Kickstarter is not a thing hidden in some corner of the universe. It’s a major deal, reported in the news worldwide. It was just a matter of time that fine arts project like Japanese animation ends up on one, and a full-blown legit sort of deal. For Masaaki Yuasa’s kickstarter, I think this write-up sums up the general feelings I have for it. But it’s more than just that.
Of course, being the first of its kind, Yuasa’s kickstarter just a high art short film from the acclaimed animator/director. The attempt at the KS is fairly elementary and lacks the sophistication that well-gamed Kickstarts do to back-load backer incentives and incremental updates that encourage people to tell people to back the project. Its conservative Japanese-ness pervades the endeavor. Its “low risk” assessment lends it an air that makes me feel that they would probably bankrolled this anyway, sooner or later.
But that sells shorts of the potential of an anime kickstarter. It’s one thing to say “patronage” but ultimately what Kickstarter (the organization) worries about is turning into a retail outlet, an empty marketing machine on the inside. That’s kind of the mode of backing for most of us, but that concern is a non-factor when it comes to kickstarting anime projects like this…because it is the point. We can talk about risk shifting, but that is besides the point; all established Japanese companies are serious about their customers. It’s more about the interface. Typically, the biggest thing about Kickstarter is giving creators a direct connection to fans and consumers, often around the publisher or distributor. We see a lot of this in the indie game scene (electronic and tabletop (especially tabletop)). But I don’t think anyone thinks it is not Production IG behind Yuasa’s kickstarter, even if they wisely let Yuasa take the spotlight. At least, the copyright notices on the promo images say as much.
The fact that Kickstarter provides an existing framework to allow a worldwide audience to be involved in Yuasa’s project, or any future project, (as an aside, Kickstarter requires a US individual/corporation to process its payments, so IG’s international reach does matter) is what makes Kickstarter valuable to anime, as I see it. That it’s a sliver of light through the muddy cracks of anime’s marketing problem overseas, is how oversea fans can value a Kickstarter anime project. They don’t have to reach around regional licensees at all–this is straight through the magic of the internet, and it’s not some half-baked Japanese attempt at web 2.0, thanks to KS’s hard work. It’s win-win for both us and for them. Kickstarter is an extremely low-cost way to gauge interest, to pitch a marketing spiel without ruffing the wrong feathers (much). It also taps into that highfalutin arthouse market that Japanese anime always had a hand in, in a much more direct way. That’s right, French in the Kickstarter page. (…And before Japanese was put on it.) It gives IG the control to sell as little of it as it can, to market it as weirdly as it can, and not worry about how popular an idea would be to a non-existent mass market–not like anyone would anyways.
Of course, like all art kickstarters, the value proposition is suspect. But at least it’s spelled out here for you. For most of us the mode of consumption for anime video purchases involves first watching the thing, to determine if we like to buy it or not. You get none of that here. Rather than the Sins of A Solar Copyright Empire on our backs as a motivation to “support the industry” we can just, well, support the industry by giving the creators we like money straight up (after KS takes their cuts). But in this case, we don’t get anything (yet).
The unfortunate reality behind anime produced by production companies is not some secret. So if you’re like Dave or Daryl you’re all set. But me? It’s more complicated.
My problem is more about the content. Let me use a concurrent example. There’s this popular Kickstarter going on right now called Project Eternity, which is an isometric PC RPG along the lines of Neverwinter Night, Temple of Elemental Evil, Baulder’s Gate, and Icewind Dale–from some of the same creators, no less. Fundamentally I enjoy these types of games so I backed it. Their reason was that they wanted to make another one of these isometric games, but they couldn’t find a publisher to back them as it is a “dated” sort of game dynamic, so they’re going to Kickstarter. [As an aside, this is kind of a hard-to-swallow reason given how the Firaxis XCOM reboot is.] On day one, the kickstarter had this early bird thing for $20, which is well within how much I want to spend on a game like this, so I was in from the beginning. But as the Kickstarter gain steam (it’s one of the top grossing live Kickstarters right now) they begin to release more info, and the more I read about it the less I like it. To put it to perspective, I really enjoyed the first BG game, and TOEE. Those are my sort of things. I kind of enjoyed Iecwind Dale but after a while it was a pretty dreadful experience because it is repetitive and while it gets slowly more difficult, the difficulty comes more as a test of patience rather than skill or intelligence. And quite frankly I’ve had enough after IWD1. NWN is another series of game that I managed to beat but hated it pretty much all the way, until the 2nd expansion (the first wasn’t a lot better) in which it finally got fun. But by the time NWN2 came out I had already lost any interest in “more of the same.” Of course, what I want is not far from what we all want: another Planescape Torment. And there is zilch coming out of Project Eternity’s teasers that say anything to the extent that they’ll make a game along those lines. If anything, they’re setting things up in the opposite direction.
In the very same way, the more I read about Kick Heart, the more weirded out (okay, delightfully weirded out) I am. I think it’ll be a fun little short to watch, maybe even own (disclosure: I backed the $30 tier). But this is not where I would put my money, compared to, say, a Kaiba localization Kickstarter, where I would offer up a lot more–because it is actually valuable. The bottom line is, Yuasa & Prodution IG still has to earn it by delivering something that has an appropriate value, not just by trying to do something new and perhaps improving the status quo of anime marketing and funding. Like “selling” us a possibly Japanese-produced Blu-ray disc of something (they are), or giving us a chance to have dinner with Mamoru Oshii. That’s value. And because they’re doing stuff like this I think this Kick Heart Kickstarter will really go places.
I guess the Kick Heart Kickstarter is a really a glimpse of meta.