Sunday, July 25, 2010


Okay, I guess "fake" is too strong a word. In fact I don't want to even call these "bootlegs" because honestly, they don't represent knockoffs of already established product. But there's a degree of copywrong in the provenance of these pieces that speaks volumes about the desire for Japanese anime characters, as well as the casual disregard for intellectual property that has been the hallmark of Japanese animation's impact outside Japan.

If it's the 1980s, kids are crazy for robots, even in the form of cheap, tiny coloring books meant to be handed out as door prizes or favors at birthday parties, perhaps at Showbiz Pizza. And just think, that cheap coloring book you threw away because you were 8 and had no idea of the dramatic struggle of White Base to survive the Zeon onslaught was actually pirating artwork from a famous Japanese anime series! Let's look inside.

In spite of the Gundam cover, the characters inside are from Star Musketeer Bismark. Because... they couldn't find art to trace of Char or Amuro? Somebody really liked Marianne Louvre? Who knows? All I know is now I need something to put my crayons in.

Luckily this soft vinyl-covered pencil case will do the trick! And hey, it's not going to bother with your typical RX-78 Gundam, but instead chose to decorate itself with a weird approximation of what appears to be a RMS-179/RGM-79R GM II, the Earth Federation's mass production mobile suit from Zeta Gundam. I guess my pencils feel kind of safe, sort of.

The Gundam theme continues on the back with a fairly accurate GunCannon and hey, from a completely different series produced by a completely different studio, it's a Cyclone from Tatsunoko's Genesis Climber Mospeada! Because when you're using unauthorized artwork sometimes you just have to go a little crazy.

So let's take a break from all this pen and paper stuff and play some cheap plastic hand-held pinball. Surely this inexpensive dollar store party favor type game won't feature appopriated character art!

Oh wait. That's a soccer-playing Sailor Mercury going for the gold, isn't it?

Yup, it sure is, her Mercury Healing Tiara contrasting nicely with her striped soccer jersey. I suppose there was a time in the 1990s when it was thought you could sell anything with Sailor Moon characters. On the other hand, I did actually buy this thing, so I guess their plan succeeded.

Speaking of satisfying toy play value, it's hard to beat cheap Taiwanese knockoff robots for some good robot toy "fun".

Combining the classical looks of Mazinger Z with the trendy lion motif of Voltron, the "Lionbot" stands ready to defend himself against all the copyright lawyers in the galaxy!

This box art was apparently copied right off the side of THE GREATEST AIRBRUSHED CUSTOM VAN EVER. The other robot isn't a Lionbot, but Tiger Mask captured in a rare moment cosplaying as Great Mazinger.

So just let your feelings about intellectual property and quality childrens toys retreat into the background. Unless you want Lionbot to open you up a clumsily-painted, badly-cast, frosty cold can of BEAT-DOWN!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

the golden age of scanlations

Once upon a time there were people who loved Japanese comics SO MUCH that they would, on their own recognizance, take the original Japanese comics and translate them into English! All by themselves! And then they’d distribute these translations to the world at large, unconcerned with things like “copyright” or “trademark” or “intellectual property”. Of course this whole business has generated a lot of press lately because of the amazing ability of the vast computer networks that surround us all to transmit and distribute information faster than human minds can even conceive. And to think the doomsayers and pessimists always assumed the assault on mankind would begin with killer robots and death rays!

This may astonish today's computer-enabled youth, but scanlations existed long before cheap terabyte drives and broadband connections. In fact these stone-age “scanlations” didn’t need computers at all!

This advertisement appeared in the BOOKS NIPPAN ANIMATION FAN CLUB NEWSLETTER (vol 4) from sometime in 1985. Is this the first attempt at wide distribution of a possibly unauthorized translation of Japanese manga? Could be. Translator and Gunbuster star Toren Smith was always ahead of the curve; he went on to build a career out of authorized, licensed Japanese comics through his Studio Proteus organization.

(alternate Art Frahm cover available upon request)

The prototype scanlation seen here appeared as a companion booklet to the official Shogakukan release of Urusei Yatsura volume 1. You’d simply hold the UY manga – purchased through Books Nippan, of course - in one hand and the translation booklet in the other, and through a complicated mental process not fully understood by our top scientists, the meaning of the Urusei Yatsura story will become clear to you.

One wonders just how popular this particular marketing plan was; Viz would begin publishing officially-licensed Urusei Yatsura in English in a few years. Shogakukan had already released several volumes of Urusei Yatsura in a dual-language format as an English-language teaching aid. Or as a Japanese-language teaching aid, these things swing both ways (these handsome sepia-tone tankubon were also produced for other series, including Sasuga No Sarutobi).

Rather than a strictly commercial product, these 80s UY scanlations were a more upscale form of the ‘translation packets’ being distributed by various fan organizations throughout the 80s. Anything that would fit onto photocopier glass was Xeroxed like crazy – song translations, possibly inaccurate episode guides, character sheets, articles from trade publications – if it was about anime it got distributed, copyright and original intent of the author be damned. It is with this blithe disregard for intellectual property that anime fandom first established itself upon our shores, a mark of Cain that all must bear in shame and/or glory. Of course, the way I figure it, anime fans spent 20 years producing and distributing pro bono advertising for Bandai, so it all evens out in the end.

-Dave Merrill

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