When localization companies, licensing firms, and streaming services in the West screw up, people often talk about telling “Japan” that companies are out here messing up their anime and their visual novels.
I’m here to tell you why that won’t help anyone and is kind of a punk move.
Anime is a system. Each part has its place. The production committee plans the anime. The studio makes the anime. International licensing firms buy the rights and distribute the anime in other countries.
Why do licensing firms exist anyway? Why run international licensing through overseas companies?
The entire production committee business model is built around reducing risk. The reason companies pool resources is so if the project fails, no one company is crippled by that failure. It also allows for companies to make decisions according to their specialty. The music company handles the music, and so on. In addition, it decentralizes the infrastructure, so if, say, a pandemic causes Japan to shut down international air mail, Americans can still get their Meganebu Blu-rays no problem.
The third point matters for special cases, but the first two tie into each other. Why would a company with no knowledge of international marketing and distribution, and with no acclimatization to overseas business environments risk the money to attempt to market and distribute their product in a foreign land? Especially if there’s a company overseas with that knowledge that’s willing to not only do all that for them, but pay them for the privilege to do so?
Take Interspecies Reviewers. The production committee for that show has their money from Funimation already. If we were to run to the committee and tell them that Funimation canceled the show and is going after people who post clips of it on streaming sites, they’d tell us three things:
- They’ve already got as much as they can expect for the show, and any more they can get from the show’s success under Funimation is a happy accident.
- Funimation is well within their right to enforce the license they have exclusivity to.
- Funimation is nonetheless kinda dumb for paying money for the license and not doing anything with it, but that’s immaterial.
Not to mention they probably recognize that it’s bad form to talk bad about the company they’re in a contract with if they haven’t done anything to violate that contract. It’s a big “what do you want me to do about it?” And it’s a punk move because it doesn’t address the real problem: The US anime market is scarily consolidated. I can think of maybe three US anime publishers that aren’t specialty houses. And two of those three have a significant market share lead over the third.
The US anime space is ripe for disruption. All of the major players have been around for over a decade in one form or another. Not to mention some have gained a remarkable degree of hubris that’s won them the ire of many fans in the US.
Businesses solve problems. Where running and telling Daddy Japan that the localizers are being mean is the chump move, building a business and competing with these large, incumbent companies (That are beholden to massive conglomerates, no less) is the champ move.
Insisting that Japanese licenseholders solve the problem just portrays the large companies in the US market as invincible juggernauts that we’ll always be required to deal with and that aren’t subject to market forces. No part of that is true of these companies. The catch is that it takes work, initiative, and some business knowledge to build something that can compete. But it’s not like it hasn’t been done.
The best thing we can do for the anime industry from here in the US is create and maintain a healthy market for the stuff over here. When the incumbents can get away with releasing a subpar product habitually, the market isn’t healthy and needs to be disrupted in order to be set back on the right track. And that disruption won’t come from Japan, so stop looking for it there.