2002 - Japan in Review

by Kumi Kaoru, Jan 14th 2003
ANN's Editors in Chief asked me to write a year in review on Anime for the benefit of the ANN readers, especially those readers who are interested in what kind of events, cases and other things occurred this past year in Japan. All right, boss. I will do my best as a Japan-based Anime scholar.

First off, I selected ten topics that I think are the most important, and wrote comments on each one. You may be displeased that I selected the ones you think are not so important, or I did not ones that you perceive are important. There were five court cases on Anime and Manga in Japan; Candy Candy, Weiss Kreuz Character Designs, Macross, Star Blazers, and Spirited Away DVD trials. But I decided to mention two of them because the rest is simple, or concluded already so you can go to the ANN archives if you'd like to know more about them.

Editor's note: In addition to Kaoru's discussion below, and the "IN" links above, you will also be able to read more about these lawsuits in an upcoming part of our year in review.


Leiji Matsumoto is not the creator of Star Blazers?

On March 25th, a Tokyo district court handed down a ruling overturning an injunction filed by Leiji Matsumoto against Yoshinobu Nishizaki barring Nishizaki from claiming to be the original creator of the legendary Anime Series Space Battleship Yamato (a.k.a. Star Blazers in North America). Nishizaki, who was arrested in 1999 for illegal gun possession, is currently in prison.

In the near future I would like to report in more detail on what caused the court case. Right now though, I'd like to clear up some misunderstandings spreading among Anime fans.

  1. The court ruling only stated that Nishizaki had the "personal right of the author;" the right that guarantees an author that their work can not be altered without their permission, even if they have lost all property rights to the work.

  2. Nishizaki's "personal right of authorship" only applies to 8 titles; Yamato ('74-75), Yamato the Movie ('77), Farewell Yamato ('77) , Yamato 2 ('78-79) , The New Departure of Yamato ('80), Yamato Forever ('80), Yamato 3 ('81-82), and Final Yamato ('83) .

  3. Meaning that Nishizaki has no rights to any new Yamato series made by Matsumoto, nor any rights to derivative works such as videogames.


While working on the new Yamato series, Matsumoto appealed the verdict in the intermediate court of appeal and the case is currently undergoing deliberation. In any case, it is said to be unlikely that Matsumoto will come out completely victorious.

The verdict can be read (in Japanese) here.


Behind Spirited Away's Grand Prize at Berlin Film Festival

On February the 27th, Hayao Miyazaki received the grand prize for Spirited Away at the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival. The Japanese media applauded, "It is a great achievement to prove how Japanese animation is globally attractive entertainment. It added a new page in the history book of cinema." (Daily Mainichi)
The achievement was however somewhat overshadowed by another drama; the panel of judges would have liked to select the winner from one of two other movies; German movie Half of Stairs and French film The Eight Women. They feared that they would be charged with being biased had they given the grand prize to a German movie because more than one German film had been nominated.

The director of the festival decided to remove Half of Stars from the final list. Spirited Away and Bloody Sunday, a TV drama made in Britain, received the prize. The paper Di Velt said, "It is easy to imagine how the judges arrived at the conclusion. Although the judges immensely liked them, neither The Eight Women nor Half of Stairs was able to achieve a majority vote from the judges. In the end, the movies were awarded a worthy second prize."

It is reported that Miyazaki showed pleasure when news of grand prize arrived in Japan, but not as great pleasure as they had expected

What is epochal in Anime The Voice of the Distant Star?

A less-than-30 year old man called Makoto Shinkai made a 25 minute long Anime film alone. Yes, entirely on his own except for the music. It is common that a private animation director makes a short film for him/herself, but The Voice of the Distant Star surprised Anime fans with its superb visuals and the tear-dropping story; equal, or superior, to any commercial Anime film.
The story converges into a young couple's tragic love tale. A high school female pupil leaves the earth to battle the aliens in outer space. She contacts her boyfriend through e-mail on her mobile cell phone. But as the spaceship leaves the solar system behind, traveling at almost the light speed, the time between them is sliding. While in her place only half an hour passes, one year goes away on the earth.

The Voice moved a lot of people, and acquired many prizes for its freshness. It, however, was interesting that few found it to have been made in a way similar to Bishojo Games. Bishoujo is a videogame genre. You can enjoy the (spiritual) love affair with attractive young girls in the computer. You can say that it is like a romantic comedy novel transplanted into an adventure game platform.

There is no "middle" to Bishojo Games. It is the "I" story. The same goes for The Voice. Depicted is the youthful relationship of a male and a female high school student and the outer space so far from the earth that they cannot contact each other in real time anymore. The other elements such as community, society, government and nation between the their homeland and the spacecraft are not mentioned.

After graduating from college, Shinkai joined a videogame firm and was a member of the development team in charge of Bishojo Game titles. Many were surprised with the fact that one man made it entirely on his own, but I'm rather amazed that very few are aware that it was the first time the pureness (and introversion) of a Bishojo game was brought to Anime so entirely.

Shinkai has announced his next project, called Kumo no Mukoh, Yakusoku no Tochi.
Shinkai's web site http://www2.odn.ne.jp/~ccs50140/
.


Towards The Second Round on The Law against Child Pornography

In November 1999, Japan's law against child pornography came into effect. When it was discussed at the Diet (Japanese Parliament) opinion was split on whether or not to regulate illustrations. If it had been decided to regulate illustration, it would have been impossible to avoid a negative influence on Anime and Manga. Wisely, the diet decided against the regulation of illustrations, but "people of good sense" still believe that it would be better to amend the law.

In May 2002, Japan signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children at United Nation. It contains an article banning illustrated child pornography. Asahi Shimbun reported that this meant that Japan would be obliged to tighten its laws regarding child pornography, including those affecting Anime and Manga. However, Asahi later apologized stating that it was wrong. Japan "signed", but did not "ratify." In international legal terms to "sign" only means to "promise to examine."

One month before this minor episode occurred in Japan, the US Federal Supreme Court ruled the U.S. law against child pornography to be unconstitutional in regards to its ban of illustrations. It was an epochal decision. But in Japan many people still don't realize how dangerous it is to regulate anything in the name of "conscience," as Asahi's misunderstanding implies. In December, the Japanese party in power announced that it would put forward a proposal to amend the law at the coming Diet in 2003.

http://www.npa.go.jp/safetylife/syonen/law.htm.


There are more than 70 TV Anime titles per week being produced and broadcasted

As of November, 72 new cartoon episodes air per week in Japan. The number means that the Anime industry is in unhealthy condition because it is said the industry's current capacity of production is around 60 half-hour shows. One Anime critic claims that the total number of cartoon shows currently running is not that many, since the list includes US series and some Anime series shorter than 30 minutes. Still, it is true that it increased by 11 from this spring.

Total sales of Anime market are between 150 and 160 billion yen (See graph A). Sales are not reflecting the rapid growth, despite the fact that Anime has been more eagerly expected. Moreover, Japan suffers from economic depression these years. It seems that a lot of firms have come to see Anime as a rare sound investment. Reports of the growing popularity of Anime in overseas markets must have influenced them.

However, the rapid increase in the number of Anime shows is causing a shortage of production staff. A large amount of in-between animation work is being shifted to Korea and China. Exporting this work is more economical than doing it domestically. This then results in the industry weakening itself because young up-and-coming animators lose their chance to hone their skills doing the in-between-animation work. Thus, fewer good animators will develop.


80 percent of Hentai Anime titles come from Hentai Games

In Japan homevideo distributors sell a total of 1,600 animation titles (including non-Anime titles like Disney's) a year. The title count of Hentai OAVs amounts to over 100. Suppose each title sells 10,000 copies on average, Hentai OAVs sell a total of 1 million copies a year (18 million copies is the total sales of the animated cartoon market). This implies that sales of Hentai are in the range of 4.2-4.3 billion yen, while total sales of all animated cartoon titles amounts to less than 70 billion yen.

I will leave you to interpret these figures for yourself (Star Wars: The Attack of Clone earned 16 billion yen at box office in Japan). But I hope you become interested in the fact that 80 percent of Hentai Anime titles are based on Hentai Games, or Ero-Gei.

Hentai Games are still not so well known in North America, but it is a unique genre that began with Lolita Unclothing Game in '83 and had greatly developed in early '90 with the spread of Nippon Denki's PC9801 computer series. You can play and "do it" with many attractive girls on the PC. Bishojo Games (I mentioned them in The Voice of the Distant Star paragraph) evolved from Hentai in the late 90s, though Bishojo very seldom contains sexual depictions.

Hentai games show more and more influence on Anime pornography, and are becoming the driving force behind the genre. Furthermore, Bishojo games, which evolved from Hentai, bore Shinkai's pure Anime love story. People had better realize that both Hentai and Bishojo games are another legitimate form of Anime.


Do Japanese administrative organizations really care about Anime?

Between February 15th and 18th The 21st New Century Tokyo International Anime Festival was held at the International Conventional Center, planned and hosted by Shintaro Ishihara, the chief of the Tokyo Metropolitan Office. It was not the first time administrative organizations have held festivals to promote the Anime industry, but never has such a large one taken place before. It consisted of a lot of events like screenings, exhibitions, symposiums, and competitions.

The government is also showing interest. In April, a report to the Japanese Education, Science and Technology Ministry by an advisory panel called for the promotion of various new forms of art, including Anime. In November the advisory arm of the Ministry released a draft report on "The basic policy on the promotion of culture and art." The draft emphasizes the importance of the domestic promotion of modern Japanese culture and art in forms such as Manga, Anime and Movies.

Japanese media frequently publish rose-colored reports on the overseas Anime market including the news that Miyazaki was given the grand prize for Spirited Away at Berlin Film Festival. They stimulated the administrative offices, although very few still try to study how Anime has been exported, how each market has grown, what kind of troubles has been arising in each overseas areas and so forth. How irrelevant Anime studies by scholars circulate as Anime authorities in Western colleges!

"Don't miss the bus?" I believe you have more things to do for the future of Anime...


Miyazaki talks after winning the Golden Bear for Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki, who gained the "Golden Bear grab" (Grand Prize) at the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival, was interviewed in the Teikoku hotel, Tokyo on February 19. When he was asked, "Do you think that Japanese animation has reached a world class level?" He responded, "In my opinion, animation manufactured of Japan is falling to the bottom."

I was rather impressed with his following statement; "Many Japanese believe that Japanese animation has been getting popular overseas, but, as a matter of fact, how many violent, sexual, or rambling but vacant Anime titles flow into the western market from Japan? You disgrace yourself if you really believe the idea that Anime is the global culture from Japan"

Few Japanese really grasped what Miyazaki meant by this statement. He also seemed not to expect that it would be understood clearly. But I know the “violent and sexual, or rambling but vacant” Anime refers to much of what is popular, including Love Hina, Inuyasha and other titles believed to be harmless.


Anyway, keep in mind that Miyazaki seems to think such major titles and some erotic titles like Overfiend and La Blue Girl are at the same end of the same continuum. He does not mean his films are exceptional. He really knows that, however applauded he is, he comes from the same birthplace as they do. I would like to discuss this subject somewhere else in the near future.


Red Tint problem on Spirited Away DVD

Miyazaki is a great artist. So we listened to the wise old man's remarks on everything in the world even if they frequently burn our ears. But one affair arose that shook our faith in him.

When the Spirited Away DVD was released on July 19th, quite a few consumers claimed to Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Studio Ghibli that it displayed a red tint. BV explained that they had made the DVD based on the master tape from Ghibli, and Ghibli stated that was the color they had expected and they did not plan to replace it.

In October, some buyers stood up; consumers in the Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures of Japan filed a lawsuit against Walt Disney Japan over the red tint problem. The plaintiffs seek 10,000 Yen (US$80) and a replacement DVD for each consumer. They claim that, after analyzing the DVD, they found that its color balance was biased towards red. Tetsuo Ohtani, attorney and one of the plaintiffs, stated, "Spirited Away is a brilliant movie. However, some hundred thousand people, including myself, were disappointed with the DVD version. Our purpose is to make the truth clear."

In December, Japanese TV viewers were disappointed to see that the trailer, when Nihon TV aired for their 2003 January broadcast of Spirited Away, contained the infamous red tint found on the Spirited Away DVD. Nihon TV explained on the phone that it only aired the trailer made from the mastertape from Ghibli. Many viewers thought it showed that Ghibli would not accept the claim by buyers.





By the way, towards the end of 2002, Yoshiyuki Tomino, best-known as the creator of Gundam, wrote an interesting letter to the public after it was announced that the DVD release of his latest TV show, King Gainer, was being postponed because it contained a wrong scene. The letter says:

To everyone who looked forward to the King Gainer DVD

First, I apologize for postponing of the King Gainer DVD release.

Even if we conceded to replace the DVD with a corrected one to those who contact us after we sell it, it cannot be called a "sincere response." I told everyone involve that the production staff, including me, would like to have the right DVD available at stores. While postponement will entail a loss for the distributor, they have said that they would respect our request and postpone the DVD release.

I hope you wait for a while until the corrected DVD is made; DVD lasts longer than the others. We learned a lesson from this carelessness. We brace ourselves once again and work hard to complete the tale of King Gainer.

Thank you.









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