Japan’s manga and anime artists emerged victorious this morning (1 December) after Mitsubishi Pencils reversed its decision to discontinue a coloured pencil range preferred by the cartoon industry.

The original decision, which Mitsubishi published on its website in mid-November, caused widespread panic among Japanese cartoonists and a run on stationery shops to stock up on their favourite pencils.  

Animation is a multi-billion dollar industry in Japan and Mitsubishi’s hard lead and fine point pencils are considered the best in the cartoon business for drawing cells. Some studios even stipulate that Mitsubishi Pencils must be used when checking and correcting animation sequences.

However, demand for coloured pencils has dwindled as a result of the rise of computer animation. Declining birth-rates in Japan are also thought to be responsible for fewer orders from Japanese schools.

Faced with a choice between maintaining the loyalty of its long-serving cartoonist customers or facing a changed marketplace, Mitsubishi planned to go the way of brands like Sony, which discontinued Betamax video tape production as late as last month.

As part of its new strategy, Mitsubishi was to scrap the entire range of coloured pencils except red. Outraged by the proposal, the Japan Animator Creators Association (JACA) launched an official complaint. It had even begun preparing an internet survey on artists’ demand for coloured pencils as part of their appeal to Mitsubishi. JACA Secretary Daisuke Okeda insisted that the effect of the decision was not to be downplayed:

“The impact on animation studios is not small. Most artists use that pencil”

“We may not be able to draw small details. That may affect quality and production efficiency.”

Echoing the JACA’s concern, artists flocked to stationery stores to stock up following Mitsubishi’s announcement. Blue and orange were said it be in hot demand at Sekaido, one of Japan’s biggest art supply shops.

But the pencil-frenzy subsided almost as soon as it had begun. Backtracking on its original statement, Mitsubishi announced that it would continue to produce blue, orange and yellow-green pencils, its most popular colours, while terminating the rest of its line.

This will be welcome news for Japan’s manga and anime community, which is still in mourning following the death of one of Japan’s most influential cartoonists, Shigeru Mizuki, yesterday (30 November).