Faking It

mcm imageCosplay was not the centre of attention for once at the recent MCM Expo in London, when the copyright licensors of Tokyo Ghoul and Attack on Titan toured the dealers’ room in a carnival of garbage collection, rooting out and confiscating an estimated £20,000 worth of unlicensed merchandise. The unexpected entourage included reps from a Japanese company, the UK’s Anime Limited, a lawyer with a Powers of Attorney notice, and a trio of minions to cart away the swag. By the time the sweep was over, several dealers were shown the door with the full approval of MCM’s management, and the enforcers actually ran out of bin bags, leading to the delicious irony of a bootleg Tokyo Ghoul carry-all being commandeered to lug illegal Tokyo Ghoul merchandise

Gone are the days when some guy from Hong Kong could set up stall in a Birmingham hotel and flog a few lopsided Totoro knock-offs to fans on their way to the masquerade. In the last decade, industry and fandom have increasingly met each other halfway; MCM has become a prime retail location for copyright holders to sell direct to their punters, and to demand the right to do so without facing illegal competition. Meanwhile, such massive consumer events rely upon the continued cooperation of the anime business for guests, exclusives and the purchase of retail space. If you’re looking for pirate goods, MCM is definitely and officially the wrong place

“The first time we found someone [selling such items],” said Anime Limited’s Andrew Partridge, “I wondered if they knew what they were doing. By the time we took action I was sure of why and realised how much they made off selling products that hadn’t even been on the same island as the original creators, ever!” Notably, however, the legal powers invoked in this case only applies to two licences. There is plenty of scope for future clampdowns, although hopefully the dealers have already got the message

An assistant from one of the knock-off dealers, who asked not to be named, said that he appreciated the issues involved, although he considered the public shame of bin-bagging in full view to have been “a bit heavy-handed.” He noted that an equally pressing issue at some events has often been the unlicensed use of fan art on some dealers’ merchandise, and he hoped that the authorities would soon be policing that, too. But where will the small-time fan artists get their legal muscle….?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #145, 2015.

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Piece on Earth

The news that Manga Entertainment have licensed One Piece for the UK brings one of the last unreleased anime greats to these shores. Its absence has been noticeable for the last decade – One Piece is often the tentpole and keystone of foreign anime fandoms. It’s also the real money-spinner, selling in its millions. Although it’s sure not to go quite as wide in Britain, it will certainly bring in some new fans.

I’m at the end of my four-month exile in China, where Japanese animation is largely absent from the mainstream. Effectively banned from broadcast or sales since 2006, the sole showings in legal Chinese stores are the Studio Ghibli catalogue, which sneaks in via Disney. But pirate shops are loaded with shelves of Japanese material, usually spun off legal releases in Hong Kong or Taiwan. And I keep jumping in surprise on the Beijing metro when adverts leap out of the dark to sell me One Piece… the games.

On the streets of Xi’an, the lower-rent hawkers have taken images from One Piece and Dragon Ball Z, mounted them on plywood and cut them into jigsaws. Manga, however, are largely invisible, since much of modern Chinese teenagers’ entertainment is sourced illegally and digitally – I would need to get into their bedrooms to see if they are reading scanlations, and the police won’t let me. But the widespread visibility of those titles in particular suggests a cultural affinity – Dragon Ball had its distant origins as a retelling of the Chinese legend of the Monkey King, and so, too, did One Piece. In other words, even though they are foreign, they don’t feel that way to the Chinese.

The catch-all Chinese title for this is dongman, literally ‘animation and comics’, although suggestively Japanese animation and comics. Dongman shops are all over China, but many concentrate not on anime and manga themselves, but on gaming spin-offs. It’s the games that seem to lead the way here, encouraging Chinese kids to seek out the originals. But when they find them, there is no way of paying for them legally. And so, the great tale of anime pirates gets pirated.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #109, 2013.