Uma Musume: A Character Marketing Problem

Uma Musume is back. Following a nearly three year delay after the anime, the Uma Musume game is out. With it, the fanart has returned, along with a contentious policy.

To explain: Uma Musume is about moe anthropomorphized horse races. Each character is based on a real Japanese racehorse. Horse racing is a very serious sport and racehorse owners take a lot of pride in their horses. No doubt it was a feat to get the owners to lend their horses’ names to Uma Musume’s girls in the first place.

However, that came with a caveat.

Don’t Lewd The Horse Girls

During the anime’s airing, Cygames posted an official statement to the Uma Musume website.

– Things that all fans supporting the series should be wary of –

“We humbly thank you for enjoying Uma Musume: Pretty Derby. We have received numerous reactions and lots of support from all forms of social networking services, especially due to the anime “Uma Musume: Pretty Derby” which began broadcasting in April 2018 – once again we thank you humbly for this. The Uma Musume Project has one thing that it would like to humbly request for the sake of all the fans supporting Uma Musume.

It would be appreciated if you could consider refraining from using expressions that could potentially damage the image of racehorses and the franchise’s horse girl characters. In the series, characters take on the likeness of real racehorses and every character even borrows their racehorse’s names by the consent of their owners, it is a work that has been realized through the cooperation of many generous people.

All fans who love the horse girls, please be careful not to make expressions that would damage the image of the characters or the real racehorses they are based on or that would make staff or the real life horse owners feel uncomfortable.

The Uma Musume Project, for the sake of not damaging the majesty of such fine racehorses, will continue to support racehorses and their success in the future together with everyone.

While a vague statement, many assumed it to be referring to lewd fanart. With the Uma Musume game finally out, people are discussing this policy once more.

How Uma Musume Dropped the Ball

Someone should’ve told the horse owners that every anime girl gets lewded. Warships that sank with hundreds of sailors on board get lewd fanart. Heroes of ancient history get lewd fanart. The anime girl based on Chuck Yeager got lewd fanart while the man was still alive.

I’ve mentioned before that lewd fanart is normal for anime mascot characters. It’s a test of a brand’s identification with the otaku market. A brand that sees that as a problem is not cut out to market to otaku. Someone should have made that clear to the horse owners.

I can’t think of a single brand where lewd fanart of their mascot character reflected badly on the brand. In fact, as I’ve observed, the more open the brand, the more successful the marketing.

How Crypton & Hololive Won The Character Game

The smartest thing Crypton Future Media did was put their Vocaloid character designs under a CC BY-NC license.

CC BY-NC is the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license. In short, it means you can do almost anything with the work, as long as you credit the creator and the derivative isn’t sold.

What makes this so genius is that it empowers creators to spread their love for the characters, while also making it clear what company made the characters. It’s no harm to the company, since it’s clear they don’t endorse every derivative work, just allow it to exist. It also lets them license their characters’ likenesses out to companies that want to use them make money. Those companies get to benefit from fan works too.

Hololive has a similar policy. They don’t use a Creative Commons license, but their “Derivative Works Guidelines” are mostly the same.

How Character Marketing Works

Licenses and guidelines like these help brands grow beyond their original works. If a company creates compelling characters, it’s in their best interest to let the fans enjoy them. The fans market the company’s product for them. People discover the fanart and become interested in the work it’s based on.

It’s a virtuous cycle, and imposing restrictions on that expression breaks the cycle. It causes distrust between the fans and the brand.

It doesn’t even work, either. Fans ridiculed Irrational Games’ Ken Levine after he asked people to stop making lewd fanart of Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite. Blizzard’s shutdown of a Playboy-esque Overwatch fan magazine was met with even lewder fanart in response.

In contrast, NieR creator Yoko Taro was lauded for his support of lewd 2B fanart.

Even Uma Musume still gets lewd fanart, despite Pixiv users harassing artists for drawing it.

What the Uma Musume creators and the owners of the horses need to understand is that fans reciprocate when brands support them. At the very least, lewd fanart doesn’t reflect back on the brand. Nor is there any need to even acknowledge it in the first place. It’s free marketing with plausible deniability.

Less than that, and you risk the fans seeing it as a slap in the face.