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Hey, Answerman!
Mo' Money Mo' Problems

by Brian Hanson,

Ah! My weekly world of internet stardom. How I've missed you these past seven days.

I've got some really great questions this week - my hat is off to all of you, seriously - so let's waste not, want not (whatever that means):

To begin, I was hoping you could shed some light on how much it actually costs for an anime series to be brought over to the United States. I realize the price varies from one title to the next, but I was hoping you might be able to give a general estimate for the costs of such things as licensing, production, dubbing/subtitling, distribution, and so on.

The next part of my question is, I suppose, more of a request for feedback. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the idea of anime companies beginning to utilize a "Commit to Pay" system. By "Commit to Pay," I am referring to those systems used by such organizations as Groupon and Kickstarter. Basically, an item is advertised as being *potentially* for sale. If enough people commit to pay, then the sale becomes official and everybody who laid money down, gets the item. If the quota is not met, then the sale is never activated and everyone who committed gets all of their money back. The really nice thing about this system is that, except for the time and money it takes to set up the website advertising the item, neither the customers nor the company loses out if not enough people commit.

So to then apply this to how it might work with anime companies, let's use the Ef ~a tale~ series as an example. Funimation, Sentai Filmworks, or any other anime company could set up a website advertising this series as a potential, conditional license. In this advertisement, they could include information about exactly how many people they need to commit before they will license this series (i.e. 50,000). Additionally, to make sure that the series (and committed customers' money) does not hang in limbo forever, a time limit could be set (i.e. 6 months). So, what would happen is that by the end of 6 months, 50,000 people would have to commit money in order for Ef ~a tale~ to be licensed. If the quota is met, the company would then go through with the license and, after everything is said and done, distribute the product to all of those customers who committed. If the quota is not met, everything is dropped. Customers have the money they committed refunded, the advertisement is removed, and nobody is any worse for the wear.

So, my question is, would it be a good idea for anime companies to consider incorporating this or a similar plan into their own businesses? Would it be practical? Would it even be feasible? I know that licensing a series can be a huge financial risk for a company. Thus, I would think that any plan to minimize this risk would be extremely appealing. I would also think that customers would really appreciate a system like this as it could mean they would have a higher chance of getting the titles they really want licensed.

That's an interesting idea. Too bad it can't really work.

First of all, it's actually rather hard to put a ballpark estimate on the average cost of licensing and releasing an anime series in North America. There are way too many different variables. There's never a flat, cut rate that all US companies use when they license a series from Japan. That depends on the length of the series, merchandising potential, contractual rights, and other things. "Production" costs are the costs that cover everything else, really - subbing, translating, dubbing (if they decide to do it), mastering, all that. And those sorts of things all cost tens of thousands of dollars and just go up from there.

Unfortunately, a "commit to buy" model for anime just doesn't seem feasible. Honestly, the upfront costs of licensing alone are far too big to spend on the idea of potentially releasing a series, and then backing out of it if they don't get enough pre-orders or whatever. Because it's not like companies can be refunded their licensing fee; no Japanese anime company would ever, ever give that money back as a kind gesture to say "SORRY THAT DIDN'T WORK OUT ;( " Once the title is licensed, they're stuck with it until their contract expires. So at that point, even if they didn't get enough pre-orders, they might as well release something if they have the license to it.

Honestly, though, I think a similar idea to this was just done recently - and to surprising success. Garden of Sinners says hello! Aniplex knew that property wasn't going to sell in droves, but they knew it had an adoring fanbase; so they kept the print run low, sold it at an incredibly high premium, and sold it directly to customers themselves, forgoing the usual retail channels like brick-and-mortar stores and Amazon. And, hey, it sold out!

In that same instance, Aniplex similarly crunched the numbers and figured out how many copies exactly that they needed to sell, and for how much, in order to turn a profit. Nobody was happy that the set they released cost a ludicrous 400 dollars, but, again, it worked.

I imagine that we'll be seeing other, similar releases in the future, honestly. I gather that people probably don't want to hear that, because who on Earth would want to know that the only way to get their New Favorite Show might be to shell out several hundred dollars on something in such limited quantities that you're not even guaranteed to get a hold of a copy? But it's the only thing that seems like a workable iteration of the "Commit to Buy" model you mentioned.

When I learned that the creator of Blue Exorcist was female, I was a bit surprised, but then I started thinking -- there have actually been several successful shonen series recently that were created by women, including Fullmetal Alchemist, Nabari no Ou, and Black Butler (though the last two are probably more obvious...) That makes me wonder -- is this a new phenomenon, or have women been doing shonen all the while, perhaps under pen names? And what about the flipside -- are there men out there making famous shojo series? I know that the original shojo manga were created by men, but it seems like the genre has since then been firmly in the hands of the ladies, and with little regard to multi-demographic appeal.

You left out Rumiko Takahashi! Geez!

Actually, bringing up Takahashi makes a good point - she was making Urusei Yatsura for Shonen magazines in the early 80's, so that answers that. I can't speak for too many other specific examples from the time period - or at least, nothing's jumping to mind - but at least there's precedent for female authors making Shonen manga going back a few decades. It definitely wasn't as commonplace in days of yore as it is today, however.

As far as male authors making shoujo, well... aside from the obvious with Osamu Tezuka and Princess Knight, I'd say that male authors have been more successful at attracting female readers to otherwise male-oriented stories, be it a combination of bishounen characters and a roster of well-defined roles for female characters. I wouldn't go so far as to say that shoujo has "little regard to multi-demographic appeal" - c'mon now, plenty of guys out there love CLAMP and so forth. I mean, no, they're not exactly taking the same tack to appeal to male readers as male authors are to appeal to female readers (for the most part, at least), but the truly exceptional shoujo mangas of the world are able to speak beyond gender. The Hana Yori Dangos, the Kodochas, the His and Her Circumstances. Titles that rely on character and terrific writing - which, when you think about it, are the ingredients that help anything reach a massive audience regardless of intended demographic or subject matter.

Salutations, sir Answerman. Or do you prefer Mr. Hanson? Either way, you know who you are, and I know to whom I'm talking - right?

You occasionally get questions about the possible releases of older series, but I'm going to go further back than you've ever before addressed. Poking around for information regarding the origins of anime, I became curious about things like Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors (reputedly the first feature-length production from Japanese animation), The Tale of the White Serpent (reputedly the first Japanese animated feature film in color) and the many shorts made in the 1930s. I'd certainly be willing to look at the material made in the 1910s and 1920s, but like most silent stuff, its survival rates have been pretty low. So I have a twofold question along these lines. The first is: why hasn't early anime garnered the same kind of attention from classic film scholars as most other varieties of prewar moving pictures? Would an uncovering of a heretofore-unknown feature from, say, Kenzo Masuoka, ever attain the notice of the recent Metropolis copy in South America? The second: would there be any market outside of Japan for releasing Criterion collections (or some other highly-regarded prestige distributor) of this material? Certainly the companies you usually discuss in the column would never touch this when it has absolutely no appeal to their intended markets, which is why I feel looking outside the usual release avenues for anime is necessary.

Well, okay, first of all, you're getting into a dangerously argumentative territory when comparing lost silent Japanese cartoons to the nearly-fully restored version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, one of the most influential and important films ever made.

In fact, it's because those early silent Japanese films were lost to the aether of time that there's this perceived "lack of interest." Metropolis, in all its various cuts and incarnations, had the benefit of nearly a century's worth of influence and curiosity; the lineage of pre-war, silent films from the US and Europe and Russia lines up quite nicely to the sorts of films that we're still watching today in 2011. All the techniques and tricks that were pioneered by Griffith and Eisenstein and Murnau are patently evident. And on the animation front, the early works by the Fleischers and Disney and Messmer have a very direct correlation to animation today. Most of those early "anime" from Japan seem to be largely ignored even by Japan's film industry. Which is odd, because that in no way is the case with their film industry at large; right now, you can buy Criterion box sets with silent films by Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse.

That said, there's still some definite interest in uncovering and, more importantly, presenting these early attempts at animation in America. Pay enough attention to Cartoon Brew, and you'll find some cool screenings of some of these "lost" short films every once in a while. And of course there was the Japanese Classic Anime Collection that was released by Digital Meme a few years ago.

Which I guess answers your question about the market for these films. Sure, there certainly is one, because I can guarantee you there's a small but vocal community of hardcore animation historians and enthusiasts. But look at the price on that box set - 128 bucks on Amazon. Just like with Garden of Sinners, the price seemingly reflects the demand, accurate or no.

So, there is a demand for it, just like there's a demand for any lost and/or historically significant animation around the globe. It's not going to attain the same amount of fervor and curiosity as a Fritz Lang masterpiece, no, but so few things in the world of film ever do.

And now it's that time wherein I sound the alarm and let all you fine folks opine and jam on topics of varying natures - Answerfans! Last week, I opened the floodgates and let the Moonies in:

To begin! ss-hikaru wants to harness the inherent world-conquering power of pop idols:

One way to create a “prominent popular pop-cultural icon” would be to collaborate with current “prominent popular pop-cultural icon”s. The goal would be to gain a new audience for Sailor Moon in addition to those who are already fans.

Therefore! Although I am not a fan (of the mentioned musical acts), I propose a live action J-drama of Sailor Moon starring the Oricon chart toppers Arashi and AKB48! With 48 (?) girls and very few male characters (in the manga at least, I haven't watched the anime), these two idol groups should be sufficient to cover casting of all the characters in Sailor Moon, and if not, then they can always just grab some other members from other Johnny's Entertainment boybands and all those AKB ripspinoffs like SNK48 or whatever*. The hordes of Arashi and AKB48 fans around the world will be glued to their TVs (/computers) thus creating a new legion of Sailor Moon devotees! Then, anime conventions across the globe can invite Arashi or A or B or C err, I mean K groups of AKB as guests, and they can perform the opening and ending and insert theme songs ** that will inevitably be made (and will no doubt reach the top 10 of the Oricon charts), further bringing Sailor Moon into the spotlight. Blu-rays with English subtitles should be made available so that die hard fans and Sailor Moon completionists can pay the exorbitant prices to import copies of their own! Sailor Moon will further gain attention due to the unavoidable flame wars on za intanetz about whether the drama is a decent adaptation or not***.

For the fans of 2D though, I'd hire Shaft to remake the anime.

*yes, I am ignorant when it comes to idol groups.
**in full cosplay of their respective characters of course
***hey, flame wars definitely did not SHIFT attention away from Code Geass!

Sam had me at "evil circus people":

My idea? A new cartoon! What better way to reel in a new generation of AND celebrate the character's anniversary?

Have it be a certain number of episodes long and make it closer to the original manga, with tighter pacing, good use of every character and none of that nonsense about a dozen or so episodes about ridiculous Power Rangers style monsters targeting a one shot character to steal their energy or get some silly plot device (pure heart gems, dream mirrors, star seeds, etc) from their body. It can make up for the original series' mistakes of too much filler and underused/underdeveloped (and a few overused) characters and give us the best of both worlds by mixing what was good about the manga with what was good about the show. Like having the bad guys fight their own battles instead of summoning lame monsters, giving each senshi a strong presence throughout instead of pushing them to the background as the cast grows, and letting Tuxedo Mask actually make himself useful...and fight using something besides that cane and friggin' roses (He had a DBZ style energy attack in the manga I'm very annoyed the anime never used). And a new story could even spare us the stranger/sillier/stupider elements from the show's later years (I'm looking at you, evil circus people and gender bending Senshi).

Plan B: a Sailor Moon Kai sounds like it would cool...though without the filler it would be a LOT shorter than the original...

Matt won't rest or eat until the Sailor Scouts are back on the air, damn it:

The first and most important thing that needs to be done is to get Sailor Moon back on TV. Most people I know got into anime through stuff like DBZ and, of course, Sailor Moon itself is because we saw it on TV back in the day. If it worked before, it'll work again. Ignoring the issue of licensing and rights, there's not a whole lot that they CAN do to expose new people to it, short of announcing it on Billboards on the highway.

Rednal got a copy of Final Draft for Easter, it seems:

(The screen starts black, followed by words that appear narrated in a deep, manly voice)

TEXT: From the creator of the greatest romance series of our time comes this recommendation...

(Stephanie Meyer appears onscreen in a Living Room-styled setting with a fireplace on one side of the screen)

MEYER: A story of true romance can be hard to write. I know. I also know one when I see it, and of all the works inspired by Twilight, I must admit that Sailor Moon is the series whose members are closest to having the wonderful romance of Edward and Bella. I found myself very impressed with the creator's adaption of a traditional animated genre into something new and exciting, just as I did myself with the Vampire story. That's why I encourage all of you to watch this series, Sailor Moon. It's a story of magic and monsters and growing up, but above all, it's a story of love almost as pure as that I write myself. And yes, there will be sparkles.

(The screen fades into a dramatic clip from the show)

USAGI: (Screaming) Tuxedo Mask!

MASK: (Screaming) Usagi!

USAGI: (Screaming) Tuxedo Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaask!

MASK: (Screaming) Usagiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!

(Explosion between the two, flinging them apart, as they stare into each other's sparkling eyes)

(The screen fades to black)

MASK: (Whispering) What am I, Usagi? Say it.

USAGI: (Whispering) Useless.

(Commercial ends)

Okay, okay, enough fooling around. But seriously, in terms of pandering to the teenage girl demographic, I think there's a lot to be learned from the success of Twilight, and that's probably the best group to go for if we want to make the show an icon of any sort. Older anime fans might watch for the nostalgia, but it's probably not going to go any further than that as things stand now. Personally, I'd take a leaf from the success of another classic and essentially animate "Sailor Moon Kai" (well, without the added title, I suppose), using newer anime techniques to create a more modern-looking show while largely following the story and pacing of the original, giving it a new television run and advertising fairly heavily to the target audience. Basically, give the show a makeover, get rid of the crappy edits made to the original English version, and show it on the timeslot we think will most easily get people's attention. At least in America, I don't think there is any way the show will *ever* become a major icon without at least being shown on TV again, and updating the art would probably go a long way towards making this a reality. Preferably a profitable reality.

Oooo, Otaking09 said the M-word:

How did DBZ get popular in the US? Mainly, by getting it out there. And by that I mean the "M" word: Merchandising. I remember when I was a lad that dozens of dolls of Big-Head Vageta lined up in Wal-Mart. Heck, almost a whole SECTION, was donated to DBZ ALONE! I, personally, wasn't interested in the series, but let me give you personal experience on how popular it was back in the day:

1. Half a dozen boys were wearing shirts, with a few girls asking "Why don't you like Bulma?"(no joke)
2. I got a birthday gift from my best friend without him knowing what I like.(proves how "everyone" thought it was good)
3. Lastly, everyone openly talked about it.(without social networking, torrents, streaming, everyone relied on word of mouth, visits, etc)

The more you see something, the more curious you'll be. This applies to... well, anything. Billboards, ads, commercials and the like.

The easy answer would be to properly apply this to nowaday kids with the above information. But we're talking manga here. And the holders are Kodansha USA; I don't know how they throw out their titles. So being that, if I was CEO of Kodansha, I'd start off from square one, and show that it's been effective with the US before. Demonstrate that it has a myriad of fans... for it's myriad of accomplishments. Beyond that, let social networking do the rest; let people who know the stuff help those that don't. "Tame the technology to my whim" so to speak. Sailor Moon is true quality above all else, and once a steady person admires that, then... well, we all know the power of fans...

Putting a capper on this, Sahara Frost has a plan that involves middle schoolers. No, no, don't get the FBI involved:

If I had all the necessary resources and connections to do this, the way that I would go about not just reviving Sailor Moon, but turning her into a pop-cultural icon in 2011 would be, hands-down, relaunching the anime series. Not just a return of the original 200-episode series, mind you, but a complete revival. Yes, I mean that Sailor Moon needs to jump on the bandwagon with shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Dragon Ball Z and get a huge makeover. Why? Because in order to become an icon in 2011, Sailor Moon can't just make a reappearance for her loyal 90s fans; she has to introduce herself to and gain the acceptance of a new, much more demanding generation of viewers. Where Sailor Moon's original audience can remember Windows 95, Super Nintendo, Care Bears when they were cool, and Pogs, the generation our gorgeous, short-skirted heroine faces today was practically born with wires implanted into its head. This is the age of Internet 2.0, iPods, Nintendo 3DS, 12+ Megapixel digital cameras, Smart phones, Pixar, Dreamworks, and so much more. To be clear...I'm not saying that Sailor Moon can't make it as an icon in 2011; she absolutely can. But if we simply relaunch the 1990s series that I and so many others grew up with, she's not going to make it. Don't get me wrong...I would love for somebody to relicense and release DVDs of the Sailor Moon series that I remember. Whoever is willing to do that will make a killing because Sailor Moon has a loyal following. But if we're to be perfectly honest with ourselves, the original show is dated. Just like Evangelion and Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon hit her prime long ago and it shows. Thus if Sailor Moon is going to do more than just be revived, this shows needs to undergo a serious transformation...the entire series needs to be completely reworked for its audience: middle school-aged viewers of 2011.

Good ideas, guys, and thanks again everyone for your very succinct and interesting responses! Next week, I've got this little head-scratcher lined up for your brains:

Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.

Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.

* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

And that's all the time I have for this week! Remember to jot down any questions or answers of import and send them my way via answerman(at!)animenewsnetwork.com! I'll be around next week for more of this thing! Have at it!

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