[Honey’s Anime Interview] Roland Kelts Japan Pop Culture Scholar & Arthell Isom CEO of D’ART anime studio (V-CRX)

Arthell-Isom [Honey’s Anime Interview] Roland Kelts Japan Pop Culture Scholar & Arthell Isom CEO of D’ART anime studio (V-CRX)

Roland Kelts & Arthell Isom

  • Session : Anime and Race
  • Date/Time : Friday, September 4 from 5:15 - 6:15 PM PT
  • Stage : Hime Stage

The corona virus couldn’t stop Crunchyroll Expo from virtually bringinging us some of the best guests in the anime industry. We at Honey’s Anime had the chance to ask a few questions of their potentially quarantined guests from a very safe distance.

We were really pleased to get the chance to speak with Roland Kelts an Japan pop culture scholar and author. Roland Kelts is the author of Japanamerica and is considered an authority on the intersection of Japanese and Western Cultures. He is the go to guy for magazines like the New Yorker and newspapers such as The Guardian in Britian and The New York Times.

Roland Kelts

Arthell Isom

Interview with Roland Kelts & Arthell Isom

Arthell-Isom [Honey’s Anime Interview] Roland Kelts Japan Pop Culture Scholar & Arthell Isom CEO of D’ART anime studio (V-CRX)

You have been a Japan and Anime/Manga industry watcher for decades. The current feeling in the otaku community is that Anime and Manga are under assault by puritanical forces that are getting books banned from bookshelves and pulled from amazon kindle. Yet, there are those who see this kind of thing as an ebb and flow of culture. Do you think this is just part of a cyclical cultural backlash or are the industry creatives under threat from these more conservative elements?

Roland Kelts: In Japan, I definitely see this kind of thing as an ebb and flow. Some years ago there was a movement in the Tokyo government to censor manga and anime driven by now-retired conservative firebrand governor Shinto Ishihara.

This was taken up by local conservative groups and Parent-Teacher Associations. Finally it wound down with the national government outlawing the possession of child pornography.

I spoke in defense of the manga and anime industries on CNN here. My point was that outlawing actual pornography was a government’s responsibility and a mark of civilization. But censoring the human imagination by defining and restricting works of fiction, whether illustrations or stories or both, was the first step down a proverbial slippery slope.

In fact, the manga and anime industries had volunteered to monitor themselves, and to restrict access to adult-oriented media. They knew how to handle it, and they did.

I’m less optimistic about the US. The self-righteousness, factionalism, xenophobia and hysterical religious fundamentalism surging through US culture right now make me wonder how manga and anime have somehow slipped under the moralistic radar for this long. In fact, just a couple of months ago a US politician called Dragon Ball Z “depraved anime porn.” Ugh.

The anime industry still self restricts its content with regional locking. Is there a practical reason for this? Is there a reason a show or even a preview on youtube to be “unavailable in your region”? Or is this an antiquated business model that Japan has failed to adapt too? The common-sense approach would be to reach as many viewers/consumers as possible.

Roland Kelts: There are companies whose survival depends upon profiting in some way from products that can be sold at a certain price only in a certain market. In the cases you’re describing, these are usually media products that can be sold at a premium in Japan, where CDs, DVDs and even some streaming media products typically cost a lot more than they do in the US.

By restricting the content with region locks, they’re hoping to limit their product sales to the consumers who will pay for them.

I’m sympathetic, but I would also use the term you propose: antiquated. Their model is and has been dying, and will continue to die. It’s no longer just a ‘whac-a-mole’ approach to survival. It’s a “whac-a-million-moles, and then some.” Borders are now porous, physically and intellectually. Cultivating your new market should take precedence over protecting your old one.

Zeke-senpai interviewed an animator more than 30 years ago who said the reason Japanese Animation and Cinema is fixated on the country’s destruction or dark dystopian worlds is that they had the bomb dropped on them. We are now 75 years from that event and most of the survivors have passed on and even their children are “old” at this point. Is the trauma of that event so ingrained in the cultural memory that it can’t be forgotten (not saying that it should) or is it just a simple plot device for setting and drama?

Roland Kelts: I agree with your implication: the atomic bomb hasn’t had a direct influence on Japanese artists for generations. In fact, as far back as the late 1960s and early 70s, Japanese artists were more likely to be informed by the Vietnam War and domestic social upheavals like the student protests over the US-Japan Security Treaty (ANPO) than the bomb.
And Japan, which is the most earthquake-prone nation in the world, beset by tsunami, typhoons and volcanoes, has enough natural disasters and layers of official and back-alley corruption to create stories of destruction and dark dystopian worlds to last many lifetimes.

Still, I’m now working on a book in partnership with Crunchyroll for the publisher Hachette that is a guide to great anime through the years. And as I write about various series and films, it’s hard to argue that the national experience and echoes of the war, and the sheer psychological enormity of the atomic bombs, have had no far-reaching impacts on Japanese artists, even if they’re only imagined.

Early manga and anime, from Osamu Tezuka to Shigeru Mizuki to Keiji Nakazawa’s classic Barefoot Gen, arguably created a template for exploring the psychological and physical horrors of mass destruction, physical deformity and persistent nightmares and maladies that could be and would be used by successive waves of artists and writers in the years to follow.

Mr. Kelts wasn’t the only guest that Crunchyroll Expo connected us with, we got to interview Arthell Isom the CEO of Japan based anime studio D’ART Shtajio. Arthell’s success in the very Japan-centric world of anime is an amazing one making him someone we had to ask questions of.

The business culture in japan often provides resistance to foreign-owned companies doing “uniquely Japanese” things in Japan. You may have built up a lot of credibility before establishing your company but you still were an outsider opening an easily arguably uniquely Japanese thing- producing anime. Did the industry welcome you or did you find it a struggle to establish D’ART Shtajio?

Arthell Isom: We’re always honored to be included amongst Japanese anime studios. Perhaps because of our tenure here prior to starting D’ART we’ve always felt welcomed and have been able to work with the other studios.

The animation industry in Japan has on occasion had a reputation as being a slog filled with overworked and underpaid staff. We’ve seen in recent years some studios attempting to change that image, for example, Kyoto Animation has become known as the school and training ground for animation and P.A. Works moving out of Tokyo and striving to give their staff a friendlier work-life balance. What work environment do you want to foster at D’ART Dhtajio?

Arthell Isom: Work life balance, liveable wages, and an enjoyable work culture are really important to us at D’ART. Being a start-up we deal with the difficulties all startups in every industry deal with but it’s definitely our goal to be one of the studios artists/ employees enjoy and can grow comfortably.

The people that watch anime can usually identify a distinctive style in the animation, you can tell it is a show is Studio Trigger by its exaggerated action or UFOtable by its crisp clean lines and digital overlays or Kyoto animation with its attention to detail and cinema-quality stories. What do you think your trademark looks like as a studio?

Arthell Isom: We get asked this often, but I feel we are still on our journey to discovering D’ART’s look. It’ll become clearer as we do larger productions and really get comfortable with who we are.

Final Thoughts

We'd like to thank both Roland and Arthell for taking the time to answer our questions. The insights they gave us on the anime industry are really thought-provoking. We'd love to talk to both of them at length about anime as a cultural phenomenon and as an industry with many moving pieces and about challenges to keep it economically viable. Again, thank you Mr. Isom and Mr. Kelts for your time.

Arthell-Isom [Honey’s Anime Interview] Roland Kelts Japan Pop Culture Scholar & Arthell Isom CEO of D’ART anime studio (V-CRX)


Author: Zeke Changuris

I’m a journalist, writer, photographer, video producer, social media manager and above all a storyteller. I’m located on the east coast of the United States but travel the world with the love of my life. I’ve been a nerd since birth with a love of history and science. I fell in love with anime, watching ROBOTECH and Venus Wars in the 80s when our only source was secondhand VHS dubs. A crazy new thing called the internet changed that, giving me access to new and amazing anime every day. I love to write for work and pleasure. I’m living the dream of every kid, getting paid to watch anime and loving every subtitled line.

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