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

Question:
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?


Answer:
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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8 Responses to “Ask John: Is Last Resort a Silent Service Rip-off?”

  1. YotaruVegeta Says:

    Maybe they’d at least wait a month until the show comes out to reserve judgement instead of jumping the gun. You can’t just read a plot synopsis, watch a trailer and say “Aha!”

  2. GATS Says:

    “Kodansha would have to either definitively prove that Last Resort series creator Shawn Ryan deliberately copied Kawaguchi’s earlier work,”

    He worked on a Whedon show, so that’s a good lead.

    “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.”

    Perhaps, but Silent Service did indirectly come to the U.S. via sample pages featured in Fred Schodt’s Dreamland Japan, as well as the anime. And he’s been working prominently in the biz since ’02, when the anime/manga boom was at its peak.

    “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.”

    If they wanted to do their own live-action remake of Silent Service, of course it would hurt them. Look what Roy Lee said about Battle Royale after Hunger Games.

  3. YotaruVegeta Says:

    Being involved in Entertainment at the same time other entertainment exists does not mean you are aware of and have studied up on all forms of entertainment. Is Silent Service a well known anime? Of course, there’s always a chance the creators of Last Resort have seen Silent Service, but it’s not a given. Silent Service is not Akira, it’s not Ghost in the Shell, it’s not a Miyazaki movie. A lot of anime fans don’t even know what Silent Service is about. I’ve never heard about it myself until today.

    So this is going to keep happening, isn’t it? Before this, we had Hunger Games, and now this.

  4. GATS Says:

    Yotaru: “Being involved in Entertainment at the same time other entertainment exists does not mean you are aware of and have studied up on all forms of entertainment. Is Silent Service a well known anime”

    True, it’s more obscure than other titles, but then that’s what makes it perfect for pilfering. Though I will note that there are also American characters in the original manga. At least according to a bad translation of the Wikipedia summary of Silent Service.

    “So this is going to keep happening, isn’t it? Before this, we had Hunger Games, and now this.”

    Well The Host does seem like a rip-off of Parasyte…They apparently even use the word, albeit spelled normally. http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/pdf/thehost_chapter4.pdf

  5. GATS Says:

    Another thing I realized is that, even if Ryan hadn’t heard of Silent Service, Kawaguchi’s Eagle *was* getting mentions in mainstream publications. So that would’ve been the first place to find out about Kawaguchi and his works in general.

  6. YotaruVegeta Says:

    Well, um, GATS, if The Host involved parasites, then they can use the word parasite. It’s a word.

    Yes, Ryan could’ve read a mainstream publication, or maybe he came up with it from any number of sources, even *SHOCK* came up with it on his own. Is Ryan an anime fan? Has a passing interest in anime? Knows about anime outside of just being aware that Japanese animation exists?

  7. GATS Says:

    Yotaru: “Yes, Ryan could’ve read a mainstream publication, or maybe he came up with it from any number of sources, even *SHOCK* came up with it on his own.”

    Perhaps, but some of the details appear to be pretty similar. They’re both nuclear subs, for example. Although Ryan would probably cite a Wikipedia entry for Silent Service saying it was “based off a true story”. =p

    “Is Ryan an anime fan? Has a passing interest in anime? Knows about anime outside of just being aware that Japanese animation exists?”

    They usually aren’t, for some reason. =p

  8. YotaruVegeta Says:

    UPDATE:

    Entertainment Weekly: So how did this idea come about?

    Gajdusek: My father was a WWII vet and I always wanted to do something in the submarine world. The modern version of these subs holds the same power that defines a nuclear nation. It’s such a powerful object.

    Ryan: The idea of a global community connected by the threat of war appealed to me. The biggest thing we talked about for a long time was [the decision to defy the nuclear launch order]. We didn’t think these characters were secretly peaceniks. The people who get on these submarines are prepared to do that. So we came up with an order that’s technically correct but delivered in an irregular way… We talked to captains and were told captains are actually told to question these situations. There’s a reason why these decisions are not computerized, like in War Games.

    Gajdusek: Getting that moment right made the series right.

    http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/09/27/shawn-ryan-last-resort/

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