The role anime studios play in disaster recovery
Reflections of an anime journalist on the anime industry's response to the 2011 Tohoku tsunami disaster and how it may respond to the 2014 Noto Peninsula earthquake
This is a bonus newsletter of Animenomics, covering the business of anime and manga. Today is Saturday, January 13, 2024.
Anime studios promote rural Japan, aid quake recovery
Few anime production facilities are located in central Japan’s Hokuriku region that was struck by an earthquake on New Year’s Day, but one important studio exists in the area: P.A. Works.
The company’s main studio was never at risk of being hit by a tsunami because of its inland location in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture, but founder and president Kenji Horikawa said on X (Twitter) that he had never felt aftershocks as strong as ones from this earthquake. P.A. Works later confirmed that its studio building did not suffer any major damage and that no staff members were injured.
P.A. Works is important to the Hokuriku region because it often creates anime with stories set in locations familiar to locals. They include Hanasaku Iroha, a series about a traditional Japanese inn in Ishikawa Prefecture, and last year’s Komada: A Whisky Family, a film inspired by the region’s last remaining whisky distillery. In the days since the earthquake, P.A. Works has been reintroducing its works to the public to generate awareness of and support for the area.
The role that anime studios play as promoters and cheerleaders of Japan’s outer prefecture is not new. In fact, the anime industry and stories that we see now are shaped by another disaster from over a decade ago—the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in 2011. This is evident even today in works such as Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume and Mari Okada’s Maboroshi.
Anime was not a global social media phenomenon yet in 2011. The struggles of the anime industry immediately following the disaster was not documented well in overseas media outlets, but some media coverage did exist. “Earthquake Rattles Japanese Animation Industry,” Bruce Kennedy wrote for AOL’s Daily Finance at the time, describing anime studios at a standstill because of rolling blackouts in Tokyo.
I entered anime journalism three years later, when anime was on the cusp of a new global boom. In the years that followed, I observed what Japanese cultural critic Tsunehiro Uno called “an underlying sense of the everyday imbued with the extraordinary”. By then, anime studios had returned to work and was producing content for a hungry global market, but the disaster had also left a mark on the industry.
Images of rural towns washed away by the tsunami placed renewed attention on the Japan’s aging outer regions. Many turned to anime culture to revitalize their local communities, and anime studios became partners in their endeavor. Others in the industry chose to start their own regional revitalization initiatives.
When I was working in Malaysia for MyAnimeList in 2016, I met an anime studio executive who led one regional revitalization effort: Yoshinori Asao. Asao is the president of Gaina, an anime studio spun off from Gainax (of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame) and originally named Fukushima Gainax. As the name suggests, the studio was founded in a region impacted by the 2011 tsunami.
I am now sharing excerpts of my interview with Asao, which has never been fully published. I believe readers will gain insight from his comments of how an anime studio can play a role in disaster recovery.