SakuQ&A: Anime Industry and Production Questions #4

SakuQ&A: Anime Industry and Production Questions #4

We’ve got even more interesting questions regarding the anime industry by our Patreon supporters. Alternative sources of income for anime studios, the inner workings of Production IG, as well as a handful of both specific and general production and staff doubts.

– Are there any studios out there that have managed to become self-sufficient by investing money in areas not relating to anime at all (such as real estate, stocks, new businesses etc) and using the returns from those investments to fund their projects themselves? If there isn’t, has anyone tried, and do you think anyone will be likely to succeed in the near future? I would think that this would allow them to retain complete creative and business control over their work (as well as any profits) and avoid any issues caused by selfish production committee members (such as the Cinderella Girls example Kevin gave in Q&A 3), so it seems like something someone would have attempted at the very least.

Kevin: That’s the dream! Securing multiple sources of income is something plenty of studios attempt, since their business is hardly sustainable otherwise. Setting up small merchandising divisions and the company’s own store is a common move that allows them to monetize their work without requiring unreasonable investments. There are more esoteric ventures though, like ufotable’s various deals; they’ve got a handful of ufotable Cafe and Dining establishments, as well as the the ufotable Cinema, and of course the Machi Asobi festival – a moderately sized industry event they hold in their Tokushima premises. The catch here, though? Affordable attempts make little money, and adventurous ones are too risky for companies that are already on the brink of death. The studios that need it the most can’t even dare to attempt it.

And by the way, that’s an excellent question! We keep getting great material so thank you all.


– Why does Production IG have a relatively low output when it comes to the “animation production” role? It should possible for them to do more with their multi sub-studios system aka “IG sections”.

Liborek: Production I.G has changed as many animation producers have left the studio. The currently active sub-studios seem to be:

  • Section 5: Animation producer: Keiko Matsushita; latest works: Haikyu!!, Welcome to the Ballroom
  • Section X: Animation producers: Rui Kuroki, Maya Isobe; latest works: Psycho Pass movie, Kuroko’s Basketball
  • Section Unknown: Animation producer: Toru Kawaguchi; latest work: Attack on Titan Junior High
  • Section Unknown: Animation producer: Koichi Banshou; latest work: Joker Game
  • IG Niigata – outsourcing studio

As you can see, that’s quite a drop compared to their situation 5 years ago. The reason why this has happened is something only their executives know for a fact, but I think it’s not surprising. The previous question talked about alternative sources of income and stability for studios, and I.G is in a very special situation as an integral part of I.G Port; that doesn’t just include a bunch of other studios (including Signal.md, their new attempt to advance digital animation) but also a manga publisher like Mag Garden. You might feel sad their work is so scarce, but I’m sure most animation production companies would kill to be able to approach projects with leisure! And at least the studio is back to outputting polished work again, unlike their rough times a few years ago.


– What’s Tensho’s story? How did he go from being almost singlehandedly responsible for the best episode of Katanagatari to spewing out a regular stream of garbage visual novel adaptations?

Kevin: Tensho aka Motoki Tanaka was a solid animator who started to catch people’s eyes on that episode of Katanagatari you mentioned. He directed, storyboarded, supervised and provided lots of key animation for episode 7, which received no chief animation director corrections either so it stayed very true to his vision; the layouts and drawings themselves bring it closer to illustrations that happen to move than to standard animation in nature, and the particularly thick lineart boldly separate character art from environments. Quite the special episode that I’m also a big fan of, and easily his most daring display of personality in his entire career. That’s the thing though – as humane of a reaction as it is, it’s always tricky to equate “this person has done something I like” with “they’re a good director“. Skill isn’t always multi-purpose, and especially with adaptations you always have to account for the strength of the source material. He pulled off quite the spectacle for his episode, but Katanagatari was an excellent canvas to begin with. I believe he’s got it in him and that his talent isn’t particularly narrow either (during the first season of Kiniro Mosaic it was his original material in the first/last episodes that I felt was by far the strongest, for one) but when it comes to all his visual novel adaptations lately…yeah. It’s a shame because I believe he personally adores them and he’s built a fantastic set of acquaintances with Masayuki Nonaka and Enishi Oshima, but there’s just something wrong about how he tackles those projects. They’re unsalvageable.

My more general advice to judge directors is to try to focus on their quirks as creators rather than the perceived quality of their existing work. Recurring senses of atmosphere in someone’s work can tell you a lot more about them than the premises they happen to receive. I’m aware that it’s less straightforward, but it pays off in the long run!


– I watched the “first episode” of the Granblue Fantasy anime and noticed that it was pretty similar visually to Occultic;Nine, so I investigated a little and found out that apart from Masashi Ishihama doing storyboarding and key animation/animation direction for the OP of both shows, the only staff member that they seemed to share and seemed responsible for this was Kazuko Nakashima doing color design. My questions are: what exactly does someone in charge of Color Design do? And in this case, is it because of him that the shows look similar?

Liborek: Actually, there’s another staff member that they both share that escaped you: the director of photography Yoshihiro Sekiya. I believe it’s because of his influence that both shows look similar, as the effects applied give the lineart the same rough appeal. The photography department can have a huge impact on the visuals you perceive in the end, as they’re the last creative step when it comes to the footage. As for what color designers do – they create general character and prop color sheets, as well as variations for scenes in different environments. For example, one color sheet for a scene in a closed room, another one for a sunset and so on; if an episode requires a specific set of tones that haven’t been defined by the color designer, that episode’s color coordinator might create a new sheet. The whole process is ideally done based on the background art so that everything matches perfectly in the finished product.

Shirobako episode 15: the series director picks the standard color setting for the main character. The color designer showed him various samples and in the end they decided to go with the third from the left; while the second one was closer to the source material, it didn’t fit with the background art.

– Are there any major differences in the business aspect of producing an anime film vs a TV show?

Kevin: Some directors have noted that they conceptualize the visuals in different fashion to account for the aspect ratio and generally different way the viewers experience a film, but not everyone is that thorough so there’s no fundamental changes. The part that tends to be entirely different is the road that leads there, of course. Movies are generally better funded and less susceptible to half-assed, rushed promotional projects. There are dates near major holidays that distributors want to shoot for, but it’s not like the TV anime space that is organized by inflexible seasons and much more crowded. If anything, when they have production issues it’s the exact opposite – projects that for some reason or the other are stalled for a long time or progress at a sluggish pace. The surrounding circumstances are more favorable, so films have been embodying the ideal form of anime that TV shows want to shoot for but can’t afford to be. We’re currently experiencing massive industry changes however, significant enough to make me wonder if that will stay true for long; with so many companies and staff that specialized on latenight anime moving to theatrical format, will the TV industry issues start leaking in there? It’s possible. Some people like Mamoru Hosoda have expressed worry about all the current changes, to the point of decrying anime films related to TV properties altogether.

(Keep in mind though, I’m talking in general terms here. Rushed movie projects already exist. Just ask SHAFT about the film they finished the week it was screening.)


– How do OPs get made? Sub-questions related to that one: song first, or animation first or a mix? And how do they pick who directs/animates them (series directors vs. solo SB/KA types)?

Liborek: Song comes first. The storyboard artist draws based on  either the finished or the demo version of the track, visually theming it around that as much as they can and/or want. The director of the OP is generally picked by the series director (who tend to go with either themselves or a close acquaintance) or the animation producer (often choosing someone who works with the studio regularly, like Ryouma Ebata and 8-bit).


– Why do production committees exist for shows that are very likely to be successful? Wouldn’t a sole investor be interested in taking the entire risk and also earning the entire reward?

Megax: While it’s true that one company handling everything would direct all revenue sources to it, it’s unlikely that one company can handle literally everything surrounding a production. In addition to the animation production process, companies have to be able to market the show through a variety of methods (commercials, advertisements in various magazines/locales, online advertising, etc), produce merchandise (video discs, audio discs, goods, video games, etc), and have tie-ins like novels, manga, etc. That’s generally too much for one company to do even for one show, let alone multiple series per season. One benefit for the committee system is that different companies are responsible for different parts of production. One of my favorite examples of a committee was the one made for Buddy Complex:

  • Sunrise: Animation production/original author
  • Bandai Visual: Video publisher/International rightsholder
  • Bandai Namco Games: Video game publisher
  • Banpresto: Merchandise creator
  • Lantis: Music publisher
  • Bandai Channel: Online streaming service in Japan
  • Bandai Namco Live Creative: Live event organizer

The amusing thing being that they all belong to Bandai in some way or the other. While it’s safe to say Sunrise wasn’t expecting it to be very successful, they can’t fulfill the roles of these other companies. Each one of them had different responsibilities to recoup revenue in different ways; if the show was only made by Sunrise, they’d have to contract out these parts to other companies anyways. By having them commit funds, they reduce the amount they directly pay into production and reap the benefits of having additional methods of advertising/revenue. Another possibility is that these companies know what’s popular/good and not. A title that wins awards like “This Manga is Awesome!” or a “Dengeki Bunko Grand Prize” is something that’s been deemed as having high potential, so it’s likely that other companies will want to be involved with its adaptation. This is where bidding wars come in for the rightsholder. Ascii Media Works had a lot of bidders for Reki Kawahara’s novels in 2010/2011 for the anime adaptations, so they asked Genco to manage the anime rights for them, which allowed for more companies than just the ones AMW had connections with. While AMW won’t earn the full amount from these adaptations, they’ll earn more due to the expertise from the other companies in their fields and the enthusiasm they have for this title/additional advertising that they can do.


– Why isn’t the TV anime pre-production phase (or rather: production before the show airs) longer? I’m sure many of the recently increasing debacles could have been avoided if full animation work had started sooner. What’s the drawback of completely or almost completely finishing animation work before the show goes on air?

Kevin: While the entire production timespan is longer than most fans seem to realize, the actual animation process is still often way shorter than it should be. If you provide an available studio the funding to have a long (pre)production cycle, they’ll have approximately zero complaints and will love you. Wrapping up a project before the broadcast has absolutely no drawback for them…though just having to abide to early deadlines can still lead to stressful situations, as you can see with Trigger and LWA TV at the moment. But as I said last time, committees get anxious about windows of relevance and might have cross-media interests so they enforce strict timing – that I believe has a much higher impact than just wanting to cut down production costs by paying the studios for shorter cycles. The situation is so backwards that you see plenty of very profile projects that are very rough due to important timing goals to abide by, and then there’s modest projects that fare much better; it can be due to more lax approaches, or simply because the staff happened to be booked for another project after that so it gets to be produced early and thus has extra time to polish it up.


– Could you give us more info on the anime-that-might-never-come The Dreaming Machine? How much did they complete before hiatus? How about it now? Is there any chance that someone will take over that project in the future? I mean anything about it would be fine because I have been on this ship for way too long and it hadn’t even sailed yet.

Liborek: Unfortunately, I’m afraid the film won’t get completed.

  • Masao Maruyama is already 75 years old and he’ll probably retire within the foreseeable future. He has quite recently left MAPPA and founded studio M2 which is currently “animating” Onihei…however, the truth is that every episode of the show so far has been entirely outsourced because the studio doesn’t really have staff except Maruyama himself.
  • As of the last specific update, only around 600 cuts of the film had been completed, with approximately 900 left.
  • There are troubles both with financing and finding an appropriate talent to replace Satoshi Kon on the director’s seat. The former could be sorted out, the latter is very questionable.

Things aren’t certainly looking bright for this project. It would require an actual industry miracle.


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FierceAlchemist
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FierceAlchemist

I remember at Anime Expo last year after Your Name premiered Shinkai said that they had finished the film only 3 or 4 days before.

kViN
Admin

Haha, that was almost two months before the actual premiere! They only cut it close because they’d accepted such early prescreen. Still a fun anecdote though.

relyat08
Guest
relyat08

Do you know if they polished it up more after that prescreening? It would be interesting to see if they are any differences between the two versions.

RonSnow
Guest

Also, the director that they put as Kon successor on Dreaming Machine isn’t even on the project anymore, since he did various Joker Game projects and is doing Ballroom E Youkoso xD.

Blackiris
Guest
Blackiris

Thank you for all these insightful answers! And thank you for answering my questions even though I’m not a $5 supporter! As for The Dreaming Machine, it’s really a shame. But even Maruyama is pessimistic about it and said in a recent interview that it likely won’t happen (as opposed to his statements a few years ago in which he said he was still determined to finish the film somehow or other). I didn’t know that Onihei was outsourced entirely. Maruyama created Studio M2 to work on the projects of his dreams. Apparently he said at a convention that he… Read more »

kViN
Admin

I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I’m also not overly optimistic about Uru in Blue / Aoki Uru’s future. I take all of Gainax’s current proposal with a truckload of salt – not because I think they’re intentionally being misleading, but there’s a clear gap between what they want to make and what they can. That’s a very ambitious project that has been cursed for decades at this point so I’m very doubtful.

Tombeet
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Tombeet

Dreaming Machine… I still visit their own website every now and then for a slight hope of some updates…
Another great Q&A post guys. Actually learn a lot of new informations by reading all these. Thank you

Chad
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Chad

I can’t wait for this week’s magazine sakuga staff listings.

over21
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over21

Is the the recent Kizumonogatari movie that came out the Shaft movie that you talked about is rushed?

If so, do you know the circumstances of what could had led to that sort of thing because so far everything seem like it was running fine.

kViN
Admin

It was actually a jab at the infamous Negima movie, which they finished right at the last second. I wish we knew more about what went wrong with Kizu though – seeing how Oishi decided to tackle the film it’s easy to understand how ridiculous of a task it was, but I want more specifics.

over21
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over21

Are you talking about the entirety of the Kizu movie production or just the recent part that got release? I do wonder about the whole production because it makes no sense on why it took so long for it to be published unless there was serious production issues hidden behind close we don’t know about. Although, everything seem alright so far in terms of the pace on how the movies was being released after the first part finally came out. Except, for the last part in which was awfully quiet on showing any real preview of it until a month… Read more »

dango
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dango

Thank you for answering my OP question here! It was just a random thought I had when I sent Kevin a twit about it, so I’m really grateful that you actually put it up here!