What Would've Saved Manglobe?

by Justin Sevakis,

Amanda asks:

Last week we heard that Manglobe, the animation studio that made Samurai Champloo, Ergo Proxy, Karneval, Samurai Flamenco and a bunch of others had filed for bankruptcy and went out of business. I know they were in trouble for a while and a number of their recent shows sold poorly. Would better sales have saved them? Or was this indicative of a bigger problem affecting more than just this one studio?

We will never know what might have saved Manglobe. The studio had been deeply in debt for a long time, and whatever issues were going on to cause such losses were happening behind closed doors.

That said, we do can eliminate a few things that some people might think would have saved them. One of them, surprisingly, is sales of their recent shows. While Manglobe made their name producing original shows like Samurai Champloo, Ergo Proxy and Michiko to Hatchin, everything made in the last 5 years was based on something else (EDIT: except for their notorious flop Samurai Flamenco, which no doubt hurt them). Which means, unless they were part of the production committee (which is rare), the studio does not get any royalties on those shows. The director, head writer (series composition) and original creators do, but the studio itself does not. They are merely contracted workers, and they don't share in the success of a show any more than a drywall contractor shares in the sale of a house they worked on. Having more recent hit shows could very well have moved the needle for them in terms of how much contract work they were able to get, but there's no way of knowing that.

Aside from whatever rumors come out of Japan (and I'm sure we've not heard the last of them), we don't really have much to go on. Many anime studios seem to be in perpetual distress, and although few of them flame out entirely, there are plenty of buy-outs and splinterings, and plenty that just lay low and take subcontracting work rather than head any production themselves. Like most entertainment-related businesses, it's a tough -- and very competitive -- field. Most animation producers complain quite openly about minuscule budgets across the board, which affect how much (or little) the staff can get paid.

To understand why the studios are still getting pinched in what is quite clearly a boom market for anime, I think it might be instructive to take a look at the similar situation that American computer animation studios find themselves in. Over the last few years, local animation shops have been dropping like flies, or relocating to cheaper places like Vancouver and India (some of which enjoy government subsidies to work sent their way). This, despite computer animation being more prominent in big Hollywood movies than ever. The matter came to a head during the Oscar campaign for The Life of Pi: the film's main animation studio, Rhythm & Hues, filed for bankruptcy even as their work was on its way to winning.

Producers have a set amount of money to make a project. Their job -- really, the most essential part of their job -- is to broker deals to get the biggest bang for their buck, to stretch that budget as far as it will go and get the best quality output they can possibly get for that money. They hire the animation studios on a per-project basis, and even as the production budget is set, during production there are always overruns and things that go wrong. Despite that, it's extremely unlikely that they'll be able to wring much more money out of the producer.

And that, essentially, is the problem: the producer is successful because they can drive a hard bargain and get a good deal. The animation studio is more concerned with keeping work coming in, and then delivering really good results -- the whole reason these guys got into the business is because they're fans, themselves. Unfortunately, that means their own financial wellbeing (and, by proxy, that of their employees) is pretty far down their priority list. With those priorities, and with plenty of industry competition, they are in a pretty weak negotiating position. Ask for more money, and the work will just go elsewhere.

I don't really have an answer for how to fix any of this, and regardless, this isn't a problem for us to deal with. We're fans, and all we can really do is just support the stuff we love, and hope the producers will do all they can to continue seeing that it gets made. Even if the methodology behind the scenes gets a little ugly sometimes.

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.

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