Recently, Hong Kong’s police has been accused of artistic plagiarism after it posted an image of its new anti-fraud mascot named “The Little Grape.” The mascot — which sports a green checkered robe, wields a katana, sprouts dark brown hair, and has a scar on the upper-left area of its forehead — seemed to bear an uncanny resemblance to the lead character of the popular anime Demon Slayer.
At least, that was what netizens thought. HK’s police department could very well have just run into a bad case of the coincidence. Grapes, after all, come in all shapes and sizes; a grape can very well have brown hair. And perhaps the grape represented in the post just had a very bad fall onto its left temple, thus producing that nasty scar. Not to mention that checkered shirts are all the rage nowadays as youngsters adopt increasingly-hipster fashion standards.
We have no proof that HK police’s obviously very-qualified designer stole ideas from Demon Slayer. So, let’s lean back, chillax a bit, and have a sane conversation about art that happens to look like other art.
Simba the White Lion
More than half a century ago, Osamu Tezuka created Jungle Emperor (localized in North America as Kimba the White Lion). The manga features a royal family of white lions that meets a tragic fate; the father dies at the hands of hunters and the mother drowns, leaving a cub to survive the cold cruel world all by himself. This cub, named Kimba, sees his mom in the stars and learns from non-lions like an old baboon and a bird — eventually growing up with a desire to forge peace between all animals.
The manga received an anime series that ran from 1965 to 1966, and since then the TV series has been localized for broadcast throughout the world, including in the United States beginning September 1966. Simply put, Kimba had a widespread-enough distribution for many people — including other animation studios — to be aware of its existence.
Except, the creators of 1994’s The Lion King were not aware. Completely and honestly by accident, Disney made an animated movie where the protagonist — who happens to be a lion cub named Simba — loses his father under tragic circumstances. Forced to survive a cold cruel world all by himself, Simba learns under the tutelage of some non-lions and eventually receives crucial instruction from an old baboon, which leads him down the path of becoming a leader in the animal kingdom and forging peace in his lands. All the while, his dad gazes happily on him from the sky.
People were understandably upset at these similarities and the lack of proper crediting on Disney’s end. But let’s lean back and chillax for a second. After all, Disney had no idea that it was making something so similar to Kimba. In addition, Kimba’s a white lion, and Simba’s a normie one. Big difference. Also, while both Kimba and Simba have a bird in their lives, Kimba’s bird is a parrot and Simba’s bird is a red-billed hornbill.
Once again, big differences. Surely, if Disney were copying from Tezuka, Simba’s bird (Zazu) would also have to be a parrot. Plus, The Lion King‘s co-director Rob Minkoff said that he “frankly” wasn’t familiar with Kimba, so we should definitely believe him.
Unsurprisingly, art is hard. It especially takes lots of skill and experience to conjure up something from your imagination; ergo, artists may sometimes resort to the act of “tracing” — basically copying another work of art — to make up for their lack of imagination. With the internet now being a massive source for images, anyone can easily trace art. And, at the same time, anyone can get accused of tracing by hawk-eyed netizens.
For example, in 2018 famed Dragon Ball artist Toyotarou released a cool illustration for V Jump magazine that showed Dragon Ball‘s Goku doing an epic battle pose against Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s Yuya Sakaki — only for people to point out that the pose that he’s chosen for Goku resembles that of Captain America in a comic scene.
Oops / Images courtesy of V Jump and Marvel Comics
Internet detectives reportedly located Toyotarou’s initial sketch for the Goku pose as well, the sketch looking even more damning when merged with Captain America’s illustration. An unlucky case of the coincidence? Or is Toyotarou a true Disney apprentice? Whatever the answer, Captain America artist Dexter Soy didn’t take offense, instead posting on Twitter that “a part of me feels flattered” while “at the same time I’m scratching my head.”
Opposite from the muscled bara spectrum, No Game No Life author Yuu Kamiya has repeatedly faced accusations of tracing poses for his illustrations and cover art. When his art gets merged with or placed alongside the other artworks in question — as internet detectives have the tendency to do — Kamiya does come across as, er, on the allegedly lazier side of things.
As seen in the picture above — courtesy of a perceptive netizen on Amino — No Game No Life character Stephanie Dola has all her anatomical joints aligned with the Vocaloid Hatsune Miku’s joints, making the Stephanie illustration sus indeed. BUT, perhaps the illustrations match merely because they reflect how people look in real life. Perhaps Stephanie and Miku here just happen to be performing leg stretches, where one requires good and precise form to avoid injury. Kamiya simply couldn’t have drawn the stretch in any other way without misinforming his audience about exercise necessities.
So what happens when people get called out for being too similar? For those who already have money and clout, not much actually; Kamiya’s and The Lion King‘s popularities have never waned after all these years. But we should still exercise caution when pointing fingers, because there’s always the chance that an artist just got unlucky and invented the wheel after it’s already been invented. Great minds think alike! And sometimes great minds might draw alike.
Plus, in the art world, while you should never surreptitiously trace/copy another’s work of art, you can still reference others’ art (a.k.a. looking at other people’s art to derive inspiration from) and draw homages (where your art looks similar enough to another’s illustration to clearly be a tribute). Imitation is a form of flattery, after all.
But if you really need to plagiarize a cute picture, character, fruit, or movie series, I advise that you put lots of effort into making your stuff just different enough to avoid attracting the attention of those perceptive keyboard warriors out there. Allow me to show the way:
Go forth, live long, and perspire!
Viet is a Californian grad student with a penchant for burgers, anime, and snark. When he’s not writing or illustrating, he’s maining Doomfist and being generally a pain in Overwatch.