Talk about production committees has become more commonplace within the anime discourse, which is a solid step towards grasping the realities of the industry. It seems like many fans still aren’t quite sure of what those exactly are though, so our reliable megax has reached out to some industry folks to write a solid introduction to this concept: what are production committees, how did they become the foundation of manufacturing anime, and how they’re changing in the current digital and worldwide landscape.
Production committees. A term that has been present and puzzling to anime fans for a while since there are very few instances of it in entertainment outside of Japan. To put it simply, a production committee is a joint venture subsidiary company created by various entities with the goal of producing a form of entertainment. They often receive the name Title X Committee / Partners, though sometimes they’ll give them cute in-universe names like Bunny Mountain Shopping Street or Dragon Life Improvement Committee. No matter the case, they’re all essentially the same: some companies coming together to make a production.
So why would companies collaborate on works? There are two main reasons: risks and specialization. Entertainment costs a fair amount of money to produce. If one company produces something all by themselves, they’re on the hook entirely if it fails; nowadays you only tend to see that on instances like Studio Khara and the Rebuild of Evangelion films, or Cygames with Rage of Bahamut – either massive “safe” properties, or titles produced by immensely big companies. For the vast majority of cases though, if you divert that risk amongst many companies, then the potential losses are much smaller than before and could be manageable. A blow-away success means that your company wouldn’t make as much, but that’s the insurance cost to guarantee that you aren’t losing a ton of money on something that wouldn’t bring in the revenue you thought it might. Additionally, producing something like a movie, stage show, or TV show on your own is very challenging. There’s a lot of steps you have to take: finding cast and staff, promotion, getting someone to broadcast, producing music for it, selling its merchandise and home video, and so forth. A company that specializes in printing magazines, comics, and novels wouldn’t know the first step in producing music. Having a music producer company on the committee allows the print publishing company to solely focus on what they can do while allowing other companies to produce what they specialize in as well.
Production committees are formed for nearly all late night TV anime shows and have similar versions for daytime TV series as well, but how did they start? It was actually movies that began the process with two films in particular notable for having committee productions: AKIRA and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Akira combined Kodansha, MBS, Bandai, Hakuhodo, Toho, Laserdisc, Sumimoto Corporation, and Tokyo Movie (animation producers) for its production. Nausicaa had Tokuma Shoten and Hakuhodo on its committee. However, this method only started for TV series in 1992 with The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, whose production consisted of TV Setouchi, Big West, and the “Tylor Project” committee of King Records, VAP, and Media Rings. Afterwards, it started to spread after “Project Eva” in 1995 towards many tokusatsu, variety, and anime shows where it’s commonly used throughout entertainment in Japan today.
The composition of a committee can vary tremendously. Some may only have two companies (like Nausicaa‘s previously mentioned case), others can have over 10 companies on it; in the end, all additional companies do is spread the risk. That being said, the risk split isn’t equal. A committee with 8 members doesn’t mean each member is responsible for 12.5% of financing; the amount differs for each member. It is extremely rare to get the actual amount that each company finances into production, but what we can tell is who finances more than one another. That’s by looking at the order of companies listed. Companies at the top financed more of production than ones on the bottom. So going back to Akira’s committee, Kodansha put more money into that production than Tokyo Movie, the company who produced the animation for that film. Kodansha is likely to get more money back via several revenue sources than Tokyo Movie would, so it’s only natural they’d be asked to finance more of production than the latter. Details about how much is shared beyond costs and a little bit of profit to the parent company aren’t public, but are likely detailed in the contracts of the committee.
Tokyo Movie on Akira’s committee is one example of where animation studios generally sit on committees. Even on productions where the studio owns the IP, they may not even be on the committee (see Manglobe and Samurai Flamenco). That’s the reality for most animation production studios, but there are a few exceptions. Toei Animation, being the massive entity incomparable to most studios that it is, has many popular titles under its catalog and can finance a lot of production because of then. So when Sailor Moon Crystal was funded, it was just them and Kodansha on the committee. They’ve also led some committees like Kyousougiga’s case. It takes a lot of success and unusually stable finances to lead a committee as a studio, which is why only the top grossing studios like Toei, TMS Entertainment, Pierrot, Sunrise, Production IG, and KyoAni can do it on the regular. For most other studios, leading the committee might either be impossible or something reserved for very special occasions, such as The Eccentric Family for P.A. Works.
So what can we tell from a production committee? The order of these companies tells us who is taking on the most risk for producing a show. If you’re leading the committee, then your company obviously feels that a production is well worth doing. They also tell us specific relationships between companies. The anime industry is like many others; it’s all about who you know. Companies tend to work together very often. That’s why you’ll see Hakuhodo Music and Pictures together with NBC Universal and Warner Brothers Japan; their producers have established a solid working relationship together and so they’ll enter into various productions because of it. One piece of information that is always is important is whether or not the animation studio is on the committee, and if they are receiving any of the revenue from any source. The list of members also tell us who is likely holding international rights for a show; if we see companies like Aniplex, Kodansha, or TBS on a committee, they are candidates for holding the international rights and determining how/when/who will simulcast a show outside of Japan. TBS has been burned in the past with leaks and companies simulcasting a show prior to it airing, so they delay their streams to prevent JP viewers from watching that instead of their broadcast.
I created a spreadsheet with all of the Winter and Spring 2017 TV anime productions’ committees in it (along with other shows confirmed to air in 2017). Looking at these, you can sense the variety of companies that are involved in production. Some, like the TBS shows, tend to use similar companies for each production. Others have a much more varied committee lineup. And we even have one production – Minami Girls Cycling Club – where it’s led by a company in Singapore and has companies in Shanghai, the US, and even Taiwan on the committee (along with the less surprising digital distribution companies in Japan). This tells us that we’re seeing a much greater emphasis with international sales as well as those companies wanting to invest in committees themselves. By becoming part of a committee, you gain ownership over what the content will be via a producer. For example, if Crunchyroll knows that action shows are popular, they could ask if those elements could be involved somewhere. They are likely to get some revenue from other directions besides their subscribers for that production as well, so it benefits them to be part of one.
I personally find it enjoyable to see who is involved in a show, and as you’ve seen there is plenty of information to draw from that. Animation production studios are listed in the credits for each show, so it’s understandable why audiences would imagine they have a ton of influence over a production. It’s even natural to think that the company that is actually manufacturing something would have great input! If you start paying attention to these committees though, you get a clearer picture of the finances of production and how each show is actually made rather than assume that studios that often don’t have much of a say are in charge of everything. Recent developments make me hope we’ll see more shows with international companies involved to truly make anime more global in the future. I detailed the landscape as it is nowadays, but chances are that this won’t be the situation in a few years.
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