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.