What Needs To Be Approved By A Licensor?

by Justin Sevakis,

Hey guys, I could really use some new questions! It's the dog days of summer, so people are kind of checked out... and not sending in questions for me to answer. So come on, send me something! [email protected] Thanks!!

Julian asks:

When a non - Japanese publisher like Funimation puts out a show on home media how much do they have to get approved from the licensor? Do they also need approval for re - releasing a show?

Licensors have to approve pretty much everything these days. They have to approve the subtitle script, and usually any translated credits. They have to approve the dub casting choices, the dub script, and sometimes the final recording (depending on the licensor). They have to approve the packaging, any and all web artwork and advertising, print advertising, and convention or retail displays. They have to approve any pack-in items, toys, T-shirts, or other merchandise, whether it's sold or given away as promotion. Pretty much everything you can think of, a licensor has to approve.

This isn't across the board. Some licensors are a lot more lax than others, and some properties are subject to a lot more scrutiny than others. Sometimes famous manga artists get directly involved in these approvals, insisting on having their input into every aspect of production. Other times, nobody cares much about an older show, so a release might slip out with little to no oversight. But virtually every big new show is more the former than the latter. And sometimes getting those approvals can be a truly taxing exercise in patience and polite cajoling.

Sometimes these approvals go very wrong. The person doing the approvals is seldom a native English speaker, and might take issue with a turn of phrase in a translation that they don't quite get. They might insist on going through draft after draft of a box or an ad, not quite being able to tell the designer what they find wrong with their work, but telling them to do it over from scratch. And sometimes, they just don't reply. The licensors themselves are often working with a skeleton crew and are having to handle all of these approvals for 10+ shows at a time. It can bring out the worst in people.

It didn't always used to be this way. Back in the 90s, when it took weeks to ship materials across the globe and high-speed internet wasn't yet on anybody's radar, the licensors had no choice but to let the Americans do whatever they wanted. And early on, they were just surprised that the Americans wanted their animation at all. It was a matter of, "really? You want this stuff, and you'll pay us money for it? Uhhh, okay, have at it!" But then they caught wind of all sorts of changes being made, certain creators raised a stink, and slowly the licensors got more and more controlling. And now we're basically to the point where they remotely breathe down every publisher's neck to varying degrees.

If a company wants to re-release something they already put out, that's their prerogative (usually). But when they do, any new materials they create for it, from new bonus materials and packaging to a new ad campaign still need to be approved. And some licensors are really, really chill. But dealing with approvals is easily the most frustrating, anxiety and rage producing part about working in the anime industry. And I assume that cuts both ways.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

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 real, strange stories from the anime business, Tales of the Industry.

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