Why Doesn't Viz Automatically Get Every Show From Their Japanese Parent Companies?

by Justin Sevakis,

Ryan asked:

I learned recently that Viz Media is actually jointly owned by shueisha and shogakukan. The two biggest manga publishers in Japan. I wonder why viz media doesn't automatically get the licenses to the anime adaptations of the manga they release. I assume those companies would be on the production committes and have final say on the product. Wouldn't they want their North American arm to release the anime and keep all the profit to themselves? I wonder if they actually make more money licensing them to other companies instead. I mean Promised Neverland went to Aniplex of American and of course Funimation got My Hero Academia. Viz Media would have handled them just fine. Do you know why this is the case or am I missing something?

It's true, Viz Media is jointly owned by Japanese mega-publishers Shogakukan and Shueisha. However, plenty of anime is co-produced by a company with an ownership stake in an overseas publisher. That doesn't mean it'll go to them.

First and foremost, just because the Japanese manga publisher has a hand in its anime adaptation doesn't mean that they automatically control everything about the show. Far from it. Anime is produced by a consortium of companies, each having chipped in to cover production costs. When the production committee is formed, the various responsibilities regarding what to do with the show are divided up between the partner companies. If Shogakukan or Shueisha ends up with those duties, their management office ShoPro are the ones to do it.

But even if that company is the one in the group that gets to deal with international rights, they don't just get to automatically give the show to their partner companies. They have a legal duty to the other stakeholders in the show to see what they can get for the show on the open market, and get a fair price for it. These shows exist to make money, after all. If the other producers and the creator miss out on a big payday from, say, Funimation because one of the partners wanted to give it to their sibling company, they would be quite angry.

Viz doesn't spend nearly as big on video content as Crunchyroll, Funimation or Netflix. They seem to be content to release just a handful of longer running shows at a time -- and that seems to be their specific comfort zone. Their style of releasing doesn't fit every show, and wouldn't necessarily be a good match for whatever their parent companies have on the horizon. If they want it, they'd have to bid for it and make their case for releasing it, just like everybody else.

The big exception to this rule is Aniplex, and that's because they're big enough of a home video distributor in Japan that they were able to convince many of the production committees that they're on to allow them to release the shows in the US themselves. And now that they have a good track record of US releases, it's not a particularly hard argument for them to make. But making that effort in the first place was risky, and required a significant amount of political capital on the production committees to pull off. And even for them, not every Aniplex-involved show gets distributed that way.

There's a lot going on behind these sorts of decisions, so it's very seldom clear from the outside why a certain publisher ended up with a certain show. Sometimes the answer is "money," but sometimes it's a lot more complicated.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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