Yoshitada Fukuhara was a producer of the surprise hit Kemono Friends. At only 37-years-old, Fukuhara is viewed as a rising star within the industry. He also thinks Japan’s grip on animation is slipping:
— 福原慶匡 (@fukuhara_ystd) December 5, 2017
“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.”
China and Japan have been collaborating on a growing number of projects together, which are mainly created for the Chinese market. Series like Hitori no Shita: The Outcast, Reikenzan: Hoshikuzu-tachi no Utage, and Gin no Guardian have been moderate hits in China and Japan.
However, Fukuhara argues that these projects have no benefit for Japan. It’s a type of teacher-student relationship that’ll last until Chinese animators have increased their skill and learned the techniques of good animation. Fukuhara says fans can see that with children’s animation in China, and it’s only a matter of time until “sophisticated, adult-oriented content” will be fully produced by China.
A large portion of Japan’s anime industry does rely on streaming and licensing from China. But, if China can produce domestic series on par or better than Japan, the fear is that this vital revenue stream will dry up.
Fukuhara believes that fans and the industry view Japan as gods of animation, which has led to people underestimating the growth and quality of China’s ability. He argues that this gross worship is damaging in two ways: it has led to complacency among producers and it has left a window of opportunity for China to exploit.
The terrible thing about this view, Fukuhara argues, is that Japan has coasted on the ghosts of past successes. Fukuhara believes that very little of value has been created over the last 30 years and nothing as impactful as Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and Studio Ghibli’s early output.
Eventually, fans will grow tired of the derivative works the industry is currently pumping out, and Fukuhara warns that Chinese animation may fill that void. Fukuhara says its important for anime to develop into a “sophisticated art form,” nurture their artists, and stop creating imitations of each other.
While he did not give an example, you could view the current “step-sibling incest” trend under the lense he is proposing. Eromanga-sensei, A Sister’s All You Need, and OniAi are “imitation” series that follow the same storyline of a light novel author and a little sister in a borderline incestuous relationship.
It may seem gloomy, Japan’s past industrial strength has been falling on a global level. Japanese cars and electronics were once viewed as the best in the ’80s and ’90s, but their sales have been dropping. Fukuhara even points out that sumo wrestling is dominated by Mongolian athletes.
Fukuhara feels that the only “soft economic” powers Japan has left are anime and food – with anime being heavily threatened. He hopes that the industry can make changes within the next 10 years so Japan can stay on top.