By Jonathan Clements.
“Who will make anime now?” asks Tadashi Sudo in his new book, just published in Japan. His subtitle, “The quiet revolution in Chinese capital and Net distribution”, plays most of his hand before the book is even open, citing these two factors as the most disruptive and, potentially, lucrative elements to strike Japanese animation over the last 20 years. They are, however, far from the only factors that he considers.
Sudo’s book is no simple statement of the obvious. Despite its pocket size, it is an admirable synthesis of two decades of anime business writing, and of the immense changes wrought upon the industry by developments in technology and shifts in demographics. China is, sensibly, a huge part of his argument, as he deals with the seemingly unsolvable problem of pushing Japanese products into a marketplace with willing fans but hostile gatekeepers. He not only points to the disruption of traditional models, but also the growing influence of the likes of Netflix and Amazon in how anime is watched, and how it is funded in the first place. He also deals directly with issues of single personalities, and how they might be expected to influence the business.
If you thought this was the lead-up to another tired rondo of “Who Will Be the Next Miyazaki?” you’d only be partly right. Sudo does indeed talk about the financial implications of anime losing its Ghibli cash-cow, and the likely inheritors – Mamoru Hosoda’s traditional cinema-oriented approach, and Makoto Shinkai’s more overtly fan-friendly distribution model. But Sudo provocatively asks a far more heavy-hitting question: Who will be the next Toshio Suzuki? If we think of anime as a process, beginning with its creation, but continuing through its distribution and exhibition, then Miyazaki’s job was arguably done when he delivered the films – it was Suzuki, his producer, who was doing all the hustling in the other areas of the chain, many of which were just as lucrative for someone as production itself.
We should, of course, stress that the paramount figures in the anime industry should always be the creators who create it. But Sudo is refreshingly frank in his appraisal of what is done with their work once it is finished: how it is duplicated, how it is sold, what kind of screen it is watched on. In his closing chapter, as he talks through the likely struggles anime will face in the next decade, he points at the players to watch – Aniplex with its bespoke fan-centred model, and the CG-mastery of Polygon Pictures. He pleads with the executives of Japan’s animation business to look abroad not only for markets (which has been an obvious option for 60 years), but also for the right “allies” – investors and distributors who will not stamp out so much of the Japanese-ness of anime that it stops being anime at all. In doing so, he pokes around the halls of Comicon and Annecy in search of an understanding of how anime is appreciated outside Japan. Ironically, this is a far rarer investigation to find in a Japanese book on anime than one might expect.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History.