It’s been an incredible couple of months for "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba." Between the manga ramping up to its climax in May and the premiere of the "Mugen Train" theatrical anime in October (which has since become the highest-grossing movie of all time in Japan), the franchise has become a full-blown cultural phenomenon.
As an example of just how big a hit "Demon Slayer" is, it’s not just the characters that are popular, but the patterns of their clothing. To be clear, we’re not talking about the characters’ outfits being popular with cosplayers (though they are), but the patterns on the fabric the "Demon Slayer" cast wear, with main character Tanjiro’s checkerboard black-and-green motif showing up on all sorts of merchandise over the past year. We’ve seen it on towels, face masks, and even fish cakes…and now it’s even been spotted on a Japanese politician’s campaign posters.
Keisuke Mitsumoto is a member of the Nippon Ishin no Kai party serving as a city councilman in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. His current reelection poster has dignified-looking photos of him and fellow Nippon Ishin no Kai member Hirofumi Yoshimura with a background that looks almost identical to the pattern on Tanjiro’s haori coat. The font used to write Ishin no Kai (維新の会) also bears an incredibly strong resemblance to the one used to write "Kimetsu no Yaiba" (鬼滅の刃) in the series’ official logo.
Given the generally apolitical atmosphere of most Japanese entertainment media (at least as far as in not directly commenting on specific, contemporary real-world political figures and entities), the blatant attempt to piggyback on "Demon Slayer’s" goodwill has raised eyebrows among fans, with several voicing their displeasure online while loudly wondering if the series’ manga publisher Shueisha, or any of the various companies with rights claims to the anime adaptation, can take legal action. However, even with publishers attempting to assert greater control over derivative use of their content, that might not be so easy to do, according to a Shueisha representative who commented on the poster, while stating that it was not produced under license from the company or with its official blessing.
First off, you can’t really copyright something so basic and fundamental as a checkerboard pattern. While it’s having a resurgence in popularity thanks to Demon Slayer, the aesthetic obviously existed long before the manga ever started. Commonly called the Ichimatsu pattern in Japan, its name comes from 18th century kabuki actor Sanogawa Ichimatsu, who wore clothing with checkerboard patterns on the stage and kicked off an Edo-period apparel trend among fashionable ladies of the day.
▼ Sanogawa Ichimatsu
OK, but surely the color combination in the poster is a direct allusion to "Demon Slayer," right? Even here, though, Mitsumoto has an out, as Ishin no Kai already uses various shades of green as the organization’s image color.
That would leave the justification for an official complaint by "Demon Slayer’s" rights holders hinging on the font and stylized circle, and maybe the fact that the political poster uses the phrase “Set your heart on fire” (心を燃やせ), which was also featured on the poster for "Mugen Train." Again, though, the Shueisha rep says that with “Set your heart on fire” being a short, commonly used phrase, it would be hard for the company to claim ownership of it, and thus it’s not really in a position to lodge a formal grievance against Mitsumoto or his campaign team.
The situation ties in to another issue with the pattern. There’s been a sudden increase in the number of products such as handkerchiefs, smartphone cases, and other accessories with a black-and-green checkerboard motif, as well as the fabric patterns worn by supporting characters Nezuko and Zenitsu, since "Demon Slayer’s" popularity took off, and while many of them aren’t officially licensed, there’s not a lot that Shueisha can do about them. Especially with political posters not being a commercial product, it’s unlikely the publisher can stop Mitsumoto from continuing to ape "Demon Slayer’s" design sense, but with the negative reaction the posters have been getting online, the politician might want to reconsider whether they’re actually making him a more attractive candidate to the young demographic he’s targeting.
Sources: Business Journal, Jin, Kyo-ya
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