Answerman Are Anime Sequels Ever Made Just For The West?
by Justin Sevakis,
On occasion, there are series that are more popular in countries outside of Japan then they are within Japan itself, with some notable examples being The Big O, Outlaw Star, and Cowboy Bebop. In such instances, do the Japanese producers specifically produce more media for foreign audiences or do they simply remain focused on local audiences? I know that The Big O was given a second season due to its popularity in America, but have there been any other instances in which such a thing has occurred?
There have definitely been times over the last couple of decades where a show does really well outside of Japan, and that inspires direct sequels or continuations that would not have happened if it weren't for the overseas fanbase. The Escaflowne and Cowboy Bebop movies, Trigun: Badlands Rumble, the third season of Sonic X, and a handful of others are examples of shows that DEFINITELY only happened because of the Western fan base.
It's pretty rare that shows are specifically created to cater to the tastes of Western audiences. Most Japanese creative staff don't REALLY have that great of a handle on something as specific as the tastes of an audience in a country they don't live in, and seldom visit. If they did make something specifically for us, it would be relying on stereotypes and ripping off movies and TV shows that come from here. This seldom makes for good storytelling -- it makes for hackneyed, cliché storytelling, often made dopier by little things that the creative staff don't understand about Western culture. Even with actual foreign partners like Funimation involved, clumsy pandering like that has never produced a hit.
Instead, the effect of chasing Western audiences is a much more subtle one. Genres that are popular overseas (action, sci-fi, etc.) do start to get more attention than they might otherwise, if only the domestic Japanese audience was being considered. There is a large gray area of shows that, while not specifically catering to the overseas crowd, are green-lit because they are more likely to appeal to a wide audience around the world, simply because of its genre or subject matter.
After that, the specific desires of Western fans are not particularly pandered to. There aren't usually specific things that are inserted as fan service, or pop culture references, placed there specifically for us. They would ring false if the people doing the references or jokes or whatever don't get them, themselves. This is true for shows being made in Japan, without any real outside involvement. There are several series being made with a Chinese audience in mind (such as Bloodivores), but those are being made as genuine co-productions with Chinese producers and creative staff. A handful of American productions have attempted to do the same over the years, and Netflix is currently pursuing new involvement in anime in a similar way.
In interviews, it's pretty common for directors to say something to the effect of, "I don't really consider a Japanese audience or a Western audience when I create shows. I simply make things that I think are entertaining, and hope fans around the world agree." And for a director and writer, this is likely true. Their job is to create or adapt a story from the heart, and give it whatever authenticity they can as writers, animators, designers or whatever -- and they can only do that from the vantage point of being Japanese. You really can't be genuine while trying to fake understanding another culture.
But higher up the production chain, where the money is, a potential new show's ability to make back its investment is always considered, no matter how it might happen. If a new show is likely to bring in a huge amount of its budget from overseas licensing and sales, that will absolutely be a major factor to producers.
Of course, this is all guess work: nobody really knows what shows will hit, and where. But anime producers will always do whatever they can to try and make popular entertainment. Because that is how you make money.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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