Numerous articles have been written about the depressed state of the North American market in terms of anime and manga from Japan. The situation is so bad, many Japanese publishers and companies question if it is even worth while to attempt to market something to the US. I believe this is going too far, as I remember a time, just 20 years ago, when there was no real market in North America. There were a few titles released in English back then, but they were far and few in between.
But on the ground here in Tokyo, the pessimism is very strong. Many creators, producers and publishers talk about France and China as their best targets for export. France and China are not huge markets in themselves, but Europe’s market has not tanked as badly compared to the US and while its hard to make money out of China with its numerous regulatory barriers and rampant piracy, East Asia overall represents a market that is growing and the prospect of consumers with more disposable income is very good.
And even still, the US gets special attention by the Japanese. Specifically, Hollywood, as you can see in this article here: http://www.asahi.com/culture/update/1103/TKY201111020748.html
[Update 2011/11/14 English Asahi Shinbun has featured an article here. Thank you, Roland, for pointing it out!]
This Asahi article talks about a new joint venture named “All Nippon Entertainment Works” being established in October of this year (2011) aimed toward promoting and licensing Japanese entertainment IP products into Hollywood. Financing this undertaking will be made possible by the Sangyo Kakushin Kiko (Innovation Network Corporation of Japan), a quasi government investment fund that gets 90% of its funding from the Japanese government.
The aim of this enterprise is to construct an IP management scheme that would make licensing Japanese movies, manga, anime, games and toys more streamlined and thereby making them more attractive to prospective buyers in the US. In the eyes of many, Hollywood is the entertainment capital of the world, so there would no better place to promote Japanese properties. Anything Hollywood buys up will sprout wings and expand globally, and thereby help increase the Japanese footprint in the world, or so the logic goes.
This is a very short article and I do not know all the details of this endeavor, but I have two major concerns over this project.
First of all, depending on US companies to help export your own cultural product overseas seems rather timid and overdependent on others. Leaving aside the questions of ownership and creative control, anything the US makes will be for the benefit of the US creators, first and foremost. I am not saying US collaboration in Japanese IP works is a bad thing. Sometimes it turns out wonderfully. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ll leave you to think of appropriate examples. I’m sure you can think of many.
The point is, creative agency of a given property should not be something taken lightly.
And while the article does not say specifically All Nippon Entertainment Works is devoted solely to adapting Japanese properties to meet US needs, the lack of emphasis of trying to promote Japanese works in the original form is very saddening. Many American never think twice about complementing a foreign films by stating, “Hey that was a great movie. It should be remade in Hollywood.” To the people who were making that original movie, that can be taken as a slap in the face.
I am well aware the US market is not very welcoming of foreign entertainment products. History has shown that many Hollywood remakes can be successful. But at the same time, no one predicted Japanese anime and manga would hit it so big in the US. I cannot think of a single non-English language cultural product that has achieved such a notable footprint in US culture while still largely retaining its foreign elements.
Some titles may work well adapted by Hollywood. Some works may not. I just hope copyright holders of Japanese properties suffer from what I refer to as the Hollywood syndrome. Hollywood syndrome is the mental state where people are willing to sellout unimaginable of personal and / or creative integrity in their desire to make it big at Hollywood, or any other focal point of creative endeavor. Fame can be a very powerful allure to lead many toward accepting normally unacceptable revisions.
Second of all, the selection of properties that this organization will promote and license is something that really needs to be examined closely. As a general rule, government does lousy job at picking winners in any given market. Did you know the Japanese government initially actively discouraged the Japanese automobile industry? The procurement process for ordinary products of the Pentagon has been target of much ridicule. How certain titles will be chosen by this organization needs to be carefully monitored.
Whenever government funding is available over a given project, those with strong political and industry connections stand to be in an advantageous position.
Frankly, most of the titles that are listed in the article are properties that belong to big Japanese business that can afford to promote their titles overseas. I would much prefer creative works that do not enjoy the support of big business to be given a helping hand from tax payers.
It’s never easy to figure out which titles will be successful in the open market, but entrusting a bureaucracy with picking winners and losers for entertainment properties may only complicate the process.
I am glad the Japanese are acting more assertively in promoting their properties, but I just feel there might be some other things that should have been done before doing soemthing like this.
PS: I’ll try to make updates more frequent, but its not always easy.