“[…] Nagahama says he’s well aware that a lot of people will go “what the fuck” and “this is gross,” “I hate this, I’m not watching this.” But he’s pretty much okay with that, too, because he thinks it’s fine as long as it leaves an impact on people. Viewers may dismiss it right away, but some may check it out later and find it interesting, or they may come across the manga, recognize the title, and read that.”
-excerpted from this animesuki translation of an interview with Hiroshi Nagahama, director of Aku no Hana.
That may seem provocative, but it’s actually a fairly common philosophy in the business of anime for a publisher to fund a loss leader, in this case an unprofitable anime that stimulates manga sales. There’s quite a bit of evidence that this can work, though anime serving as a commercial for the manga generally has to stand out to drive up manga sales. I believe numbers inform the debate, so it’s worth taking a look at how that gambit played out.
Indeed, the eighth volume of Aku no Hana, the first one out after the anime aired, showed a little over double the sales of the first volume. So there’s a pretty strong case that the anime got the manga more attention. The more interesting question for me is this: in the face of seemingly abysmal sales of the anime’s first volume set to come out in late July, could the increased sales of the manga still make the anime successful? For the purposes of this article, “successful” means that it produced a gross profit equal to its production budget.
Let’s start by taking a look at the available manga sales data. Listed below are the volumes of Aku no Hana ANN has sales data for based on their placing on the Oricon charts, for the first and second weeks (in parentheses) of sales:
Volume 5: 18,935 (40,803)
Volume 7: 19,123 (40,201)
[Anime Airs April 2013]
Volume 8: 43,988 (89,036)
That’s roughly 50,000 in additional sales deviating from the baseline set by previous volumes, most of it likely generated by publicity from the anime. There’s one more volume (9) set to come out before the series ends, so factor another 50,000 in. Additionally, it’s reasonable to expect that the previous volumes saw some extra sales on account of the anime. But we’re not talking about them being boosted as much as the new volumes, since piracy and buying used are options for books that have been out for a while.
Fortunately, while I don’t have up-to-the-minute data on the sales of the Aku no Hana manga, I do have data for Blue Exorcist and Space Brothers, manga that similarly got sales boosts from popular anime. In each case, the older volumes showed up on the Oricon rankings making about 30,000 additional sales per volume for series where the new volumes were selling around 300,000 copies in their first week. So let’s say they also picked 10% of volume 8’s 45,000 first week sales for the first 7 volumes. Now we’re talking about an anime that was responsible for 50,000*2+45,000*.1*7=131,500 volumes worth of manga sales. The price of each volume is 450 yen, which means that adds up to just under 60 million yen in gross profit (45 million yen without the assumed early volume sales).
That’s a significant sum, but does it measure up to the cost of anime? Well, there are two ways to calculate that. According to ANN, the typical cost of producing an anime is about 2 to 4 million dollars, or 200 to 400 million yen. However, the typical break-even point as an anime has been quoted as being about 3000 copies, so we can also calculate backwards and check that figure against what break-even normally is. For a typical anime with 12 episodes that comes out over 6 volumes and costs 7000 yen, that works out to be 126 million yen.*
Using either metric puts the gross income from manga sales at a significant fraction of the necessary gross, but not more than half. Even assuming Aku no Hana was on the low end of the production-values chart and cheap to produce, the increased sales of the manga wouldn’t make up for sales in the under-1000 range, which is where it looks to be headed. So no, the Aku no Hana anime was not commercially successful. Still, it definitely made back a good portion of its budget through manga sales. With the manga ending and that avenue for revenue closing off, it’s highly unlikely that the anime will end up with a second season; there just isn’t the economic grounding for one. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that the project wasn’t a money pit, but a moderate failure that did help the manga sell a bit better.
*Presumably, anime don’t make back all of their costs via direct unit sales. Just most of them.