I tweeted a link to this picture earlier in the week: the new Dragonball stamps due out next month from Japan Post. I’ve mentioned other releases in the same series before: yes, this is a series, an ongoing homage on sticky-backed paper to the role of anime in Japan’s pop culture.
It’s not the only such tribute paid by Japan Post to one of the nation’s best-known exports. I thought it would be fun to post a slideshow with a selection of Japan’s postal tributes to its animation and comic superstars. (You can judge any otaku’s old-school credentials by how many characters they recognise.)
The Anime Hero/Heroine series started in 2005. It’s produced in co-operation with the Association of Japanese Animations, established by studios and companies to promote the production and marketing of Japan’s animation worldwide. The Dragonball sheet, available in Post Offices all over Japan from 23 January, is the seventeenth issue in the series.
Japan Post also releases other anime and manga related stamps, as well as a host of stationery items. “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka was commemorated on Japanese postage stamps in 1997. Current anime craze K-On! not only has stamps devoted to the anime, but also a set depicting the real-life school on which the high school in the anime is based. Characters and shows without a Western fanbase – Hyotanjima, Anpanman, Norakuro – remind us of how much we still don’t know about anime and manga, especially older material.
When Shonen Sunday and Weekly Shonen magazines celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2009, two sheets of stamps showed a selection of characters from each magazine in full colour. (Black and white art works for manga, but most postage stamp designers avoid it like the plague.)
Other forms of animation and character merchandising are not forgotten. Godzilla and Gamera both featured on the second sheet of the “Japanese Movies” series released in 2007. The Transformers movies got their own commemorative covers in the same year. Videogame Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan) got its own stamps in 2006. Hello Kitty has appeared on many stamps, featuring with her boyfriend Daniel as a Heian princess in July 2008 and most recently starring alongside Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom) in the PhilaNippon 2011 commemorative series.
Comic characters from other lands are also stuck on Japanese envelopes. Snoopy got his own stamp sheet in 2010, Peter Rabbit appeared on two sheets this year. The sheer inventiveness of Japanese stamps, with their varied shapes and colours and their beautiful sheet design, is a visual delight. It’s often hard to break the elegance of the design and put the stamps to their intended purpose.