And we’re back in court, as a Nevada judge awards $3.95 million to the Japanese studio Aniplex, after a three-year battle against the American CCG company Upper Deck. The reason? A shedload of money owed for the anime series Kiba, made as part of the promotion for the card game of the same name. The beef? That Upper Deck hadn’t paid what was owed to Aniplex, because Upper Deck didn’t like what Aniplex had done.
Kiba went into production in 2006, at the historical height not only of anime output, but also of Japanese producers’ love affair with foreign money. Flushed with the ‘taking-the-world-by-storm’ hype that ballooned after Miyazaki’s Oscar, the world and his dog decided that anime was the future. Why, with just a few ticks in the right boxes, any idiot could invent the next Pokémon by just getting a bunch of Japanese blokes with pencils to knock out a cartoon. Right?
In 2006, Japanese companies were surrounded by so much foreign money that some were refusing to go into production unless a foreign company would stump up half the costs. And there were plenty of foreign companies willing to do so, because rights competition in the West was so fierce that the likes of ADV Films had begun to invest in new shows so that they didn’t need to fight over the foreign rights.
And then, BAM! It all fell apart. A couple of months ahead of the sub-prime crisis that affected everyone, banks started calling in their loans. ADV stumbled and went under, Geneon pulled out of the US market, a couple of distributors shut their doors and suddenly anime was in free-fall.
Which left Upper Deck and Aniplex fighting over who owed who what. Kiba ran for 51 episodes, usually a sign of great success… well, that or great investment. When Upper Deck wouldn’t pay for it, the fight started, with vague accusations that Aniplex hadn’t delivered what Upper Deck wanted. Reading between the lines, one suspects that Upper Deck were just looking for someone to blame who was still solvent. But you can’t guarantee megabucks success, and it’s facetious to imply that the whole thing rested on a frankly generic fighting anime.
The trouble’s hopefully over, at the cost of yet another reason for the Japanese to avoid foreign co-productions.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #94, 2012.