29 days ago, on August 8, 2014, Creative Intelligence Arts launched a kickstarter for an original Masahiro Ando/Jiro Ishii anime project, Under the Dog. Yesterday, that project reached to reach its $580,000 funding target, and currently has an average of $68/backer from 10,486 total backers as of this writing. The success of this particular kickstarter, one of 5 anime-related ones that I am aware of (not counting anime sols projects), is obviously a good thing for the makers, and is also an encouraging sign for the future of anime crowdfunding.
Before I start, I should note that I didn’t fund the kickstarter because it didn’t seem like something I would watch if it existed today. I’m not going to be a poser and say I was a super-huge fan of this when I wasn’t. Academically, though, the project carries a few interesting implications that are really permutations of one big thing – it lacked a lot of advantages that previous such projects have had.
Disadvantage #1: Obscurity of the staff involved
Masahiro Ando has done decently big things, but he’s not a big name in the west; he has fewer myanimelist favorites (42 as of this writing) than Mari Okada (200), Kasai Kenichi (44), and Seiji Kishi (49), all of whom have an order of magnitude less than Kick Heart’s Masaki Yuasa (1201). Kinema Citrus is below the google trends search volume threshold, as is Jiro Ishii. A team at that tier of popularity isn’t going to be able to just slap their name on something and wait for the money shower to start flowing, but UtD demonstrates that a crack team on that popularity tier might be sufficient if there’s a decent trailer and a well-executed PR strategy (one which included a late-game push comparable to previous Anime Sols endorsement plays).
This is a big deal because the guys who are *really* well known in the west (Shinkai, Watanabe, Yuasa, Hosoda, etc.) tend to be people who have a track record of commercial or critical success long enough that they can get funding without having to rely on crowdfunding services. Younger talents with big ideas that are the ones who actually stand to benefit the most if crowdfunding becomes a bigger deal, and this shows there’s some market for them.
Disadvantage #2: Lack of a pre-existing product
Santa Company got funded with only a trailer, but they were asking for a factor of ten less than UtD was. Eve no Jikan and Little Witch Academia 2, both of which brought in way more money than they asked for, were selling a product that already existed and had a number of fans. That they hit their funding goal with just a solid trailer and some design sketches puts a bit of a lie to the supposed paradox of western anime fandom – the idea that people claim to want a specific sort of product but people won’t gather in big enough numbers to support this product unless it already exists.* Since the number of anime popular enough to warrant that kind of mass desire for continuation isn’t terribly large, it opens up the field tremendously if original, non-sequel projects are legitimately on the table.
Disadvantage #3: Asking for a ton more money
UtD’s goal of $580k was bigger than the initial goals for Little Witch Academia 2, Kick Heart, Santa Company, and Time of Eve combined. Though Little Witch Academia 2 made slightly more than that in the end, it started out only asking for $150k. Some people have theorized that it’s easier to fund a project when it seems likely that it will get made, or at least when it feels like it has enough of a chance of success that a $100 contribution could significantly effect the odds. But, if that effect is present (and it may still be), then it wasn’t enough to torpedo this project.
In general, it’s not good to be draw sweeping conclusions about the results of one project, but UtD’s success is an extremely encouraging example which and a strong test of the ability of crowdfunding to turn a well-pitched idea into an OVA.
*I am that type of fan – the stuff I import is the stuff I’ve seen enough of to know I’ll be rewatching/rereading several times.
“but UtD demonstrates that a crack team on that popularity tier might be sufficient”
Eh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. As far as I’m informed, they probably wouldn’t have made it if not for Kotaku and Kojima gathering some attention? Not to mention it’s also supported by the ever-so-convenient narrative of “Finally a kickass anime for the Western world just like Bebop, Akira and the likes in the good ol’ days when there was no cursed moe around!”. Heck, the official hashtag is called “#keepanimealive” of all things. This is not just the funding of an OVA but also the supporting of a cause, of an agenda. That makes it a special thing and I doubt that we could use this one’s success as a means of generalizing.
Getting celebrity endorsements and coverage from industry press has been a common part of many successful PR campaigns (including the animesols videos linked to in the post). Hideo Kojima is hardly the only popular Japanese game designer who’s capable of writing a support piece. Using the #keepanimealive hashtag was incredibly pretentious, but it was also smart PR in that it got people who might have been interested to further look into it. Nothing the project did is anything that at least 10 other groups can’t replicate.
Rather than the raw dollar amount, I’m more interested in that there’re 12k+ paying customers for Under_dog. In an industry where success is qualified as selling the low thousands (in both Japan and US), that many for what amounts to an OVA is a sign that the customers are out there, if you market it right.
My initial reaction to this was to check what tiers the backers were on, and it does seem like most of them payed some version of normal market rate (~11k people at 25$ or above, ~4.5k at $60 or above). That’s likely comparable with the number of people who bought HAL this month on R1 BD, so it is impressive relative to similar contemporary products.
I think it’s a part marketing (trailer included under that umbrella) and a part the fact that it *wasn’t* already made so people were buying potential rather than a product. The fact that anime is heavily pirated is an argument that might also hold some water – it’s probably easier to forget to financially support something you kind of liked when you watched it for free if it’s already been made and you don’t really have a lot of leverage over the future of the franchise. But you can’t pirate something that doesn’t yet exist. Hard to unravel those arguments, though.
Em, that’s an interesting argument against pirates you have there. If I understand your argument correctly: As of right now, Under_Dog is a rare example of an anime you can buy (albeit with a 1.5 yr delivery date) but can’t yet pirate. As a result, it end up with an expanded paying customer base.
If that’s the case, this would be the most convincing argument I have heard yet for KS as a serious anime fundraising platform.
Yah, piracy is a loaded topic because industry people blame it for a lot of things and people get super-defensive of it in some circles (and it is something everybody has done at some point). But even with the tinderbox bringing it up represents, it’s something that’s worth being considered in this context. I would bet money that industry people have at least considered the possibilities there.
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