By CHRIS McGOWAN
The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.
Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.
By CHRIS McGOWAN
In 1963, Tetsuwan Atom – an anime TV series about a robot boy with superpowers and a soul – launched on Fuji TV in Japan. Later that year, it was dubbed into English as Astro Boy and became the first anime TV series marketed in the U.S., where it enjoyed success with 104 episodes airing on NBC through 1965. Fast forward six decades and anime (Japanese animation) is now one of the world’s most popular forms of entertainment, one that has influenced many filmmakers in the West. There are an estimated 622 animation studios in Japan, according to Grand View Research, and thousands of anime movies and series have been released over the years.
“The rise of VOD and streaming, the expansion of the ecosystem around anime and the prevalence of anime in mainstream pop culture are all factors that have contributed to the growth of the global anime market,” comments Asa Suehira, Chief Content Officer for the anime streamer Crunchyroll.
Anime’s most popular franchises earn hundreds of millions of dollars from home entertainment and theatrical releases plus billions in merchandise (the most lucrative area in Japan, especially for a title like Pokémon). By 2030, the world market size for anime is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.7% to reach USD $56.4 billion, according to a Grand View Research report.
Anime’s two all-time best-selling movie titles – Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train and Spirited Away – have earned over $503 million and $396 million at the global box office, respectively. Following them are Your Name ($380 million), Howl’s Moving Castle ($236 million) and Ponyo ($204 million). Some 17 anime feature films have garnered more than $100 million in theatrical revenue. Meanwhile, a hit series can last for years or decades and create a long-lasting revenue stream with hundreds or even thousands of episodes.
Leading Japanese anime studios include Toei Animation, Gainax, Ufotable, Madhouse, Sunrise, MAPPA, J.C.Staff Co. Ltd., Studio Pierrot, A-1 Pictures, Bones Inc., David Production Inc., WIT Studio, CloverWorks, CoMix Wave Films, Kyoto Animation, Studio Ghibli and Production I.G., among others.
Netflix and the other major streamers are rushing to bolster their anime catalogs. In the U.S., Crunchyroll (owned by Sony) has the biggest anime catalog of the companies competing in the market. HBO Max has licensed titles from Studio Ghibli that include renowned works by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke and Ponyo. Disney+ and Amazon Prime are expanding their anime offerings. Netflix has left its usual large footprint. The streamer has quickly amassed a significant catalog of existing content and is creating original programming at a rapid pace – Netflix was set to launch some 40 original anime movies in 2022. In the April 3, 2022 Hollywood Reporter article “Netflix’s Head of Anime Says Half of Global Subscribers Watch Japanese Animation, Bullish on Growth,” Netflix’s Director, Anime Creative Kohei Obara revealed that more than half of Netflix’s 222 million subscribers viewed “some anime” on the platform in 2021. In Japan, the percentage tops 90%, according to Obara.
PRODUCTION I.G. AND ANIME AWARENESS
Maki Terashima-Furuta is the President of Production I.G. USA, the U.S. division of a major animation studio based in Tokyo, and she has viewed the dramatic growth of anime over the last two decades. Production I.G. has produced numerous films, series and OVAs (Original Video Animations), including Guilty Crown, Psycho-Pass, Eden of the East and the Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 series. It has produced titles for Netflix Original, such as Cyborg 009 and B: The Beginning. It is also known for creating a sevenminute anime sequence for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) that gave a boost to anime in the international market, according to Terashima-Furuta.
Production I.G. also co-developed and co-produced two anime series of Immortal Grand Prix (IGPX) with Cartoon Network (2003 and 2005). “It was the first true anime co-production ever, where everything from deal-making, financing, development, production and marketing was a collaborative effort between Japan and the US. We were definitely the pioneer with that new business model,” says Terashima-Furuta.
She started the U.S. entity of Production I.G. in 1997, “when anime wasn’t as faddish as it is now. Because anime wasn’t in much demand back then, I really struggled to lock any deals, let alone pull off a meeting with major studios and distributors in the industry. That’s when I told myself that the awareness needed to spread from the non-industry crowds, and I started actively attending various anime conventions around the country in order to teach and educate the fans, who enjoyed and knew our titles but weren’t aware of or [didn’t] recognize who we were and what we did.”
For Terashima-Furuta, the global anime market is now “unquestionably better” when “compared to how I always had to be the one knocking on the doors of new clients. It is now the polar opposite. Anime is in so much demand.”
THE CRUNCHYROLL ECOSYSTEM
A recent sign of corporate interest in anime came when Sony Pictures Entertainment, through its Funimation subsidiary, completed a $1.18 billion purchase of AT&T/WarnerMedia’s Crunchyroll in 2021 (Funimation content is being moved over to the Crunchyroll label). Crunchyroll is an anime streamer withan estimated five million subscribers and 120 million registered users, according to SPE. According to the firm, Crunchyroll has the world’s largest collection of anime with more than 1,000 anime movies and series, 40,000 episodes and 16,000 hours of content, along with some 200 East Asian live-action dramas. Some of Crunchyroll’s most popular titles include Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, My Hero Academia, Spy x Family, and The Rising Of The Shield Hero. Suehira notes that the company is more than just a streaming service. “We offer fans a variety of ways to connect to their favorite series across theatrical, gaming, consumer products, news and more. An entire ecosystem has been created around anime to give fans new ways to engage with their favorite series. Crunchyroll has helped globalize this ecosystem. Not only can fans stream their favorite series, but they can purchase the collector’s edition home video, and they can go to the movie theater and catch an anime film with their friends – like the recent Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie, which we have brought to fans in the U.S. and worldwide – or they can download a mobile game title from Crunchyroll Games, like My Hero Academia: The Strongest Hero. This is in addition to consumer products, fashion, manga and more.”
Suehira comments, “Now, anime can be found across every major streaming platform internationally, but no other service offers a catalog as deep as Crunchyroll’s or curates a community experience quite like we do.” As an example, he notes, “We recently collaborated with Lady Gaga on an exclusive streetwear collection inspired by [her album] Chromatica for Crunchyroll Loves, our in-house clothing brand.”
Michael B. Jordan, who released a line of Naruto-inspired menswear, and Megan Thee Stallion, who has cosplayed as Mirko in My Hero Academia, are other well-known anime aficionados.
“Many coincidental events can be the reasons behind why anime has shown [great] growth internationally, such as how people other than the otaku population also started discovering charm and attractiveness in this hidden box of gems, whether naturally or by word of mouth, but I also believe that the people who grew up watching and loving anime as children became adults and started introducing and implementing anime in business. You’d be surprised to learn how many executives and producers are fond of anime.”
—Maki Terashima-Furuta, President of Production I.G. USA
ANIME FANS AND FAVORITES
“Many coincidental events can be the reasons behind why anime has shown [great] growth internationally, such as how people other than the otaku population also started discovering charm and attractiveness in this hidden box of gems, whether naturally or by word of mouth,” says Terashima-Furuta, “but I also believe that the people who grew up watching and loving anime as children became adults and started introducing and implementing anime in business. You’d be surprised to learn how many executives and producers are fond of anime.”
Gilles Poitras, author of the book Anime Essentials: Every Thing a Fan Needs to Know, comments, “The number of anime/manga conventions [have] exploded since the early 1990s, providing a place where fans can gather and share their interests.” This added to their ability to purchase personal copies – first videotape and laserdisc and then DVD and Blu-ray. Poitras adds, “This meant an expansion of the market as the availability of titles increased. Greater variety and access also allow those who are not fans to have access to anime in ways they did not in the past.”
Another factor in anime’s growth is the steady release of movies and series that inspire fan loyalty: Mobile Suit Gundam, Ranma ½, Patlabor, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop (an animated series and 2021 Netflix live-action series), Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Blue Submarine No. 6, Oh My Goddess!, Robotech, Fullmetal Alchemist, Sailor Moon, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Hunter X Hunter, Naruto, and all the movies of Hayao Miyazaki, to name a few other fan favorites.
NETFLIX AND STREAMERS
“Streaming has greatly expanded access,” Poitras explains. “Companies like Crunchyroll are now a major international powerhouses. Funimation and Hulu were the [first] major places for fans to view anime. Netflix and Amazon have helped expand the audience beyond those interested in anime and foreign cinema. Then there is RetroCrush, which specializes in older shows. This is important as the other services rarely show older programs.” Digital distribution is added to this – downloading for rental or purchase, which increases on-demand access. Adds Poitras, “This has a positive impact on physical media, as fans can easily watch many shows and then decide which they want to own. Many shows would likely not get a physical release without the publicity streaming creates.”
Netflix has become a formidable force in anime in a short time, launching its streaming service in Japan in 2015 and debuting its first original anime title, Blame!, in 2017, produced by Polygon Pictures. Netflix has licensed series like Neon Genesis Evangelion, the original Cowboy Bebop, Naruto and The Seven Deadly Sins, and released newer titles like Record of Ragnarok, Violet Evergarden, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 (produced by Production I.G.) and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean. It has ramped up anime production and inked deals with renowned companies such as Studio Colorido (Drifting Home).
The upsurge in anime production may cause disruption in the industry. “We all feel grateful that more anime titles are being made than ever in the past,” says Terashima-Furuta. But she also notes that, because of the rise in demand from the networks and platforms, the supply and demand chain has completely changed. She adds, “It takes years, a number of creators, and lots of money to produce an anime, and not many people realize how much work is required and put into the making process.”
WHAT MAKES ANIME ANIME
Anime titles have distinctive visual styles and conventions, but what else makes anime different from western animation? “Anime is not a genre,” Suehira explains. “It’s a rich storytelling medium offering something for every kind of fan: action, science fiction, horror, sports, romance, slice of life, and more.” By contrast, “In the West, animation is typically seen as comedy or children’s content. However, with the growth of streaming and the rise of video games, we’re seeing more fans comfortable with and interest in adult dramatic animation.” Poitras adds, “There are many stories with very serious storylines or with certain content that just would not be in animation made in the U.S.,” says Poitras. “This includes: character death, slow-paced dramas, same gender relationships, tragic death, anything in cinema and fiction for grown-ups. By contrast, American animation today is still predominantly kid-friendly fare or TV sitcoms.” Poitras continues, “Then there is the importance of the feelings of the characters – the emotional context is a crucial part of the story.” He adds that series set in Japan also are a draw, as viewers are exposed to things they often did not know about. “Many young people I know have said this is part of their enjoyment of anime and manga.”
In terms of what makes anime different, Terashima-Furuta comments, “There are many differences, such as the unique storytelling without age restrictions, beyond-imaginary worldbuilding, intricate artwork, distinct character and mecha designs, etc. However, I think all of these aspects ultimately boil down to the fact that the directors often have the final say on the picture, as opposed to the producers being the decision-makers for western animation.”
Suehira concludes, “Crunchyroll has been championing anime for more than a decade. We have always recognized the power and potential of this medium. Even so, we continue to be inspired by the caliber and creativity of the anime being produced in Japan, and we are excited to bring more anime to fans worldwide.”