Class 5: Contemporary Animation of Japan – An Overlook by the Editor-in-chief of Anime! Anime!

Lecturer: Tadashi Sudo, the Editor-in-chief of Anime! Anime!

Time & Date: 16:00 - 17:30, March 2nd, 2013

The class has finished. [ The Archive of the Class ]

Internet website Anime! Anime! is an online animation magazine which inclusively covers the latest news, reviews, interviews, and feature articles. It has a prominent place in the Japanese animation industry and they opened another website Anime! Anime! biz three years ago to cover business information regarding animation. The editor-in chief will talk from a bird's-eye view about the state of Japanese animation and notable topics for the future as well as the histories of those websites and his vision for them.

The Archive of the Class

Okamoto: For the last lecture this year, today we have Tadashi Sudo, editor-in-chief of Anime! Anime! which is a general information website for animation.  Anime! Anime! is a website which comprehensively covers information on animation such as the latest news, reviews and interviews.  There is also another website which stemmed from this and specializes in business information of animation called Anime! Anime! Biz.  I always believe that healthy journalism is necessary for a healthy culture, and I wonder what would have become of the Japanese animation industry if Anime! Anime! did not exist.  Their role is that important in the industry.
  Today, the first part will be about Anime! Anime! and in the latter part as this is the last lecture this year,  Mr. Sudo will pick up 5 noteworthy topics and give a current overview of Japanese and foreign animation.  First, I would like Mr. Sudo to tell us about Anime! Anime!.

An Information Website on Animation Which Focuses on Diversification

Sudo: Anime! Anime! is read directly but also provides news to several portals sites such as mixi and so there are a lot of people there reading our news.  We also provide information to English sites such as the English version of Asahi Shimbun and Tokyo Otaku Mode.  If you include these sites, the actual number of page views is quite large.  PV directly leads to advertisement revenue so it is very important.
  Although categorized in animation, it deals with a wider range of genres surrounding animation such as manga or tokusatsu (live-action film/drama which uses special effects a lot), kid’s animation or short animation pieces.  We also interview a wide range of people but one characteristic is that we don’t interview many voice actors or artists.  This is simply because I am not so knowledgeable in this area but also because others already do so.
  The other Anime! Anime! Biz is not on such a large scale.  Readers are mainly from the industry.  Information like final accounts report actually is not read so much but I think people who do read this are extremely specialized.

Okamoto: What is the background behind starting the site?

Sudo: The history goes quite back and the start was in 2004.  To tell you the truth, I just kind of launched it, it is not that I did not have the motivation to make it into a business from the beginning since there was no general website for animation at the time, and I was very enthusiastic.  But when I thought about how to fill the site with articles, I thought I would have to write it myself because I could not pay writers.  I wondered how much I could write myself so first I tried blogging.  Initially, it was positioned as a temporary site before the actual launch but surprisingly access numbers grew.  I felt for the readers who went to the trouble to access my site so I changed the blog site into Anime! Anime!.  That is the initial background.
  That was 2004.  After that, in 2005, we got our own domain and in 2009 we divided Anime! Anime! Biz to be an independent site.  On January 1, 2012, I sold Anime! Anime! and Anime! Anime! Biz to a company called IID.  There were many reasons behind the sale but I thought specially that in the current website business, a small scale site may not succeed and I came to the conclusion that continued operations may become difficult.
  I sold to IID because I knew the president.  In addition, I thought IID being a venture capital firm in media business and research had the expertise to develop the site further.  When I spoke with the president he was interested.  At first, I was only planning to sell Anime! Anime! but then he asked that I continue to work there.  I didn’t know what to do.  When I first launched Anime! Anime!, my purpose was to have a general site with a wider range of users besides animation fans.  So I set off to make it myself but I thought it was ok even if it didn’t climb to the top as a business.  To not come at the top meant that consequently there was another better site.  That meant my objectives of having an animation information site were achieved in a different form.  However, none of these objectives were achieved.
  It will be 10 years next year (2014) for Anime! Anime! and now it runs self-sustainingly so personally I feel my job will soon be over.  With regard to Anime! Anime! Biz, I feel that I need to reassess the scheme once more.  I think I have incorporated too much of myself and that has made it difficult to handle for others.

Okamoto: I have the image that you are a person that can do everything yourself like superman, but it said in the material that you sent to us prior to this lecture that you were born in Mexico, and the more I find out the more you are a mystery (laugh).  Can you speak a little about yourself?

Sudo: My father worked for a trading firm and I was born in Mexico.  But I came back to Japan when I was three so it is not that I can speak Spanish and I don’t have such an attachment.  If anywhere, I have an attachment to England as my parent lived there when I was in high school.  I stayed in Japan because I had school but I went every summer to England.  At the time, I thought that the world is becoming globalized and going to England would not be so different from being in Tokyo.  However, once I went I realized it was completely different.  I was extremely moved.  My father was working for a trading firm and many of my relatives liked foreign countries including my mother.  I inherited this trait and my attraction for foreign countries was stronger than others.
 When I graduated university, I started working for a securities firm.  When I started it, it was the height of the economic bubble.  In other words, the subsequent ten years was a period when the securities business was in continual decline.  At that time, the animation industry seemed to be shining.  I thought the Japanese financial industry could not compete with the world but animation could.  Now that I look back, it was not that the animation industry was in such a good state either.
  After I quit the securities firm I enrolled in a venture company course in a domestic graduate school where you could get the Japanese equivalent of an MBA.  Taking the MBA course at the graduate school was a bit unusual and it was very stimulating as the people who were there either loved studying or were atypical.  I receive opinions that Anime! Anime! is a site with a lot of foreign and business news and that is probably a reflection of my personal history.

Okamoto:  Were you an anime geek when you were small?

Sudo:  It is difficult to say either way as until about middle school I was an anime fan but from high school I broke away from it and also didn’t watch much during university.  But when I watched Cowboy Bebop by coincidence on the WOWWOW channel in my late twenties I got into it.  Even now I get scolded, “you create an animation site and you haven’t even watched this famous piece!” (laugh).  I only see works that I like so in that way you could say I am just an ordinary anime fan.

Okamoto: Maybe as a journalist, if you love the object of what you are reporting too much, you would only be able to write biased reports.  The point of view of Anime! Anime! taking one step back, may be this side of your character coming through.

Sudo: Yes.  And another thing, this also relates to the concept of Anime! Anime! that I want to insure diversification.  When I was in the securities firm I changed sections many times.  I think I was not good at communication, and honestly I was a troublemaker (laugh).  From childhood I could not do as others, and I was strongly wary of the pressure to conform.  I came to feel uncomfortable when there wasn’t someone around who was completely different from me.  This is reflected on the pages of Anime! Anime! If you ask me if I like short animations, I do but there are also many that I am not fond of.  If you ask me if I watch kid’s animation, there’s by far many that I don’t watch.  The state where I am in proximity to a film that has been made with values contrary to mine is comfortable.   In that way, when I choose an article I think relatively of the balance.

Okamoto: From the side of a person making short animation, a media such as Anime! Anime! which covers both sides is very welcome.

Sudo: Fundamentally, I think we need to provide more information on short films but to my regret there’s not enough manpower and my knowledge is lacking and I am sorry for this.  Currently, we release about 10-15 new articles a day.  We receive a load of press releases from PR agencies and distribution companies, and naturally there is other material besides releases. So it is highly competitive to become articles.

Okamoto: How many people run Anime! Anime! ?

Sudo:  In the company, basically it is only me that is editing and there’s just another in charge of sales.  We use out of company writers for articles and specialized writers for interviews and series.  Experienced writers do write good articles.

Okamoto: Only one editor is amazing. 
Now let us speak about what you see as the top 5 topics in 2012 (part of 2013) domestically and internationally.  Please first start with domestically.

◆Domestic Top 5 Topics for 2012

(1)  Prosperity in theatrical animation but tough times for foreign animation

Sudo: The big hits were ONE PIECE FILM: Z with box office revenues exceeding 6,700,000,000 yen.  This figure is in the same class as Ghibli movies. Also Evangelion Shingekijoban:Q (Evangelion:3.0 You Can (Not) Redo) also exceeded 5,000,000,000 yen.  The similarity in the two is their skill in development.

Okamoto: What do you mean by development?

Sudo: Firstly, the large amount of tie ups.  ONE PIECE rapidly expands through tie ups.  In case of Evangelion, the production company or the distributor doesn’t make a large amount of press releases but there is a large amount of news out there.  That is because their tie up partners are making releases.  ONE PIECE and Evangelion are very similar in that they have developed by involving the public using those tie ups.  
Also Ookami-kodomo no Ame to Yuki (English title:Wolf Children) generated more than 4,000,000,000 yen.  It is really an amazing thing for an original production made by anyone other than Ghibli to go that far.  The fact that the piece itself had great power goes without saying.  2012 has been amazing with those three leading the pack, there were 10 films made domestically that exceeded 1,000,000,000 yen.  All the people in the animation industry say that they are in hard times but I think at least for the past year to two the economy has not been bad.
  On the other hand, foreign animations have had a tough battle.  I did not imagine that Merida to Osoroshi no Mori (English title: Brave)would have such a hard time.  I think the Japanese wanted a happy story from Disney and Pixar but Merida is a story that explores too deeply the inner sides of people and although it is a great story, my impression is as a family movie it was too heavy.

(2) Character business has been flourishing (ONE PIECE, Gundam, Evangelion)

Sudo: The background to the healthy state of the animation industry is partly based on the growth of the character business.  For example, ONE PIECE is a big hit but when you look at Toei Animation’s financial results, the licensing business has larger sales and higher profitability than production.  It is the same for the Gundam Series.  Companies that own popular characters are all doing well.  The influence of social network games is probably rather large as well.  I don’t know if this will continue or if it is just a temporary thing but you can say that ONE PIECE and Gundam have been successful in tapping into this trend.

(3) Many domestic CG animations released in theaters

(4) Kid’s animation has been prosper both in theaters and on television

Sudo: It often gets overlooked but in 2012, many domestic CG animations and kid’s animations were released in the theater and thriving.  Domestic CG animations had had a hard time but the biggest hit Friends: Mononokejima no Naki (English title: Friends: Naki on Monster Island) had revenue of 1,400,000,000-1,500,000,000 yen.  Also there was Starship Troopers: Invasion, funded by Sony U.S.A but it was actually produced by a Japanese production company and directed by Shinji Aramaki who will direct Captain Herlock (Space Pirate Captain Herlock).  The theatrical animation of .hack is made by a gaming company called CyberConnect2.  In relation to games, there was also Biohazard Damnation (English title: Resident Evil: Damnation).  Also there was Houkago Midnighters (English title: After School Midnighters)and as for big releases there was 009 RE:CYBORG which was a remake of Cyborg 009.  So there was a rush of full CG domestic animations released.
 In addition, kid’s animations have increased including television 5 minute slots and there are many theatrical animations being made.  Currently kid’s animation constitutes an enormous market with pieces like the big hit Anpanman (Soreike! Anpanman Yomigaere Bananajima; lit. Go! Anpanman: Revive Banana Island!), Hanakappa (Eiga Hanakappa: Hanasake! Pakkaan Chou no Kuni no Daibouken; lit: Hanakappa - Open Flower! An Adventure in Butterfly Country: The Movie), or Shimajiro(Gekijo-ban Shimajiro no Wao! Shimajiro to Fufu no Daibouken; lit. Shimajio’s Wow! Shimajiro and Fufu’s Adventure: The Movie

(5) Endeavors in the animation industry at crowd funding

Sudo: Crowd funding is a method to raise capital through general viewers rather than businesses in the making of a film.  It became fashionable about two years ago in the USA and there are even projects that are a few 10 million yen.  This system works on the premise that there are passionate fans, so it is really compatible with the content industry.  It started also being done in Japan from about last year and I am hopeful that it will increase further in the future.
To introduce some actual examples, Production I.G made a piece called Kick-Heart utilizing Kickstarter, an American crowd funding system.  The director was Masaaki Yuasa who has a glorious career being awarded the grand prize twice at the Japan Media Arts Festival.  They solicited funding by asking for investment saying they were making a 10 minute short animation.  Their goal was to raise 150,000 dollars which was quite a high objective but they managed to raise 200,000 dollars.  The investors were mainly foreigners.  The fact that a big creator from Japan would use crowd funding was probably a topic of conversation, but there were more than 3,200 investors so that is simply amazing.  We published an interview between Director Yuasa and President Mitsuhisa Ishikawa of Production I.G on Anime! Anime! Biz and I remember President Ishikawa saying, “Now that I think back it was a risky project.”  If it hadn’t worked out the project would have been jeopardized.  With its success, the success again becomes a topic of conversation.

Okamoto: In the interview, both Director Yuasa and Mr. Ishikawa said the basis is “creating something that you want to create” and crowd funding is a means to realize it.  This left an impression on me.

Sudo: It goes without saying that to succeed in crowd funding you need to have the passion to create but you also need the skill of presentation to communicate this passion widely to the world.  Short animation does not have such a high budget but it is also not so easy for an individual to produce.  In that way, I feel that crowd funding may be very compatible with short animation.

Okamoto: As a person that deals in short animation education, this was an encouraging story.  Next can you pick up the top five topics from overseas please?

◆Overseas Top 5 Topics for 2012

(1) Japanese animation and manga events grow overseas

Sudo: Currently there is a strange phenomenon overseas where Japanese animation DVDs and manga sales are plummeting, but events that deal with Japanese animation, manga and pop song themes are prospering.  The Japan Expo in Paris gathered a record high of 210,000 people, the Anime Expo in Los Angeles also gathered a record high of 110,000 people and in Asia the Anime Festival Asia in Singapore was also very popular and has started franchising this year to Indonesia and Malaysia.
Some say that a reason why animation DVD and manga sales have been declining is because of pirated DVDs but I don’t think so.  In addition, some point out that in Europe and the U.S., children do not have access to so much money and consumption activities may be limited.  However, the above mentioned event admission fees are unimaginably high by Japanese standards.  Anime Expo charges about 5000 yen, for instance.  Then why does this happen?  The reason may be that consumption patterns are changing in animation fans and manga fans from contents to live events.  The notion that people want to spend money on vivid experiences is becoming mainstream.  To tie this in to business will be vital in the future.

(2) Increase in production of animation for the overseas market (Pac-Man, Monsuno, Scan2Go)

Sudo: Until recently the approach was to air what was made in Japan domestically and then to release it overseas but there is a new trend to release a piece made domestically by a Japanese company directly overseas and bypassing Japan.  Pac-ManPac-Man and the Ghostly Adventuresderives from the game Pac-Man that you all know well.  It has beome a CG animation and it will be aired on the Disney XD Channel in the U.S. from the autumn of 2013[1].  The animation production has an enormous budget and is mainly done by a Japanese company called OLM who makes Pokémon but nevertheless there are no plans for it to air in Japan as of yet.
  Monsuno is a joint production between Dentsu and an American toy company.  This is aired in Japan as Jusen Battle Monsuno, but main business activities are in the U.S.  It follows the style of animations based on toy lines, such as Yu-Gi-Oh! (lit. Game King) or Baku Tech! Bakugan, and the characters are very Japanese but intentionally make western additions, reduces violence, makes each episode conclude, and complies with animation formats necessary in the U.S.
Scan2Go is a co-production between a Mitsubishi Corporation affiliated Japanese animation production company called d-rights, a toy company from Dubai and an animation production company from Korea.  It was first broadcast in the Middle East and then in Europe and because it was quite popular, it will be broadcast in the U.S.  This also has no plans to air in Japan.  I think it will be necessary for Japanese businesses to use these sorts of techniques to devise new business models in the future.

(3) Kyojin no Hoshi (lit. Star of the Giants)and Hattori-kun (Ninja Hattori-kun) in India

Sudo: Next has been a topic talked about recently, so many people may know about it.  Kyojin no Hoshi has been remade with the title Suraj- the Rising Star in India and is a big hit.  Indians do not play baseball so they have changed it to cricket (laughter).  Also Ninja Hattori-kun has been made in India and this seems to be popular as well.  It is said to be made anew for India with the title Ninja Hattori but strangely as far as the press release goes, it is set in Japan with the main character being a ninja called Hattori-kun.  This also relates to (2) but the important point about Suraj - The Rising Star and Ninja Hattori is that for overseas broadcasting, Japanese companies work with local production companies.  Another point to take note is that it is India.  Up to now, the focus has been on China as a new market but besides a few exceptions the results were not as hoped.  Recently, attention has shifted to India and Southeast Asia where import regulations are relatively more lenient.

(4) 7 domestic animation related companies make a new company for overseas animation distribution

Sudo:  To speak about how Japanese businesses make strategies when venturing on to a new market like these, they do so by jointly investing with another animation related company and broadcasting a Japanese animation on the internet and within Japan almost at the same time.  Up to now there have also been foreign companies like Crunchyroll which did this sort of thing but I am surprised that Japanese companies would do it.  The partners are 7 companies comprising of ADK, Dentsu. Toei Animation, Sunrise, TMS Entertainment, Nihon Ad Systems and Aniplex and you can say that this lineup covers roughly the top domestic animation related companies.  The pieces being distributed are also popular Japanese animations as ONE PIECE, Kido Senshi Gandamu (Mobile Suit Gundam) Series, Tenisu no Ojisama (The Prince of Tennis) , Kureyon Shin-chan (Crayon Shin-chan) .  The animation industry is quite friendly with each other to begin with but I was surprised that the situation was so grave that rival companies had to joining forces to this degree.

(5) A specialized channel for Japanese content in Singapore

Sudo: There is another similar case where 8 companies, Dentsu, Nippon Television Network Corporation, tv asahi, Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings, TV TOKYO Holdings, Imagica Robot Holdings, Hokkaido Television Broadcasting, and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions, have established a cable channel that specializes in the broadcasting of Japanese content programs in Singapore.  Singapore is only the beginning and they plan eventually to expand into all of Asia.  What this shows is that whether it is movies or television or more recently internet, ultimately the American Hollywood majors are overwhelmingly strong.  They are corporations that generate trillions in revenue and if Japan wants to compete, they cannot do so individually.  So the trend for the past few years has been to go with an all Japan team.

Okamoto: You mentioned this today but in the future it seems that in both the production and in the business it is more necessary to ensure a wide diversification.  Anime! Anime! which upholds this as its editing policy is a very reassuring existence for us creators.  Thank you for today.

[ Footnote ]
Pac-Man(Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures)has been airing since the summer of 2013 in fact.