According to Yoshitada Fukuhara, anime may be the only thing left to save Japan’s economy.

On 5 December, Yoshitada Fukuhara, producer of the smash hit 2017 anime Kemono Friends, posted a bleak statement on his Twitter account.

“Although the animation industry in China has just begun, I’m convinced they will overtake us in production in three years and in skill in five to ten years.”

Some of Fukuhara’s followers had pointed out that China had already overtaken Japan in terms of production quantity and that their techniques with 2-D and 3-D animation were already at respectable levels. However, Fukuhara is saying that while that is true of children’s programming, Japanese animation’s true appeal abroad is with its more sophisticated, adult-oriented content.

Kemono Friends

Currently, China and Japan are collaborating on animation projects, but Fukuhara suspects that this arrangement has no future for Japan. Once Chinese animators learn all of the tricks of the trade, continuing to work with Japan simply wouldn’t make much business sense to them.

Hitori no Shita The Outcast is an example of the recent state of Chinese animation

The problem lies in Japan’s attitude towards this arrangement. Many in the anime industry and fandom see Japan as an invincible god of animation, granting it’s wisdom to China who will forever be its grateful pupil. However, given the staggering speed of China’s growth, that would be a fatally naive view of the situation.

Also, let’s say China elevates their animation to that of the high standards of Disney. Disney can still compete because of their family-oriented content that can pass through China’s strict government regulations and into their vastly lucrative market. However, Japanese animation studios, whose content often contains violence and sexuality, have to navigate the finicky nature of these censors to even begin to compete with more savvy domestic studios.

▼ For example, Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan may have some red tape to hurdle before entering the Chinese market.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, many of the traditional industries like cars and electronics are beginning to dwindle. We have already seen signs with the video game market shrinking considerably in recent years. Fukuhara points out that even sumo has become largely dominated by Mongolians.

In this quickly changing global marketplace there are currently two things that Fukuhara believes Japan can still be competitive in: anime and Japanese food.

To make matters worse, the producer says Japan has been coasting on the goodwill provided by anime classics of his predecessors. Fans of these films and series are now largely entering their 30s leaving little on the level of Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, or Ghibli for the new generations to latch onto, while also leaving the door open for something fresh and new… something from China perhaps?

▼ The Chinese-produced Reikenzan: Hoshikuzu-tachi no Utage has broadcast on Japanese TV and received a warm reception.

So, Japan must first reevaluate its standing in the world, at least in terms of animation, and then begin to nurture it’s own creators so that they can develop sophisticated art that can be duplicated but not imitated. While this holds true for any of the arts, anime is still has a head start for the time being.

Although it is rather unpleasant news, netizens in Japan seemed to concur for the most part.

“We are being pushed back to the final line of defense…”
“I think it’s because Japan is becoming too conservative, focusing on lower-risk and cheaper-to-produce manga and so on.”
“I’m not angry or disgusted by what China is doing, but the news is frustrating. But maybe it is the wake-up call modern Japanese society needs.”
“China’s otaku culture is quite amazing… I think it will grow steadily.”
“China, Korea, and Taiwan have been making tremendous progress. Japan has milked its artists with weak wages and poor working conditions, the industry was stupidly short-sighted and didn’t make itself sustainable for future generations.”
“Ah, China will probably break out into civil war before then anyway.”

While the possibility of civil unrest is never a prudent basis for financial planning, that last comment does remind us that it is impossible to see where things will go from here with certainty.

The 37-year-old Fukuhara should be old enough to remember the days when the USA was ringing remarkably similar alarm bells about Japan’s skyrocketing economy throughout the ’80s. While significant changes occurred in both countries during that time, it wasn’t quite the wholesale takeover of America that many feared.

That being said, it is certainly wise advice for Japan, or any country for that matter, to take a really objective look at itself to avoid making poor decisions. And if Japan and China do go toe-to-toe in anime, at least Japan has the far better portmanteau. “Chinamation” sounds kind of contrived and “Chinanimation” is too much of a work-out to pronounce. “Panamanimation,” on the other hand, would rule the world if the Central American country ever masters the art.

Source: Twitter/@fukuhara_ystd, Hachima Kiko
Top image, video: YouTube/TV Anime Kemono Friends Official