0 Items | £0.00

VIEW BASKET

Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys & Characters in Japan

Sunday 8th April 2012


Jonathan Clements reviews a new book on Anime’s Media Mix

Media MixI’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. Astro BoyPerhaps 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.

MANGA UK GOSSIP

£
was £

FEATURED RELEASE

RECENT FEATURED POSTS

The official website for Death Note 2016 has started streaming the film's first teaser trailer.

Robocop vs Anime Cyborgs

Andrew Osmond on the history of man-machine interfaces
RoboCop is thrown into interesting perspective by looking at his anime cousins. In Japan, RoboCop is one of a crowd. Two of anime’s greatest poster icons – Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell and Tetsuo in Akira – are or become cyborgs. Moreover, a man-turned-robot was an anime hero back in 1963. We’re talking about 8th Man, shown in America as Tobor the Eighth Man. It’s a policeman who, yes, gets murdered by a crime gang, then resurrected in a robot body.

Cosplay: Yu-Gi-Oh

Paul Jacques snaps more anime costumers
Yugioh Yami and Dark Magician Girl spring into life in the forms of Stephanie Budden and Carla Rice.
Andrew, Jerome and Fraser choose their favourite releases from 2015

Birmingham Comic Con Announcements

For those that missed our panel in Brum...
Attack on Titan, the One Piece movies, Ghost in the Shell: ARISE and more...

Code Geass vs Death Note

If you liked that, you might like this
At heart, Death Note and Code Geass tell the same story. A teenage Tokyo schoolboy with a towering intellect, railing against the world, is given fantastic powers by a supernatural agency. He finds he can manipulate people like puppets and kill with ease. His power is bound by rules and restrictions, yet still seems godlike.

One Piece Music: The Babystars

Tom Smith on the band behind the third opening
Babystars may want to change their name; Two of the remaining members are now pushing towards 40-years of age, making them more middle-aged than babies. As for being stars, a lot has changed since their debut back in 2002…
This week we have Naruto Shippuden Box Set 23 and Red Vs. Blue Season 12 for you!
Contact Us   |   Refund Policy   |   Delivery Times   |   Privacy statement   |   Terms & Conditions
Please note your card statement will show billing by MVM. Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys & Characters in Japan from the UK's best Anime Blog.