Anime: Dead or Alive?

12/07/2010
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Monster Hunter at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo

TOKYO (majirox news) – Anime is dead. Crippled by piracy. A blog post by Bang Zoom CEO, Eric Sherman, has created a controversy by asserting the death of anime. But is he right?

Anime is dead again. Anime artists in Japan have been forced to find work designing video games and Pachinko machines. Pachinko? Every Japanese train station has a Pachinko Parlor nearby. The game accounts for 40 percent of Japan’s leisure industry (read legal gambling).

With the downturn in the Japanese economy, Pachinko is a growing industry, especially among the increasingly unemployed. Pachinko games now go hand-in-hand with anime characters, such as Evangelion and Fist of the North Star. In fact, the popular anime, Bleach, has a character named Ikkaku, who is referred to as “pachinko-head.”

Do cats have nine lives? Hello Kitty (or should we say: Sayonara, Kitty?), the $5 billion industry in Japan, has lost her top litter box position. According to a recent article in The New York Times, the number one anime character in Japan is now Anpanman, a character based on a Japanese jam-filled pastry. Pokemon is second. Kitty is a distant and furry third.

Anime is alive. The international audience keeps growing and demanding more. Last month, the International Rome Film Festival featured a retrospect of 11 films produced by Studio Ghibli. Among the films were Princess Mononoke and Academy Award-winning Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away), created by the supreme master of Japanese anime films, Miyazaki Hayao.

Anime is hot. The only way to avoid the crowds at the Shima Onsen in Gunma Prefecture (40,000 hot springs) is to go on a weekday. The real life red bridge, the green forests, and the spirit environment, which inspired Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, are all there to walk through and touch.

Anime sells in Japan. “One Piece,” the pirate manga by Eiichiro Oda, sold a record-breaking 3.4 million copies of Volume 60. It was the highest initial print run of any book in Japanese history for its publisher Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. More than 200 million copies have been sold since its inception. “Naruto” and “Bleach” manga are also in the top-selling tier.

Anime sells technology. “Digital downloads of manga in Japan are a $655 million market,” according to Masaaki Shimizu, general manager of International Business Strategy for Bitway, a subsidiary of Toppan Printing, which is the second largest printer in the world. He estimates that 89 percent of digital publishing in Japan is manga and conservatively estimates that the growth rate in 2011 will be 7 percent.

Anime sells in the United States. Anime Expo 2010 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, had its largest convention ever with more than 100,000 fans in attendance and 165 exhibitors. The U.S. DVD anime market is estimated between $160-200 million (partial sales figures) by ICv2, the comic culture Web site.

Anime sells in Europe. “Grendizer” by Go Nagai is the most coveted of all anime for Italian and French collectors. If you Google Grendizer you get over 494,000 hits. On Yahoo!Japan, auctions for Grendizer toy plastic robots often sell for $5,000 to $12,000, and bidding is fiercely competitive.

Anime sells worldwide. The newly launched Rinkya Stores have experienced huge search hits and sales for products featuring Totoro (Tonari no Totoro–My Neighbor Totoro) and anything else by Miyazaki.

“From cels, production artwork used in animation, to sleeping bags, anime-related products have seen a 10 percent increase in our company sales this year,” Laurel Stavros, Vice President of Rinkya.com, a middleman service for Japanese on-line auctions, stores and Web sites that caters to the international community, told Majirox News. “Frankly, to paraphrase the great American author Mark Twain: the reports of the death of anime are greatly exaggerated.”

This article was contributed by Heather Russell.

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