Tokyo Anime Fair 2010

Tokyo Big Sight. No, it doesn’t transform into a giant robot.

March 25-28, Tokyo, Japan.

Every March for the last 3 years the good folks from the Tokyo Anime Fair Organising Committee sends us a nice little package with an invite to attend the annual event in Tokyo. Provided we could scramble a flight ticket (which we’ve been able to do so, fortunately), they’d provide a bed and a bathroom.

Any reason to drop in on the land of anime, robot ghosts and wired dreams is always one to savour. So off I went.

From Thur to Friday, it’s Business Day, where supposedly Business People attend the fair to do Business. I’m not sure how much business gets done, really. Like so much of Japan, whether it’s amongst the lights of Shibuya, the streets of Shinjuku or the winding alleys of Kyoto, it always feel like there’s a world that exists for the Japanese and another for foreigners. One feels a little bit of that, even at an ‘international’ event like TAF.

Business Days are when one gets to see the really cool stuff – the ‘What’s Coming’ and other hot sellers. On Public Days (Sat-Sun), where the fair is opened to otakus and anime-mad crowds in general, a lot of the newer stuff are taken down, and the focus shifts to what’s on the market right now plus the customary appearances of Seiyus (anime voice actors/actresses) and other celebrity-types. I was told that some executives in business suits on Thur and Fri have to switch to mascot costumes on Sat and Sun. Talk about work getting under your skin.

Business Day

Business Day

Public Day on Saturday

Japan isn’t really a market for us. Neither do we have any real business going on there, even though we’ve met and continue to have talks with a number of Japanese companies and individuals on possible future collaboration. The sheer talent and ideas there are too ridiculous to ignore.

It’s pretty much a world of its own, the Japanese anime industry. A cultural and commercial phenomenon that for the most part is desperate to expand overseas, beyond its increasingly limited domestic market. Yet anime itself is a product that speaks intrinsically to Japanese consumers, hence its unique value. I’ve been told Japanese creators and directors are more concerned with how their works are viewed by their own people, more so than commercial success per se, not least outside of Japan. It’s a situation that reeks of business irony while  Japanese animation itself continues to push creative and technical boundaries at breakneck speed.

Over the two and a half days at the Tokyo Big Sight, I met with some friends and partners, got a bit of business done, and had a walkabout the floor – mainly to grab anime flyers to bring back to the studio to add to our reference library. And no, it isn’t about the show girls at all. Not. At. All.

And of course there’s the animation on show. The two that blew my mind this year were Madhouse’s new insane racing anime Redline (which I caught a glimpse of 2 years ago when I visited the studio. Can’t wait to see the feature at Annecy, where it is competing) and Toei’s breathtaking CG incarnation of Space Pirate Captain Harlock (full-length feature due 2012). Two different projects – one 2D and the other 3D – that prove that when it comes to technical wizardry and pure visual direction, the best in Japanese animation stand a world apart from everyone else.

For the second year running, China has a rather curious presence at TAF. The difference this year was that they hired models (Japanese, obviously) to don cheongsams, which undoubtedly helped attract foot traffic (including that of this intrepid Singaporean). What I can’t get my head around is the Chinese use of the phrase ‘Chinese Anime’, which besides being an obvious paradox, also glosses over the inherent contradictions between anime as liberal genre content and the Chinese’s well-documented resistance towards any foreign content that goes against the grain of its cultural and historical ideologies.

Despite that, it is apparent that anime companies see China as a key market to penetrate. How they can do it is another matter. The business realities of working in China aside, the creative, philosophical and social differences between the two countries and cultures are glaring when it comes to creating popular media content. Where the Chinese are huge on cultural glorification and historical reverence with an underlying socialist stance, the Japanese seems more in tune with the individual human condition, raw emotion, real desire and fantasy. After all, anime, like manga, is so often an outlet for societal repressions and wish fulfillment at all levels – from the young to the old; from the housewife to the office worker. Still, never underestimate the Japanese – or the Chinese for that matter, to pull of the unexpected (they did save the world in 2012 – Spoiler!).

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