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Anime boom in China heats up, unaffected by chilly ties

Hideo Kamata

The Japan News/Asia News Network

Beijing | Tue, January 10, 2017 | 02:18 pm
Anime boom in China heats up, unaffected by chilly ties

Chinese fans enjoy cosplay at an event showcasing Japanese anime in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2016. (The Yomiuri Shimbun/File)

The so-called two-dimensional market is booming in China. Also described as an “otaku geek market,” it covers all industries related to animation, manga and video games that exist in two-dimensions. One research institute estimates that about 270 million people, or nearly one-fifth of the Chinese population, are consumers in the two-dimensional market. Japanese anime and manga are driving this huge market, but why are they so popular in China?

Char comes to Beijing

On Oct. 1, when the People’s Republic of China celebrated the anniversary of its foundation, hundreds of Chinese youngsters gathered at a venue in Beijing, all shouting “Sieg Zeon!” in unison. The phrase is to honor the Principality of Zeon, an enemy nation in the Japanese anime series Mobile Suit Gundam. The phrase, so familiar to Japanese anime fans, is just as broadly understood in China.

The fans were attending an event organized to showcase Japanese anime and related goods.

Also in attendance was Shuichi Ikeda, the famous voice actor of the Gundam character Char Aznable, driving Chinese fans wild with Char’s catchphrase “May the glory of victory be yours!”

Yuan Zecheng, a college student who came to the venue wearing Char’s trademark white helmet and red military uniform, could not contain his excitement: “The real voice is so amazing!”

The venue was packed with men and women cosplaying various anime characters.

“We decided to hold this event because the Chinese organizers were passionate about showing genuine Japanese contents here,” said Retsu Tamura, director of Sotsu Co., an anime production company that held the event.

“The level of enthusiasm is just as high in China as in Japan. We want to expand our business opportunities here,” he added, indicating the company’s aggressive stance regarding business in China.

Outgrowing Japan market

The research institute iResearch Consulting Group, which mainly studies China’s online market, estimates that the number of consumers in the two-dimensional market in 2016 increased by 20 percent compared to the previous year to reach 270 million people. According to iResearch, there is a core group of about 70 million fans who check out anime or manga at least once a week.

CI Consulting has also put forward an astonishing number, claiming that the two-dimensional market will grow to 600 billion yuan (about ¥9 trillion) in 2020. The Association of Japanese Animations, a Japanese animation industry body, estimates that the domestic anime industry market was worth ¥1.83 trillion in 2015. The Chinese market is becoming vastly larger than Japan’s.

(Read also: Japanese cafes based on anime and manga)

Politics takes back seat

Tamura also voiced some anxiety about political risks, saying, “We weren’t entirely sure the whole thing wouldn’t suddenly grind to a halt should the political climate change.”

Japan-China relations did cool significantly after the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2012, but did not seem to have much effect on the two-dimensional market.

Japanese anime first arrived in China when Astro Boy was aired there in the 1970s. Japanese anime has become even more popular since then, and elderly Chinese still remember watching anime such as Doraemon and Ikkyu-san.

“I always enjoy watching ‘ONE PIECE’ on my smartphone during my breaks,” said a Chinese lawyer in her 20s.

“With Japanese anime, I get drawn into the characters or the story. I don’t watch Chinese dramas anymore,” she said.

In the late 2000s, Japanese anime disappeared from terrestrial television, and people turned to the internet to watch it. Young anime fans were mesmerized by pirated editions that had been subtitled in Chinese.

Hu Qianyi, the general manager of Beijing ACG Media Co., which organizes anime conventions in China, said, “Japanese anime became so popular because people could watch these pirated editions for free.”

Many young people absorb Japanese through anime, so this kind of animation also functions as a tool for improving understanding of Japan.

Japan’s strong presence

“Chinese people are drawn by the imaginative nature, subtle beauty and original points of view they see in Japanese animation. They find difficulties in getting accustomed to Western animation,” said Li Enqi, an executive of Staro Animation Technology Developing Co., the Chinese organizer of the Oct. 1 event.

“So long as Japan keeps cranking out popular titles, the strong presence of Japanese anime on the Chinese market will remain unchanged,” he added.

As middle-class incomes rise, foreign travel becomes more common among young people, increasing opportunities for them to experience Japanese culture directly.

“I’ve been to Akihabara in Japan. It was a chance for me to experience Japan’s good points, and I ended up enjoying anime even more,” said an 18-year-old girl whose cosplay name is Ermeng. She was walking around the event venue in a pink Lolita costume.

“Enjoying anime is a matter of personal freedom. This has nothing to do with things between governments,” said a 17-year-old high school student, whose cosplay name is Keke. She wore a costume depicting the Japanese anime character Haruhi Suzumiya.

80% of fans ‘regularly watch’ Japan anime

In a survey targeting about 33,000 Chinese fans with multiple answers allowed, iResearch found that to the question “What sort of works do you regularly watch or read?” 82.2 percent answered Japanese anime and 66.1 percent Japanese manga, a remarkable result.

Chinese animation stood at 13.7 percent and comics at 19.7 percent. The survey also found that 28.7 percent of them enjoy cosplay or are involved in fan publications.

While 73.5 percent said they were single, 16.7 percent claimed they had a “two-dimensional wife.” The odd Japanese custom of referring to a favorite anime character as “my wife” seems to have been adopted in China.

By regions, it turned out that 15.2 percent of fans were from Guangdong, a relatively rich province in southern China. This figure, which stands out in contrast to figures from other areas, indicate that these fans have more money to spend on their hobbies.

People living in urban areas often come across “moe kyara,” or a character that provokes “moe” infatuations. The Shanghai Metro once had cars with large drawings of moe kyara on their sides. The two-dimensional market appears to be expanding into a three-dimensional world.