Blockchain technology is lending new commercial value to Japanese manga and anime culture, turning illustrations into genuine artworks, raising money for artists and fostering the growth of the market and related businesses.
The recent rise of NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, is helping to verify the provenance and authenticity of digital art, something that was previously difficult because digital works are easily copied. New companies are springing up to build platforms and assure buyers that the pieces they buy are genuine and can be tracked securely.
One Piece, a megahit manga series of pirate tales that has appeared in a weekly magazine since 1997, published its 100th volume in September. In all, the series has sold more than 490m copies, which has previously set a record for the most printed comic series by a single author. To mark these achievements, publisher Shueisha has selected 10 classic scenes from the series to turn into luxury prints. They are priced at nearly ¥500,000 ($4,500) each.
A lottery was held for the right to purchase one of up to 20 limited-edition prints of each illustration. The lottery, which ran from September 25 to October 3, attracted more than 3,000 entries in the first two days. Not only are the pieces printed by a skilled artisan on 100 per cent cotton paper, their authenticity is also guaranteed with a blockchain transaction history. Each print comes with a paper certificate with an IC tag that allows the owner to see when the artwork has changed hands by reading the tag with a smartphone.
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“Blockchain is often associated with digital art pieces to ensure their value, but we would like to work on the technology with physical art pieces,” said Masashi Okamoto, who has led a project called Shueisha Manga-Art Heritage since March. He believes that registering information on the artworks’ owners will “help original manga illustrations raise their artistic reputation, even abroad”, as many entries for the One Piece illustration lottery have come from Asia, Europe and Oceania, Okamoto said.
As manga artists often illustrate for weekly publications, little effort has been made to preserve their original drawings. There are artists who decline to take their original illustrations back from publishers; other drawings are gathering dust in storerooms.
“Preserving these mangas for the next generation is necessary,” Okamoto said, adding that he started the project as a way to make use of a digital manga archive that he launched in 2007. He estimates the domestic market…