Blue Sky Investments

And we’re back in the Tokyo courts as former investment banker Takeshi Matsubara is convicted of insider trading with the details of four Japanese companies, including the anime studio Gonzo, the people who brought you Romeo X Juliet and Hellsing Ultimate. Matsubara was a financier at Aozora (“Blue Sky”) bank in 2007, when Gonzo Digimation Holdings struck a secret deal for extra investment from So-Net Capital holdings. Aware of the coming injection of cash, Matsubara rushed out and bought a ton of GDH shares, which shot up in value when the news became official. He sold them off soon after, netting a personal profit of 14 million yen (that’s £102,000 in your Earth money).

Unfortunately for him, Matsubara was caught, and now faces a four-year suspended sentence and fines to the amount of quadruple his original profits for daring to dabble in the wacky world of anime financing.

Anime and manga companies are an incredible mess of paperwork. They are founded, declare bankruptcy, and coalesce immediately once more around their old staff. Tokyo Movie becomes Tokyo Movie Shinsha (“New Company”), A Productions becomes Shin A (“New A”). Mushi Production collapses in a heap, but reveals that most of its copyrights are owned by Tezuka Productions, which can keep trading… and so on. Gonzo ended up buying itself to streamline its funds. Such brinkmanship is an everyday occurrence in the corporate world, and it’s a fact of life that some companies fail and others succeed, and also that a “dead” company might have staff, machinery or real estate that’s worth recovering from the debt-ridden mess.

Which brings me to the recent demise of Tokyopop, a company that has just shut down in the US, mortally wounded by the collapse of Borders. But Tokyopop has a rack of intellectual property, thanks to draconian rights deals that signed over non-Japanese creators’ work to the publisher. It won’t be long before Tokyopop titles fade from shelves, but many still exist as ideas that belong to Tokyopop or its successors. One wonders, how much is that intellectual property worth? A hundred comics, perhaps, any one of which might become a movie one day? A video game? Or is it all unsellable dross? As a blue-sky investment, how much would you pay for the Tokyopop backlist…?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO 86, 2011.

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7 thoughts on “Blue Sky Investments

  1. I’m still waiting for someone to do a detailed postmortem on TokyoPop. I’ve heard so much on the web and through my few TokyoPop contacts about their crazy decisions and business practices that I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did. I’d love to know what really happened. Jonathan, you want to write that story? ^_^

  2. I had just been thinking that it would be neat if you, JC, created a timeline chart of the (corporate) incarnations of various major anime production houses—their splits, mergers, spinoffs, acquisitions, and renamings when you wrote this. E.g.,

    Tatsunoko Production —> (spinoff) I.G. Tatsunoko —> (renamed) Production I.G. —> (spinoffs) Xebec (subsidiary) and Bee Train ((former) subsidiary)

  3. One thing that bugs me is how often these companies seem to start small, do well, then go crazy with their success, no matter how often other companies have imploded doing the exact same thing. In much the same was the recent recession came from a credit crisis that came about (to mine, non-expert eyes admittedly) from a situation very similar to bubble economy in japan in nineties, it seems like people are ignoring what went wrong before, to other people, as if there’s no way it will happen to them.

  4. There is a whole book waiting to be written on the varied liability shields, shell companies and debt sumps of the anime business. I will be sketching out some of the main signposts in my next book — perhaps someone will turn it into a proper paper. Perhaps I will! There’s certainly a good opportunity for an anime version of Rock Family Trees showing all the conniving and incestuous goings-on behind the scenes in the anime business.

  5. I thought that Tokyopop Germany took over the non-Japanese licenses – at least I remember some news back then. I forgot to ask Jo Kaps (man in charge at TP Germany) when I saw him a couple of weeks ago at a signing with Nozomu Tamaki.

  6. As a blue sky investment I’d pay full MSRP for the rest of the volumes of manga that TP cut the blood supply to and left yet another few series of anime and manga on my shelves lamenting that they will never be completed like an unrequited love affair. T_T

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