By Andrew Osmond.
The Guest of Honour for the Edinburgh leg of this year’s Scotland Loves Anime was a specimen of professional who’s often overlooked by anime fans: the anime producer. Kohei Kawase hails from Warner Brothers Japan and was at Edinburgh to support Accel World: Infinite Burst, the film of the Accel World TV series which Kawase executive produced. With nearly twenty years of industry experience, Kawase’s other production credits include Shirobako, A Certain Scientific Railgun, A Certain Magical Index and Food Wars.
As well as appearing on the Scotland Loves Anime stage, Kawase delivered a talk on producing anime at the Edinburgh College of Art. He described his responsibilities as finding money for an anime, choosing its staff and figuring out how to promote it. He added, though, that he’s also closely involved in the production itself. “I enjoy getting into the creative side.”
For Kawase, the producer represents the viewers, and is responsible for ensuring an anime connects with its public. “I need to make sure the fans will enjoy the series.” That’s not to say anime shouldn’t take risks, and nurture creative directors, but Kawase must ensure their maverick ideas get across to the audience – even if that means heated arguments with the directors, now and then. For Kawase, the script is paramount. “The screenplay is the most important element of animation. I know from past experience that if you don’t have a good screenplay at the start, you’re not going to have a good anime.”
After his talk, I interviewed Kawase about the realities of the anime business.
How do you go about making money from an anime title, and how important are the hardcore fans in Japan, the so-called otaku, to monetising anime?
Of course the otaku are important, but I think recently, over the last few years, the biggest business model has been changing. We’ve been feeling the need to appeal to a broader mass audience, because – I don’t know how it is in other countries, but in Japan the hard-core fans are spending less money now.
Is it still true that many series are shown in very late-night slots in Japan, to be recorded or else bought on DVD or Blu-ray?
Yes, that’s right. But because there are so many late-night anime being broadcast now, there’s kind of an oversupply and people can’t keep up.
How do you cope with that?
There’s nothing you can do about it really! But as a producer, you have to try and get people to notice your titles amongst all those anime, and that might be to do with the content, it might be to do with how you promote it, how you show people that it’s different and make it stand out, to get people’s attention.
To the layperson, it might seem that anime shown in graveyard slots would only get the attention of otaku. How do you broaden the audience?
I think it used to be the case that once you grew up, you stopped reading manga and watching anime and you tended to look down on those things as being for children. But that’s changing now. Nowadays people in their twenties and thirties do watch anime and it’s not seen as something just for otaku. There’s less resistance than there used to be. So I think there are fewer hard-core fans now and more light users for that reason, and there’s not as much resistance as there might be in the West. Having said that, with “bishojo” and “moe” anime, the light users are a bit eew…
Which late-night anime appeal to light users rather than otaku?
One title that I’ve worked on is Food Wars, and that’s based on a Weekly Jump manga series, and Weekly Jump has the biggest circulation in Japan. So that reached a very wide audience and there were a lot more light users watching that than there were hardcore otaku. And with Shirobako [an anime series about the trials of people making an anime series], normal salarymen watched that. I think they can sympathise!
When you’re planning a new anime, how early do you discuss merchandise possibilities: for example, soundtrack CDs, figurines and toy robots?
It varies, but for example with a robot animation, we’ll be thinking about that at the planning stage. With something more character-based, we might have been thinking about it, but merchandise isn’t going to be the only way of monetising that title. So it depends; there are some anime where we aim to make money through the work itself, and there are some which are a thirty-minute advert for a robot toy.
How do you make money through the work itself?
Basically, over the last few years, it’s been mainly DVD and Blu-ray, selling the rights to an agent overseas, and streaming. So it’s a business model where merchandise isn’t the main form of return, but selling it to different people in different ways.
How important are markets outside Japan?
Especially over the last few years, the overseas market has become a lot more important. Sales of home videos in Japan are going down, and we need to make up for that. And so we look to overseas markets. Before, that meant selling home videos overseas, but nowadays we have streaming – you can watch the same anime in a different country just an hour after its broadcast in Japan. It’s virtually simultaneous, so you lose the gap in terms of distance and time, and overseas fans can enjoy an anime at the same time as the Japanese fans. If you can get it out there before it goes up on YouTube, then that deals somewhat with the problem of piracy; if you’ve got it up on Crunchyroll or wherever, then that’s your business model.
Ten or fifteen years ago, the only people watching anime overseas would be really hard-core fans. But nowadays because of streaming, the audience is a lot broader, although they may be just light users. So it’s a much wider audience and that is a big driver and, I think, a business opportunity.
Will these foreign audiences change the content of anime?
It is influencing the content already, for example in terms of violence and eroticism. Japan is quite lax compared to the restrictions that you have in the US and possibly in the UK; and so you have to be quite creative in how to use the same scene but to express it in a way that will be okay for those markets. The creatives think about that, and I think as well about choosing things that aren’t only understandable by a Japanese audience.
Kohei Kawase appeared at Scotland Loves Anime, 2016.