Is Aggressive Localization Sustainable for Anime? – Part 2

(Cross-post from Iyashikei)

In part 1, we learned about how the idealism of early tape-traders caused the business aspect of the Western anime market to diverge from the fanbase, and how that paradigm seeks to usher in an era of aggressive localization in an attempt to grow the Western anime market.

To reiterate from part 1, core principles are a business’s areas of zero compromise, concepts they will not betray, even if it means making more money. Outside of core principles, businesses are driven by their incentives, the things they are rewarded for having, being, or doing.

When an incentive isn’t blocked by a core principle, the business is free to move in that direction.

Because the earliest anime licensing firms weren’t bound by core principles of accuracy and artistic purity, they were free to capitalize of the incentive to heavily edit and re-market anime shows as something they weren’t.

Perhaps as an extension of that paradigm, much of the modern Western anime market has no incentive to build bridges between the Western and Japanese anime fandoms, and hold no core principles that move them in that direction. Instead, they are incentivized to grow their own version of anime culture, which won’t hold them to standards as stringent as would a culture that values being close to the Japanese side of things.

Contrast with Aniplex of America, whose connection with Aniplex and collector-focused strategy incentivize them to not hurt their parent company’s brand and cost them money by putting out an altered product, or Fakku!, which became a legitimate licensor through a deal with Wanimagazine that was predicated on the core principle of letting fans of erotic manga experience their media in as authentic a way as possible while supporting the artists and companies that make it.

It’s a balancing act, where some companies are okay with having a smaller audience if it means that audience will be happier with their product, while other companies try to expand their markets, sometimes doing questionable things to their product in service of that.

Some in the anime community insist that the latter method is necessary, as global revenue is now an important factor in helping companies producing media stay afloat.

For things like mass-market consumer goods, the latter is a sustainable strategy. However, for a niche medium like anime, there exist some fundamental truths that make that strategy attractive in the short term, but a failure for the long term.

In Japan, anime discs are expensive because it was found that collectors would buy them at high prices, but less dedicated consumers often wouldn’t buy them, even at low prices. Appealing to collectors is difficult, however. This is especially true in the West, where we’re quick to label passion “obsession” when it goes “too far.” In order to appeal to collectors, a product has to meet their high standards, which means developing products gets more expensive and the company putting the product out has less freedom (Especially in a market like anime licensing and distribution).

As a result, we see three things from companies trying to expand their markets: Tactics meant to make anime cheaper for the consumer, marketing that revolves around “supporting the industry” (making buying their products a moral obligation), and alterations to the original work in an attempt to make it appeal to a wider audience.

The reason this doesn’t work long-term is because it invariably leads to creating a product customers fundamentally do not want. Eventually, either desired features (or quality) will be cut in order to make a product cheaper, or a product will undergo changes from a localization standpoint that fans never wanted. This is why “support the industry” becomes part of the marketing strategy: Create a moral obligation around buying your product and people will buy it even if they don’t really want it.

But when you create a product people fundamentally don’t want, you also make it easier to justify not buying it. Industry sectors seeking “support” would do better to cater to those hard-to-please collectors than to cultivate their own consumerbases, who will only stick around as long as their product is cheap enough and sanitized enough.

Meanwhile, those hard-to-please collectors who, in an ideal world, would love to “support the industry” by buying these products, end up giving their money and loyalty to companies who can be trusted to put out high-quality, faithful releases, and who trust their consumers to buy those products, rather than companies who chase volume and sacrifice their product to do so.

Aggressive localization may sound like a good solution for the increasing global market share of anime and otaku media, but it’s not sustainably. The solution is much more difficult: Destigmatize dedication to the hobby, cultivate interest in the medium’s Japanese origins, and understand the business models behind the anime market, both at home and abroad.

And it has to come from the fans, as the corporate structure surrounding anime here in the West will only go so far in that direction, and will go in the complete opposite direction if it benefits them.

1 thought on “Is Aggressive Localization Sustainable for Anime? – Part 2”

  1. Pingback: Could Non-Exclusive Anime Licenses Work? » Otaku Entrepreneur

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