“Cool Japan” PR push: Anime as Japanese cultural captial

From an article from Staff Writer Kazuaki Nagata at the Japan Times, Japan has recently been focusing on their biggest cultural exports to offset the slow decline of their auto and electronics industries in a PR strategy called “Cool Japan”.  

With this strategy, Japan as a country hopes to bring their cultural GDP back into prominence and be able to compete more effectively with other more aggressive Asian competitors that are coming into the market (aka China).

Currently according to Nagata, 2 trillion yen (out of the current projected 900 trillion yen global creative market in 2020) will be from Japanese creative industries.

Two of Japan’s interior government bodies,  METI (The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry) and CID (Creative Industries Division) hope to use their PR “soft power” tactics to expand that slice of revenue further to 8 – 11 trillion yen.

It is a pivot toward intellectual property “soft power” that is similar to what the US has been doing for decades after WWII (albeit somewhat unconsciously) with globally exported American movies, television, video games, and fashion.

Declining revenue in the anime industry

Even though many people believe that the anime and manga industries are doing rather well in the global market (since Japan is the originator), the data shows that is not the case:

Anime and manga creators have been struggling with issues such as declining sales of packaged media and piracy from free anime sharing sites since the anime industry’s profits went from a high of 16 billion yen in 2006 to a drop to 9.2 billion yen in 2017. 

Toei Animation (creators of Sailor Moon, Dragonball, and One Piece) is considered one of the original studios of anime and has been going strong since the 1960’s, have said in interviews that profit margins are shrinking for anime content in traditional revenue streams such as a 30-minute television episode:

It’s crucial for anime (firms) to engage in the content-related product business or copyright business to make a profit. Otherwise, we can’t earn enough to create the next anime content.”

Hidenori Oyama

Toei Animation Co.

Newer distribution channels, physical product tie-ins, and a cultural push into the global market isn’t only what should be on the Japanese anime industry and the nation’s mind:

there is also a small burgeoning anime studio base with massive potential and growing clout to shake up the industry that isn’t part of the Land of the Rising Sun at all:

The Chinese Anime Industry

The King’s Avatar: The Chinese anime industry push for high quality content into the global market

The King’s Avatar (全职高手 – Quan Zhi Gao Shou) is a Chinese anime series from the media juggernaut Tencent (a collaboration between Tencent Penguin Animation and the nationalistic China Cultural Industry Association anime corporation – G.CMay Animation & Film) .

According to MAL (My Anime List), this anime is based on The King’s Avatar (全职高手) a Chinese web serial novel that eventually shipped with a supplemental accompaning physical light novel and is currently doing rather well with both critics and viewers alike (8.12 out of 10 from MAL)

As the daily Japanese cultural youtube channel: Tokyosaurus has said about The King’s Avatar in one of their broadcasts:

The King’s Avatar started airing about a month ago and the Chinese anime is already making quite a big splash in the anime community. A post on the Yaraon Blog recently got viral in the Japanese community with people being super impressed with the quality of animation from a studio that is not based in Japan.

In fact, it looks better than most of the stuff that’s currently coming out of Japanese studios.

Tokyosaurus

"Trending in Japan" May 17, 2017

The attention to environmental detail and polish in each episode is very, VERY atypical for TV genre anime.

Even with the best studios, most if not all Japanese anime have to cut some corners and keep under budget while balancing the overal visual fidelity, either through “dropping frames” in the character animations, less attention to detail in the backgrounds, or repeated crowd animations (even though there is strong, dissenting opinions if that is actually the case).

I believe that there are a couple of factors on why China has recently been upping their quality bar on their anime.

  • More younger Chinese are watching anime and wanting to have a career in that industry. It is similar to when American or Korean MMO’s such as World of Warcraft or Black Desert Online became hugely popular in Mainland China and inspired Chinese artists and programmers to work in the video game industry.
  • It is possible the Chinese government see the animation industry as an opportunity to GDP growth in the global creative content market in conjunction with exporting the “China brand” so they are taking the opportunity to pour money into the industry to kickstart the rise in more quality studios which put out better animated tv shows than in the past.

Some screenshots of The King’s Avatar below:

A different kind of anime fight choreography

As other commentators have said around anime newgroups and Reddit, the action scenes in The King’s Avatar seriesare actually really good but also on the whole, exaggerated.

I do think the studio is trying to carve out something that is their own style which will play better to Chinese audiences: more frentic, colorful, much more fluid with promenent fx trails or action lines. Something seperate from typical Japanese anime fighting scenes.

Some animated gifs of fight scenes below:

If The King’s Avatar is any indication, it looks like China is getting more serious and starting to really step up with more and more quality anime that can compete with the Japanese industry head-to-head.

From what I’ve seen, there are plenty of Chinese manga and light novels that could be adapted to anime so they will have plenty of Chinese-based content to work with.

I’m really excited that other countries besides Japan are getting into anime-style animation (see also the US dipping their toes into the field with Netflix and the recent Castlevania 4-part series)

Hopefully, the Chinese anime industry entry into the industry really pans out to become a global phenomoen like their competitor across the China sea.

TencentVideo – Episode One of Quan Zhi Gao Shou (via Youtube)

Reddit Sub-ground The King’s Avatar – Manga and Anime (Reddit)

Tokyosaurus Channel “Trending in Japan” (Youtube)

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