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Tokyo's Anime House


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When it comes to anime in Utah, the majority of people have to venture to a media store to find a selection that is usually sub-par.  That is, if they have what you're looking for.  But a good portion of hardcore anime fans know the secret to getting good material, and it's only on the east end of 3300 South.


--- For almost three years now, Tokyo's Anime House has been selling some of the best in Japanese anime you can find.  Selling popular titles dubbed for American television, while also giving people access to material not even shown in the states.  Along with films, manga books and even food items, Tokyo's has managed to become one of the major hotspots on the west coast for anime entertainment, all while never having to leave or advertise beyond the Wasatch Front.  I got an opportunity to talk with owner Matthew Nelson about the store, his views on anime in general, and a few other topics that came to mind.  All while showing off the new look his store is undergoing.

Matthew Nelson

  Hey Matthew, first off, tell us a little about yourself.

Matthew: Er..a.. Born Matthew S. Nelson. A homegrown Utah boy with a compulsive adoration for abstract media and and Japanese subculture. Web programmer and graphic designer in his Mid-twenties, with an obsession for modern art and a haircut you can set your watch to. Favorite part of Job: making Tokyo's television commercials.

Gavin:  For those who don't know, what is Tokyo's Anime House?

Matthew: Tokyo's Anime House is a boutique specializing in anime and Japanese trends. We carry a catalog of over one-hundred complete anime series, a diverse selection of Jpop, anime and video games soundtracks, imported figures, Asian cinema, Japaneses hair care products, clothing, plushes, swords, charms, key chains, snacks and more. Its like Akihabara puked in our store.

Gavin:  How did the idea first come around to open an anime shop?

Matthew: Tokyo's sparked after being burned out from corporate exploitation in my late teens and early 20's. My friends and I were teaching courses on design software for a local corporation and our creative interest was just being smothered. One day we were like, "screw this, we're doing free design work on a McDonald's wage for some of the clients. Lets just start our own firm and get some office space". Then someone chimed in that if our office was in a retail space we could also have a store front. At the time a couple of us were into anime and Japanese music so we figured we'd put together a little storefront and use it as a medium to show off our design skills and maybe also try and make some extra money. We learned that a store requires a lot more space, amongst other things, than we initially anticipated.

Gavin:  Was it difficult to get the store up and running, or was it easy going?

Matthew: Definitely the hardest and most stressful project I have ever been a part of. To be fair its because we had no idea what we were doing in the beginning. We spent more time designing the store and our media than we did selecting the product and doing market research. I think our biggest obstacle was trying to hunt down merchandise for our collectors that wasn't already in Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble. That took several translators and a serious crash course in importing. Today I am confident in saying we often carry items you can't find for 2 states, but it wasn't easy getting there, and with Americas international politics, it hasn't been a cakewalk staying there either.

Gavin:  Now for some who doesn't know, the majority of the anime in the store isn't the typical stuff chilled out to kids, it's more for older teens and young adults. Was that by design or simply because you didn't want to go that route?

Matthew: I think that's more circumstantial than anything else actually. The truth of the matter is a lot of our anime is chilled to kids, just, Japanese kids. Their culture has better equipped them to handle what we might consider immoral or violent content, what with having nuclear bombs being dropped on them and seppeku being part of their recent history. Most of the anime we sell is stuff that is played on TV every day in Japan, for anyone to watch. Since animated entertainment in the states still stops at Family Guy and South Park, that leaves a broad catalog of genres untouched. Japanese viewers can tune into animated programs about action, sports, drama, horror, music, and comedy. I just don't think middle-age America can watch an action or sports anime because it seems silly to them because thats how they saw Bugs Bunny. These are full fledged engaging television shows and movies that range a very broad spectrum of subject matter and I think our catalog reflects that. So I wouldn't say our selection occurred via our design, I would say it occurred more via necessity.

Gavin:  Do you believe you're missing out by not selling it?

Matthew: Companies like Wal-Mart are going make money on anything they think they can bring over that appeals to our youth audience. Pokemon, Digimon, Yugioh, and Dragon Ball. The sad part is they regularly edit the original content, removing material that they think will not be appropriate for American youth or their parents moral views anyway. If I am missing out on making money by not selling edited and commercially adapted shows that are reconstructed to make money for a corporation whilst misinterpreting Japanese art... then I'm fine missing out. Ha, sorry I'll get off my soapbox now.

Gavin:  You've also stayed away from more "adult" anime.  Was it a business choice or a personal choice? 

Matthew: That one was a personal choice. It could be good for business in terms of making money, but I believe that it compromises the true purpose of the store. We want to offer our clients a new medium for more unexplored and abstract forms of story telling. Reflections of another cultures embracing of the digital age. When people come in thats what we want them to find. Not some old perv from their neighborhood, drooling over a title with some scantily clad anime chick, claiming to "share an anime interest".

Gavin:  Do you believe that should even be considered anime or categorized as more of an adult medium?

Matthew: Tough call. It is animated. Anime does mean animated in Japan. I think of it this way, when we're talking about "adult movies", do we lump them in as just movies? Hell no. It may be a movie but we call them porn. Thats what adult anime is. Porn. It really ticks me off when someone who has never seen animation outside of Disney has the gall to say "All that anime stuff is is just porno anyway". I run into these bigots frequently. These people should either be ignored or duct taped to a chair and Clockwork Orange forced to watch Akira and Paprika in sequesion.

Gavin:  Now you don't just sell anime, you also sell Manga books.  Did you want to include it from the start, or did you feel it would go hand-in-hand with the DVD's?

Matthew: Very much so. Japanese Manga is another incredible manifestation of Japans talent of telling stories using a graphic medium. Their almost like little screenplays for anime. But without any of the production cost. So you end up have an intense selection of different material to choose from. Japanese Manga also breaks the American Super Hero Comic mold. Regularly you will read a manga for a few books before its clear if there is even a protagonist in the story. Best of all, you can sense how unbridled the authors imagination is. Comic books in the states just seem to appeal to adolescent boys. Strangely the manga market in the states is directed largely to adolescent girls! Theres some manga for everyone of course, but its been interesting to see girls jones'ing for the next issue of Fruitsbasket the way I used to for Wolverine. Though now I can't get over how awesome some of their manga for guys is. No censoring for grocery store racks! Highly recommend are Berserk and Blade of the immortal.     

Gavin:  Do you feel there are any adequate book stores that sell Manga in Utah, or are you filling the void, so to speak?

Matthew: We thought we were going to fill the void on manga, but manga is a suffering industry for small business. Even comic book stores here have a tough time getting supplied. We carry some rare titles the good stuff, but you can find a selection of manga at most major bookstores. We are offering used manga coming this August however. This is going to be fantastic I think for hardcore fans. Trade in used books for credit and also used books offered at a discounted price. Not to shabby right?

Gavin:  Another part of the store is that you do imports of toys and food direct from Japan.  I can understand the toys, but why the food?

Matthew: Try the food! It's awesome! Not to mention addictive. I have been weening of off Hi Chew for months now.

Gavin:  You also plan out screenings of films.  Can you tell us a little about what brought that idea on and what you've got coming up?

Matthew: I am happy to say Tokyo's summer cinema screenings will be held at the Tower Theate starting Saturday the 26th. I wish I could say more about it than why the hell haven't they been doing this already! I have watched countless Japanese movies where I thought "why didn't this go to theaters?!" I am just now getting the ball rolling. Come and watch everyone! We are showing nothing but concentrated Japanese awesome. Included will be "The Rebuild Of Evangelion" and "5 Centimeters A Second". For dates and more details check our website.

Gavin:  One more area that the store probably isn't known for is the custom artwork on the walls.  Who does all that and what goes into making a design?

Matthew: Ha. Actually the store is currently undergoing remodeling and that artwork has all been sold or taken down. It was done by local artists and my cousin Holly Cobb. She is exceptionally talented and does custom work!

Gavin:  Since we're on the subject of the redesign, tell us about the first set up, especially the metal logos inside the store.

Matthew: Cool right? I just installed neon behind them and now they glow. Its mad dope. The old metal signs were a concept we initially worked with that incorporated a Neo-Tokyo post bomb kinda feel. We made them at my grandfathers shop. I love them, I had to bring them into the new design. The first design was meant to emulate a cyberpunk underground feel, similar to the bar in Akira. A lot of metal and black.

Gavin:  What brought about the change and what can we expect to see in the new look?

Matthew: When I went to Japan, I remember think how awesome their retail interiors were. The design was so sleek and edgy. So I was kinda dwelling on that when I got involved with a few web accounts. I didn't go into the store for about 2 weeks. I showed up one day and looked around realized the product was Japanese but the store was just kind dingy, dark, and well... not Japanese anyway. The remodel has incorporated elements of modern Japanese retail design and I've tried to add the ambiance of a well lighted boutique. Lighter colors should be refreshing to our regular customers. This is a work in progress but I think that you find it offers a cleaner brighter shopping experience and is making room for a larger, easier to shop inventory.

Gavin:  A little on the genre itself, what are your thoughts on the current state of anime, both good and bad?

Matthew: The bad points are marginal. In my opinion, anime is too strongly emulating itself right now. Same characters are being animated in the same setting with mildly different plot lines. Half a shows budget seems to go to animating the shine on a girls legs or movement of giant robots. Also, the good stories they have for anime are taken from manga where they are stretching content to fit a season of television episodes. It leaves the story feeling watered down. The good points are awesome. New animation techniques and the more fluent incorporation of computer generated graphics make for more mind blowing action, even more intricate backgrounds, and more engaging character movement. The Japanese interest in anime is finally evolving to include new adaptations of old Japanese stories like Mushi-Shi and Samurai 7, and setting the stage for new abstract art styles that would not have had the chance to be animated previously, like Mononoke, (not to be confused with Princess Mononoke).

Gavin:  Do you enjoy cable channels doing blocks of anime, or do you wish more for an all-anime channel?

Matthew: I like the IFC channels broadcast of anime. I am all for anything that is a broadcast of the original unedited show with the original voices. The more of it on TV the better.

Gavin:  Is there anything you think could be done to make it better?

Matthew: As far as the original production, I wish they would just make more of it and include their own translation for English audiences. As far as American releases, I'd say don't get me started but.. it's too late, here I go. Most English dubs are atrocious and are done by the same 10 lousy voice actors. Domestic release companies hold no open auditions for any new talented actors and constantly employ emotionless nickelodeon dropouts. They edit the content depending on what demographic that they think will bring in the most money per show. They mistranslated shows to include crappy slogans they can market on t-shirts. They don't include audio effects for their dubbed voices or effects, for instances like echoes, monster voice distortion, and reverb. and In the case of Dragonball they don't translate it at all, make up the dialog as they go along, slow down fight scenes to make episodes longer, replace violent content with previous scenes of conversation only to re-release the series as "unedited" some 6 years later, the way it should have been done in the first place, so that they can make even more money off of starving college students. As you can tell I am still a little bitter. Ha, so really I don't know what could be done to make it better, I just wish American release companies would stop making it worse.

Gavin:  What can we expect from Tokyo's in the future?

Matthew: Hopefully more movie showings and some sponsored cultural events to wake up Salt Lakes visual interest a little. I also am working hard to increase our stock of Japanese toys and even cosmetics! Also, we should be buying and selling used manga and domestic DVD's starting August.

Gavin:  Anything you'd like to plug?

Matthew: Come and see our film festivals at the Tower Theater! Wednesday nights Starting July 30th! Get your dose Japanese culture and hyper entertainment.