Is It Possible To Kickstart Your Own Anime Series?

by Justin Sevakis,

PAL asked:

I know several web comic artists who have popular strips and are always asked by their fans “Any chance of an animated series?” To which they reply “No. Never. It's impossible. Can't be done.” Then the fans point out how animation has gotten cheaper, there's more small animation studios now than ever before, anime studios regularly take manga (even if it's just four-panel gags) and make great series out of them, and so on. I also pointed out that Kickstarter and indie-go-go can crowdsource an initial episode or two-to-four episode story arc, then if popular Patreon could keep the series going on a per-episode basis. Now some of them are seriously considering the possibilities and have asked me to do research. First person I thought to ask for information and advice was you. Do you think any anime studios might be interested in turning an American web comic into an anime series? If so, how would a web comic creator contact them? Who would they talk to? How much (rough estimate) do you think it would cost for one or two half-hour episodes as proof of concept or a fundraiser?

This is one of those times where I don't really want to tell you that you're wrong to give these webcomic artists hope, but the odds of what you're describing working out in any way are so ridiculously low that it's hard for me, as an entertainment industry professional, to take the idea seriously. What you're describing has never happened at a grassroots level, and not for the reasons you might think. It's entirely possible for a Kickstarter attached to a very popular webcomic to take in enough money to make a pilot animation (and it would have to be well north of the US$250,000 range to cover both initial designs as well as a short pilot). The problems really start immediately after that.

To produce an animated project of any kind, you need a producer. An actual producer, on the Western side of things, with real experience in the animation business. There aren't many of those. This producer would be in charge of finding an actual screenwriter to write a coherent screenplay, actual designers to come up with animator-friendly guidelines that can actually be used as such (sorry, most artists can't just come up with those -- it's a very specific discipline), and hire and supervise an animation studio that will actually give you animation that doesn't look like an intern did it with their left hand and a broken mouse in Windows Paint. Without one of these highly sought-after people on your team, you're sunk. Most animation studios won't work without one, because dealing with a rank amateur on the insanely complex minutiae of making an animation would be so frustrating it would not be worth their time. There are so many moving parts to making a decent piece of animation, you simply need someone with all the connections. Every step that's done by dedicated amateurs is something that can go very wrong, and it only takes one or two of those before a project goes careening out of control.

There aren't many of these animation producers, and even fewer who are used to dealing with Japanese studios. What's more, there is very little incentive for a person like that to work on a pilot film for a webcomic. Their job is a tough one, and in order for them to make money, they need to be able to put together things that TV networks will pick up, will get sold overseas, and make money from multiple different sources. The ONLY way a producer like this would pick up a project like that would be if they were big fans, and thought they could make it into a sellable project of some kind. And at that point, you are no longer making a little Kickstarter project that you have creative control over, you're handing the keys over to someone else. If you're going that route, it'd be far easier to just try and get a literary agent to sell the rights so that someone else can produce it. At least that way you won't spend a crazy amount of time fulfilling Kickstarter obligations.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Due to the current anime boom, virtually all of the anime studios in Japan are booked solid for the next 3-5 years. There simply isn't space for an outsider to come in and try to produce something of their own. They'll have to wait in line, even if the studios do take your project.

See what I mean? It's not impossible, but getting something like that made requires a ridiculous amount of business savvy that most webcomic artists are unlikely to possess or have time for. Unless that artist already knows animation producers, I don't think the idea is one worth considering.

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