There’s not much more you need to know beyond this 2ch write-up on how to interpret Japanese anime DVD/BD sales. I say this mainly because, well, there’s not much more you need to know, unless you have a knack for spreadsheets. Knowing beyond a casual, internet-warrior level of what those numbers means is like a 8yo genius trying to teach his working-class parents how to calculate the angular momentum of a rigid body in 3 dimensions. It’s unnecessary and is an exercise in futility. But it’s really amusing to see how a lot of people just don’t quite get it, when they saw this Crunchyroll post from yesterday. I could farm twitter for even more lulz, but that’s not going to be worth the effort. I guess successful troll is successful. But in some ways it is also insightful, so I’m going to try to say a couple things.
The obvious thing here is to realize that DVD/BD sales figures are kind of meaningless in terms of revenue. This is something you can explain away in different ways, but basically it is the best part of the troll. I mean, DVD/BD sales figures are obviously extremely meaningful in terms of calculating revenue and profit. That is not just common sense, but the cold hard facts. So what’s wrong with this picture? Clearly there are other factors that also impact revenue/profit/etc; or better put, what qualifies as success.
TL;DR, that “infographic” compares apples with oranges.
[Actually I can launch into this other tangent about how most infographics out there are evil and you probably shouldn’t pay them a lick of mind, according to my small amount of actual education on interpreting data in graphical form (elitism: they teach college level courses on this stuff for hard science majors, except people who do infographic on the intarwebs are typically too academically challenged to take those courses).]
I mean, how many people who commented on that infographic knows about how late night anime are financed? How it compares to Bleach? Or how a mix media franchise works? I don’t even know all about all of those topics, and while I am nobody, I am less of one than probably most people who bothered to comment on it. Because if you are somebody you wouldn’t even comment on it!
Let’s identify the fruits in that list. It’s not all apples, nor is it all oranges, so what are they?
- Stuff that were never planning to make money via home video releases, eg., Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, etc. People need to remember before the DVD revolution and how everyone nowadays know youtube exists, people generally don’t buy TV shows on home video. Movies? Sure, because it cost a ton of money to take the family to the theater, and you can buy the tape (or DVD/BD today) for a fraction of price (in NYC it’s approaching 1 BD to 1 ticket…which is just sad and pathetic). Why would you buy Bleach? Because you have dirty clothes, that’s why. I mean you would probably even buy a Doreamon movie or your child’s favorite episodes of One Piece just so you can pacify the poor little dude/dudette when you’re busy cooking lunch or something. It’s suspiciously the metaphoric fruit that is missing in this chart; probably because Japanese edutainment programs are horrid and nobody but Japanese kids (and their caretakers) watch them.
- Stuff that were paid up front, eg. WOWOW anime, etc. This is something most people wouldn’t know, because these shows are relatively rare. A lot of the time what these channels will do recently is air OAVs, but it’s like if enough people watch Game of Thrones, HBO has already achieved its goals. In other words, some anime are created as premium programming, available only to those who have paid subscriptions to those channels. Video sales to them are icing on the cake. It’s like pre-Chappelle’s Show.
- Stuff that were paid up front #2, eg. movies, etc. I split this one out because it’s obvious to you. I mean if Transformer 3 does a bijillionquadrubple bucks in the box office, who gives a damn about video sales (besides that it will also sell bijillionquadrubple copies)? It can sell less than Kaiba and still be like, “yo I make more money than all your mamas.” But as I alluded earlier, this never is the case with movies. In fact, movies tend to sell the best (see: bijillionquadrubple copies of Transformer 3). Part of it has to do with the fact that unless you are a Kara no Kyoukai, you end after one film. Or at least, you give this unspoken assumption about this is it and sequels? What sequels? It lowers the barrier of entry of paying for a series versus just an one-shot. [But in reality, when you buy a very popular film, the odds that it will have a sequel is pretty close to 100%. So if you can’t stand owning just the first volume and not the second (even if the second, third, fourth, etc is horrible), you really don’t have any business buying popular movies in this day and age. Or rather, that is their business, eh?]
- Stuff that were used to recoup from investment costs, eg., most late night anime, etc. To be specific, this is why moe anime is made. Because they can consistently bring in a steady, if anemic, stream of sales. At certain pricing, it is steady revenue. This is why Bakemonogatari (and its kins) sales numbers are such a big deal, because they are by-the-book late-night anime business. Their sales figures on home video is a large narrative for home video publishers, since it’s usually their slice of pie at stake here. So that kind of shows get made.
- Stuff that were paid for during the TV run, eg., the rest. Evangelion has pushed a lot of units on home video. But it would have been considered a success on the TV viewership numbers alone, because it brought in eyeballs, and sold real ads. However the fact that it was so successful on video too gave it a second wind, so to speak. That’s the Chapelle’s Show’s model. I keep on referring to Chapelle’s Show because for the longest time, old TV shows just didn’t sell on home video (see Bleach, Naruto, etc) but somehow, Chapelle’s show has become the sign post of home video sales floating enough money to justify the continuation of the show because of its ludicrous sales figures (compared to prime-time television). Is this a sign that our society is becoming more maniacal about our favorites? Maybe someone else can tell you about that, but these kind of anime are in a league of their own. I mean, I speak of home video sales, but the key here is that this type of show don’t solely rely on it; it’s kind of just a sign of how crazy some otaku are about kiddy TV shows. They are the AC Gundams and Pokemons of our times, where their sales figures on home video only told a part of the story. As an aside, this group also fields the majority of original anime titles out there. Because as long as the models are cool and the video games are hot properties, the anime has already served its purpose.
To continue, a good 25% of the anime on that list is original. I think that kind of reflects the top Oricon charts, by overshooting it. The bottom tier is probably full of original titles. Does Denno Coil count? I’m not sure. Even this apples-to-oranges analysis doesn’t tell the story behind the difficulty of original anime breaking through things at a glance. At least it tells you how special Madoka is. (And to note, Nanoha StrikerS isn’t too far behind it I think).
In the same vein, it makes you wonder why we continue to include shows like One Piece, Bleach and Naruto in the overarching anime discourse in America. I mean, sure, they are anime, but they’re as anime as Kaiba. And nobody talks about Kaiba! Joking aside, it’s as relevant as its low sales figure. Maybe it is kind of like how anime fans may yell buttscratcha memes at cons, since Family Guy is not anime either. At least that one makes more sense than Marco Polo. Maybe even more so than Bronies. In my mind, Naruto is almost a meme. A lot of people read the manga or watch the anime, but it’s kind of the noise in the background and it isn’t really relevant to anything beyond Viz and fans of the franchise.
That’s going to lead into my last observation here. I’m kind of surprised; speaking of cosplay icons at American cons, where’s Trigun? Its sales figure was pretty abysmal too! If America was different than Japan, I can’t think of a better example than that. So why is Trigun missing from the infographic? Maybe that’s too apples-and-oranges in that graphic? It breaks the trend/trap set up by the infographic? I don’t know. But you know, people in Japan actually bought Cowboy Bebop, too. So you’ve got to wonder.