This is not a Brexit

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Soon after the Brexit vote, I was knee-deep in a pit of Chinese corpses. That’s not because of Brexit, you understand; that’s my job, making a documentary about human sacrifice in the Shang dynasty. But the cameraman’s phone kept going off with sales offers from British companies, spamming the techies of the film world with their chance to snap up cameras and lenses, RAM cards and drones while the pound was weak.

I cling to the belief that common sense will win out, and that the politicians who lied about the appeal of Brexit are just as liable to lie about their willingness to go through with it. In the meantime, while I’m waiting for all those promised new hospitals to open, and all those immigrants to be kicked out (goodbye doctors, nurses, any chance of a good plumber…), and while I am watching the architects run away from the mess they have created, and Theresa May rising to unelected power like some Cthulhu of Conservatism, I’m wondering about the impact on anime.

Fortunately, as far as most licensing contracts go, the United Kingdom is rarely regarded as “part of Europe”. It is already either treated as a separate entity, or attached like a sixth finger to deals involving the rest of the English-speaking world. For acquisitions agents sitting down at meetings in Cannes, Los Angeles or Tokyo, political divisions are less relevant than DVD and Blu-ray region coding, or online lockout.

Well, in all respects except one – money. Since last month’s issue of NEO, the pound has dropped 10% in value [now 13% –JC], which means all deals currently under discussion are going to cost UK companies a tenth more. Companies are unlikely to pass that cost on to you, so something that costs £18.99 in the high street will still cost £18.99 next month.

But that money has to come from somewhere, and I predict it is going to start to show in the autumn season, not in terms of things you can see, but things you can’t. Companies like Funimation, paying in dollars for world English-language rights, probably won’t even blink. The damage will be felt by those smaller distributors with a UK-only footprint, having to pay extra cash not only for the rights to the anime in the first place, but for the pressing of the discs, currently done in Austria or Poland, and hence payable in euros.

Faced with mounting bills, even without an official date on Brexiting, they will drop whatever tenth title looks the least appealing. They simply won’t pick it up, and you won’t ever find it for sale. They will also think twice about re-pressing any other shows that go out of print. Anything that’s say, six years old, approaching the end of its licence, and unlikely to shift more than a few hundred more copies, will suddenly become entirely unavailable. All of which means, in the short term, buy any old shows you’ve been putting off, before they disappear from the shelves. And in the long-term: you’ll probably need a year’s supply of baked beans and a shotgun.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article originally appeared in NEO #154, 2016.

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Venture Capital

onegaishimasuHow would you feel if this issue of NEO came with a begging letter? Thanks for the £5, but everyone here is underpaid, so could you see your way to paying our editor’s gas bill, and the designer’s rent this month? Wouldn’t that feel like you were being charged twice? Wouldn’t you start to suspect that NEO was owned by a moustache-twirling dastard in a top hat, laughing over piles of money while his staff laboured like Dickensian urchins?

But that’s precisely the feeling I get when confronted with the start-up Animator Dorm project, recently crowd-funded by a group of industry professionals including Tatami Galaxy’s Naoyuki Asano and Gatchaman Crowds’ Shingo Yamashita.

$10,000 has made it possible for two animators to live in a… dorm? I guess it’s paid their rent for a year, thereby allowing them to work for peanuts at some studio, helping to perpetuate the poor conditions for which the industry is notorious. They pay their donors back with merchandise and artwork, and a vague promise about an artist outreach project.

God bless anime fandom, which depending on who you listen to, is either a braying, multi-headed hydra of self-interest, stealing the very stuff it professes to love, or a community of kind-hearted philanthropists, providing soup and blankets for starving artists. So good for you, if you threw in a few quid so that someone could continue to earn minimum wage and still have a roof over their head. If you were a “Bronze” supporter, you got an art book for $50, which is presumably what makes this more appealing than a similar scheme for, say, Primark employees.

As this column noted in NEO 105, there’s crowd-funding and then there’s funding. Put $10,000 into Production IG’s Kick Heart, and you won’t just get a postcard and a lucky gonk; they’ll fly you to Tokyo and make you a producer. At a certain level, the Anime Dorm project is merely a wired-world variant of a pop star selling you a CD and a T-shirt at his concert. These animators have some bonus art to sell, and spending the money on rent, just like everyone else. But is this unprecedented access to the talent, or is it just another example of the owners of anime passing on their poor business decisions to the consumer?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 127, 2014.