A recent trend in Anime: Small production teams (think Homestarrunner or Adult Swim)

An interesting piece from FujiSankei Business-i (in translation):

Animation Produced in Small Teams is a Breath of Fresh Air for the Industry: FROGMAN Co., Others Showcase A Powerful Individuality
March 13, 2007

Animation produced in small teams have been hitting the market one after the other recently, which is a new development as works are usually produced in production teams of dozens or even hundreds of people. The new works, which maintain a high level of quality while showcasing the creators’ intense vision in every nook and cranny, a feat that can only be achieved in a small team, are blowing a new wind throughout Japan’s animation industry. (by Ryuichi Taniguchi)

Improved Performance of PCs Plays a Role

Makoto Shinkai, director of “Five Centimeters Per Second” (秒速5センチメートル) gave thanks before the 200 people who had gathered to watch his animated film shown at Cinema Rise in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on March 3: “I am happy to show a film that I made the way I wanted it in a large space.” This was his first film since his long-form “Beyond the Clouds, at the Promised Location” (雲のむこう、約束の場所) was shown at the same theater in November 2006. He seemed to have felt a positive response from the excited crowd of waiting fans that filled the seats.

In the past, animation production was assumed to require a large staff, but Shinkai released his first 25-minute short “Voices of the Stars” (ほしのこえ) created almost entirely by himself on a PC. The imagery, which measures up to animation made by pros, and the story, about susceptible young men and women, made the piece a hit with the younger generation and gained its creator recognition as a member of the new generation of animation directors.

However, Shinkai did not choose the path of producing his work in a major studio with a large staff at his beck and call. He continued using PCs and producing his films with a small staff to complete his “Beyond” and the more recent “Five”.

Shinkai explains, “For a year and half, I had the animation staff come to my home, and created it at a steady pace using my desktop. He didn’t create the whole thing by himself as in “Voice of the Stars,” but he made drastic staff cuts compared to the number of people involved in “Beyond.” As a result, Shinkai was able to realize a film in which his vision crept into every nook and cranny, from depictions of the lyrical countryside, to the village landscapes, to the endless sky and ocean.

Productions that can make full use of the creator’s individuality because of such a small staff are made possible by high-performance PCs that can be used to draw, color, and even edit finely detailed images. It’s easy to see how individual creators like Shinkai can make it into the animation industry if they have talent and backup in terms of funding.

Product Placement Comes to Anime

The films produced by FROGMAN Co, led by a man who goes by the same name, were also born of superior talent, a PC, and the Internet. The company creates animation using Flash, an animation software that can play simple video on a PC, and began offering programs on the Internet starting in 2004. These short films gained an following, and in April 2006 FROGMAN’s “Falcon’s Claw, Secret Society” (秘密結社鷹の爪) debuted on TV Asahi.

On March 17, “Falcon’s Claw, Secret Society The Movie: The Fuhrer Dies Twice” (総統は二度死ぬ) opens in theaters. FROGMAN spoke at a sneak preview held in Roppongi on March 4: “I’m so happy because cinema is the apex of film.” Just as in the TV version, FROGMAN does almost all the voices himself and drew most of the animation. He was overjoyed to see his brainchild up on the big screen.

The big-screen version of course cost more, but the costs were covered by including product placement within the film. Since it’s a comedy, the film blatantly displays company logos and products to make the crowd laugh. They even included a “budget gauge” on the side of the screen that dips during the more elaborate CGI scenes as a gag for the audience.

Another Internet-based talent is Rareko. She published her work on the Internet and eventually worked into picture books and DVDs after they became popular. As more and more companies seek out dormant talent, it looks as though we’ll keep seeing unique, individual animation.

The Companies Backing up Individual Talent

Individuals’ talents can only blossom fully with the support of a corporation. Shinkai has received support from Comics Wave (headquartered in Shibuya) since he began work on “Voices”. CW is a company that manages publishing rights for content and scouting/development of creators. They contract with manga artists and illustrators and serve as a conduit for bargaining with companies that want to use the creators’ characters.

DLE (HQ: Chiyoda Ward), a company founded in 2001 as a company that provides consulting for the video content industry, serves as FROGMAN’s producer. In addition to producing television programs, the company also aids in Flash animation and helped bring FROGMAN into the limelight.

Fanworks (Shibuya) produces independent animation and supports Rareko, of “The Fragile Tank” (やわらか戦車) fame. When the Internet-based animation took off, they served as a conduit for commercialization demands and helped boost its popularity by forming the “Fragile Tank Coalition Force.”

To close out, here are some YouTube clips of some of the shows mentioned in this article:

Falcon’s Claw Secret Society:

Fragile Tank:

Five Centimeters Per Second:

How do free manga make money in a declining manga market?

Since my last translation of something about the anime industry was something of a hit, I thought I’d do a little pandering and take a look at an emerging free manga in Japan as reported by Weekly Oriental Economy:

Free manga magazines: How exactly do they make money?

People are abuzz about the free weekly manga (comic book) that is being handed out around Tokyo. The person behind it all let us know his business model (printed in Weekly Oriental Economy’s Feb. 3, 2007 edition)

free-manga-gumbo-123_1.jpgThe first free manga magazine in Japan, Comic Gumbo, has been released in Tokyo. Just recently, a “free paper” market has sprung up upon the success of Recruit Co.’s “R25” and “Hot Pepper” (see some of the contents of R25 at neomarxisme). In response, this manga magazine has pounded its way in.

The printer is Digima, a venture publishing firm. Company president Akihiko Kai (age 36) founded the company in Sept. 2005 after serving as an operating officer at Dentsu (Japan’s top ad agency) and Trans Cosmos (marketing/offshoring). Gumbo’s target audience is salarymen aged 20-40, and every Tuesday and Wednesday 100,000 copies are handed out at areas including major stations on JR’s Yamanote Line.

The size of Japan’s comic book market is approx. 500 billion yen (about US$4.1 billion, in annual sales I’m assuming). However, readers, who are mostly young people, have been stolen away by mobile phones and the Internet, setting the market on a downward trend. Kai explains: “To get into the market as a latecomer we needed to be bold by making our product free.”

What’s surprising is the fullness of content in the pages that wouldn’t make you think it’s free. The inaugural issue for Jan. 16-17 contained 12 series and was 230 pages long. There is also an impressive lineup of writers, including Tatsuya Egawa, author of Tokyo University Story (he’s doing a manga version of Botchan [English translation of the original novel at No-Sword]). The manuscript payments made to regular contributors are reportedly in line with other manga magazines.

Aggressive use of the Internet

So, can this be profitable? The company has not released its revenue plans, but there are only 26 pages of ads, constituting 10% of the entire book. This is far fewer than R25, which is 40% ads, indicating that they are not relying on ad revenue.

Actually, Digima allows readers to access past series on the Internet for a monthly fee of 500 yen. If membership grows healthily, then this by itself will serve as a major revenue source. In addition, the company intends to issue a trade paperback in the first half of this year. These two are what Kai envisions as the main revenue streams for his company.

The reason that Gumbo has included 12 series is simple. The more series there are, the more likely it is that one will become a hit. If a hit emerges, the trade paperback edition will become a long seller, allowing for healthy returns.

Free distribution is simply a method to lower the hurdles for entry into the market. The subsequent non-free businesses will be the main focus, making this fundamentally different from the free newspapers. The inaugural issue immediately “sold out” its 100,000 copies, succeeding in finding their way into readers’ hands. Will it be able to earn loyal fans? Gumbo’s true battle will be from here on out.

(Writer: Akihiko Fujio; Photo: Koichi Imai)

Comment: I don’t know about paying 500 yen/month just to read manga unless there were a series I was really into (or if I were into scanlations), but hey it sounds like a good enough model if the quality actually is high enough to result in hit paperbacks and TV/movie licenses.

Gendai on Abe’s chances of survival: “Abe government destined to die like a dog”

Tell it, Gendai (in translation from their daily e-mail):

Prime minister Abe keeps on protecting Health Minister Hakuo Yanagizawa despite calls within the ruling coalition for him to quit over his “women are birth-giving machines” statement. If Abe fires him, his own responsibility for appointing him will be called into question, and his shoddy hiring practices will suck even more momentum from the administration. With the Abe government in such a state, the LDP-Komeito coalition won’t be able to campaign for the unified local elections in 2 months, let alone the upper house election this summer. Right now the future state of affairs has become murky as to whether he’ll be dragged out early or fall dead of disease. Looking back at previous LDP administrations, all governments that faced severe criticism have died young. This cabinet even even worse than the Uno cabinet, which came under fire for a sex scandal, or the worst-in-history Mori, who made the “nation of gods” statement. Most everyone is thinking Abe’s government will die an early death as well.

The 2007 budget process from Daiwa Research Institute

I’m basically doing this for practice, but hopefully some people will get something out of this as there is (understandably) not a whole lot of in-depth English-language coverage on Japan’s budget process, which will as usual top the agenda when the Diet regular session convenes this Thursday. Enjoy:

Perspective on the Fiscal 2007 Budget and Midterm Fiscal Management

The regular Diet session will begin shortly. Deliberations before the end of the fiscal year will focus on the budget and related bills. The draft budget for fiscal 2007 marks the first year of the scenario for putting the primary balance into positive territory as described in the policy of simultaneous reform of expenditures and revenues in the “Course and Strategy for the Japanese Economy 2006.” It is also the first budget put together by the Abe administration. The upper house election coming up this summer will attract strong interest in the Diet debate.

The figure of 16.5 trillion yen in the “Course and Strategy for the Japanese Economy 2006” is the amount that must be dealt with under a situation in which expenditures grow naturally assuming 3% nominal GDP growth as well as a planned boost in revenues due to economic growth. That means that a primary balance deficit of 16.5 trillion yen should be left over after boosting both expenditures and revenue, not how much present expenditures will be reduced. Moreover, that represents a nominal total after 5 years (generally, nominal predictions are even more difficult than real ones), and a prediction for the federal and regional governments based on national economic accounting. That’s a bit hard to understand.
Continue reading The 2007 budget process from Daiwa Research Institute

A brief look at free English-language online sources on Japanese politics

Happy New Year, everybody. 2006 was Mutant Frog Travelogue’s 2nd year of existence and a good one for a number of reasons: our readership has surged, we’ve been dubbed a top 10 Japan blog, and most importantly we have learned a lot in the process, both through researching for blog posts and through reader comments. Loyal readers: thanks for the support. Newcomers: Stick with us!

We don’t pretend to offer anything but whatever inspires us to click the Publish button, but we do hope you’re interested in what we have to say. Of course, you wouldn’t want to use this site as a main source for information, especially since there are much more comprehensive and professional sites out there.

For example, if you want information on Japanese politics in the English language, there is a wealth of sources to consult. For background, you can consult Wikipedia or the CIA World Fact Book to brush up on the basics or find papers by various experts in the field (the two best sources I am aware of: JPRI and Japan Focus), all free of charge.

On top of that, the Japanese government (such as METI’s think tank RIETI and MOF’s research institute, the websites of the various political parties, especially the LDP, as well as every ministry and agency’s English websites) and various think tanks (Keidanren, Daiwa, and other corporate-sponsored tanks are often quite interesting though they often focus more on the economy) provide much of their research and information in English free of charge.

To find out what’s happening now, there are several excellent English-language sources that are either straight, on-the-scene reporting or translations thereof: Japan Times, Asahi, and Yomiuri all offer different perspectives on daily events. Though you often won’t get the “story behind the story” you can nevertheless keep yourself informed of the details. And if you’re looking for a lighter side of the news, there’s even Mainichi’s WaiWai section that includes many translations of weekly magazine articles, rife with speculation and sensationalism.

And then there are various sites run by foreigners with a particular axe to grind or focused interest. The source most narrowly focusing on politics is the Japan Considered Podcast, run by a veteran Washington Japan policy hand Robert Angel. And there are plenty of others: the people at the new TransPacificRadio take a comprehensive look at the latest news, Debito has a blog chronicling developments surrounding Japan’s treatment of foreign residents, Marxy keeps an eye on pop culture and its gatekeepers, and (until last year at least) Japan Media Review took a look at Japan’s news media industry and let us know how awful the kisha club system is.

Even compared with 2 years ago, the amount of good information out there has become almost staggering. So with so many great resources out there, what can I, Adamu, offer? Biting analysis? Not so much. I try, but there’s a lot I need to learn about Japan, and I feel that I lack a certain perspective by not actually living in the country. In essence, I try to give you two things: (1) My observations as someone who follows the news in Japan with an almost religious devotion; and (2) Translations of interesting articles that would otherwise never find their way to an English-speaking audience. And if you think the increase in freely available Japan information in English was impressive, the surge in Japanese-language online content is even more staggering. It’s not as impressive as the revolution that’s occurred in the US: Japanese newspapers have not followed their American counterparts in posting their entire contents online, for starters. But that may only be a matter of time, and meanwhile there’s enough to keep me busy in my offtime at least.

Abe’s wife’s blog not that hot, says Gendai

Even though I just got back from Japan, somehow I feel kind of out of the loop. Thankfully, Nikkan Gendai, perhaps Japan’s least prestigious (and therefore often most entertaining) daily, is there to put right back in there with some totally irrelevant news (for relevant news, read this good rundown of why PM Abe is in trouble right now from JT):

Jan 8, 2007

Tired Abe and agnes chanMrs. Akie’s Obscenely Embarrassing Blog

Akie Abe, wife of Prime Minister Shinzo, is humiliating her self in the extreme. She started a blog “Akie Abe’s Smile Talk” in Nov 2006 in an attempt to revive her husband’s popularity, but the contents have met with criticism, and constituents have come out against her in droves, telling her to “stop messing around.”

For example, she had this to say on Christmas:

“We visited my husband’s friend [popular singer] Agnes Chen’s house (snip) and we had a delicious meal, fun conversation, and in the end as a special treat Agnes even sang a song. I could feel the goodness of this energetic family.”

That was followed by photos of turkey and other gourmet food. On Dec 24, Xmas Eve, she posted a picture of herself eating porridge at the PM’s official residence, a shining Xmas tree decorated with decorations received from Laura Bush, and the comment “Today I just want to take it easy.”

Akie says, “I would be happy to get people to understand my candid daily thoughts by introducing a part of my life on this blog,” but Internet message board site 2-channel was less than kind: “It’s a blatant revealing of a winner’s circle celebrity bourgeoisie diary,” “She is totally screwing with us,” “Honestly, neither of them have any sense of tact,” “She’s most likely going to strangle her husband to death later on.”

Perhaps in light of the criticism, the blog hasn’t been updated since her new year’s greeting. Team Abe’s PR strategy is to put her in the spotlight, but her out of place blog might not last long.

Ibuki kind of doesn’t get the bullying issue

As part of the Education Ministry’s attempts to look like it’s doing something about the recent spate of school bullying-related suicides (Yomiuri’s English edition is doing a semi-interesting special on the topic), Minister Bunmei Ibuki has written a letter to every single school in the country urging youngsters to stop bullying their “friends.” Here’s the brief letter in translation:

A Request from the Minister of Education, Sports, Science and Technology

Dear kids, who have a future to look forward to:

It is shameful to bully friends and classmates who are in a weak position.
It is cowardly to bully your friends along with others.
You might be in a position to be bullied. Rather than wonder in the future why you did such a shameful thing, you should immediately stop the bullying that you are carrying out presently.

To you who are suffering from bullying: you certainly are not alone.
Rather than suffer by yourself, get the courage to talk about the fact that you are being bullied to anyone, whether it be your father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, a sibling, a school teacher, or a friend at school or from your neighborhood. You’ll feel better if you talk about it. I’m sure everyone will help you out.

December 27, 2006
Bunmei Ibuki, Minister of Education, Sports, Science and Technology

The bullying issue has been a political football for years, but the recent spate of bullying-related suicides (including letters to the minister threatening suicide, though those letters have not been validated as far as I can tell) made bullying the dominant education-related issue during the fall extraordinary Diet session and crowded out the government’s promotion of its education reform agenda to the point where the government’s handling of the suicides/threats has become an Upper House election issue. As a result, the education ministry has been desperate to look like it is doing something, with efforts including some ’emergency measures’ to prevent bullying and this letter.

Shukan Asahi reported that Ibuki wrote this letter himself. It sounds sincere enough, but this bullying issue is extremely complicated and each case has its own special characteristics. Much like anti-drug and anti-smoking campaigns in the US, this could easily backfire. I can just imagine this letter being used as material to rank on some poor kid.

To that end, the Japanese media never tire of publicizing bullying horror stories, probably because they are always so compelling. For its part, Yomiuri has run a series looking at bullying cases in detail:

An 18-year-old high school student has decided to live life keeping future goals in mind despite becoming a target of bullying that started after the student became disabled due to a traffic accident. (For personal reasons, the student, who was interviewed by The Yomiuri Shimbun recently, asked that the student’s gender not be disclosed.)

Hit by a car two years ago, the student suffered multiple fractures and hovered between life and death. While the student regained consciousness, the student’s upper body was disabled.

After returning to school, some classmates started making fun of the student’s appearance. They hurled insults at the student, saying, “Look in the mirror!” and hid the student’s textbooks and slippers. In desperation, the student cut the student’s wrists with a razor blade in spring this year. Seeing the blood pumping out of the student’s veins, the student realized, “I’m alive now, though I could have died in the accident.”

Regardless of the political leadership’s cluelessness, the even higher than usual level of attention placed on the bullying issue is apparently pushing schools to take the issue more seriously:

The recent spate of bullying cases–some of which led to suicides–has prompted boards of education around the nation to set their own criteria to identify bullying, aside from the definition laid down by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry.

Most of the new criteria allow more cases to be identified as bullying than that of the ministry; for example, if parents or children consult with a school once in connection with a case of intimidation, it should be counted as bullying.

At least 40 boards of education have made such changes, and some criticized the existing definition of bullying as inadequate for a correct understanding of the real situation.

The ministry’s definition says for a case of intimidation to be recognized as bullying, it must involve a “one-sided physical or psychological attack” by “a stronger perpetrator against a weaker victim,” with the latter experiencing “serious pain and suffering.”

Because of the strong wording in the ministry’s definition, such as “attack” and “serious pain and suffering,” many schools have only recognized very serious cases of intimidation as bullying.

Of course, people are kidding themselves if they think that broadening the definition of bullying will stop it. To trot out a well-worn cliche, Japan is a society of endurance and conformity. The comedy shows are all about smacking around the weird guy, and everyone is expected to “try hard.” The only way to manage such a situation is to keep things from getting out of hand and eliminate the dangerous structural problems (hard-hearted teachers who permit violence or egg people on, weak rules against it, etc). The endless television pleas for peace will get nowhere.

America of course has a serious problem with bullying as well. However, one thing that protects the nerds in the US is a very strong clique culture. If you eat lunch with the other nerds, you feel like less of a loser.

I certainly have no answer for the bullying issue, but when I was a high school student in Japan, I noticed that while there were distinctions between the popular girls, the people in the various sports clubs, etc, I didn’t really see much of a place for the unpopular kids to get together. A few of them used illness as an excuse to skip school for months at a time. Perhaps if there were places outside of the school system where the losers could find ways to express themselves they’d be able to have some sort of hope for the future.

China’s animation industry set to overtake Japan’s?

The latest issue of Japanese news weekly AERA (more like a Japanese version of Time magazine than many other weeklies) contains an interesting bit on China’s animation industry that fits in nicely with my last few posts. Full translation follows:

Anime to make a comeback in China, where it started

by Reiko Miyake

China has been “invaded” by Japanese-made animation, but in fact this was the former world power that taught animation to Japan

China as a nation is currently putting its efforts into developing “Donghua.” Donghua is Chinese for animation and comic books. In the past 3 or 4 years, 19 cities nationwide including Shanghai, Changchun, and Hangzhou have been equipped as “Donghua headquarters” or centers for the animation industry. Schools to develop talent and studios are being established in earnest.

According to sources close to the issue, the scale of China’s animation character market amounts to as much as 100 billion yuan (approx. 1.5 trillion yen). Japanese animation such as Pokemon and Case Closed are enormously popular, and up to now a multitude of pirated versions have been distributed. While dominated by Japanee animation and Disney, here and there original Chinese-made animation has started to come out such as “Indigo Cat.”

A longer history than Japan’s

Inspections of imported animated works are strict, in part because of protection of domestic works. The first company to truly attempt to export to China was Mulan Productions. They are very skilled at the business of managing copyrights in China. They have produced many hits, starting with Crayon Shinchan in 2002 and following up with Dragonball and Fruits Basket.

Takashi Mita, chief of the company’s International Business Headquarters, explains: “First of all, the quantity of foreign animation that is shown in China is is restricted as a whole. It is subject to a strict inspection from the perspective of public order and morality, and works that contain many portrayals of sexual activity or violence are taboo. All in all, the condition for export is that the works are healthy for children.”

Looking just at the situation in the past few years, Japan looks like a developed country while China looks like a late bloomer in terms of their respective animation industries. However, it is not very well-known that China’s animation history is actually longer and had a major impact on the developing stages of Japanese animation.

At a Tokyo cinema in 1942, a young Osamu Tezuka watched “Princess Iron Fan,” an animated film based on the Chinese epic Journey into the West that was produced in Shanghai, which was an animation production center at the time. The fact that the intense emotion he felt at that time formed the basis for Tezuka to produce animation is an anecdote known by those in Japan’s animation industry. After becoming a comic book artist, Tezuka met with Princess director Wan Lai-Ming time and again.

After WW2, Wan and others gathered in 1957 to create the Shanghai Art and Film Production Studio, a nationally-run animation studio. These are the roots of Japan’s animation industry as well as China’s.

Decline due to the Cultural Revolution

Subsequently, Japanese animation has developed as both an art and an industry to take a 60% share of the $25 billion animation market. Meanwhile, China’s industry declined due to the Cultural Revolution after peaking in the 60s and 70s.

So, Chinese animation industry is now attempting to revive itself once again. The works that the Shanghai Art and Film Production Studio created from the 60s to the 80s will be shown from December 16 at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

Features gaining the most attention are 4 ink-painted short films. The Tadpole Searches for His Mother, made in the 60s, is a classic in which the movements of frogs and tadpoles are drawn in ink style, which though slightly blurred is very lively. It was shown at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, where it won Honorable Mention.

Almost 50 years later, focus is once again on ink expression in China’s animation productions as students of a Chinese technician development school produce a 3-D animation using the techniques of ink animation. Director Wan’s long-format “Sun Wukong on the Rampage” will also be shown.

Japan’s animation industry hollowing out?

Japanese weekly business magazine Shukan Toyo Keizai (Weekly Oriental Economy) has given me a very nice Xmas present: They finally post some free content online! I was even more delighted to discover that one featured article discusses a topic that’s come up in a recent post: the “decline” of Japan’s animation industry. According to animation critic Ryota Fujitsu (who incidentally also is on the selection committee for the Nippon Otaku Awards) argues that rather than declining per se it’s “hollowing out” due to outsourcing of animators. I decided to translate it in full since it brings up some interesting issues. Let’s have a look:

The Hollowing Out of Japan’s Animation Industry Continues


Currently, Japan’s animation industry wouldn’t be viable without the presence of Korean and Chinese subcontracting companies. Why must the industry rely on foreign outsourcing? If you trace the causes of this dependence, you’ll find the answer lies in the low production costs. Normally, production costs of a 30-minute program amount to around 10 million yen apiece. However, it costs even more than that for a more elaborate project, and there are also many works that are produced for prices lower than 1 million yen. This situation has been going on for years, and you could say it has become entrenched. So as a result, the issue of low wages for animation staff, chiefly represented by the animators, has been repeated in the media. This is despite the facts that dozens of animated programs are shown every week, and animation has been proclaimed as “a subculture representative of Japan” by the media.

One third of animators make less than 1 million yen annually

The typical lifestyle of a contemporary animator was detailed in the 2005 study “Status of Activities and Lifestyles of Performing Artists” conducted by the Japan Council of Performers’ Organizations (tr: report available here in Japanese only).

According to this source, animators work an average of 10.2 hours a day, an estimated 250 hours per month. Despite this, 26.8% of the make less than 1 million yen per year, 38.2% earn an average annual income of between 1 million and 3 million yen annually. Meanwhile, 80% of in-between (douga) animators are paid by quantity, with per-cel prices averaging 186.9 yen. 73.7% had annual incomes of less than 1 million yen.
Continue reading Japan’s animation industry hollowing out?

ZAKZAK on why Michael Jackson cancelled his Xmas party in Japan

Phenomenal talent but unrelenting freakshow Michael Jackson saw himself back in the news this week when he cancelled a Xmas party that was to be held in Japan. ZAKZAK takes a closer look at what happened:

The truth behind the sudden cancelleation of Michael’s Xmas party
Confusion over hiring Dave Specter as host

Fans of American singer Michael Jackson (age 48) were peeved at the sudden cancellation of the planned “Premium Christmas Party” to be held at Studio Coast event hall in Shinkiba, Tokyo on December 19. A spokesperson for Michael explained that the reason behind the postponement was “to engage with as many fans as possible” and rescheduled the event for March 8-9 of next year. The postponement is enshrouded in mystery, and claims have been made of Michael’s poor health and poor sales of the most expensive Platinum Tickets, priced at 400,000 yen apiece.

According to sources close to the issue, the party originally planned for 200 Platinum Tickets (priced at 400,000 yen each that would have included a photo and handshake with Michael), and 1400 Golden Tickets (just a handshake for 200,000 yen). Jackson himself was not scheduled to perform, but spokespeople explained that “Michael was to watch a show, consisting of gospel and band performances, along with his guests from a VIP area on the 2nd floor.”

Planners began additionally selling 50,000 yen tickets from December 5. Event planners repeated boastful explanations that “Sales of Platinum and Golden Tickets have only amounted to a few buyers, but we have filled the hall.”

At the “do-over” party to be held in March, a “Premium VIP Party” will be held on March 8 with tickets selling for 400,000 yen apiece, and on March 9 ticket prices will be lowered to 15,000 yen for a fan appreciation event.

Michael fan sites have recently expressed mixed opinions, from hopeful (“No matter how expensive it is, there is a corresponding value to Michael in the flesh”) to opposed (“This is a simple ploy to make money and will tarnish Michael’s image”).

The confusion continues, with episodes such as when television producer Dave Specter, approached by event planners to host the March party, declined the offer after protests from Jackson fans.

Dave commented, “Since I have before now made many (critical) statements about Michael as a journalist (tr: He hosted the Japanese version of that interview from a few years ago when Michael insisted that sleeping in the same bed with young boys is all right), I had no choice (but to decline the hosting gig). There are many excitable fans who worship Michael as if he were a god.” He also noted that for the March party “He will probably come on the scheduled date and time since there is a proper contract. The tickets are certainly expensive, but I have heard that inquiries from abroad have been impressive.”

There have been reports that Michael’s health is in bad condition, such as when US tabloid Globe has reported: “He is addicted to painkillers and wine.” However, it looks like Michael will continue to make his fans inpatient right up until the March party.

Comment:It looks like Michael sees Japan as the only place where he can make profitable public appearances these days. What I don’t get is why won’t he perform? If he wants to make money that seems like the most logical way to do it.