Recently, Japan has been in crisis mode due to high levels of manga and anime piracy. While sales in the digital format have increased in recent years, so too has piracy. In March 2018, Mangamura, one of the most popular piracy sites for digital manga, drew in 174 million visitors. According to the report, piracy may be “costing the industry five billion US.” That’s an incredible sum of money to be losing out on. The Japanese government is now resolved to start taking steps to make some of that money back.

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Manga and Anime on a Global Scale

The fact is, manga and anime have a global appeal.  In 2008, the total global sales for manga alone was around 13.3 billion yen. This is one of Japan’s only industries with this level of penetration in the global market. Takamasa Sakurai, an anime expert, said in the Japanese Times, “Many young people in other countries grow up with Japan’s anime.” He elaborated, “For instance, there is a bookstore near Lac Leman in Geneva that has about 11,000 Japanese comic books. You don’t see a lot of bookstores with 11,000 comics, even in Japan.”

And this certainly rings true. Just think about the closest Barnes & Noble by you. Their manga section is usually as large as their comic books section, if not larger. That’s not entirely “normal.” After all, if you go to the movie section, you won’t find as many Bollywood films as Hollywood films. If you scroll through your basic TV channels, you won’t find that many international programs, either.

So why is that? In the same article, Sakurai attributes anime’s popularity to the fact that it appeals to youth and adults equally. Whereas most animation products in other countries focus on stories that appeal to children, Japanese anime is much broader. This means that kids who grow up on anime will probably continue to watch it well into their adult life. Meanwhile, at a certain point, most adults stop keeping up with domestic cartoons after reaching a certain age. I, for one, can certainly relate to that statement.

What They’re Going To Do

One Piece characters. Pirates vs piracy
These pirates are okay, but internet piracy is not. | Image: Toei Animation

Clearly, anime and manga are extremely important products to protect. Similar to the American film industry’s efforts to protect the copyright of its movies, Japan is taking steps to protect their largest entertainment export. According to Japan Times, “The Cabinet Office’s Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters plans to encourage internet service providers to restrict access to such ‘malicious’ websites ‘on a voluntary basis’ in order to protect the nation’s famed manga and anime industries from free-riders.”

Now, this certainly doesn’t sound like “the nuclear option.”  The fact remains, however, that it may be all the government can do right now. Doing any more could possibly violate the Japanese Constitution. Similar to the American Bill of Rights, Japan has protections for its citizens against censorship. Some argue that flatly banning these sites might be a breach of that protection. This is especially true for intermediary sites, which neither upload the material themselves nor host it on their own servers. There’s also a worry that a government ban on sites like this could lead to a slippery slope in similar situations of censorship.

However, this request from the government may have started to work. According to the same article, “speculation has been rife that Mangamura, one of the most notorious manga piracy websites, has been shut down, as it has been inaccessible since around Tuesday [April 10th].” This could already be a huge win for the Japanese industry if true.

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Why Stopping Piracy Matters

Manga and Anime are some of Japan’s chief exports. Anime titles are more internationally famous than most Japanese live-action films. Of the top 20 highest grossing non-English language films in history, Japan makes the list three times. YOUR NAME, SPIRITED AWAY, and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE — all anime.

Not only that, but anime and manga is an industry that attracts some of Japan’s greatest artists. The most talented Japanese directors end up working in anime instead of live-action. The ultimate reasons for this may only be speculative, but the worldwide popularity of the genre has to be a considered a factor.

As consumers, we have to be aware that the industry only thrives when we do our part and purchase the products. Piracy may make our favorite titles easy to access, but it does real harm to the creators. Animation isn’t a cheap thing. It takes a lot of people working very hard to produce something that looks as great as YOUR NAME and it’s nice to see those movies succeed. If there is no money in the industry, fewer artists will want to work in the field. This means that anime and manga would ultimately suffer. We need to pay for the products we love or run the risk of losing such a quality genre.

Feature image courtesy of The Jakarta Post.

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