Ask John: Is Last Resort a Silent Service Rip-off?

Why is Kodansha holding back on suing ABC over Last Resort? The premise is a blatant rip-off of Silent Service, and yet they appear to be sitting on their thumbs. Have they deferred to their U.S. branch for American legal matters, and the subsidiary doesn’t want to send in lawyers unless dealing with scantalators? Or is it a matter of the manga hypothetically not being registered in America, and thus Kodansha may not have a case?

I first need to (re-) emphasize that I’m not a lawyer nor even an expert on law. So my layman’s perception is that in order for Japanese publisher Kodansha to successfully win a copyright lawsuit against American television broadcaster ABC for similarities between the upcoming submarine thriller television series Last Resort and Kaiji Kawaguchi’s award-winning 1998 manga Chinmoku no Kantai, Kodansha would have to either definitively prove that Last Resort series creator Shawn Ryan deliberately copied Kawaguchi’s earlier work, with the intention of profiting from Kawaguchi’s work, or prove that the American television series will have a quantifiable negative impact on sales of Chinmoku no Kantai manga or anime. I personally envision both options particularly difficult to defend.

Unless Mr. Ryan publicly admits that he was familiar with Kawaguchi’s concept and consciously copied it, a charge of copyright infringement may be difficult to prove because the idea of a military submarine declaring independence from its sponsor nation doesn’t seem like a concept so distinctively unique that it couldn’t possibly have been developed a second time by coincidence. Mr. Ryan doesn’t have the legal right to plagiarize a Japanese comic artist’s concept, but he does have a right to invent his own narrative idea that just coincidentally bears similarities to another earlier concept created by another artist. Kodansha may also have extreme difficulty convincing a judge that this upcoming American-produced and broadcast live-action TV series will compromise the revenue generation or reputation of an unrelated but similar concept produced and distributed in entirely different mediums, for a different market, in a foreign country, more than a decade earlier. The sales of Chinmoku no Kantai manga or anime in Japan or internationally aren’t going to suddenly drop drastically due to the premiere of the American live-action TV series Last Resort. Therefore, no harm, no foul. The similarity between Chinmoku no Kantai and Last Resort, so far, appears to be entirely coincidental, and coincidence isn’t arguable in court.


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