Catnip for Industry Wonks

Chad Kime, formerly of Geneon, is the special guest at Anime News Network’s podcast this week. It doesn’t take hosts Zac Bertschy and Justin Sevakis all that long to coaxe him into tell-all confessions of inventory, minimum guarantees, sales figures, returns, and honest-to-God numbers. Seriously, if you have any interest in the way the anime business actually works, if you really want to get a handle on the upheavals of the last five years, then put this week’s episode on your MP3 player and listen in wonder. Kime is this blog’s Man of the Year, for essentially delivering an annotated edition of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, but with all the real names.

People are going to write dissertations about this one-hour interview. Kime makes a humble show like Heat Guy J the epicentre and looking-glass of the entire industry in the 2000s, talking the listener through the many recurring issues and problems that have hampered anime for as long as I have been observing it. He does so with humour, grace, and most importantly, real-world numbers about the years he spent “riding a glowing star, that transformed into a giant black hole.” Listen if you dare, and then go back and read Schoolgirl Milky Crisis again with a whole new perspective!

Now, none of the shows he cites are the *actual* shows mentioned in my book… but that’s even better. It just goes to show that the experiences I was chronicling were recurring all over the anime world.

10 thoughts on “Catnip for Industry Wonks

  1. one aspect I found fascinating was the common aspects with the comics crash in the 90’s – specifically the fact that speculators hoping for the next Spider-man no 1 or Detective Comics no 1 caused many publisher to overestimate how much of a demand their was for their new comics.

    One thing I don’t get is why Heat Guy J got such a bad reputation. The fact it was so cheap over here gave me an inkling it hadn’t done well, but was the cover art just THAT awful, or was something else souring it for the fans?

  2. And don’t forget the European “rights rush” of the early 1990s, which led to the anime market crash in 1995.

    I rather enjoyed Heat Guy J. I wrote the positive entry on it in the Anime Encyclopedia, and enjoyed the resonances of Asimov and 911.

    I think that the problem with Heat Guy J, as Kime describes, was not that it was bad per se, but rather that his company bid for it when it was unmade, didn’t know what they were getting until it arrived, and were lumbered with just two pieces of artwork to advertise it when it did. This latter problem is endemic in anime, and causes endless headaches for companies outside Japan who have almost no materials to market their products, and have to jump through insane licensing hoops if they want to generate their own.

    So Heat Guy J was not the problem. But it was great to see how illustrative such a humble title could be of the general malaise in anime. It cost too much, it didn’t sell enough, it wasn’t really fit for purpose.

  3. “This latter problem is endemic in anime, and causes endless headaches for companies outside Japan who have almost no materials to market their products, and have to jump through insane licensing hoops if they want to generate their own.”

    Yeah, I got that with the comments about ‘The Little Snow Fairy Sugar’. I remember seeing the trailers on Haibane Renmei and thinking it would do great if marketed to young girls. I hadn’t realised just how much it would cost to get it advertised in the right places (Such as girls magazines).

    And you chalk me up as someone who really liked Heat Guy J too.

  4. By “no materials to market” I meant the very basic issue of not having enough artwork. This has been a perpetual problem in anime abroad. Manga Entertainment solved it 20 years ago by simply paying Steve Kyte to *paint* new covers for them of Dominion and Urotsukidoji, but these days:

    a) if you have to get approval from the Japanese for every new piece of artwork, it’s an expensive, time-consuming nightmare.

    b) this costs money. If you’ve put five figures on the table for a licence to distribute Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, you’d think that would include a set of usable images you can put on your DVD boxes, use in advertising, and send to magazines so that they can run features on your product. But very often, you find yourself looking at two transparencies and a lucky gonk.

    For an anime magazine editor*, it is a constant struggle to actually fill the page. You might have a great 8000-word article on Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, but do you have enough images to make it anything more than a text-only feature? Pity the poor company marketeer whose budget will stretch to either running an advertisement or commissioning the image that illustrates it, but not both!

    (*Unless you’re Newtype USA, and you’re paying a dollar per issue printed for the privilege of being able to have loads of images, although you must then only say nice things).

  5. I haven’t watched any of the shows that were distributed through Geneon though I do own a couple of them, I have to say Heat Guy J is definitely the one I parted the least money with(and that was about a week before this blog) but I liked what I read in reviews.

    I think i’m a little surprised that Viewtiful Joe was mishandled upon it’s inception. Every year we’re treated to a poor adaptation of a comic book film, or a video game and that’s because they overlook the key aspects that we associate with the existing medium. I had expected the Japanese market to know it’s target audience a little better. When I watched ‘Ryu Ga Gotoku’ last year, the first thing that I thought was that they got the look of the character’s right. But then tried mixing tough gangster grittiness with some visual jokes that would have been more appropriate in a Steven Chow film. Though it was rather mish-mash, I felt it was faithful enough to the spirit of sega’s ‘Yakuza’ videogame.

    Sorry to go off topic slightly, but is there meant to be an additional disc or some sort of booklet with Samurai Champloo? I had to settle for a second hand copy and though I have all 7 volumes in the cardboard sleeve there is easily room for an eighth thin DVD case. I compared it with a new copy I found in HMV which was almost double the price of mine but theirs was seven discs which fit into the sleeve correctly.

  6. Finally got to listen to this last night on the train home. HOLY CRAP! This is the truth, people, unvarnished, in all its tawdriness. ADV was only slightly better at certain points in its run – they also sowed the seeds of their own demise and reaped the result eventually.

    I salute Chad, a fellow soldier in those trenches of the early 21st century Anime Bubble.

  7. So has anything changed in the time since the events discussed in that podcast?

    Do you now see more conservative licensing bids and realistic sales estimates or is this kind of speculative bidding and selling something the industry are stuck gambling on as part of standard business practice?

  8. I’ve been waiting to see if Hugh replies to this but I suspect he’s not able to for legal reasons. I’ll say for myself that “conservative licensing bids and realistic sales estimates” are often a feature of those companies that survive today — that’s *how* they survive. Everyone I know in anime today is made to provide numbers of “similar” shows, and how they have done in the past, as a precedent for whatever it is they’re looking to buy. Of course, there are quite a few spats about what constitutes “similar”, but at least people are attempting to cite precedents and make realistic forecasts.

  9. Thanks for the answer. That makes sense I suppose. It still amazes me that any business could run like that for as long as Geneon managed to.

    Now if only some other ex-industry insiders from the other big hitters of anime would come forward and give similarly themed interviews, this stuff is absolute gold dust.

  10. I too enjoyed Heat Guy – I thought it had a strong sense of the failure of the biological family – and the attempt to find family in others (including machines).

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