Who Actually "Owns" An Anime?

by Justin Sevakis,

Chris asks:

While watching Clannad for the first time, I noticed that Pony Canyon leads in the production committee (they're listed on top of the credits). Do they own the show, or is it Kyoto Animation's? Is it like how there are higher ups in film, that can call the big shots but aren't necessarily the owner? In this case, who IS the owner?

Just to catch everyone else up to speed... When an anime gets produced, several companies share the initial investment in the production, and in exchange, each gets a seat at the table when the series is planned, and each gets some right or ability according to their company's ability. This is known as a "production committee" or seisaku iinkai, and nearly every anime made in the last 10-15 years has one. Together, the companies on the committee are the owners of the show.

Many anime fans like to think of the American publishers as the owner of a show, but that is very clearly not the case -- they are always beholden to the licensors in Japan, who are in turn beholden to the production committee. In fact, it's usually the licensor's job to present new licensing offers to the committee, and try to sell them on whatever deal they struck. The committee members must all discuss every major decision in regards to the show before moving forward, so they can clearly figure out if it's in everyone's best interest.

And who is on this committee? There's usually a fairly steady roster of companies. For example, a show's production committee might include the publisher of the original manga (which will benefit hugely from the marketing push the anime will receive), a home video publisher in Japan (say, King Record or Pony Canyon), a toy company (like Bandai), a game publisher (like Sega), a music publisher (like Avex or Sony Music Japan), and an international rights sales company (like D-Rights). There could be a TV network, a movie studio, talent agencies, ad agencies, a trading card game company... but really there's only about 30 companies that heavily invest in a lot of shows. Each of those companies -- usually 5 or 6 -- put up some of the money, and therefore ALL of them are partial owners of the show. It's helpful to think of the anime itself as a new corporation, and the members of a committee are all the shareholders.

Who is NOT part of the production committee? The animation studios are very rarely part of it. Usually they're simply contract labor, hired to make the show based on the requests of the committee. International publishers, such as Funimation, are very very rarely part of the committee -- that only seems to happen once every couple of years.

It is tough to know with absolute certainty from the outside who put up how much money, or the actual balance of power within that committee. Since decision making is typically a consensus process with representatives of all of those companies literally sitting in a meeting together, in many cases all of them wield quite a bit of power. Any one of them could go rogue, which could make it difficult (and has) for the others to conduct business. In many cases all of them have to sign off on major deals, like major casting decisions, international rights sales, merchandise partnerships, and such.

While it's far from concrete evidence, usually people rely on the order of companies listed on the production committee to give us a hint as to who's paying what - they'll often be listen from top to bottom in order of their contribution, but that isn't a hard and fast rule and you'd have to actually inspect the books yourself to know for sure. One thing that is for sure? This entire system is rapidly changing now that market conditions are shifting so dramatically. Watch this space.

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. Please note that he does not take question submissions via Twitter.

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