Why Did Sgt. Frog Hit In Japan But Not America?
by Justin Sevakis,
I've been wondering for a while now about the popularity of the anime series 'Sgt. Frog', also known as 'Keroro Gunso'. In the West few people have heard of this obscure anime, yet I have heard it is quite popular in Japan. Why hasn't this series gained more popularity in the West and why has Funimation only bothered to dub 78 episodes for an exclusively US release?
It's not hard to see why Sgt. Frog was such a hit property in Japan. The cute, funny, quirky sitcom with geek cred pushed all the right buttons: it had an adorable but amusingly incompetent lead. It was easily merchandisable, with its slew of cute anthropomorphic aliens. It was a little edgy but still mostly family-friendly. And while being very clearly anime, has the unique look of manga artist Mine Yoshizaki. And most importantly, it's a pretty good show.
With that in mind, it seems like a no-brainer to bring Sgt. Frog to an American audience, and to aim for a mainstream audience. The potential revenues that a merchandise-heavy show like that can bring in are orders of magnitude above that of your typical late-night anime series. It's no wonder that Sgt. Frog's licensor, ad agency ADK, tried for years to find a partner in North America to adapt the series for, if not the absolute mainstream of the American market, at least the mainstream edge of anime fandom.
Unfortunately, the problems with bringing Sgt. Frog to the English speaking market begin to reveal themselves the second you sit down and start really start to work with the show. While the story and the overall feel of the show are perfect for export, its humor is very, very hard to deal with. Most of the jokes are Japanese language puns that don't translate. At all. Neither do the pop-culture jokes. For example, main character Keroro is a huge Gundam fan. But Gundam is a very niche show in North America, and for almost everyone but hardcore otaku, nobody in America will know what the hell he's talking about. It's like having a show chock full of Star Wars jokes, and then trying to export to a country where the movies were never released.
For long shows like Sgt. Frog, home video sales are almost never a big moneymaker. They monetize through TV ad sales, the old fashioned way (being on at a reasonable hour, the ad time is actually valuable), but mostly through merchandise sales. There isn't much value to a long-running show selling a few thousand copies on disc. The goal is to get on television, so that merchandise can start moving. Few fans are going to collect every episode on DVD: the anime of Sgt. Frog spans 358 TV episodes (plus 23 from the 2014 reboot) and five movies. Series that run that long are meant to keep a show on TV for a long time, and thereby keep a lucrative merchandising machine in the public eye.
Which meant, if Sgt. Frog was going to hit in America, it needed pretty heavy adaptation. When ADV licensed the first chunk of episodes, they brought in a team of people from Summit Entertainment to advise them on trying to make the show salable to American TV networks. Reportedly they made several different pilots aimed at different audiences (kids, mature audiences, fans), but weren't able to complete any deals before they imploded. The rights to the show ended up with Funimation, who also made several tries before finally settling on the uncut, not-all-that-adapted version of the dub that was released.
What we got, in the end, was mildly amusing, but was just not the sort of show that would ever blow up in America. The show never got picked up by a major TV or cable network, and was released like everything else Funimation puts out, on disc and on streaming services. Funimation hung in there for a while, but finally gave up after releasing 78 episodes, and as of 2013, was referring to the show as being "on hiatus." And that lucrative market for Sgt. Frog merchandise that all of those companies were chasing never materialized.
Ah well. Just another failed attempt at trying to launch a brand to the US mainstream. One of thousands.
Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.
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