Rayna Denison is tempted on all sides at the Tokyo Anime Centre
The Tokyo Anime Centre is almost impossible for a fan to get to. Not because it is particularly hard to find, but because you have to be able to resist Akihabara’s many other charms to reach it. Leaving the Electric Town Exit from the JR Akihabara Station (beware, the route is different from the Tokyo Metro!), you can easily see the UDX Building that houses the Tokyo
Anime Centre. It even has convenient escalators to take you over the busy street below, straight to the Centre and its shop. However, you have to be strong enough to walk past both the new Gundam and AKB48 cafes. No mean feat, with their blinking neon and fantastically odd menus. And to get to the UDX building from the other side, you have to walk through Akiba’s heart, and the simplest route walks you straight through the Animate store, filled with floor upon floor of collectible anime merchandise. If you manage steel yourself to walk the length of Animate, out the back exit, the UDX building waits to greet you. But chances are good that manga and anime fans will find themselves deeply distracted along the way.
That said, the Tokyo Anime Centre can help to orient overseas fans trying to make the most of their visits to Japan. Happily, the Anime Centre has a plethora of fliers and information about forthcoming anime titles and events. Strangely though, a lot of the leaflets are not aimed at overseas fans. Even more oddly, the Anime Centre itself, which is up on the 4th
floor of the UDX building at the top of a long escalator, does not have a lot of information about Akihabara. The leaflets are more about anime and manga museums, from information about the nearby Sanrio Puroland to specialist museums in far flung corners of Japan. And, last I visited, there was more in Japanese (and English) than other languages, with the Anime Centre’s website, many brochures and calendar available only in Japanese.
So, the Anime Centre is not really an international tourist information hub. With their newly opened shop on Floor 2 of the UDX building, however, things are improving. The shop seems geared towards merchandise for fan-favourite franchises, with Tezuka and Ghibli merchandise alongside Gundam
and Shigeru Mizuki goods. And actually, given Akiba’s tendency to focus on the new, this “older” focus should be gratifying for long-time manga and anime fans visiting Tokyo. The Centre’s shop also has local Akiba maps with the main highlights clearly marked in a range of languages. The shop, rather than the Centre upstairs, then, is the best place to start if you are new to the Akihabara landscape.
As a result of the shop moving to UDX’s second floor, the Anime Centre is becoming more of an anime event space. For example, it is currently advertising an exhibition event based around Production IG’s giant robot anime Rinne no Lagrange
(Toshimaki Suzuki, 2012). The Anime Centre is really just one room divided up between temporary exhibitions, a residual shopping area and a space for live events. In the back is a semi-circular desk with loads of leaflets and helpful Japanese employees, who will do their best to point you in the right direction. They also regularly have industry professionals, like voice actors, coming in to do workshops with visitors. There is even a little sound booth in one corner. The exhibitions are usually free, and you can get the Calendar of events online at http://www.animecenter.jp/calender/
, but it is Japanese only. So, while the Tokyo Anime Centre has good things to recommend it, and is certainly worth a visit if you don’t know Akiba, there is so much more in Akihabara that the Centre’s pleasures are rather drowned out by its surroundings.
The Tokyo Anime Centre in Akihabara is open from 11am to 7pm. Closed on Mondays.
Where’s the Love? Police arrest Naruto "super-fan"
Orange ninja are back in the news, after today’s Mail on Sunday
reported the unfortunate activities of one Dave Kishimot (21), an anime fan from Chipping Ongar, arrested on Saturday night for trying to break into a video store on his local high street.
Mr Kishimot told police that he had been partway through an attempt to watch the entire anime series Naruto
, from start to finish.
“It was much longer than we thought,” he confessed. “The original series alone takes ninety-one hours. And Shippuden
is another hundred! And that’s before we got to the bloody movies.”
It was the feature-length spin-offs that proved to be his downfall. Realising that the second film Naruto Shippuden the Movie: Bonds
was not officially released in the UK until Monday, Mr Kishimot lost a fateful game of scissors-papers-stone that determined he would be the man to steal a copy from the alarmed and security-guarded video store.
Tired and emotional, having been watching Naruto
solidly for over a week with only the briefest of “ninja naps” and toilet breaks, Mr Kishimot was apprehended by a random patrol as he feebly attempted to kick the door down. A police spokesman cited the fluorescent orange jumpsuit as something of a giveaway, even at night.
“They’re calling me a thief,” Kishimot wailed. “But I only wanted to show how much I loved the show. By stealing it.”
Mr Kishimot previously tried to demonstrate his affection for Naruto
by changing his name by deed poll to that of the original creator, but inadvertently spelled “Kishimoto” wrong on his application form.
“That was a bit stupid,” he conceded. “But I’ll change it to the right spelling as soon as I can scrape up the cash. Believe it.”
article also features a quote from Manga Entertainment’s Jerome Mazandarani, although it wasn’t much use. “Sod off, it’s early!" he said to journalists who called his home. "Don’t you know what day it is?”
Naruto Shippuden the Movie: Bonds, is out tomorrow in the UK from Manga Entertainment.
Andrew Osmond quizzes Manga UK’s Jerome Mazandarani about the perils of formats
The Blu-ray debut of Naruto Shippuden 2: Bonds
– released both as a standalone title and in a pack with the first Shippuden
movie - confirms that Manga is still committed to Blu-ray in the UK, despite the frustrations and cancellations of recent months. Indeed, a slew of Blu-ray titles are scheduled for this year, ranging from Mardock Scramble
to Roujin Z.
Manga UK’s Jerome Mazandarani points out that many UK anime fans have moved from DVD to Blu-ray, obliging Manga to follow. He adds, though, that “Maybe 80 or 90% of our sales are still on DVD, so it’s very important.” The release of anime Blu-rays is a tricky proposition, balancing the demands of multiple parties. Jerome points out that the Japanese licensors and producers of an anime have their own agenda, which Manga must meet if it wants the title at all.
“They’ve got specific ideas about how they want the release packaged: when it’s released, how much we can sell it for,” Jerome says. “The licensors for anime have a hell of a lot of control over these shows, unheard of in the normal video licensing business. They could say, for example, that you can only sell it at this
price; that you can’t release it until six months after it’s out in Japan; that you can’t do x, y or z...”
“International licensing for anime, for most Japanese companies, is probably less than 10% of their overall business,” Jerome points out. “So why would you give your prized anime licenses to a foreign distributor and let them do whatever they want with it unchecked? Let them put it on Youtube or itunes or Netflix? Let them sell it at stupidly low prices, so that Japanese
customers can import it? All the decisions the Japanese licensors make are based on protecting their distributors in Japan, and Japan sustains a model where a K-ON!
three or four-episode DVD can sell at £30, and the Blu-ray at over £40, and sell a quarter of a million copies.”
Recently, Manga had to cancel the Blu-rays of both K-ON!
and the film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.
“We wanted to get most of K-ON!
out last year,” said Jerome. “But we weren’t allowed to release a complete season box-set if we wanted access to the English dub, which Bandai produced for America. We either had to release it the way Bandai was doing, or wait until after they’d finished the campaign in the U.S. I decided to follow them, so the series want out on single-disc volumes. But the DVD sales were so low it no longer made sense to invest in a Blu-ray release that was unlikely to break even.”
The single-disc decision had been taken for the fans. “Fans hate waiting a year or two years after something’s been simulcast or on Japanese TV to get their hands on it. So in the interests of trying to sell more by narrowing the window, we made a strategic error releasing K-ON!
that way [on individual discs]. I think we would have been better off just not releasing it last year. Rather we could have waited until now and released the complete first season on both DVD and Blu-ray.”
The problem with Disappearance
was different. On the film, Manga was sharing authoring costs with the Australian distributor, Madman. “We wouldn’t have even released a lot of anime if it wasn’t for Madman, including Spice and Wolf
(due on DVD in June) and a lot of the ‘moe’ titles that we’ve released over the last two years. Before, we wouldn’t have bothered with them, because we don’t sell a lot of them. Sharing costs with Madman halves our production/inception costs and makes a lot more releases viable. We commonly see if Madman or Siren have released a title in Australia, because then we know there’s a PAL DVD version in most cases.”
In the case of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya,
Madman and Manga made a deal with Bandai to access the US Blu-ray replication master. “We got the Blu-ray
from Bandai, which had been tested and QC’d (assessed on quality control) on American PS3s. When Madman QC’d it, that was fine, because most of the PS3s in Australia are American ones. But it didn’t work on a European PlayStation! We’d already invested a sizeable sum of money on the authoring for the Blu-ray and we were suddenly put in a position where we had to re-author it again from scratch at three times our initial cost. It was a terrible situation to be in and a painful decision had to be made. Authoring Blu-ray is time consuming, costly and very, very complicated.”
Another high-profile disappointment was the cancellation of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
on Blu-ray after the first two sets (out of five). “It was really disappointing; we saw a 50% drop in Blu-ray sales from Volumes 1 to 2,” Jerome says. Manga was tied to fixed costs and to a Minimum Order Quantity (which meant it was obliged to make a hefty number of copies of each volume), so the series became unviable.
“We could have gotten the rest of Brotherhood
out in a Blu-ray box-set,” Jerome says, “but that would have brought up new problems. What about those consumers who bought part 1 and 2 individually? Do we set up some kind of discount scheme? How would we implement that? It would have been a logistical nightmare!” The price would also have been prohibitive for many fans. “To be honest, we would have had to sell the box-sets at a very high price point. Possibly as much as £150 to £200, without offering much in terms of special packaging.”
These days, Manga focuses on Blu-rays for feature films and for shorter series of around 13 episodes, such as High School of the Dead
and the forthcoming Angel Beats.
However, Jerome doesn’t rule out longer shows on Blu-ray– “If FMA: Brotherhood
had been only 26 episodes long, it would have been totally viable on Blu-ray.” In principle, if the costs of Blu-ray came down, then Manga could also complete a series such as Xam’d: Lost Memories.
Following the Naruto Shippuden
films, April 16 will see the first film in the SF thriller trilogy, Mardock Scramble,
which Jerome rates as, “One of the best new anime films that I’ve seen in ages; it’s beautiful.” The first three Bleach
feature films – Fade to Black
and its predecessors, Memories of Nobody
and The Diamond Dust Rebellion –
will debut on Blu-ray in May, as will the Ghost in the Shell
film Solid State Society.
Old and new films will follow. Pensioners and big robots figure in the wonderful SF comedy movie Roujin Z
(written by Katsuhiro Otomo), released in June, which is also when we’ll see the afterlife series Angel Beats
. Then it’s kids in space in another feature film, Welcome to the Space Show
in July. Manga is also planning the Blu-ray debuts of both big-screen Fullmetal Alchemist
the new film, Sacred Star of Milos,
as well as 2005’s Conqueror of Shamballa.
Just the thing to chase Blu-ray blues away…
Helen McCarthy on anime’s best/worst puns
: the title alone warns you this is one over-egged pudding. Doctor Easter's partner is an enhanced mouse named Oeufcoque. That's a bastardised version of the French for soft-boiled egg. Easter, egg, geddit? The villains are Dimsdale Boiled and Shell Septinos. The heroine, Rune Balot, might not look egg-shaped but she's named for the Asian delicacy balut
- a boiled duck embryo eaten in its shell. Creator Tow Ubukata has a thing for eggs.
We Brits think we're pretty good at puns and linguistic jokes, but we're not the only nation to make that claim. The Japanese and Chinese also love to play games with words. They may even have an unfair advantage: their languages are packed with multiple readings for a single character and multiple characters that can sound exactly the same, opening up a world of opportunities for the dedicated punster.
Still, not all punsters are as determined as Zhao Yuanren, who wrote a narrative riddle in 92 Chinese characters
, each of which is spoken as "shi", though with a slightly different tone. The romanised version, with no tonal variations, is ridiculous rather than humorous. The story, about a man named, naturally, Shi, killing and eating ten stone lions in a stone room, is also less fascinating in narrative terms than philosophical or linguistic ones. Sadly, many puns in anime share these tendencies.
For at least six decades, Japanese writers have used English to add a twist of foreign sophistication or wackiness to material for their home market. Blame Osamu Tezuka, postwar progenitor of this as so many other trends. He loved European languages and literature, and borrowed frequently and audaciously from both. Many of the character names in Tetsuwan Atomu
contain puns or double entendres, an extra challenge for Frederik L. Schodt, translator of the English-language edition.
In 1963, when the anime version of Tetsuwan Atom
was shown in the USA as Astro Boy
, the adapters simply swapped the names for the kind of comical monickers common in Western cartoons. Dr Ochanomizu, possessed of a huge nose, became Dr Packadermus J. Elefun. Since the manga was clearly set in Japan, Schodt and the publishers wanted to keep original Japanese names and locations wherever possible. Schodt was able to translate the nickname of Astro's schoolteacher directly: Higeoyaji (Old Man Moustache) became Mr Mustachio. Instead of renaming other major characters he tried to work their jokes or puns into the script, but he managed to find equivalent English puns for some minor character names.
Tezuka did it again with Ribon no Kishi
, translated as Princess Knight
. Princess Sapphire, her horse Opal, and the kingdoms of Silverland and Goldland, are named for precious metals and gems, with a diversion into fairytale for hero Prince Franz Charming. The bad guys are named for cheap, mass-produced modern substances like nylon and plastic.
It doesn't always work. Foreign references risk getting lost in translation. Sometimes that would be a blessing. Naming Mobile Suit Gundam
antihero Char Aznable after ageing chain-smoking Gallic crooner Charles Aznavour seems strange to most English speakers, but his second-series alias, Quattro Bagina, sounds laughably juvenile to any Western audience. It's better to stick to international pop-culture namechecks, like Kazushi Hagiwara's nods to favourite heavy metal bands in Bastard!!
There again, Bastard!!
's signature spell Venom is almost as gruesome as Rune Balot's gourmet-embryo namesake in Mardock Scramble.
Venom summons an enzyme from the Gates of Hell to liquefy anything it's gobbed onto. That's enough to put anyone off their oeufs.
Mardock Scramble is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Jonathan Clements reviews a new book on “hidden” cinema
It was a good day at Central Park Media. After several months of sneaking around and clandestine meetings, they sent in the heavies. A bunch of New York policemen and a lawyer from CPM kicked in the door of a warehouse to find thousands upon thousands of VHS tapes, stacked from floor to ceiling. Many were CPM anime products. All were pirated.
Quite by accident, I was talking to one of CPM’s staff a decade ago when the news broke, which meant I got to hear the euphoria and excitement close at hand. Jeff the marketing guy confided to me that this was by no means the first time they had uncovered such a duplication ring. They just hadn’t told anyone. Following negative publicity in the late twentieth century, when any anime industry initiative to crack down on criminals was met with internet bleating and self-entitled trolling, the US anime business had, ironically, begun to conduct its piracy enforcement below the radar. The seizure of thousands of dollars’ worth of counterfeit tapes was a matter of private celebration, but it was not widely reported.
Piracy, as Ramon Lobato notes in his new book, is as old as cinema itself, with Georges Melies’ Voyage to the Moon
(1902) widely ripped off all over the world. But nobody has devoted quite the attention or academic rigour to piracy as Lobato, whose Shadow Economies of Cinema
is a superb contribution to film studies. Lobato doesn’t merely rehash tired arguments of ownership and access, industry's speculative (and to him "dubious") logic of loss or fandom’s recurring doctrine of lapse
; he provides hard data and persuasive models about those areas of the film world that are usually ignored. Lobato’s interest is not merely in illegal activities in the film business, but in completely legal elements that rarely get any attention. He notes that 59% of the American film market alone is “straight-to-video”, arguing that while much of this material might be crap, it’s still relevant, and forms the “invisible bulk” of the global industry. As they might say on the street – traditional film distribution is the 1%, but that leaves 99% of other stuff, that doesn’t get the newspaper coverage or the academic examination. It doesn't qualify for the Oscars and it doesn't get reviewed in Sight & Sound
. But its fans love it just the same. Or at least endure it.
In fact, as Lobato argues, “informal” networks (legal and illegal) can offer distribution of films and subjects outside the mainstream -- for ethnic minorities otherwise unserved, for interests not quite mainstream enough, and... well, anime. Bleach
are heavy hitters in modern UK anime, but neither of them is actually on British television. The hundreds of thousands of discs they have shifted have been largely “invisible” to the TV-watchers of Britain, even though both were “television serials” in their native Japan. If you’re a British fan of these shows, you are watching another culture’s television below your own culture’s radar. You’re part of what Lobato calls “informal distribution.”
Statistics, of course, can be misleading. If we take just two films from the US market, we can soon see why. Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira
did very nicely for itself on American cinema screens, generating a million dollars for Streamline Pictures. But Pixar’s Toy Story
did a million dollars’ business every week, for six months
. Lobato’s argument that something like Akira
is just as important as Toy Story
will be welcome news to anime fans, although straightforward financial statistics tell us that Akira
’s footprint in the marketplace is nowhere as big as Toy Story
’s. But sometimes that doesn’t matter. Of the cinema-goers who loved Akira
. 100,000 of them came back and bought it on tape.
Andrew Osmond has the technology… to watch Mardock Scramble
In Mardock Scramble: The First Compression
, the young heroine is burned to a crisp, then remade Frankenstein-style. Fifteen year-old Balot is blown up in a car by her sugar-daddy Shell, a serial-killer. Then a seedy scientist rescues Balot’s charred body, plops it into an underground vat and refashions her as a super-avenger.
The medical details are truncated in the anime, but the Mardock Scramble
novel by Tow Ubukata
(available in English from Haikasoru) tells all. Balot’s body is wrapped in a synthetic skin of “regenerative metal fibres.” These fibres sharpen her senses; they also give Balot an “omnidirectional perception,” so she can “feel” everything in her vicinity. Oh, and she can manipulate electricity, as she’s a living remote control for any piece of electronic equipment. In the anime, she finds a handy use for this power - mucking with traffic lights so they go green.
For Western viewers of a certain age, Balot’s resurrection recalls the 1970s American action show, The Six Million Dollar Man.
In the show, Lee Majors played a test pilot mangled in an air-crash, then rebuilt as a cyborg with bionic limbs and eyesight. Later he gained a female cyborg ally (Lindsay Wagner), who was spun off into the series The Bionic Woman
. The original Six Million Dollar Man
was shown in Japan from 1974 under the title Cyborg Kikai Ippatsu
(Cyborg in Hair's Breadth Danger
), and his lady counterpart becmae Bionic Jaime
(pictured). Majors was dubbed by Taiichiro Hirokawa, whose anime voices include Kodai in Space Cruiser Yamato
and the doggie Holmes in Sherlock Hound.
However, some commentators suggest that, Six Million Dollar Man
aside, Japan is more comfortable than the West with techno-fantasies about building or rebuilding people. Christian doctrine, and an aversion to “playing God,” could be one reason. Another might be Japan’s own literal rebuilding of itself through technology after World War II. Generations of postwar children have grown up with Japan’s two most-recognised answers to Mickey Mouse. They’re the blue cat Doraemon and the bequiffed lad Astro Boy, both of whom happen to be robots – and Astro Boy
emphasises that there’s nothing wrong with being
Western kids, though, have long been fed the opposite propaganda. Old-school Doctor Who
fans should be able to recite the profile of the Cybermen, printed in several of the old Target novelisations of the ‘70s. “As bodies became old and diseased, they were replaced limb by limb, with plastic and steel. Finally, even the human circulation and nervous system were recreated, and brains replaced by computers… Love, hate, anger, even fear, were eliminated from their lives when the last flesh was replaced by plastic. They became dehumanised monsters.” Brrr.
Current anime moves between these extremes, between sympathy and scepticism about technology. The cyborg heroes in the various Ghost in the Shell
question their artificial states, rather more than they celebrate the extraordinary powers that come with them (jumping down skyscrapers, having a mega-library in your brain...). Tellingly, one of the team, Togusa, chooses to stay “human,” though with a cyber-augmented brain.
In Mardock Scramble
, Balot reacts to her cyborg state by trying to shoot herself, and is understandably suspicious of her Frankenstein saviour, even accusing him of rape. Her psycho sugar-daddy is another post-human, who extracts his memories following each of his kills, so he can forget it and savour the next murder to the full. “We can rebuild him…” – indeed, but what
are we rebuilding?
Mardock Scramble, part one, is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment. The manga is also now out from Kodansha.
Andrew Osmond gets his head around cut-up anime chronologies
Here’s a handy tip for anyone embarking on the SF action show Birdy the Mighty Decode
. The last episode in the collection – part 26, called “Between You and Me” – is not really the last episode. In fact, it should be part 14, as it bridges the two main story-arcs that make up the show. Even more confusingly, part 25 – which is the real final episode, with a terrifically animated skyscraper-smashing punch-up – has a “next episode” ad for part 26 tagged on at the end. The advert shows rough unfinished animation, suggesting it was only in early production when part 25 was broadcast.
In fact, the “Between You and Me” episode wasn’t shown when Birdy the Mighty Decode
ran on Japanese television. Rather, it’s a video release, put out on Japanese DVD a few months after the TV series had ended. It extends the story of a character who’s central to the show’s first arc, and gives more of an introduction to some characters in the second. However, the episode isn’t vital to follow the series.
There was a different situation with another SF action series, Darker than Black: Twilight of the Gemini
, which was released in Britain a few months ago. This was a sequel to the previous Darker than Black
, with both anime set in a post-catastrophe world where people have developed lethal superpowers. However, viewers who watched Gemini
straight after Darker than Black
would likely be bewildered. A great many things have happened off-screen between the shows, including one of the main characters somehow attaining a deadly divinity.
Luckily, there’s a simple way for British viewers to avoid confusion; watch the third disc of the Twilight of the Gemini
DVD first. The third disc, you see, contains a four-part video series, which was called Darker than Black: Gaiden
in Japan. Like Birdy
’s bonus episode, this spinoff was released in Japan after the TV show had finished. The story is set between the first Darker than Black
and the Gemini
sequel, and it explains exactly what happened in the interim, making Gemini
far easier to follow. Perhaps the Japanese marketers set out deliberately to confuse the Japanese TV viewers, so they would invest in the video to learn what on earth had happened to the Darker the Black
and Darker than Black
are far from the only anime with double-backed chronologies. Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Demon Womb
, for example, is often called a sequel to Legend of the Overfiend
when it actually seems to be a “midquel”; that is, it’s set during the events of the previous film. Then again, Womb curiously relocates the main characters from Tokyo to Osaka, which could be a continuity goof or proof that Demon Womb
is set in a parallel universe to Overfiend
The series She the Ultimate Weapon – Another Love Song
fills in an elaborate “untold story” missed out of the TV She the Ultimate Weapon
, spanning the first ten episodes. Anime spinoff movies can be midquels, telling “untold” adventures from characters’ pasts when their stories have ended (apparently) for good on TV. See the Cowboy Bebop
movie, for example, or this year’s Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos
One more example of story confusion caused by a crossover from TV to video is the fantasy lupine epic, Wolf’s Rain
. On its TV run, the show was subject to production delays and wandering timeslots, leading to no less than four redundant recap episodes (parts 15 to 18). The TV run finished with a stirring finale to part 26, which viewers might well mistake for the ending. In fact, the real end was made as a four-part video, released on the seventh Wolf’s Rain
disc in Britain and included in the collected editions. The video ends the story on a very different, tragic-yet-cathartic, note to the TV series, so be warned; if you only watch anime on Japanese TV, you can miss the best bit of the story.
Birdy the Mighty Decode: The Complete Collection, is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment. Sometimes we count ourselves lucky we can watch it all in one go…
Daniel Robson on the fan's home away from home
I’ve got my own little booth. The floor is padded, like one big mattress, and decked in leather. There’s a desk built into the unit, upon which sits a PC with a large combination TV-monitor and a keyboard. The padding continues under the desk, so that I can lay my entire frame diagonally and stretch my legs. Above the desk, another ledge houses a PlayStation 2 and a powerful desk lamp. On one wall is a hook to hang my jacket and a bag for my other personal possessions; on another hangs a large pair of headphones. A small legless chair helps me sit upright to read. My shoes are outside the booth, in a tidy little container. And piled up on the desk are the latest issues of my favourite manga, omnibus collections and magazines.
For any hardened pulp aficionado, a decent Tokyo manga cafe is nirvana. With thousands of volumes of manga available to read in a hushed and comfortable setting, they offer the ultimate way to kill an hour or two, be it day or night. Don’t fancy reading? You can surf the net, watch a movie or play an MMORPG. Or just lie back and take a nap (blankets provided). An unlimited supply of soft drinks is supplied at no extra charge, and sometimes ice cream, too. Hot and cold food is usually on the menu. Want to crash overnight? There may well be a shower.
Manga date? Grab a double booth with a mini-sofa. Movie date? Some manga cafes even have a big-screen “theatre” room. Updating your CV? Get a room with a reclining chair and print to your heart’s content.
My relationship with Tokyo’s manga cafes (or manga kissa
, short for kissaten
, which means “cafe”) goes right back to my first trip, when a friend took me to crash at one overnight after we missed the last train home. Next, whilst waiting a month for my internet connection to be plumbed at my very first Tokyo apartment, the local manga cafe was pretty much my office. This small, daytime-only establishment was much less well equipped – with no private cubicles, customers had to read their books on shared sofas, while the computer set-up resembled your average internet cafe. But even here, people laid out to sleep on the sofas, the drinks were free, and a hot menu was always available.
These days, I use them as a place to retreat between meetings or before gigs, to finish off a little work or, more likely, to nap. Once you have a favourite spot (mine’s the Gran Cyber Cafe above Forever 21 in Shibuya, as pictured), it starts to feel like home.
Gran Cyber Cafe is part of the B@gus chain – unlike restaurants or other businesses, chain manga kissa
are usually better than small independent ones, because they offer lavish space and resources. Other chains include Manboo and Gera Gera. But at Gran Cyber Cafe, I can help myself to all the soft-serve ice cream I care to eat, safe in the knowledge that the smoking section is far enough removed as to not pollute my booth, and all within the bargain price of 200 yen (£1.50) per half hour or 1,600 yen (£12) overnight.
However, for some Japanese, kissaten
home. Better equipped than capsules and cheaper than hotels, manga cafes provide shelter for 5,400 homeless people around Japan, according to government statistics. Some of these so-called Net Cafe Refugees even use the cafe’s address for their post and on job applications, with some businesses offering a discounted price on their booths if paid monthly in advance, just like a cheap apartment.
Of course, this is an extreme and tragic case. While manga kissa
cubicles are often comfy, the rest of us would have to be pretty mad about manga to actually want to live in one, since there’s not much in the way of privacy. The walls between booths are wafer thin, and not built all the way to the ceiling – it’s a bit like being in an open-plan office, allowing you to see into the next cubicle.
But if you’re in Japan and you want to catch up on your reading without loading down your luggage (and if you can read kanji, since the books are rarely, if ever, in English), or to take the load off your feet during a day of exploration, look out for the nearest manga cafe. And if you hear me snoring in one of the booths, remember: Ssssshhhhhhhhhh
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Jonathan Clements reviews a new book on Anime’s Media Mix
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at the University of Minnesota Press when the staff began debating what to put on the cover of Anime’s Media Mix
. Someone, surely, must have argued for Astro Boy, that ubiquitous icon of Japanese animation, whose arrival on television author Marc Steinberg identifies as the true beginning of everything that “anime” would become. Someone else might have suggested Haruhi Suzumiya
, that perky goddess and fanboy muse, whose fragmented, multi-media misadventures are Steinberg’s touchstone for the first decade of the 21st century. For him, Haruhi Suzumiya is the lens through which we can see just how much (or how little) has changed in the forty years since Astro Boy first sat up in his father’s lab. And I wonder if there wasn’t a dissenting voice from someone in the corner, perhaps, who had read Steinberg’s book right the way through, and hence suggested an iconic image from outside the anime world. If UMP had an infinite budget and a hotline to a cartoonist, they might perhaps have drawn some variant of that
scene from Ring
, when you-know-who comes clambering straight out of the you-know-what.
Steinberg’s book speaks of an ever-spreading consumer virus that expands first geographically, and then into other spaces. The final stage, like some scene from a Japanese horror movie, is one of cultural products “colonising” our very homes, climbing out of the television set and grabbing onto every aspect of our daily lives. Steinberg contends that while there were precedents for many decades beforehand, the 1st January 1963 inaugural broadcast of Astro Boy
was the crucial tipping point when it all became more than just a trend, with Astro Boy making his way onto stickers, and thence onto lunch boxes and shoes, fridges and unwary grandparents. Astro Boy
became the first step in a new form of fandom: a “convergence” in which audiences oscillate between different forms of consumption, each making the brand more powerful and more all-encompassing. The road to Pokemon
, to Yugi-oh
, to “anime” itself Steinberg contends, started on 1st January 1963.
Unlike those critics who discuss what happens in
Japanese cartoons, Steinberg is more interested in what happens around
them – the playground badge-swapping; the birthday wishlist; the moment in the 1960s that transformed audiences from viewers of a show into participants in an entire “media ecology” of spin-offs, sequels, games and playdates. For Steinberg, anime was different because viewers brought with them their preconceptions from the pre-existing manga, which helped distract them from the low-quality animation. Astro Boy
wasn’t just a cartoon on telly once a week – he was a vibrant, ever-present part of his fans’ everyday world – the face on their toothbrush handle, the sticker on their lunchbox, or the doll under the sofa.
Perhaps more importantly, he wasn’t real
. Astro Boy started out as a drawn image, and that made him immensely easier to repurpose him elsewhere. He was a celebrity who never got old, never asked for a raise, and never got arrested on Sunset Boulevard. And when he appeared on a lunchbox, he looked exactly like he did in on the TV.
I knew what to expect when I opened Anime’s Media Mix
, because I have already read two of its Astro Boy
chapters as academic journal articles. But Steinberg carries the story on for the rest of the 20th century, detailing how cunning marketing decisions at the Kadokawa publishers established major, game-changing alterations to the way media are sold in Japan. It was Kadokawa who adapted anime tricks and tropes and used them for selling movies, records, packaged pop bands, computer games and lucky gonks, often all at once.
I devoured my copy of Anime’s Media Mix
in one sitting. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, but comes with impeccable references and citations sufficient to keep any interested reader busy for months. Although I can’t help but wonder if Steinberg isn’t already plotting a coda in which he writes about his direct experience of the dark side of Japanese intellectual property. Could he and his publishers really not find a Japanese image for the cover? Or did they find one, only to discover that the Japanese were demanding a prohibitively high usage fee?
It speaks volumes that in a book about anime, centred largely on Tezuka’s Astro Boy
, the cover displays a non-existent pseudo-manga character by a gaijin artist (hey, it's what I'd do
). Did Tezuka Productions refuse to hand over an Astro Boy
cover image, one wonders, or did the publishers simply not want to pay whatever licence fee was demanded for the very same branded image about which Steinberg writes? Steinberg’s book makes a strong and persuasive case for the publishers of Haruhi Suzumiya
as the prime movers of Japanese media in the last thirty years, and points out the company’s canny use of every available surface for advertising and reinforcement of its message…. In which case, Kadokawa missed a real trick by not letting UMP stick Haruhi Suzumiya on the cover of this book. Now that would have been a nice little bit of marketing synergy.
Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan is out now from the University Press of Minnesota.
Rayna Denison on K-on! and the rise of the nichijo anime
The best thing about K-on!
is undeniably the music, from the (cloyingly?) cute opening credits to the gothic-lolita inspired visuals of the closing sequence, whenever the Sakuragaoka Light Music Club performs, there is fun to be had in this series. Moreover, the show’s burgeoning obsession with dressing its female leads in costumes that shade from schoolgirl uniforms into maid costumes, provides a variety of copy-able cosplay get-ups likely to feature soon at a convention near you (if you haven’t seen them there already). By these various means, K-on!
carefully walks the line between exploitation and a rather sweet self-empowerment-through-music storyline.
The series is built out of building blocks from series you have seen before – a ditzy female lead, Yui Hirasawa, who cannot keep more than one thing in her head at any given moment but who also has a savant-like ability to be good at things when the plot requires it; the shy girl Mio Akiyama; the tomboy Ritsu Tainaka and the dopey rich girl Tsumugi Kotobuki. But what these stereotypes have going for them is this: K-on!
circles around the pleasures to be had from watching the activities of group of young women as they mature into adults. And the genre is more focused on the everday than on
fantasies about magical girls. The series is born out of an emerging genre of anime called nichijo-kei
, or everyday-style anime. Critics
cite Azumangah Daioh!
and Lucky Star
as the start of the phenomenon.
One easy way to spot a nichijo
anime is to check whether or not it is based on a 4-panel manga strip, like Kakifly’s manga for K-on!
The impact of this Garfield
-like origin narrative, with its shorter-than-short episodic “moments” building up over time into an story, is an emphasis more on character than plotting. The K-on!
anime makes this a strength, focusing on the exceptional within the everyday of the Light Music Club’s time together – cramming for a test, performing for the first time and uncovering their teacher’s shady musical past. These moments indicate the passage of time in a way that would otherwise be lost in repeated scenes of tea-drinking and cake-eating. Indeed, the biggest repeated joke of the series is the fact that the Light Music Club hardly ever seem to practice and, yet, are successful. Yui picks up the guitar as if by magic, with Mio (on bass) teaching her the basics in one episode, and their academic advisor, Sawako Yamanaka, teaching her to do vocals in another. The others group members (Ritsu on drums and Tsumugi on keyboard) are shown performing in the first episode, barely scraping through the motions of a slow Love Me Tender
. Then, miraculously,
the Light Music Club are shown to be able to play the much faster Fuwa Fuwa Time
and the brilliant My Love is a Stapler
, a song that every teenage girl who’s ever indulged in cute
stationery will recognise.
One of the other oddities of these nichijo
anime like K-on!
is that they aren’t usually aimed at the female audience. Instead, they tend to be made for male viewers, with K-on!
originally published in a manga magazine for older boys. This may explain the tightrope walked between fan service and moments, like when we get a close-up shot of Yui’s bum as she klutzily falls over in the opening scenes of the first episode, or the boob close-up on a bikini-clad Mio when the group go for their first “training camp” at the seaside (Episode 4), and the story’s focus on female characters and their personal development. Chibi
-moments are also dotted through the show, making the female characters behave in peculiarly child-like ways (particularly Yui and Ritsu, the tomboy drummer). However, these squashed-down versions of the girls are usually pretty funny, and may well have been intended to inspire protective moe
feelings in male viewers. Despite this though, read from outside Japan, they do seem to take away from the achievements of the Light Music Club, who joke repeatedly about their incompetence throughout – especially about the fact that they are only good at playing music when there is a live performance to be done and records to be sold. Put all these elements together, and you end up with an inoffensive musical comedy that walks the line between musical fun and fan service, that will probably be more popular with women than men outside Japan, and which contains enough maddeningly catchy music to have you humming along for weeks afterwards.
K-On! the Complete Series Collection is out Monday on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.