s not structured around a selection of classic or milestone titles, tracing how anime developed to when it could turn out Astro Boy, or Akira, or Death Note. Clements doesn’t sing such titles’ praises, nor give profiles and mini-histories of the people and studios who made them. You will learn a lot about Tezuka and Toei and many lesser-known names, but only when they were central to changing anime from one thing to another – or thought that they were, or were perceived to be.

Moreover – and this will be a shock to some readers – Clements’ book has a much wider scope than fans will expect. In its chronological history, Astro Boy is the halfway point; that is, the whole of the book’s first half is immersed in Japanese animation before 1963. Only the last three chapters of ten concern anime after 1990. Some readers may question if most of the book is about anime at all.

astro-boyClements acknowledges at the start that there’s no consensus about the proper use of “anime” as a label. The word was coined about the middle of the twentieth century, and plenty of pundits have tried to restrict it. For example, Studio Ghibli and its American distributor Disney have been reluctant to identify Ghibli’s films as anime. Meanwhile, a Japanese historian of anime, Nobuyuki Tsugata, argues that the medium didn’t “begin” until 1970s cartoons like Space Battleship Yamato. (Tsugata allows the 1960s Astro Boy as a “zeroth” stage of anime history, reminiscent of Japan’s penchant for “Episode 0” prequels.)

Clements dismisses such arguments briskly. Even if “real” anime began with Astro Boy or Yamato, he says, “we must first comprehend the end of anime prehistory.” In fact, the book effectively outlines a continuing history of animation through its various mutations. As we noted above, Tadahito Mochinaga worked in World War II animations, but went on to helm New Adventures of Pinocchio. As Japan’s first bulk cartoon export, Pinocchio was a precursor not just to Astro Boy but also the export works of the later Top Craft studio, which made the 1970s Hobbit film and later Nausicaa… and so on. For Clements, the changing industrial situation is what’s interesting, whether the volume of production at the time was high or low.

Another point Clements stresses is that there’s no single anime ‘industry.’ That’s especially true now, when “family feature films can still resemble features of the 1950s, alongside TV shows created along models developed in the 1970s and 1980s, and ‘adult’ shows across multiple formats, aimed at an audience that would be barely recognisable to the pioneers of anime’s early days.” From many (though not all) perspectives, there’s a chasm between, say, the mainstream films of Studio Ghibli and TV anime made for graveyard Japanese TV slots and a 0.4% broadcast share – and often made for us, foreign fans, too.

There are also strands of Japanese animation that are mostly ignored, and Clements is keen to recover these. There are animated TV commercials, for example, and animation made under contract to overseas studios. During wartime, there was animation to instruct soldiers; not cartoon mice and robots, but animated diagrams and step-by-step guides.

Anime also shades off into other media. Today, that includes computer visual novels, which are both the sources for anime adaptations like Steins;Gate, and arguably a kind of anime themselves, with extremely limited animation. Decades ago, though, a close relative of anime were Japanese puppet TV shows a la Gerry Anderson. Clements highlights 1960’s Spaceship Silica, a “forgotten prototype” for the Astro Boy generation.

matsumoto-fragmentIn its early chapters, Clements’ book could be called Anime: A Secret History. The very first anime are lost, and in some cases it’s uncertain if they even existed, at least as films. Clements has fun debunking the so-called “Matsumoto Fragment” (a bit of antique celluloid widely and groundlessly proclaimed the oldest animation ever), which may be “less a film than a comic drawn on celluloid.”

Moving to the early cartoons which have survived, there’s an especially interesting section on the first wave of sports anime, driven by Japanese contestants participating in the Olympics. “The sports genre involved a new environment,” Clements writes, “a placeless, modernist setting based on the towering foreign stadiums where real-world Japanese athletes were competing against foreign powers.” In 1936’s Mabo’s Great Race, the boy hero is even cheered on by foreigners in the audience – Betty Boop and two Mickey Mice.

These chapters are also an account of early Japanese cinema. We learn about benshi, people hired by cinema in the silent days to provide live commentaries for both cartoons and live-action. “The benshi was the cinema’s barker and town-crier, its warm-up man and the literal interpreter of the film… There are photographs of benshi attired as the movie stars they are voicing, imparting an immediate, third-dimensional impact to the films they presented by dressing up as, say, Charlie Chaplin.” The job of the benshi included warning the audience about “incidents of odd foreign behaviour, such as kissing.”

These MCs would find themselves being outmoded by sound cinema, much like the star hero of The Artist. “Some (benshi) tried to bellow their interpretation live as the soundtrack played, which was both frustrating for the individual benshi but lucrative for the profession as a whole, as it required extra benshi to take up the shortfall caused by lost voices.” Some found other professions, such as dubbing foreign films.

Clements also talks about the Pure Film Movement, Japanese filmmakers in cinema’s early days, who “published polemics and reviews in contemporary journals complaining that film remained beholden to the traditions and tropes of the Japanese theatre.” They disliked benshi but were enthusiastic about animation; “a genre without any local (Japanese) precedents, it could not fail to aspire to an international outlook.”

Interestingly, the Pure Film Movement disliked traditional Japaneseness in live-action films but praised it in cartoon form. One pundit declared “Japanese animation should use Japanese subjects.” Fast-forward a century, and this argument’s still going. How much does Japanese animation’s strength as a world brand depend on its immersion in Japan?

Some early Japanese animations were cartoons as we think of them, such as Mabo’s Great Race. From the 1920s, though, much animation was educational, made with government support, such as 1926’s The Spread of Syphilis by Sanae Yamamoto. According to Clements, arguably “the first 30 years of the Japanese animation business was a period in which such ‘invisible’ productions comprised the majority of Japan’s animation output, with occasional narrative stories as exceptions rather than the rule.”

millennium actressAlong with government cartoons, there was a counter-culture. In the early ‘30s, the Proletarian Film League of Japan turned out leftist agitprop films such as 1931’s Slave War, directed by Tetsuo Kitagawa. It protested against the exploitation of China by the British, but implicitly by Japan too. The film was censored into unintelligibility. One wonders if Satoshi Kon heard of it; a key character in his film Millennium Actress is a heroic Japanese dissident who fights for China in the 1930s.

As Japan moved into an era of conflict, first with its neighbours and then with the world, cartoons took on aggressively nationalist overtones. This reviewer confesses that when he first saw The Plane Cabbie’s Lucky Day (1932) directed by Teizo Kato, he saw it as a charming piece of futurist whimsy, in which people ride planes as casually as we drive cars. Clements, though, argues the film is far more sinister. “Its most cunning subtext lies in the off-hand manner in which (the cabby’s) ‘long fare’ both incorporates and localises the South Seas within the compass of Japanese power, presenting unidentified Pacific islands as enduring, albeit distant and backward, additions to the Empire.”

By the end of the 1930s, there was no need for subtext. Mabo – the boy hero who’d been cheered by Hollywood toon stars in 1936’s Mabo’s Great Race – was militarised in films which “carnivalise the danger of conflict, presenting warfare in China as an exciting adventure for Japanese boys and their talking-animal friends. Moreover, the Japanese are depicted as agents of Pan-Asian goodwill, saving grateful girls from Manchurian robbers, ‘exterminating’ bandits who threaten peaceful Chinese farmers, and protecting beleaguered South Sea islanders from attacks by British soldiers.”

momotaro sea eaglesAt this point, Clements introduces the Shadow Staff, a special film unit of about thirty people formed in 1939 to make films for the Japanese military. It made what may have been the first Japanese animated feature, the enticingly named Principles of the Wireless: Triodes and Diodes, circa 1944, and similarly “humorless, informational” films for soldiers. (A candidate for Britain’s first animated feature was the equally dull Handling Ships, made by the Halas and Batchelor studio in 1945 for the Admiralty.) All the Shadow Staff’s films are lost, destroyed in bombings, by the victorious Allies or even the Japanese themselves.

Elsewhere, young Tadahito Mochinaga was providing backgrounds and effects for the much more exciting Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1943), a fairy tale rendering of the Pearl Harbor raid. Mochinaga said he heard Japanese kids at play, imitating the film hero’s orders – “Torpedo squadron, bomber squadron, fighter squadron! Take battle positions!” The animator wrote, “I heard that many youths volunteered for the flying corps and that while they were on duty they died on air raids. I wonder whether the film that we made influenced their decision to volunteer…  I thought, in the future I only wished to make a film that would benefit the young, difficult though that might be.”

In fact, Mochinaga lost control of his destiny for several years. Towards the war’s end, he moved to Manchuria, then in Japanese hands, and was trapped when the region fell under Soviet control. By fantastic chance, Mochinaga ended up not in a prison camp but working with other Japanese artists for the Chinese authorities. “With outrageous historical irony, the portrait of Chairman Mao that led the Xingshan Communist parade on May Day 1947 was painted by former Japanese propagandists.”

As mentioned above, Mochinaga’s career continued back in Japan, with his work for America on The New Adventures of Pinocchio. Clements presents this series as an example of early commercial Japanese animation that’s usually forgotten in histories of anime. Another is the 1950s boom in animated Japanese advertising. The Beer Through the Ages adverts “charted the history of beer from ancient Babylonia and Egypt, through medieval Germany, and up to its arrival in Japan in the 19th century on the black ships of Commodore Perry.”

hakujadenThe book’s second half deals with titles better known to anime fans, starting from the landmarks of Toei’s Hakujaden and Tezuka’s Astro Boy. However, Clements maintains a historian’s scepticism and a refusal to take ‘well-known’ accounts as read. He considers, for example, the accounts of “anime syndrome” among staff; that is, the health problems caused by “unremitting late nights, irregular diets of junk food and cramped, repetitive labour.” These were all certainly unhealthy, but “anime syndrome” might have been a useful image for staff to maintain, so they could take a sick-break after a hellish crunch time.

Equally provocatively, Clements questions the standard criticism of Tezuka – that he was a terrible businessman whose underselling of Astro Boy and subsequent anime products scarred the industry ever after. True, Tezuka’s anime productions were crazy, chaotic affairs where frazzled middle-men frantically outsourced work to second and third-hand parties, while moonlighting animators stole work from themselves, and the enterprise resembled a teetering pyramid scheme.

Yet Clements suggests that, at the end of the day, Tezuka might have been no more reckless than one of his idols, Walt Disney, who risked far more money on Snow White. Then again, Walt was at least sometimes restrained in his excesses by his prudent brother and business partner, Roy O. Disney. Tezuka, it seemed, had no such outside voice of sanity.

sazae-sanIn the late 1960s and early 1970s, anime coalesced more into the medium we know today. But it’s not always a story of evolution. Today, Japan’s (and the world’s) longest-running animated series remains Sazae-san, a mild comedy about a Japanese housewife, which began in 1969. “Its very mildness is surely one of the factors that allows it to remain part of the televisual wallpaper more than forty years after its first broadcast,” Clements says. He calls it a case of Japanese animation in extended equilibrium.

As a primetime series about an ordinary family, Sazae-san appeals across demographics (it’s by far the highest rated cartoon on Japanese TV). Many other anime are “kid’s shows,” though Clements questions if this is the same as their target audience. After all, the “audience” will involve the children’s parents, watching, dozing, eating or knitting, but still receiving the show’s underlying self-advert, that “it is this show, these characters, these toys that most occupy their children’s interests.”

With mecha series, for example, one does not need Evangelion to decode the genre. “There is a recurring message that must surely have a subliminal message for an office worker hoping to buy his child’s love: my father gave me a robot, my father gave me a robot, my father gave me a robot.” Later in the book, Clements cites claims that Japanese children’s tastes shifted in the late 1980s. Before, kids would happily buy both heroes and villains/monsters as toys; later, they just wanted the heroes. This helps explain both the prevalence of “battle teams” in action series, and the later rise of harem series for older viewers. “The best possible character roster for an anime show would be a large number of female characters, each a possible love interest for the hero.”

HeidiClements quotes Japanese pundits who argue that the idea of ‘anime’ partly arose out of negative comments on cartoons – their violence, their limited animation, their low popular denominators (unlike the experimental Japanese films at animation festivals). Some artists tried to transcend this, most famously Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, who made the TV series Heidi (1974) much more painstakingly than the average show. “Heidi’s quality was over-engineered, far in excess of the minimum requirements for it to be fit for purpose.”

A different approach was taken by the robot-show director Yoshiyuki Tomino, who applied deep thought to a genre machine-tooled to sell toys. Tomino broke rules by killing major protagonists in 1977’s Zambot 3, which was “no loss to a franchise that was already being shut down.” Then, Tomino focused on believability, creating “mecha that increasingly needed to obey at least some of the laws of physics.” The result, the first Gundam in 1979, was initially a ratings flop. “However, its artistic heritage, rejuvenated by subsequent feature-length movie edits, and with repeats that gained it a 15% audience share, would make it a pivotal event in the history of anime.”

Gundam stands between Space Battleship Yamato and Akira, three landmark SF anime often said to define the medium. Anime fandom in Japan became notable during the production of Yamato, when middle- and high-school fans turned up at that show’s studio Artland, “full of curiosity and amazement.” However, Artland’s owner Ishiguro Noboru noted that “the girls sheepishly confessed that although they had seen Space Battleship Yamato, they much preferred Heidi.

yamatoMale fans, though, started forming clubs (not necessarily formal; the director Satoshi Kon participated in fervent “Otakuesque conversations” about Gundam at his high school). The first Yamato movie in 1977 marshalled fan energies. The Yamato studio recruited fans with a guerrilla marketing kit, “which instructed them to fly-post posters in prominent locations, call radio stations to request the theme song, and pester newspapers to run coverage – for which (the fans) were rewarded with animation cels and other production items.”

Contrary to popular belief, the film did not break records (though its sequel, Farewell, Yamato, did). But, Clements says, Yamato “demonstrated that anime fandom represented a discrete sector of new consumption that could be served or exploited through releasing more anime aimed not at children, but at teenagers.”

The advent of home video met that sector. “Viewers who had been children in the 1960s and 1970s now had the opportunity to consume sequels and remakes with an older sensibility.” Straight-to-video was born, throwing up the sometimes baffling range of anime titles through with British fandom picked its way in its own early years. These titles ranged from wellsprings for multimedia franchises (Patlabor, Tenchi Muyo) to “an advert for the opening pages of a novel, all but meaningless in foreign territories where the novel was not available” (hello, Vampire Wars).

Meanwhile, cartoon porn videos “placed anime fans on a continuum that is inextricably connected to the activities of murderers and molesters.” In Clements’ view, this was the cost of refashioning a children’s medium for adults, which may “make a statement about wider applications for the art, but also risks appealing to an audience caught in arrested development, clinging to notions of infantilism.”

Thanks to censors, Britain didn’t get “straight” porn anime, but rather their mutation into sex-horror (Overfiend, Wicked City). For years, they were a disreputable standard bearer, a public “image” for anime until the global sweep of Pokémon in the 1990s. Pikachu’s arrival coincided with the rise of the DVD format and what Clements calls “a degree of transnational rationalisation,” bringing anime’s motley multiple histories closer. Previously, shows could often be huge in some territories, unknowns in others –Saint Seiya is a prime case.

pikachuMore recently, foreign anime viewers have been split into those who consume anime “in celebration of its difference, such as the adult anime fans who like Akira”, and the generation who watched it as “an established norm, such as children who grew up with Pokémon.”  A comparable split developed in Japan, between the “niche” 0.4% audience who watched late-night TV anime, versus the “mainstream” audience for Ghibli films or Sazae-san. (Sazae-san, incidentally, was still made with cels long after other anime had switched to digital, because some of Sazae-san’s staff were too old to learn digital techniques.)

But the “niche” animation market, Clements says, is far more lucrative than the mainstream. “A one-shot children’s movie might appear to deliver higher short-term returns in DVD sales… A late-night TV series with a limited edition box set, tie-in laptop, collectible metal figurines and a subscription-based online game tie-in will sell fewer copies, but generate substantially more revenue from a single, notional consumer.” The otaku population in Japan is small in number (contra certain BBC documentaries), but a Japanese commentator, Matsumoto Satoru, reckons it’s worth 85 to 90 per cent of Japan’s animation market.

On the “mainstream” side, Clements argues that popular hits depend on brands, and has done since Toei’s 1960 film Saiyuki (aka Alakazam the Great) was supported by its source manga and famed creator, Osamu Tezuka. As a more recent case, Clements cites the 2005 film Zatch Bell: Attack of the Mekavulcan. It looked like a flop in cinema but the film may have greatly benefited its franchise, which included manga and computer games. Clements also cites the ill-fated 2000 film The Boy Who Saw the Wind, which tried to copy Studio Ghibli without Ghibli’s first decade of brand-building. “Even Ghibli’s box-office returns started off small.”

garden of wordsClements judges the biggest risk in cinema anime now would be “an entirely original, standalone” film, though limited cinemas releases are less risky, serving as adverts for foreign buyers and the home release. (When the new Makoto Shinkai film The Garden of Words was shown in Japanese cinemas, customers could buy the DVD edition in the foyer.) The substantial box-office returns of Hosoda’s The Wolf Children, a wide release original film, looks like a counter to Clements’ argument, although Hosoda’s name has brand cachet of its own.

The book’s last pages touch on the challenges posed by fansubbing, in a world where a sample of 21 new anime titles were ‘fingerprinted’ and traced across the net for four months in 2009-10. They were duplicated over 25,000 times, and viewed 28.7 million times, with most of the illegal servers and downloads seemingly in China. As a Japanese writer said ruefully, “if every one of those viewers were paying a mere 100 yen (£0.81) each to watch the same content, the revenue from the anime business would be twenty or thirty times larger than it is.”

As it is, there’s a possibility of an anime “crunch” in the near future, an implosion in the number of ‘supportable franchises.’ However, this wouldn’t end Japanese animation, but open the next chapter in its history. In any case, Sazae-san and Pokémon aren’t facing the apocalypse, though Ghibli is entering interesting times with Miyazaki’s retirement.

hatsune mikuAs for how other producers could cancel the apocalypse, there may be salvation through advertising, through multimedia (making anime to advertise other parts of a franchise) or through foreign markets; China could even replace America as the industry’s foreign holy grail. There’s also the possibility of mining fan events – making anime an adjunct to conventions, Hatsune Miku-style concerts or simulcast screenings. The last is topical in Britain as the BBC milks Doctor Who with a fiftieth anniversary film in cinemas and on TV.

But, Clements concludes, the future of anime rests on its artists – on the successors to the mavericks that today’s establishment once were, as diverse as Miyazaki and Tomino. The anime business is not just the story content, the robot designs and cute girls of the season. But nor is it just the “featureless monetising boxes” which spit out money (or combine, robot style, with more boxes to make money-spitting franchises). Animation is not the province of cartoon characters, nor bank balances, but of humans.

As Clements says, anime is “the frantic morning scramble to complete an animatic reel sufficient for an afternoon sound recording session; a courier arriving at Narita airport only to discover in a moment of panic that his luggage has gone missing, along with the 500 urgently-needed cels it contained from a South Korean subsidiary; Itano Ichiro climbing into the cockpit of an American fighter jet to research dog-fighting; Yamamoto Eiichi demanding his fair share of the royalties for a song on the Jungle Emperor album; Rintaro ringing a manga artist’s doorbell in the pouring rain to argue about a change in the script.”

And in all these things, “we are still speaking of the Japanese animation industry, of its workers and its scandals, its successes and failures, its legends and its truths.”

Anime: A History by Jonathan Clements is available now from the British Film Institute.

New Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors

1382061_676525859025041_80750332_nFor readers in the UK, I shall be on Channel Four on Sunday 8th December at 8pm, as a talking head on New Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors. Lots of metallurgy fun, and possibly even the entertaining sight of me interviewing the man who discovered them — I don’t know, I haven’t seen it yet myself.

We had been hoping to get a reprint of my First Emperor of China book out in time for it, but that won’t be until 2014. But you can apparently pick up the original edition for a penny behind the link, so knock yourselves out. Photo courtesy of Two Chiefs.