Do Movies Experience "Production Crunch" Like TV Series Do?
by Justin Sevakis,
We've all heard about the hellish work schedules, impossible deadlines, and cornucopia of problems that the TV anime industry is swamped in (thanks, Shirobako!), but I was wondering: is the anime movie landscape any different? Surely, animators wouldn't be drawing right up until the eleventh hour before the showing of a major animated feature to be shown in theaters, right? Have there been any anime film productions that suffered the same deadline disasters that TV anime can be notorious for?
Film projects by their very nature can't go wrong in the same ways a TV production can. TV shows usually derail because one episode will go SLIGHTLY over schedule, and then that will lead to the next episode that team works on getting a late start, which results in that episode being even more behind. The problems stack up and cascade, and eventually the whole thing spins out of control. There are many series where later episodes have aired with laughably slap-dash or unfinished animation (My Sister, My Writer, anyone?), or didn't make it on the air at all and had to be released direct-to-video.
With only one giant piece to be delivered, movies don't have that same domino effect. This isn't to say that things don't go over schedule and over budget—they very much do, particularly if a project is poorly managed. However, with modern digital animation techniques a few corners can be cut, and then filled in later for home video release, if necessary. If a project is in such rough shape that there's no way it'll be ready in time, the release can get delayed. However, doing so is hugely expensive, as theaters will need to be re-booked and any marketing materials touting the release date will have to be scrapped and re-made.
There has been one infamous case where the theatrical release wasn't moved, and it really, really needed to be. Allow me to recount the woeful tale of Gundress, a spectacular implosion of a 1999 feature with adapted Masamune Shirow character designs. The release date was set, but the film's production blew every deadline, and when it finally arrived in theaters, customers were greeted with an apology note from the producers ("This film isn't finished at all") and a form to be sent a free finished VHS copy upon its release. The screened version had many incomplete scenes, including some that were literally still pencil tests. The VHS copy didn't ship until four months later. I have yet to hear of someone genuinely liking this film.
Gundress is the anime feature film disaster that takes the cake, but it's not the only anime feature to have arrived in theaters in incomplete form. The late Isao Takahata was infamous for going over budget and over schedule on almost everything. His directorial debut, 1968's Horus, Prince of the Sun was delayed and delayed, and Toei Douga finally gave up and released it after they decided they just couldn't wait anymore. The final film to this day has two scenes that are missing in-between animation entirely. Without that, they just look like clumsy, hard-to-follow slide shows. Decades later, his best known film, Grave of the Fireflies, had a few unfinished scenes in its initial theatrical release that were later corrected. (His final film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, was delayed several months due to production issues.)
Delays are rare, but they do happen in anime occasionally. It doesn't matter the format. 7SEEDS, a Netflix original, was supposed to be released in April but won't actually get released until the end of June. But barring the unlikely occurrence of another Gundress, only the punishing schedule of a TV broadcast can result in truly legendary disasters these days.
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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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