How Do Anime Cross-Overs Work?

by Justin Sevakis,

Peter asks:

I recently bought the latest volume of One Piece and it's mentioned in it that they were unable to get the license for episode 492 which was a cross-over episode with Toriko. But as far as I'm aware Funimation has the dubbing license for both One Piece and Toriko so why would they be unable to license the cross-over? Do cross-overs work differently that a company might not be able to get rights to it even if they have the rights to the two individual shows? And how do cross-overs work in general when getting them made/produced/licensed?

Funimation may have simulcast the entire TV series of Toriko, but only dubbed and released disc versions of the first 50 episodes. They also have not licensed any of the Toriko movies. As their last release of Toriko on disc was over two years ago, I think it's safe to assume that efforts to do so have been abandoned. From what I've heard, the show was not a strong seller. I have no idea what went on behind the scenes in regards to the One Piece cross-over episode (which WAS streamed on Crunchyroll), but we can take a few guesses.

Cross-over episodes are a fun thing for anime fans, and make for a nifty publicity stunt for long-running shows. But they can be very tricky to do behind-the-scenes, especially when the original creators of the show are powerful (as is usually the case with giant franchises like these). The idea for a cross-over might originate with the creators themselves, as it reportedly did with Monkey Punch and Gosho Aoyama when Lupin III crossed over with Detective Conan/Case Closed. Or it could originate with a high-ranking producer on one of the two shows' production committees -- perhaps an editor or friend of both creators.

After a lot of negotiation, a crossover story is decided on and agreed to by both creators, and if both shows are still running, it's also determined which show the crossover fits into. For example, will Toriko appear in One Piece, or will the One Piece cast appear in Toriko? Or will there be a cross-over that belong to both worlds? This will determine who makes the cross-over episode. Special character designs are created to fit in with that world, and show how the characters will appear on screen together. This answers questions that the artists will have to contend with later, like "who is taller" and "who has bigger boobs?" As the cross-over episode will be considered a new production for whatever voice cast has to be brought over, their contracts and arrangements must be made and scheduled.

Since that episode now has two "original creators" (gensakusha), now both of them get to sign off on whatever happens with that episode. Depending on the way the deal to make the episode was structured, now two separate production committees may have input on whatever happens with that episode as well. And while a streaming arrangement is fairly easy to get these committees to agree to -- they're considered ephemeral replacements for broadcast, after all -- getting them to agree to the permanence of a disc release is something much harder. So many people now have to be consulted and satisfied, and perhaps paid, that it makes the combined production much, much harder for anyone to license.

Cross-overs are complicated for everybody on all sides of a production, which is why they don't happen very often. I will never be shocked to hear of a cross-over episode being held back from overseas release for reasons unknown. There are just an insane number of procedural pitfalls that must be overcome to license them, and often the stories they present are such inconsequential side-shows that they aren't even worth the trouble.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's 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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