Kickstartering the future of anime

This article is my third attempt at writing a piece about crowd funding and anime, each time I’ve tried to do so another development forced me to re-write it, illustrating just how quickly crowdsourcing is reshaping the anime industry. Kick-Heart, the anime kickstarter by Production IG, was the first big crowd funding success. It proved the crowdfunding concept, where anyone can pledge from $1 to thousands of dollars to a project, generally in exchange for some type of reward, was workable for an anime project. Not only was it an effective means of funding anime, but it was something traditionally conservative Japanese companies could embrace under the right circumstances. Kick-Heart was followed by Pied Piper’s Time of Eve and Studio Trigger’s Little Witch Academia 2 projects, both of which met and exceeded their goals. Even Animesols, a crowdfunding site mostly for older anime, has found success, first with a campaign to make a DVD set of the magical girl show Creamy Mami and now hopefully (if enough of you  pledge in the next day or so) with a campaign to release a DVD of the first season of Black Jack TV.  Does that mean that the revolution has succeeded and the age of crowdfunding is nigh? Hardly. But with the success of the Kick-Heart, Time of Eve and Little Witch projects, it’s looking like crowdfunding is one of the best and most rewarding ways to get anime today.

What makes crowdfunding’s success so exciting is that it gives fans outside of Japan a way to shape the anime industry. Previously non-Japanese fans could only interact with anime companies indirectly. Fans that wanted to influence what projects got animated could try to talk with directors at conventions or they could show support for a type of show by buying shows on DVD with the hope that the sales encouraged Japanese companies to make other similar shows. Ultimately though fans outside of Japan had little influence. Crowdfunding changes that dynamic. Now fans outside of Japan can pledge money, talk directly with studios during a campaign and influence not only the campaign itself, but influence what type of shows get produced.

While crowdfunding is an amazing opportunity for fans outside of Japan, the limits of crowdfunding are already apparent. Kick-heart, for all its success, is a sobering example of those limits. The Kick-heart project needed more than 3,000 supporters contributing an average of $60 to fund the development of a twelve minute anime short.  Even this effort made the project one of the most successful kickstarters to date. Of 108,524 launched projects (as of 7/31/2013) only 749 raised over $100,000, or less than 1%. Even when you look at smaller categories of projects, Kick-heart raised in the top 2% of all funded projects and in the top 7% of all funded film and video projects. Only 118 film and video projects raised over $100,000.

That’s not to say that Kick-heart is the ceiling for what anime kickstarters can accomplish, as Little Witch Academia 2 has already proven by raising over $480,000 with one week remaining in its campaign. But even in this project, $480,000 only led to an additional 15 minutes of animation. At that price, an entire season (13 episodes) would run about $8.3 million, even a 90 minute movie would run about $2.9 million. A whole season financed through kickstarter seems unlikely given that only two film and video projects have raised at least $1 million dollars.

At this point, the enthusiasm of non-Japanese kickstarter funders may be disproportionately larger than what the campaigns have accomplished or could be reasonably expected to accomplish. Still, the presence of the anime kickstarters shows that Japanese studios are willing to put their projects in the hands of fans. In an interview with Tokyo Otaku Mode studio Trigger noted that its decision to start a kickstarter for Little Witch Academia 2 was the direct result of requests by fans comments on Youtube asking for such a project. Studio Trigger did so even though it already had funding sufficient to make about a 20 minute episode. The campaigns are also valuable insofar as they’ve helped enlighten anime companies about what fans want. For example, fan complaints about DRM-protected digital download extras led Pied Piper to put the extras on discs instead.  Plus, even if the industry hasn’t been revolutionized by crowdfunding, anime fans have been well rewarded. The campaigns have led to art books, blu-rays brimming with extras, and releases of new anime at the same time it is seen in Japan. That’s a better deal than any other source for anime, and reason to contribute by itself.

7 thoughts on “Kickstartering the future of anime”

  1. There has yet to be a Kickstarter that I felt passionate about to fund. Either it isn’t revolutionary, people aren’t getting word out well, or there really hasn’t been anything yet for me.

  2. If you recall, ANN wrote a series of articles about the finances of anime production: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2012-03-05
    The takeaway for this discussion is the estimated cost per episode runs at about $300k and $2-4 million per cour of anime. LWA2’s original goal of $150k for 15 extra minutes is in line with these figures.

    LWA2 is a very, very successful kickstarter, and I’m interested in seeing how it stacks up in the end against other projects, but it’s far short from funding a whole season. Still, the interest these recent projects have drummed up could signal to anime producers the viability of Western/international markets if only they will keep an open ear and mind.

    1. One thing to keep in mind is that with kickstarter the costs are likely higher because of the costs of manufacturing and shipping the rewards. The cost ANN quoted may still be accurate with what it actually costs to make these episodes but I’ve heard of enough kickstarters running into problems because they underestimated the costs of the rewards to lead me to believe these costs are not insignificant.

  3. Two main points I want to address.

    First, the way Kickstarter acts as a forum for fans and creators and facilitate interaction is a good thing, but arguably this has already been a big part of what anime companies do even overseas. In my own experience I have seen genuine Japanese execs “get it” when they visit anime cons and understand what’s really at work. Companies like Aniplex USA and Mangagamers are basically operating on similar understanding. Crunchyroll, even, can be a conduit to link fans with creators (makes you wonder about Time of Eve). It’s just something I want to point out, but Kickstarter is not the first of this sort of thing, although it might be the most internet-visible yet.

    Second, the post sort of just tosses the alternative of the situation to the side in the second half. I’m not going to debate about the merit of Kickstarter here but it’s hard to say its true value if you’re not familiar with what typically goes, what Kickstarter brings to the table, and what it replaces.

    1. In regards to point one, what I was trying to get across was that, with kickstarter and to some extent with crowdfunding in general, you get to have an influence now. You get to change what’s put on the disc, or how much of a show gets made. You can’t do that if you are talking to the director years after a show has finished airing.

      I’d say Aniplex is a great example of a company that doesn’t get the western media market. They have a strategy that in the short term may be beneficial, but in the long term the anime industry needs to grow or die. Aniplex’s pricing strategy isn’t going to help that to happen.

      As for your second point I’m not sure what you mean by “the alternative of the situation”. All I was saying was that kickstarter, as is, isn’t a viable funding source for seasons of shows or even really of movies. If all that kickstarter ever achieves is a way to finance 20 minute shorts, then I don’t see how it can revolutionize the industry. But I think Little Witch Academia is a great example of the fact that the book on anime kickstarters is still being written. I’m hopeful that someday (soon) we see even more ambitious anime kickstarter projects.

  4. I have been researching how the anime industry works for a few days now, and it’s just my luck (although I don’t quite believe in coincidences) that I stumbled on this article, from just another casual visit to this blog. Anyway, I’m aware of Animesols, but I thought they were the only ones doing this type of thing. It’s definitely great to see that the industry’s got this new baby that is making some type of significant change, but as you mentioned, there’s too much money needed for it to change the way we do bigger projects like movies & the likes. I am in love with the fact that crowdfunding allows us to get more of want we want out of DVD sets, and I think that alone is pretty revolutionary.

    I also want to add that upon learning about the economy in the anime/manga industry, I personally want to do the best I can supporting the industry, because I care so much about it and I feel as though I owe it to these artists. As long as I have the means, I’ll do it. And, thank you so much for this article; one of the best blog articles I’ve read in a while. =)

    1. Are you willing to share any articles of value that you’ve come across? I’ve been wanting to learn more about the industry’s inner workings for some time.

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