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.