Any Old Irony

In summer 2005, part-time academic Natsuki Matsumoto found a three-second scrap of hand-drawn animation in Kyoto. The tiny two-colour piece of film was less of a movie than a comic drawn onto celluloid, fifty frames in which a boy in a bright red cap dashed off the words “Moving Pictures” onto a black board, then took a bow. It was rudimentary and if screened, would jump all over the place.

Matsumoto (a respected figure in the anime history world, and a leading authority in pre-war anime) announced that the item could be “up to ten years older” than the oldest known cartoon in Japan. It probably isn’t. The oldest cartoon known in Japan is currently Oten Shimokawa’s Mukuzo Imokawa, and there’s plenty of scope for something to turn up that might be older. But ten years older?
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Due Diligence

In Japan, where the concept was first invented, they were called the Money Tigers. In Finland they are the Lions. In Israel, the Sharks. We call them the Dragons, and their job is to audit the plans of would-be entrepreneurs in the Dragons’ Den. If Judge Judy isn’t on, I’m there, watching the way they pierce to the heart of bad ideas. And sometimes, for fun, I imagine what it would be like if someone tried to attract the Dragons to invest in the anime industry.
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Taxing Time


Another tax-year gone, and I’m stuck with a bucket of receipts. The usual deduction issues ensue – are contract killers a reliable contract-enforcement expense? If I had fun watching an anime, can I still call it work? When I buy a copy of Golgo 13, it’s for work purposes only. It’s not like I enjoy it.

Anime companies have the same problems with media accounting. If a director has a packet of peanuts, is that ‘entertainment’ or ‘subsistence’? But there are perks, largely tied up in the sector of anime shows that take place outside Japan. There’s nothing an anime crew likes more than a roké-han, a ‘location hunt’, otherwise known as the thinly disguised staff holiday. No works outing to Grimsby for Japanese animators – imagine the misery of the Gunsmith Cats crew when they were all carted off to Chicago to drive fast cars and play with guns. They even filmed it as part of the Making of documentary. You see, they told the tax man, it was research.

Once you get your head around the accounting complexities of office perks, some of anime’s weirder moments make more sense. In Detonator Orgun, the invading alien robot action grinds to a halt for a whole minute while the female lead explains that she’s driving a replica of a 1963 E-type Jaguar. Pause for loving pans across the car’s flanks, zooms on its upholstery, and general auto porn. Well, someone had to get hold of a Jaguar for research purposes, didn’t they? And after that, they’d damn well better use it or face a tribunal. Does this mean that if I write about a date with a voice actress, I can claim for it on expenses? I asked my accountant if a dirty weekend could ever be tax deductible.

“Only if it’s with me,” he said, somewhat creepily.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. this article previously appeared in NEO #6, 2005.

Good Mourning

This week began with two Oscar wins with an anime/manga connection. La Maison en Petit Cubes won the Best Animated Short, while Departures (Okuribito), won Best Foreign Film. Albeit not as widely celebrated in the fan community, the film release of Okuribito was preceded by a manga adaptation in Big Comic Superior magazine, which I covered in issue 49 of Neo last year:
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The Blu-Ray Blues

I tried to say it politely. The Japanese author had spelt two names wrong, misdated a crucial release, and assigned a famous quote to the wrong director. For no extra charge, I had footnoted those problems on the translation and sent it off.

A curt missive arrived from Big Anime Company telling me to put the mistakes back in. It turned out that the author was someone’s uncle and very high up in the company. He’d thought that “TENTACLY YUM YUM BYATCH” was the perfect tagline to use on the box for a U-rated fairy tale about a girl and a pony. And nobody was going to tell him that he was wrong.

It’s a symptom of a disease that many people don’t even know they’ve caught. I call it the Blu-ray Blues and it’s taken five years to take hold. Because, you see, now we can fit 30 languages on a single disc, it makes sense for it to be a single release, mastered in Japan. In theory, this is great news for anime. In practise, however, right now there are a dozen people in Tokyo offices saying that foreigners are stupid and don’t know how to sell anime. If anime has not lived up to the unrealistic sales predictions of its marketers, then someone must surely be to blame, and the blame traditionally falls on anyone who isn’t Japanese. If the Japanese only get to micromanage every part of the business themselves, surely international sales will suddenly go through the roof?

There are people who think they can do a whole lot better if they just run everything out of Japan. But that brings an irresistible temptation to treat the rest of the world in the same way that Japan is treated. That means much less material on each disc, and sold at a higher price. It means attempts by PR personnel to censor magazine articles. And while it might mean better control of translation, in my experience so far it has merely meant that an entire echelon of useless stuffed shirts have been able to fiddle with localisation.

These people are known as the Window Tribe. The guys passed over in promotion who are just marking time in the office. Fiddling with foreign deals is their sole pleasure, because they can do it without attracting attention on their home turf. Once, they were only able to dicker with contracts or haggle over royalties. With localisation now based in Japan, those self-same ditherers will have a new opportunity to justify their jobs, by offering their worthless opinions on translation.

There have been a lot of lay-offs in the anime business this year, and they have largely come from the gaijin middlemen – the human buffer zone between you and the Japanese corporations. They were the ones who shook your hand at conventions, and they were the ones who tried to make sure that scripts, taglines and extras were not… well, laughably inappropriate. And they were the first up against the wall when the Blu-ray revolution came.

I hope this all works out, really I do. Because there is a very real risk that the centralisation of the anime business back in Japan will actually hurt it far more than it helps.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO magazine #51, 2008.