Why Good Anime Is Hard To Make

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If you enjoy my videos, consider supporting me via patreon: http://www.patreon.com/digibrony
Or through paypal: digitalboyreviews@gmail.com

Under the Dog Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1300298569/under-the-dog

More in-depth reading on The Anime Economy: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2012-03-05

Like anything else, making anime is a business, so in order to understand how anime is made, we have to understand how anime makes its money.

Most TV shows make money through the advertisements and promotions surrounding the show, and the amount of viewers that the show can pull on its TV broadcast determines its viability. In other words, almost every show’s goal is to grab the widest possible audience. Material that casts a wide net like this is called “broad” entertainment, but on the opposite end of the spectrum is “niche” entertainment, which appeals to a much smaller crowd, but one that is often highly dedicated to the things they like.

For Japanese animation, reaching a broad audience is extremely difficult. Most Japanese entertainment doesn’t have much impact in overseas markets, and animation isn’t taken as seriously as film or music by most adults. The majority of anime made with a broad audience in mind is aimed at children or young boys, or consists of short, family-oriented shows that run for an eternity. There aren’t very many anime made with a broad adult audience in mind, and even among the ones that are, only a handful reach mainstream success.

Most of the animation made in Japan is aimed at a niche or “guaranteed” audience which is likely to buy hyper-expensive blu-rays and other merchandise to make the show profitable. These shows are usually based on existing properties, be they manga, light novels, or video games, which the anime version usually condenses heavily, acting more as a commercial for the source material than as a stand-alone work. When an original anime is launched to be aimed at a niche audience, it usually comes with tons of character goods and promotional material to back it.

The sad part about all of this is that when anime is specifically geared towards either a specific niche market, or to appeal to the broadest market possible, it often ends up being a highly commercialized, often lackluster project whose biggest interest is obviously pushing the series merchandise more than making a work of art in the animated medium.

Among the most talented minds of the anime industry remains a strong desire to make original, artistic animations that aren’t bogged down in commercialization, but getting the money to make these kinds of shows is impressively difficult. Unless something comes out with Hayao Miyazaki’s name on it, getting the budget to make an animated masterpiece is nearly impossible–and a lot of big studios have been crumbling under this reality. Studio Ghibli itself, the most acclaimed anime studio of all time, is about to close up shop because they can’t recoup their losses on new productions without the star power of Miyazaki’s name.

Yet still, some anime producers and studios fight to get original anime made with a rebellious spirit. Masao Maruyama, who has produced countless original series in his time, drove his studio Madhouse to bankruptcy making interesting, original productions regardless of whether they would sell. When he left the studio, which has since been bought out and started producing niche anime series for a guaranteed audience, Maruyama founded a new studio called MAPPA and immediately started funding Shinichiro Watanabe shows, which have always been considered famously too expensive to make in the current anime market. It’s safe to say that Maruyama just doesn’t give a fuck.

Other producers have turned to Kickstarter in the hopes that animation fans who care about the continued existence of interesting original series will fund it themselves. Masaaki Yuasa, who has made his mark in the last ten years as one of the most visionary directors in animation, used Kickstarter for the short film Kick-Heart. Not long afterwards, studio Trigger, created by another of the most famous animators and directors around, Hiroyuki Imaishi, used Kickstarter to fund the second episode of their popular one-episode OVA Little Witch Academia.

Right now, there’s a kickstarter running to fund the first episode of Under the Dog, whose producers turned to kickstarter specifically because they knew that they could never get the budget to make the series look as good as they want it to through normal channels. This team has been more up-front than ever before about just how difficult it is to try and launch an original animation, and their kickstarter gives an idea of how much it costs to fund even one episode of a project like this. The creators are hoping that if they get this funded, it might lead to the project receiving regular funding from a major group, but it might be in need of serious signal boosting if it wants to reach its goal in time.

I’m telling you all of this because I don’t think anime fans really appreciate the fact that anime is, in fact, a commercial medium, and that high quality anime is not going to be made if no one will pay for it. The reason we get so many manga and light novel adaptations that run for a season or two and have no real ending, or so many cheaply-made fanservice shows that pander to the smallest, most dedicated niche of otaku viewers, is because those are the only kinds of shows that are likely to make a profit, and even then most of them don’t. A lot of these shows completely fail, and it’s only if the studio can follow up that failure with a success that they can stay afloat. Over the years a lot of studios have crashed and burned or turned to low-budget pandering shows because they couldn’t recoup their losses on more ambitious projects.

Now, there’s no doubt that a lot of the troubles the anime industry faces are the result of difficulties in adapting to modern paradigms of viewer consumption. We’re in an age where everyone has access to everything whether they want to pay for it or not, which is why studios have to rely on dedicated customers more than ever. More and more shows are dependent on products than on selling DVDs of the show itself, because so many people will simply download the show. And I’m not saying we should go back to the old models. Personally, I think DVDs and blu-rays are dying storage mediums, and I certainly don’t believe in the old model of the US anime market which was to blindly buy DVDs on the off-chance they might be good. Try before you buy is a model I believe in strongly.

But it only works if people do, in fact, buy. If the viewers don’t support the product in some capacity, then there is not going to be more of it. To phrase it more bluntly: you have no right to complain that they don’t make another season of your favorite show if you never paid any money for season one. Or that Ghibli can’t sustain their studio anymore if you haven’t been buying their movies.

Of course, there’s a give and take here, and it’s not like this is all the fans’ fault. A lot of studios just don’t make good shows. It’s not the fans’ fault if they don’t want to buy something because it sucks. There’s also problems with the economy, and with competition between different anime series, running the risk of cannibalization. I won’t be surprised when A-1 Pictures suddenly has to cut down their production rate after the crazy amount of shows they’ve been producing eats away at them faster than Sword Art Online can put the money back in their pockets. Or maybe that’s just my demented hope.

This is not my attempt to outcry against piracy or tell everyone to go pay for all their anime, because those aren’t things I believe in. But I do think that it’s good to be a patron of the arts that you care about. If there is an anime you love, then spend some money on it. Spend an amount of money equivalent to how much you care. If you want a second season, then don’t buy season one used at FYE, splurge a little a buy the Japanese blu-rays. When you’re talking about a niche market like this, every single person’s contribution counts. Take this from an artist who is funded entirely by my audience. If I lost ten or fifteen of my major backers, it could make or break my ability to live off of my videos. Whether or not anime can be funded comes down right to how many individual fans decide that the continued existence of good anime is worth their money.

I’m not rich enough myself to totally practice what I preach. I try to pay for as many things I like as possible, but I don’t have a lot to give. I put a few bucks into Under the Dog, because I was a big fan of Canaan, and this show is pretty much the same team that made Canaan trying to get the budget to do a better job than they were able to on that show. The trailer looked really pretty and had high-quality action scenes, and since the director previously directed Sword of the Stranger, I know that I can expect him to deliver on some of the best action scenes I’ll ever see in animation.

That’s what I’m putting my money into by donating to this project–the promise that maybe I’ll get to see some more of the best fight animation around. I think that’s important enough to me to be worth a few dollars, maybe even more than that if I felt I had more to give. I only hope that if I spread the word about anime production and make more people aware of the weight that their money has on the industry, maybe I can help to make up for the money I can’t put into it directly. And with this video, you can do the same–spread it around and get people informed, and little by little maybe we can help to rescue the anime industry.

6 thoughts on “Why Good Anime Is Hard To Make

  1. I like where your heart is but it’s a different picture than you paint.

    It is about the business of TV anime. You are pretty much right up to the point where why anime targets a niche audience and what have you. And the truth is there are people interested in investing in anime. Big budget stuff. That was never really the problem. And Ghibli is not closing, they’re just reorganizing their full-time staff because the studio’s output will decrease with Miyazaki taking that break.

    The problem is creative freedom. Yura actually said as much during the various UTD panels at Otakon. They have offers to take UTD into a TV anime with full funding, but they lose a lot of creative freedom if they go that route and couldn’t make what they really want to make. Maruyama basically says the same thing; after Madhouse was bought out the projects that don’t guarantee a nice penny just don’t get greenlit. If you’ve seen Katabuchi’s stuff for his new movie, yeah, that stuff will not make the big bucks for sure (just look at how well Mai Mai Miracle did). But it’s beautiful and exquisite and uniquely Katabuchi, and thus Maruyama wants to see it made.

    The reality of the situation is that original anime are still getting made–and I argue things are actually better in 2014 than in 2004, even during the hay days when a lot of bottom-tier stuff was being made. The problem is that they have to meet and cater to that buying audience, that type of fans who would pay for a $300 blu-ray box. And unfortunately that also necessarily means it has to cater to the Japanese audience (as nobody else does that kind of thing), which is UTD’s main bone to pick.

    It’s good you bring up LWA in the post because that’s another example of how original works are being made with more creative freedom, funded by the Japanese government’s new animator training project. But the catch there is that there’s a limit on staff, as it is meant to train new animators so the staff has to be new animators. This is also why Trigger wants us to pay them for episode 2, because then there won’t be any limit to staffing or creative content.

    • Interesting points. I kinda tried to blanket the idea that “good original anime” meant “auteur stuff where the creators do whatever they want” but I was (not entirely purposely) vague about what I really meant. All in all I tried to keep it simple because more than anything this is supposed to be a call to arms for more art patronage in general (backed by my own growth of faith in direct patronage) as well as an unsubtle way to try and signal boost the UTD kickstarter. Nonetheless your info is helpful and clarifies some things (too bad you don’t comment on youtube as well, not that people necessarily go through the trouble of reading them there lol).

  2. After watching this video we can’t tell you how much we agree on the perspective you have given on the current decay of good anime series.

    Seeing as how anime series are so much more expensive to produce, many producing companies have fallen into the habit of making short series that are targeted towards teenager and young adult audiences. Most of these anime come in the form of ecchi, eroge and moe series, each one feeling like a rehash of a rehash. In the end, most end up being monotonous productions that lack interest.

    We would also like to take this opportunity to ask for your permission to subtitle your video (and thus translate this post) into Spanish.

    Let me explain briefly. All Spanish speaking countries (plus a few other non-Spanish speaking countries from South America, like Brazil) have huge piracy driven markets that have sadly worked against getting series licensed. Services like Crunchyroll are definitively helping, but it still seems users have not grasped the concept of how expensive it is to produce quality series (I mean, Neon Genesis Evangelion is the perfect testament to that and it is a VERY popular series in the mentioned regions).

    We believe your video can provide some much needed insight into the world of anime production for these anime consumers.

    Once again, great video and thanks for taking the time to read our message.

    • I feel like anime fans in countries like Brazil would probably have further economic reasons for not being able to pay though such as the different worth of money there (also don’t Brazilians all speak Portugese?) but in any case I’d be happy to let you make a spanish version of this!

      • You are right, it is one of the problems that plagues physical medium. Heavy taxes and import fees make otherwise cheap merchandise and media to have soaring prices. Yet, ask any Brazilian and most of them will probably tell you they buy all their anime related things online in U.S. stores and have them shipped over via couriers. It cuts on costs for almost everything that’s not too big or too heavy.

        Brazil is not the only one, most of South America has this problem. However, the monthly cost of Crunchyroll is the equivalent of paying for a Quarter Pounder at a McDonald’s.

        And yes, Brazil speaks Portuguese. 95% of South America has Spanish as its official language, but there are exceptions. You will also find some countries that have Portuguese, French and even English as their official Language.

        Thanks for allowing me to translate the video/post into Spanish. I’ll let you know as soon as I have them available so you can add it to your video.

    • I’m from the Philippines and I’m somewhat saddened to report that the situation here is very similar to that in South America. Most of the new anime that people do get to enjoy are streamed and downloaded by the people that watch. Partially it’s because the local tv channels that air anime either dub it terribly, or air it so late that people are already watching the newer thing online. It’s a similar situation for manga and dvd sales here, since people aren’t willing to pay $12 for 5~6 chapters of translated manga when they can read much more for free on the internet. (For perspective, $12 can almost pay for a VIP anime event ticket here. People would rather spend on that.)

      I think a large problem with anime is that when they consider an audience it’s typically limited to just Japan. All of my friends would be willing to pay for official merchandise for the series that they love, but it’s difficult to get them if you’re not in Japan proper. I’m a huge fan of Tiger and Bunny but it is near impossible to get any merchandise for it here aside from the Bandai/S.H. Figuarts products unless I go overseas. I think that if they made it easier for the foreign market to actually show support for these series, like with Kickstarter, we’d see more diversity and original anime instead of adaptations of this and that.

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