When you hear about anime copyright violation in Japan, the culprit tends to be someone selling unlicensed DVDs, posters, or figures. Last week, though, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police busted someone for selling bootleg anime cakes.
On Nov 9, charges were officially filed against a 34-year-old woman living in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. Starting in the summer of 2019, the woman began making and selling cakes decorated with chocolate pen drawings of the cast of "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba."
The woman conducted the "Demon Slayer" cake business through her Instagram account, and customers would send her image files of the artwork they wanted her to use for their cakes, with prices ranging from roughly 13,000 to 15,000 yen. The woman was able to sell hundreds of "Demon Slayer" cakes in this manner, with estimates of her earnings being as high as 6.5 million yen.
▼ The cakes
Eventually "Demon Slayer’s" rights holders stumbled onto her operation and reported it to the police. “I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t think I’d be able to sell ordinary cakes,” the woman said in her statement.
Whenever charges are brought against someone in Japan for derivative works of anime art, “But what about dojinshi?” is a question that gets quickly raised. It’s worth remembering, though, that sales of fan art aren’t so much legally protected in Japan as they are benevolently tolerated by rights holders, and even then there’s a collection of unspoken agreements that fan artists are expected to abide by. In essence, most anime publishers agree to turn a blind eye to fan art as long as it’s produced in small batches and offered for a limited time only at in-person events. That bundle of conditions, ostensibly, contextualizes any money earned as coverage of the costs of artistic expression, not economically motivated profit.
The actions of the Demon Slayer cake maker don’t really check those boxes, though, seeing as how she was running a continuing enterprise through the Internet and her self-admitted reason for using the anime’s characters wasn’t because it was the most artistic way she could express her love of the series, but because she wanted to increase the number of cakes she could sell. Reproducing official art, as opposed to creating her own original chocolate pen drawings of the characters, would also probably preclude any sort of “edible dojinshi” type of defense.
As with the recent charges against a man for “destroying” the A.I. censor mosaic in Japanese adult videos, it doesn’t appear like the woman would have gotten in any trouble if she was merely making the cakes and posting photos of them online for her own amusement. It’s the selling of the cakes and soliciting commissions for them that the rights holders take issue with, and even then, it’s possible she could have gotten a pass if she’d followed the dojin code. But like Icarus, she soared too high in her ambitions, and now her figurative wings have melted like so much chocolate left in the oven for too long.
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