Reiterating the Problem

Why am I doing this? Probably because I am conditioned to do so upon certain keywords. It is as if after x period of time since the last regurgitation, upon hearing a certain key phrase (or in the viral sense, when a certain idea enters the mind) I will then attempt to express a certain thing. This thing, well, you can read below.

So, like, why do I think Anime no Chikara is important? I think it is important because it’s kind of neat attempt at a programming block. But more because it is an effort to create original anime. I mean, why don’t people ask why is Yamakan making an original via Fractale, as a way to “fix the industry” he ranted on about, for example? It’s not an arbitrary thing.

When we talk about media mix business strategies, we’re talking about the usual deal where you take some kind of idea and create it across one or more media. So let’s say you have a novel, and you make an anime based on it, then you make a radio show, and video games, and manga, what have you. You make money from one idea via many different outlets. Then you can spin it off the traditional way, with figures and toys and other merchandise.

The thing is, Japan is very good at this. By good I mean it within certain sense of the notion of “good,” where we can take any idea and cheaply produce a line of things you can sell across different mediums. It’s good marginal value. And if you know anything about Tezuka’s Curse you would understand how that can be a problem: the thing is cheap to create compared to how much it is sold for, but the people making the buck are those who are selling, not those who are creating.

Put it in other words–when we want to value and reward creativity, we have to accordingly pay for it. When that creative process is unhinged from the copyright mechanism, it will be subject to market pressure, especially when it is butting heads against other monopolies (well, copyrights). If we look at the global export of anime-based medium from Japan versus every other mass medium except maybe video games, you can see how it is disproportional when comparing the money and thought space it occupies domestically versus overseas. But in Japan, the copyright financing structure protects manga and print publishers, and hangs animation houses to dry.

It is a very different situation, in other words, when Japan adopts some manga or light novel for a media mix project, than your latest Hollywood comic book adaptation or resurrecting your childhood in another inferior summer blockbuster. The latter is largely motivated by marketing and playing safe, the former is more about who controls the copyright and who is being paid with lucrative royalty contracts or added sales from advertising.

For example, when Ume-sensei gets her cute, sunlit manga adopted, she probably also gets a pretty penny from the production committee. But what does Shaft get out of that deal? [SHAFT! /zing] Well, it’s not a bad deal for them, after all, because animation studios get their money from anime sales, and Hidamari Sketch sold above the Manabi line.

But there is the problem. The animation production team is probably the #1 responsible party in producing everything we love about HidaSketch on this side of the Pacific. The manga is more like added sales: without it, Ume Aoki’s art school adventure will just sit as yet another4koma gag manga in a sea of them. [Imagine making the case for K-ON if you want to talk about this inequity.] When we buy the manga or a cute figure of a worm, it’s not because of Ume-sensei’s manga. It’s because some producer types realized this title will make good commercial sense as an anime, and is a good match with the talents at Shaft. I’m hoping you are well-familiar with the whole anime-as-paid-advertising thing, yeah? It feels like we like the commercial more than the thing it is selling us.

Of course, that’s partly because the commercial is the thing it is selling us: If you are the anime publisher and the anime studio, whose income is increased with the sale of the anime itself, you do have an incentive there. It’s just that being the non-copyright-owner of the original material, they have really no stake in the production committee beyond the anime itself. Everything on top of that is at the mercy of the various parties splitting that pizza-pie-chart of net revenue from any given joint production venture. It’s like going to a shop for their kanban musume, but she is actually the owner’s daughter and gets no bonus for sitting pretty and dealing with creeps like us.

To contrast, for an anime original like Sora no Woto, we’re talking about someone who puts money behind the animation production team as the main copyright owner. It is still financed in a committee structure–for example, Azone probably could care less which entity owns what in the committee–but that extra royalty money from licensing merch is now going back into animation production, rather than keeping some dead tree media afloat. And even so, a media mix of anime original can result in novelization and manga spinoffs that will also help sell dead tree stuff. It’s probably more commercially sound to publish a tie-in than something entirely original, too, for the manga publisher.

The alternative, you know, is do what Bandai does. Unless the financing structure for anime in Japan changes, we’re going to be dealing with people whining about moe or stagnation or how anime used to be better until Kingdom Come. But who knows, maybe it is easier to fix people’s ignorance than to fix the way Japan does business.

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8 responses to “Reiterating the Problem

  • otou-san

    To contrast, for an anime original like Sora no Woto, we’re talking about someone who puts money behind the animation production team as the main copyright owner

    Isn’t that the whole point behind Anime No Chikara in general? You get Sony bankrolling original projects and producing them themselves (A-1) — I agree that it seems like a great model; the problem people seem to have with Anime No Chikara has been the strength of those originals. I was a big SnW fan but it’s far and away the best of them so far, and I’d question whether even it is capable of producing this horizontal market you’re talking about. And… Night Raid?

  • omo

    There are plenty of crappy original anime, and plenty of good original anime. Likewise there are plenty of crappy manga or light novel adaptations and plenty of good ones. I am making no claim of correlation between the origin of screenplay/source material and the end result.

    All I am saying is original projects have a different finance structure than what I characterizes as “ads for novel/game/manga” type productions. And the former is something we need to encourage in terms of actually rewarding animation for…their animation. Rather than, say, rewarding good animation by buying something that doesn’t trickle into the animator’s pockets.

    I am singling out Anime no Chikara just because it’s something people are familiar with. Same with Fractale. Same with, heh, the next to Noitamina shows in the Spring. Or better yet, Gonzo. Or I could point to Cowboy Bebop or something. It doesn’t matter, except I’m sure people will support for more Cowboy Bebop, for reasons beyond merely how it is a milk cow for Watanabe. Or how Evangelion is a milk cow for Gainax (think about it).

  • Mystlord

    An interesting perspective on this business model that the Japanese seem to have. At the same time though, it’s hard to break away from this model because of the rather small market that these people are appealing to. They have to try to milk every penny out of an existing franchise before moving on, because frankly there aren’t that many people interested in anime. When you look at DVD rankings and stuff, most anime goods peak out at around 15k (maybe. I can’t give you exact numbers, nor do I know them). And there are considerable costs in animating a series to begin with. Perhaps the problem here is that there really just isn’t enough demand in terms of pure numbers to justify pouring money into anime after anime, especially since anime companies now all can look to Madhouse as an example of how this business model fails.

  • omo

    Uh, Not sure what you are going on about here. Madhouse is hardly an example of where this fails, considering a lot of their stuff is not original, and they’ve seen a lot of success over the years as well. Gonzo on the other hand… Well, maybe you should define what you mean by success and failure, because I didn’t talk about that. I personally don’t think market validation is worth talking about in this context because that is a much more complex issue.

    I think the point that there are pros and cons to changing the finance structure is well taken and thank you for bringing it up. But right now even if you take a large risk in producing an anime (and I mean any anime, not just the otaku stuff), from the perspective of an American media market project, it’s a relatively inexpensive gamble. Part of a big problem within the anime industry is precisely because everything is so cheap to make, no money gets trickle down to the actual animators.

    I mean, the option on All You Need Is Kill film is $3M USD. That’s like the full production cost of a 2-cour anime series. And this is just the freaking option!!!

  • Mystlord

    No, a lot of what Madhouse produces isn’t original, but their problem is that they rarely take on series that have existing media mix projects out there. Their business model has been fine throughout the years only because they’ve managed to hit upon certain gold mines, but their recent performance has shown that this rather haphazard business model couldn’t last. And by “failure”, I just mean that Madhouse has run into financial difficulties.

    The problem still remains that good original animes are extremely hard to pull off, and that for a lot of established manga, there is already a large fanbase to draw upon. Furthermore, you are guaranteed a certain level of profit because you know the audience. Anime originals are the biggest grey card, and there really aren’t a lot of legitimately good scriptwriters that know how to appeal to the anime community. The failure of Anime no Chikara is a testament to this fact.

    One problem here is that the talent just isn’t there. Scriptwriters are mostly accustomed to just adapting existing material as opposed to creating new material. So you’re likely to have a smaller profit margin with original anime than with just adaptations of existing works. The “gamble” isn’t a problem when you have established staff that have proven that they know how to write a story. But there just aren’t enough people with this know how.

    Furthermore, if the number that you stated above really is correct, then there clearly is a large amount of money for good scriptwriters to actually write Light Novels and manga, and hope that they can earn some more money from the options. The financial issue probably isn’t the ONLY issue at hand here, but it’s probably a combination of several issues: 1) that the scriptwriter has far more freedom in the LN/manga/novel/VN format for his/her story, 2) It’s easier to get a LN/manga/etc published as opposed to making it into an anime, 3) Anime adapts a ridiculous number of manga/LN/etc, so you’ll probably get to be involved in making an anime anyway.

    I think this comment turned out longer than I wanted it to >.>

  • omo

    Madhouse does a fair number of media mix projects if I recall correctly. Maybe even up to half of their stuff last year. Plus, when you say financial difficulties, I’m not sure if you are attributing it right. My impression was that it came due to investing on some bigger-budget movies that flopped (like Oblivion Island and Trigun).

    Your criticism on “Good original anime” doesn’t sit well with me, because the number simply doesn’t say that. Angel Beats sold just fine, for example. So did Sora no Woto.

    And no amount of good scriptwriting could have saved Senkou no Night Raid. If anything, it had good writing and not much else.

    Lastly, take Jun Maeda for example. Why did he create/produce Angel Beats? It totally goes against all your conjectures in that second-to-last paragraph. Is he an exception? By all means, sure. But I disagree with how you characterize this situation. The totem pole is still the same; the cost you pay to play at the novel/VN level is just much lower than, well, being a cog in an anime production team.

    People who write novels are people who write novels. Writing screenplays often takes a different calling, and while often the two overlap you very rarely see actual authors writing screenplays. Jun Maeda’s Angel Beats is perhaps illustrative even in this case ;)

    I mean, even when I think about Urobuchi’s Madoka, I think about his Phantom and Blassreiter, and I’m like, “it doesn’t matter who writes it, it’s all about the production.”

  • Mystlord

    I don’t think that Madhouse has taken on too many media mix projects, unless you consider a work that only has both an anime and a manga a “media mix project”. And I always assumed that Madhouse’s financial troubles came from the fact that a lot of its stuff ended up being financial flops. Nothing they’ve made recently has actually sold WELL, at least to the extent that, for example, JC Staff stuff sells.

    Sora no Woto did not sell that well. It hit just barely above the “break even point”, and was wildly outclassed by other anime projects in the same time frame. As a comparison, Sora no Woto sold 4,579 BD+DVDs for its first volume, Katanagatari sold 8214, Baka to Test sold 8,958, Hidamari Sketch x Triple Star sold 9,361, and Drrr topped it all with 29k.

    AB! is definitely the odd one out in this case, as it posted numbers into the range where it becomes the stuff of Otaku legend, along with K-On! and Working!!

    But then again, you can’t truly use Jun Maeda as a counter point to my second to last paragraph, because he’s fundamentally a VN writer that has transitioned over into the anime world because of his success. The talent to consistently produce original anime is still in the hands of a very few, select people. I mean you can essentially count all of the truly talented script writers on one hand. The barrier to entry is just so high for anime when compared to any other medium, and the demand for scriptwriters that can just adapt rather than create is just so high that good original script writers are a dime a dozen.

    I mean just consider the more successful original animes in recent times. Star Driver was penned by the guy behind Utena and FLCL, Madoka was penned by an established VN writer, DtB by the guy behind Wolf’s Rain, Higashi no Eden by the GitS staff, and Basquash! by the guy behind Macross. Who writes it does matter, and it matters a lot.

  • omo

    I still don’t get why you bring up Madhouse. And I’m not sure you understood that I bring up the media mix thing only to illustrate where the money goes when someone buys something. Yes, we agree that Madhouse may have not be doing well because they put a lot of money in things that didn’t sell very well.

    Second, Sora no Woto is well above the Manabi line. 50% or so, right? That’s well enough. It’s all I said, too… doesn’t matter there’s something else that sells better right? What’s your point?

    And the point that someone like Maeda transits over illustrates that it is still more desirable to be producing media mix project driving it from the anime end. Because that’s where sales leads. And sure, there’s a high barrier of entry but you can be sure a magnitude higher number of eyeballs is going to watch your show than play your video game.

    In other words, when the anime is the basis your subsequent adaptations will have a higher fan base to begin with. I mean, why do people commission anime adaptations to begin with via the ad model?

    As for considering successful original anime in recent time (and throughout history), scriptwriting alone has never propped up a project. Direction, budget, production quality all has to match. All your examples are examples of great productions, and not even all of them are that well written (Eden of the East is a good example…)

    Actuall Basquash is a great counterexample to what you’re saying. They changed director half way and the show tanked in all aspects. Why? It’s just the director, the story has already been written at that point. Does it ever occur to you that everything else other than the writing probably matter just as much (if not more?)

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