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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.

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


Fairy Tail The Movie: Phoenix Priestess

was £19.99
Follow Fairy Tail's dream team - Natsu, Gray, Erza, Lucy, Wendy, Happy, and Carla - as they lend a helping hand to a girl with little memory and a grudge against wizards. As they uncover clues about her mysterious past, a lunatic prince hatches a half-baked plan to sacrifice her in exchange for immortality. When the fool unleashes an ancient force, a raging war becomes the fiercest inferno Fairy Tail has ever faced. Can the guild with a heart of gold save the planet from a fiery finish?

Special Features: Fairy Tail the Movie Prologue: The First Morning, Trailers, Creditless Opening and Ending.

Spoken Languages: English, Japanese, English subtitles.



Fairy Tail

Matt Kamen is your guide to the world of Fairy Tail!
Welcome to Earthland, where magic runs rampant and professional wizards sell their talents to the highest bidder! Populated by all kinds of mystical creatures, it’s a place of wonder but also one filled with peril.

Cosplay: Fairy Tail's Obra

Paul Jacques snaps some more Fairy Tail cosplay
Cosplayer Kyle McDonald suits up as Obra from the Raven Tail guild in Fairy Tail, available now in two box sets from Manga Entertainment on UK DVD.

Fairy Tail and Japan's Shonen magazine

Matt Kamen on Japan’s Weekly Shonen Magazine
Mystic action abounds in the second thrilling collection of Fairy Tail, as flame-spewing Natsu, ice-mage Gray, summoner Lucy and the rest of the gang take on sorcerous threats across the world of Earthland. The series is based on the long running manga by Hiro Mashima, and as the anime closes in on its 150th episode in Japan, it’s clearly shaping up to be the next Naruto or Bleach, delivering ongoing adventure to a devoted audience. Unlike a certain orange ninja or black-garbed grim reaper though, Fairy Tail’s roots do not lie in the pages of the famous Weekly Shonen Jump anthology.

Fairy Tail music: MAGIC PARTY

Tom Smith on the music behind Fairy Tail 5
It’s been said that two’s company, three’s a crowd. But for Japanese electro-pop duo AIRI and Koshiro, two is more than enough to party – to MAGIC PARTY! At least if the cutesy name of the pair’s musical project is to be believed.


Tom Smith on the band behind Be As One
Unlike a number of the bands featured on the Manga UK blog, W-inds haven’t had much of a history with anime tie-ins despite their massive success. In fact, in 14 years they’ve only ever done two anime themes; their first in Akira Amano’s Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, and more recently with Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail, where their 29th single Be as One became its sixth ending.

Fairy Tail Music: Daisy x Daisy

Tom Smith on Fairy Tail Part 7’s opening theme
Little Mika still has a long way to go, but since signing to Pony Canyon she has managed to have a crack at the anime universe, featuring heavily in one series in particular; Fairy Tail.


Out Now: Naruto Shippuden 16

Ninja action sneaking to a store near you
Naruto Shippuden box 16 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

Who's Who in Dragon Ball 1

Ever wonder just how Goku and friends became the greatest heroes on Earth?
Wonder no more, as the original Dragon Ball reveals the origins of Akira Toriyama’s beloved creations! The faces may look familiar, but everything else is different in this classic series!

Sword Art Online Music: Eir Aoi

Tom Smith on a singer’s internet fame
INNOCENCE, at the time of writing, has been Eir Aoi’s biggest selling, awarding her a peak position of six in the weekly Oricon chart.

Jimmy Murakami 1933-2014

Andrew Osmond remembers the man who did it all
By way of an obituary, we re-run Andrew Osmond's interview with the late Jimmy Murakami, originally published in March 2012.

The King and the Mockingbird

Andrew Osmond on Miyazaki’s love for a French classic
The King and the Mockingbird was one of the films which taught Miyazaki and Takahata that you could make an animated feature without following studio formulae – something they strove for themselves as early as Takahata’s 1968 Marxist epic The Little Norse Prince.

K the Anime Music: angela

Paul Browne on the pop duo with multiple anime connections
K’s stirring theme song ‘KINGS’ comes courtesy of J-Pop duo angela. Consisting of vocalist Yamashita Atsuko and multi-instrumentalist Hirasato Katsunori (aka KATSU), angela are a familiar name when it comes to anime theme tunes.

Eureka Seven Ao

Kicking it old-school, with giant robots
Pacific Rim opened a new gateway to ’bot sagas for youngsters, and for oldsters too. They’ll see del Toro’s film, learn how much he was inspired by Japanese cartoons, and then check out the originals. If they choose Eureka Seven Ao, they’ll find elements also seen in Pacific Rim, embedded in a very different show.

Godzilla: Too Soon?

When is it okay for a real-life disaster to become entertainment?
How soon is too soon? The question’s raised by the new Godzilla trailer, the first half of which seems to be all about recreating traumatic events as fantasy, just three years after they occurred. Specifically, the trailer opens with a disaster at a Japanese power station, before segueing into images of a giant wave sweeping into a town with devastating force. Both images seem less ripped than Xeroxed from the headlines of March 2011, when northern Honshu (Japan’s mainland) was struck by an earthquake which caused a tsunami, killing thousands, and the meltdown at Fukushima.

Unboxed: Magi the Labyrinth of Magic

Jeremy Graves rubs a DVD and makes three wishes
Magi the Labyrinth of Magic, part one, is available on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Monday 24th February.

Ocean Waves

Andrew Osmond on a Studio Ghibli “obscurity”
Ocean Waves is the only feature anime by the world-famous Studio Ghibli which might be called obscure. It wasn’t made for cinemas but television, broadcast on Japan’s NTV network in 1993. And now it's playing as part of the BFI's Ghibli season...
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