Summer of Chinese animation kicks off in the Japanese box office
Plus: Anime's largest retailer adapting to shift in consumer behavior; Ire over leaked 'One Piece' chapters; Manga on atomic bombing finds new readers; and more
This is the weekly newsletter of Animenomics, covering the business of anime and manga. Today is Wednesday, May 24, 2023.
In case you missed it: Anime streaming provider Crunchyroll and language app Duolingo are partnering to provide free trials of their premium services to each other’s subscribers.
Japanese theaters begin a summer of Chinese animation
As anime films such as Suzume and The First Slam Dunk drew large audiences in China in the spring, the summer is setting up to be a box office performance test for Chinese animation in Japan.
Driving the story: A trio of blockbuster Chinese animated films will be screened with Japanese dubs for the first time between May and July.
I Am What I Am, a 3D computer-animated film about lion dancing, is the first to open in Japanese theaters this Friday.
Historical fantasy film Realm of Terracotta begins screening on June 16, while the e-sports title The King’s Avatar: For the Glory opens on July 8.
What the critics say: Writing for the Asahi Shimbun daily, Atsushi Ohara says I Am What I Am in particular will attempt to depict “a taste of socialism that cuts out the ‘shadow’ of modern China”.
Ohara praises the film’s computer-generated animation, which he says is nearing the quality of films produced by Hollywood.
Yes, but: The film drew criticism in its home market for depicting characters with slanted eyes, reminiscent of exaggerated portrayals of Chinese people in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Rewind: Chinese animated films first drew the attention of mainstream Japanese audiences in 2020 when the Japanese dub of The Legend of Hei earned ¥502 million (US$4.7 million) in the Japanese box office over 86 days.
Ohara is calling I Am What I Am the “second impact” of Chinese animation, referencing a world-changing cataclysmic event in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Anime’s largest retailer adapts to shift in consumption
When the first Animate store opened in 1983, the retailer largely sold consumable goods branded with anime characters, such as stationery. Today, it is responding to a shift in consumer spending toward experiences and items for display.
Driving the story: Animate, Japan’s largest anime retailer, recently completed an expansion of its flagship store in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.
New construction, which wrapped up in March, doubled the floor space of the ten-story complex.
Floor layout: The store dedicates half of its retail space to merchandise branded with anime characters.
Many of these goods are badges and buttons, which became popular around 2010 and are usually pinned on shoulder bags and backpacks.
Acrylic stands, key chains, and cellphone straps have also risen in demand as practical and inexpensive alternatives to sculpted figures for showing off a favorite character.
Anime producers invested more in merchandising when the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on live events as a source of revenue.
Of note: Very little anime is actually sold in the store. Only a small portion of one floor is dedicated to selling anime Blu-rays.
Clippings: Leaked ‘One Piece’ chapters draw resentment
New chapters of the One Piece manga are published every Sunday in the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, but the proliferation of leaked chapters as early as the previous Tuesday is angering some readers. (The Mary Sue)
Overseas anime viewers are voicing concerns about the medium’s alleged glorification of antisemitism, fascism, and militarism, most recently seen in the final chapters of Attack on Titan. (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)
Shueisha has filed a subpoena in the U.S. District Court for Northern California seeking to compel Cloudflare to provide the identity of operators of several piracy websites that host content from the Grand Jump manga magazine. (Good e-Reader)
Digital piracy of video, music, games, and printed content cost ¥2 trillion in lost revenue in 2022, according to a report produced by an association of Japanese publishers and broadcasters. (The Japan News)
Suzume’s success in the international box office despite its Japanese-centric story is a case study for anime creators as some attempt to produce works catering to international audiences, says veteran anime journalist Tadashi Sudo. (Anime Hack)
Animators gain a new advocate on working conditions
“[T]he production studio, far from being a factory that nurtures dreams, is a place where creators are supported solely by ‘the love of the craft’ to the limit of their physical and mental strength, and it is no exaggeration to say that the site is on the verge of collapse.”
— Statement on the formation of the Nippon Anime & Film Culture Association (NAFCA)
Context: Veterans of the anime industry have formed a membership association that seeks to improve the working conditions of animators and bridge discussions between management and production teams to solve human resources issues.
NAFCA is chaired by former A-1 Pictures and Aniplex President and CEO Masuo Ueda, who has previously proposed the idea of animator unions, but board members stopped short of calling the organization a labor union.
‘Barefoot Gen’, cut from schools, finds new readership
In February, the Hiroshima City Board of Education announced it was removing content from Barefoot Gen from peace education teaching materials in the city’s schools. Immediately following the decision, demand for copies of the manga jumped and remained high for months, causing publishers to order new reprints.
Why it matters: Keiji Nakazawa’s semi-autobiographical manga about a second-generation victim of the Hiroshima atomic bombing is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its serialization on June 4, just after this month’s meeting of Group of Seven (G7) world leaders in Hiroshima.
Barefoot Gen was often a target of criticism during its serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump because readers felt the tragic story didn’t fit in with slapstick comedy titles popular in the magazine at the time.
Drivers for demand: News about the manga brought renewed interest among people who want to reread the series or to pass on a copy to their descendants.
Chuokoron-Shinsha, which publishes a mass-market version of the series, has seen a tenfold sales increase of the first volume compared to a typical month.
Barefoot Gen’s original publisher Choubunsha said on Twitter that it received a large number of inquiries and orders from libraries and ordinary customers.
Rewind: The board said its decision to remove content from the manga is based on expert opinion that some of the protagonist’s survival tactics, such as stealing, are not suitable for children and can be misunderstood.
“We do not deny the significance of the work,” the board added.
Historical context: Hiroshima introduced peace education into its curriculum in the 1960s to pass on knowledge about the atomic bombings and discourage future generations from war.
Thanks for reading this week’s newsletter! We’ll be recovering from last weekend’s Anime Central convention these few days. See you again in our issue next week!