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Kadokawa Anime Producers Want Isekai To Take Over the World

posted on by Kim Morrissy

The "Isekai" (Other World) fantasy genre has been gaining widespread traction across the world, and Kadokawa's producers could not be happier. At TIFFCOM's "KADOKAWA Anime's Overseas Business Strategy, Case of ISEKAI. and Future Prospects" seminar, Kadokawa executive officer Takeshi Kikuchi and Animation Group General Manager Seiji Kiyohara shared their insight on the current state of the company's anime business strategy and how they intend to expand their properties overseas.

First, some context around Kadokawa: The book publisher first got involved with screen adaptations of its output in 1976 with the Inugamike no Ichizoku film. Fast-forward 45 years later, and the conglomerate now boasts the largest media contents pool in Japan.

Within Japan, Kadokawa follows a simple-to-understand formula for success: By investing in multiple forms of media (called "the media mix"), the company can continuously promote the original novels and extend an IP's life cycle. Kadokawa typically starts pushing the source material novels across Japanese bookstores between three months to one year before the screen adaptation comes out. The screen adaptation then becomes the "nexus" that supports further developments around the franchise while also introducing fans to the novels.

When there is a significant "gap" between developments in the screen adaptation department, Kadokawa can keep the franchise relevant by introducing other forms of media. As an example of this, the seminar brought up the Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- series and how the Isekai Quartet anime came out during the lull between the first and second seasons.

Kadokawa's advantage is that it can handle everything from planning, promotion, packaging, domestic streaming, music, overseas licensing, and so on. However, Kikuchi noted that the company's dominance only applies within Japan. Looking abroad, the media mix strategy doesn't seem to work quite as well. This is something the company has been questioning for the past 2-3 years as they attempt to refine their strategies in overseas promotion.

Kadokawa has identified "isekai" light novels as a major source of growth throughout the past decade. The common denominator is their origins as web novels, which are later republished as books and adapted to the screen. Kadokawa identifies Re:Zero, Overlord, Konosuba, The Saga of Tanya the Evil, and The Rising of the Shield Hero as titles "pioneering" that route.

Kiyohara is hoping that these types of light novel titles, which are also popular overseas, can serve as a springboard for the company's overseas activities. Kadokawa has been able to accomplish simultaneous global releases of its anime titles, but it also wants to be able to push its books and other forms of media effectively overseas as well. When the COVID-19 pandemic eventually ends, Kadokawa intends to aggressively approach the global market. Kikuchi noted that although Kadokawa's eBooks saw tremendous growth in Japan during COVID-19, the publisher is still just a dot in the overseas market, which indicates massive untapped potential.

Kiyohara emphasized the importance of working with foreign partners who will work towards promoting the IPs. "We should not be happy just selling our contents at a high price to licensees," he said. "They need to work closely with the marketing as well in order to ensure that the contents reach as many people as possible."

Kikuchi admitted that he was once in the "sell the property to the highest bidder" camp, but that he now understands the importance of optimizing gains past the Minimum Guarantee (MG) and working with partners who can enable that. As an example of a highly successful partnership, the two pointed to the So I'm a Spider, So What? anime, which was a co-production with Crunchyroll and became part of the Crunchyroll Originals line. It was determined that the series had higher growth potential abroad compared to Japan, and by cooperating closely with Crunchyroll on the marketing side, the anime was able to reach its top potential.

The numbers for So I'm a Spider, So What? were impressive. During its run, it was one of the top five shows on Crunchyroll, and within six months, the earnings exceeded its MG. Because of this, Kadokawa now earns extra royalties from Crunchyroll for the title. Meanwhile, the series has received over 340 million views in Asia, and it is in bilibili's top 10 of all time in the Japanese animation category.

According to Kiyohara, the marketing for So I'm a Spider, So What? was successful because Kadokawa was able to fulfill the common requests from the overseas marketing licensors: Permission to release information about the title at the same time as in Japan, access to a broad array of visual assets and the ability to use them freely, quick turnaround for approvals, outreach from the production staff, etc. Another successful example was Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, which involved multiple arms of promotion from various companies such as Funimation, GeeX+, Yen Press, and BookWalker Global.

For Kadokawa, facilitating this level of freedom represented a big sea change in its international collaborations. Because of these experiences, Kiyohara said that he learned about new marketing strategies and how to engage better with overseas audiences. In the future, he intends to push this angle even further as the company pushes out even more content. Despite changing regulations in China and the circumstances around COVID-19, Kiyohara says he is confident that Kadokawa can it can maintain its goal to deliver 40 new anime in the next fiscal year.

"'Overseas first' is no longer just a slogan but something we will be actively working towards," he said.

Source: TIFFCOM Online Seminar

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