A Patreon supporter suggested looking into the bizarre production implosion of Regalia and subsequent broadcast restart, which seemed like an interesting enough topic. As a general rule I would rather not focus on projects that have collapsed – not so much because I feel negative criticism is unworthy, but rather because extensively highlighting troubled productions that follow common patterns feels like punching down for no good reason. However, Regalia’s case is enough of an anomaly that it piqued my interest, and hopefully yours as well.
For those who missed the buzz, Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars was an original TV series set to air on summer season. And that it did, until the surprise announcement that after 4 episodes it was going to take a break until September, then start anew. Some producers behind the project like Takayuki Nagatani explained that they would make modifications to these earlier episodes, and that they felt it was a necessary measure to have the production live up to their standards. No big narrative changes were planned, but some elements like direction, audio and animation were mentioned as aspects they planned on improving. They even mentioned the inclusion of new scenes, so presumably the script would require some alterations as well. Rather vague comments then, since those broad categories are about everything that constitutes an anime. Now that three episodes of the revamped version have aired, let’s compare it to the original ones.
Were their declarations true? Yes. Technically. The nature of the changes they made is obvious from the very first shot – readjusting the lighting accounts for about half the tweaks, never anything major. A couple of cuts are inserted without changing the flow, barely 5 seconds of new footage that just depict the reactions of the cast to the events going on. The length of a few sequences has changed ever so slightly, but that – plus some tiny framing changes that don’t really entail new layouts – is all the supposed revamped direction amounts to. The sound direction had been singled out as one of the issues in the original, but the revised audio is virtually the same too; only the crude SFX used on explosions and such have been noticeably altered. As it turns out though, the intro with inconsequential modifications is actually what received the most changes. After that you can find diverse changes to the composite, with new effects and slightly more intricate photography. Coloring that might look like quite the change but didn’t entail drawing new effects animation at all, and more lighting alterations. The fact that new napkins are amongst the most noticeable additions should tell you how insignificant it all is. The second episode follows a similar pattern, with general composite changes accounting for most of the polishing. There are some new aspects like two amusing replacements of background art by actual key animation, a tiny continuity error being fixed, and finally some minor animation director corrections. As you can tell though, it’s once again very minor. It’s barely worth comparing the third episode(s) since it’s the exact same case, just slightly more prominent; there are a few more corrected drawings since the character art had some rough scenes originally, and the rudimentary composite in some scenes got understandably revised. The first and only mechanical correction occurs too, though it doesn’t entail revising actual animation. All in all, we’re talking about a dozen of revised cuts out of ~300 per episode. If it weren’t for the two short spoken lines added to the first episode, this would pale in comparison to most latenight anime bluray/DVD enhancements. The renewed episodes are essentially the same, viewers wouldn’t notice the differences unles they watched them side by side. “[…] additional lines and scenes and alterations to the animation and direction” is true in the sense that it’s not entirely false, and the promise that “the ‘themes and intentions we were trying to convey’ will also be more strongly emphasized in the remake” was so vague they can get away with it. Nagatani’s words were meant to spin bad news in a positive light, trying to get new fans to check out the supposedly new version of their series they let the creators polish further. And you can’t blame him for that, but it’s hard to deny that the first episodes of Regalia are pretty much exactly as they were.
But content aside, what about the staff? Additions were to be expected as they had to produce new material, and perhaps management changes as well. Looking at the credits though, the first two episodes remained exactly the same. Not a single new animator, painter, digital artist or any other role. The changes were so minimal that they didn’t even need to ask a single new person to carry them out. It’s only in the third episode that a new name pops up under inbetweening and coloring, which only proves that they do credit the additions, but that those are negligible. If you thought that this unusual situation would lead to changes on a producer level instead… then you are right, sort of. These were the new names:
- Yumi Wakabayashi (若林由美, from Yahoo! Japan) was added to the list of producers.
- Gouta Aijima (相島豪太, from Animatic) and Eimi Nishida (西田瑛美, from Bandai Visual?) were added to the production committee.
- Tsutomu Yanagimura (柳村努, from Yahoo! Japan) was added under Planning.
And the key detail? They appeared back in the second episode of the original broadcast, not in the renewed version. New producers stepping in halfway through a show isn’t extremely unusual, but big changes taking place all at once on a project like this is obviously no coincidence. And what’s more, these people represent companies that weren’t originally part of the production committee or even the planning group! They might have been involved to some degree before (Yahoo’s Gyao streamed the show, Bandai Visual was the disc distributor…), but they appeared in major roles out of nowhere. By the looks of it, this show had to be rescued by extra companies as far back as after the first episode. The idea that they got to the fourth episode and decided the quality was slipping is flimsy to say the least. This project encountered issues since the very beginning.
This might have been a bit confusing if you aren’t acquainted with the inner workings of the industry – and perhaps even worse if you actually do understand how messy the situation is – so let me list my main takeaways from this entire situation:
- I pointed out that the revamped episodes were virtually the same, but don’t misunderstand, Regalia’s production was fundamentally screwed. It must have been. Paying more to part of the team not earning per cut, having everyone do a little extra work and booking an entire season’s worth of TV slots in multiple channels all over again is not a decision to take lightly, especially for a project that at best will aim to recoup costs – something obvious to any fan with a basic understanding of disc preorders, moreso to its actual producers with access to more data. For the representatives of the companies that funded the project to take a decision like this, it must have been the lesser economic evil; which is to say that if they hadn’t done this, the production might have crashed so hard they feared no fan would feel like supporting it. Obviously they might also be emotionally invested in the original series they planned, but we are talking about people whose job is to ensure their projects make a profit. If they were willing to make this sacrifice for the creators it’s because it really was required. The fact that the first episodes are, if anything, above average TV anime material that barely were polished up means that the disaster was happening in the part of the show we haven’t seen yet.
- It should be obvious from what I have said already, but no there’s no way this was a publicity stunt. While it’s true that in the overcrowded latenight industry some projects die because they simply don’t manage to stand out, this would quite literally equal stabbing oneself for attention. Very backwards and ineffective to boot, since everyone’s reaction was just curiosity that mostly died down fast.
- Saying Actas has been an unlucky studio would be quite the understatement. They keep getting into messy situations despite being simply hired hands, which is supposed to be the immediately safer position – even more proof that the current animation production model is broken. Back in Garupan they had the finale of the TV series delayed, seemingly because Tsutomu Mizushima’s standards were quite high and the small production team fell behind on the schedule trying to live up to them. The movie hit them even worse, and notoriously made the studio lose money despite going on to become a blockbuster; the constant delays lead to the production costs being higher than expected, and they didn’t convince the producers to increase the funding so they had to bear with the pain for ultimately little reward as they weren’t part of the committee. And now this. For all we know their staff might not be at fault on any of those cases, yet their corporate image – really important to keep getting contracts and thus stay afloat – keeps getting tainted. Have I mentioned the anime industry is broken?
- There might be some truth to the speculation that the ambitious 2D mecha element caused this. To be clear: I doubt there was a single culprit, but even before the news about postponement arose I wondered how they planned to keep it up. Regalia seemingly has a very skilled but small team of mechanical animators, and I kept on seeing the same people credited for key animation whenever those scenes happened – Kanta Suzuki was clearly overworked as supervisor, and even someone who doesn’t regularly work on TV anime like Masahito Yamashita had consecutive appearances and a notable workload. Their output was very nice, but was it sustainable? Apparently not. It’s important to understand that anime production is multithreaded; lots of things are happening at once, it’s not as if episode 2 only starts being produced the moment the first one is done. If a recurring element needs to be handled by the same limited group of artists though, it’s easy to see how a lethal bottleneck could happen.
- We might never know what exactly happened beyond this, though. There’s more to it than the producers can say, and as you have already seen their official statements contain some half-truths for understandable PR reasons. To get the full story we would need a staff member to leak insider info. And that could happen next week, next year, or never!
A bit of a different post compared to what I usually do with this column (which I have given a new name to reflect what I do with it a bit better, hopefully change doesn’t scare you too much), but hopefully people will enjoy it. I’ve mentioned it before that I would like to write about industry matters now and then, and I already have some neat ideas – and strings to pull – to get them eventually done. This kind of thing takes quite a lot of work though, so you know the drill! Please support us on Patreon to make it possible.
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