In January, unnamed members of a production committee demanded that the US distributor Funimation postpone further simulcasts of the Fractale anime until such time as the show was not being pirated on the internet. In other words, as a special reward for paying all that money for the rights to Fractale, Funimation was now lumbered with an open-endedly Sisyphean task akin to ending all crime and bringing peace to the Middle East.
A production committee is a multi-headed hydra of differing interests in a media title, often including a manga author, a comics publisher, the bloke whose factory makes the plushies, someone who supplies the music, and so on. On a good day, a production committee means that everyone spreads the risk and the profits of a film or TV show. On a bad day, it can mean a vast army of cooks fussing over the broth with contradictory directives; witness, for example the forty-six (count ’em!) different names on the production committee for K20: Legend of the Mask. You know how difficult it is to get three friends to agree on where to eat? Now imagine that you have to get consensus from a crowd of several dozen, including eight vegetarians, five people who hate curry, three devout Muslims, Aunt Mabel (who “won’t eat foreign food”) and a Shetland pony called Colin.
Production committees can also mean a number of hangers-on, relatives, spouses, and clueless lawyers representing estates or preoccupied members. I can only assume that the Fractale request came from similar interests – possibly the kind of person who doesn’t know what the internet actually is, and who assumed that all “piracy” could be stopped by sending a SWAT team around to arrest a lone man with an eye-patch who cackles over a computer somewhere in Arizona. We can, at least, thank our lucky stars that someone explained to the offending committee members that simulcasts actually slap piracy down, and in the case of Fractale, gave an illegal version a window for success of less than sixty minutes, before good hearted fans could watch the real thing, legally, for themselves.
Meanwhile, Japanese academic Tatsuo Tanaka has recently published a discussion paper that the Fractale committee would do well to read. In it, he argues the common-sense case that fans benefit from a preview medium, and that it is folly to expect someone to pay £30 to buy a show they have never seen, merely because it has a girl in a miniskirt on the cover with big eyes and spiky hair. Access to legal streaming, clips and trailers helps customers make an informed choice about how to spend their money. They are more likely to spend their money on something they like, and hence come back to buy more if it.
Crucially, however, Tanaka is talking about legal streaming. Companies and creators have the moral right to decide how and when to give away free samples. That decision does not rest with pirates and thieves, no matter what self-righteous defences they might spout. Hence, sadly, the Fractale committee had the moral right to be as counter-productively idiotic with their franchise as they wanted, but thankfully someone talked them round before they could do untold damage to their own show.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #83, 2011.