Answerman FAQ: "How do I get my idea made into an anime?"

by Justin Sevakis, Oct 18th 2013

The last Answerman FAQ went over pretty well, so it's time for another one. This is a question that pretty much never stops being asked to us at ANN, and the answer is pretty much always the same. Other Answerman writers before me have tackled this topic, but I can never find those posts (and judging by the Answerman inbox, nobody else can either). So, here we go again. Clip 'n' save!

The cynical among you will no doubt be filled with glee as I go through the motions on this one. It's one of the classics.


A lot of people ask:
I'm a writer/children's book author/artist/creative person who has a great idea for an anime. How do I contact Japan so I can pitch my idea? How can I become the guy/girl who thinks of all the stories?

It's hard to understate just how many people are just dying to get their "original" ideas made into anime. Over the years I've been handed manuscripts, had inquiries from parents, been pitched story ideas, and been asked for contact info. I've tried to answer politely every time, but usually the person asking doesn't want to hear any actual advice. They just want validation.

Given that the actual advice is the exact opposite of what they want to hear, I suppose I understand why it's a bitter pill to swallow. It flies in the face of being told their entire lives by every parent, teacher and CG animated movie that they're special, that they matter, and that they can do whatever they put their minds to. But the very simple answer to the question is true not only of the anime business, but virtually every aspect of the entertainment world. It applies to directors, screenwriters, actors, and producers equally as it does a kid in a Minnesota middle school with delusions of grandeur. Etch it into your memory because it is THE cardinal rule by which any one individual's place in the entertainment industry revolves. Ready? Here is is:

NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR IDEAS.

If I could, by way of my column, put that in a large flashing marquee, don a top hat and do a soft shoe musical number around that sentence, I would. Entertainment is a business, and if you are an unknown, new, young, untested talent, the people that care about your ideas or your artistic vision are strictly limited to you and your mother. No one in a position of power wants to hear your concept. Nobody is going to take you seriously. Nobody is just going to give you a chance. That is not going to happen.

Why? Because, while sometimes you wouldn't know it by looking, the people that run the anime business are not short of ideas. As my ex-boss John O'Donnell was fond of saying, "ideas are easy, implementation is difficult." Nearly every prominent anime writer has a giant folder of original stories they're trying to get made. Almost zero of those will. Many anime directors and producers also have a bunch of projects they've been developing for years with other industry people. Very few of these will ever see the light of day either. Instead, funding will go to the latest cliché light novel adaptation or harem show, because that is what producers know people want to see.

It's true, but unnecessary to state here, that 99% of the people who consider themselves creative/genius storytellers are only fooling themselves, and their genius ideas are almost always piles of derivative dreck that nobody would ever take seriously. Hollywood is full of bitter, angry screenwriters who just don't understand why they keep getting rejected, and the rest of the world is full of people that think they COULD be screenwriters if they just had the time/energy/software to write. Never mind all that, because even if you are a creative genius, the door to creating an anime is simply not open to you, for several reasons.

  • You don't speak Japanese.
  • Aside from the guys that work in international licensing and business development, virtually nobody on an anime staff speaks much English. Unless you are fluent in Japanese, your writing is in fluent Japanese, and your communication skills are such where you could work with someone entirely in Japanese, nobody is going to be able to understand you. What do you do when you receive a random unsolicited email in a language you don't speak? Do YOU take it seriously, or do you assume they're trying to sell you Viagra?

  • Nobody knows who you are.
  • In order to be taken seriously as a writer, you have to have a reputation. You must build this slowly, over the course of years and decades, make connections and work hard to earn people's respect. Only THEN will people in positions of power read what you wrote, and take you seriously. Which still doesn't mean they'll take you seriously, but you sure won't get taken seriously without this step. (Overnight successes are total rarities, and usually what looks like overnight success is actually the product of years of toiling in anonymity.) This is hard enough in your native country, but doing it overseas in a mostly closed and insulated market in your second language? That's just not feasible.

  • You have no market strategy.
  • very few professed "idea people" ever even think of the business side of things. Anime producers, like any other entertainment producer, want to sell a product. They're less interested in an episode break-down and minor character details; they want to see comparable titles, sponsorship potential, demographic predictions, market tie-ins, and prominent companies and people that are already willing to be a part of your project. Assembling these items and trying to get the money to make things is a producer's job, and if they can't tell immediately what those bullet points would be when they see your idea, then they can't approach sponsors, can't get money, and the project is dead.

    So how does ANYBODY get their story told the way they want to tell it? The ONLY way is to make an audience want to hear it, and that audience has to be big and reliable enough to make producers OK with handing you the keys to their very expensive car. Producers don't care about, say, Vince Gilligan's vision, but every Breaking Bad fan now reveres him as a god, and so Gilligan has the customer as leverage for his next project. There's an audience that WANTS the next great work by Oshii or Miyazaki or Anno, and that audience is big enough that they can find a producer who will let them do what they want in exchange for the loyalty of that audience. Everybody else is stuck doing non-original work-for-hire stuff that a production committee has decided would be popular.

    Creative freedom is a luxury that takes a long time to build up, a lot of talent and a lot of luck. Any neophyte that expects that control of an expensive medium like anime or film to be just handed to them is in for a very rude awakening. In other mediums, there are nonetheless countless ways to work up the system, but making the leap to anime is possibly the toughest bridge to gap: unless you have a huge audience IN Japan that is waiting for YOUR next big idea, Japanese producers have absolutely no reason to listen to you. It's easier, cheaper and more comfortable for them to just ignore the weird foreigner and just keep on doing what they've been doing by themselves.

    In summary, for pretty much everyone reading this column, the dream of getting their idea made into an anime is simply unattainable. You may want the job title of "guy with the idea", but that's not a thing. Unless you are independently wealthy, or know someone that is willing to put up the literally millions of dollars it takes to produce an anime, you are effectively locked out of the system.

    ...

    Wow, that was a bummer to write out. Despite my cynical nature, I don't REALLY like telling people their dreams are ridiculous and they should give up, so when anyone is really listening, I always try to steer them in the direction of some other creative pursuit. There are a ton of creative jobs out there, so focusing on just anime seems a little myopic to me. We all love anime, and there's no shame in making something and drawing inspiration from the things you love. And we all love a bunch of things -- not just anime, but movies and comics and TV series and paintings, and even weird YouTube videos. Inspiration comes from everything, so there's no need to limit your dreams to the medium you spend the most time with.

    With the world getting smaller and more connected, there is always that small outside chance that something you make will hit in Japan, and someone in the anime business over there will think, "I'll bet I can sell a series based off this." Hey, stranger things have happened!


    And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

    Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.


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