Lost Sols?

Anime Sols, established with the cooperation of a whole gaggle of anime studios, exploits all the best benefits of living in a digital age. A limited number of episodes of each anime show get streamed, for free, online with English subtitles. If you like what you see, you get to bid for a series of crowd-funding packages. Fully aware that these anime shows are of limited interest to a worldwide audience, Anime Sols sets its bar for success healthily low, with each serial’s block of episodes going to DVD as soon as they have a mere 1000 orders – this, in turn, exploits mastering houses’ new willingness to turn around small print-runs cheaply.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, as regular readers of this column will already know, it’s not necessarily that easy to get 1000 anime fans to put their money where their mouth is. As head honcho Sam Pinansky reported last month, Yatterman not only failed to get 1000 backers before its deadline on Anime Sols, but proved to be so unappealing that barely 40 people even watched it past the fourth episode!

Fandom was awash with recriminations – if only they’d picked a different show; if only fans could have bid from certain foreign territories (the UK, for example was excluded). But maybe people just weren’t that into Yatterman. Case closed. The project was cancelled, and the rights holders of Yatterman got a tiny reward – the chance to re-use those subtitles on a future Japan-only DVD release.

But Anime Sols is run by smart people, who were plainly disappointed but not undaunted. And I’d like to encourage everyone to regard Yatterman not as a failure, but as valuable data about anime’s appeal, or lack of it. It’s good, for the industry in general, for the Japanese to be confronted with how few people actually give a toss about some of their more obscure shows. And it’s good for fandom to be confronted with a put-up-or-shut-up ultimatum about making stuff happen. A few weeks later, Anime Sols offered Creamy Mami in the same way, and achieved its funding target with four days to spare.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #115, 2013.

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Kickstarted

Pity the poor anime pundit, busily making predictions about stuff that’s in the distant… I mean near… I mean tomorrow… I mean just happened. Only last month I was merrily giving an interview to Variety magazine, predicting crowd-sourced anime within the next two years. I was inspired by the sight of the Kickstarter funding for the manga of Osamu Tezuka’s Barbara, which swiftly rustled up the required ten grand. You could probably squeeze out a crappy anime video one-shot for $20,000, I mused, so what were the chances that someone decided to hit up forty wealthy fans for $500 each? It’s already what the Japanese charge for some DVD box sets, so why not?

Within a couple of weeks, San Francisco developer Double Fine announced that it had managed to scrape $480,000 to go into production on a new game, a “Double Fine Adventure”. That’s enough to make a 12-episode anime television series! If you really want to make an animated tentacle-invasion version of the Iron Lady, now all you need is to rustle up 10,000 like-minded friends.

Except! You don’t need to be a genius mathematician here to see that some of the Double Fine investors were putting in a lot more than the minimum $15. In fact, if there were 10,000 of them, their average investment was the price of a posh car, each! So this isn’t quite the grass roots investment funded solely by potential end-users that some are pretending it to be. There are still some big investors behind the scenes, but not many! Just think, what if you could write off the cost of a convention weekend and put it towards actually making an anime? And since there are stepped levels of involvement, you’d also be likely to score some exclusive, personalised merchandise, too, and your name on the credits. Beats standing around a car park dressed as an elf!

So, for now, my prediction still stands. I still see a crowd-funded anime production happening within the next two years [Time Travel Footnote: there was a wait of only eight months or so before this happened]. Probably a crowd-funded anime translation substantially sooner than that. But if you had a personal say in which new anime actually got made, which would you choose?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #97, 2012.