Fun With Numbers: Adaptations of Award-Winning Manga and the Myth of Madhouse

It’s fairly frequent among people who have started to get interested in anime enough to start knowing things about the people who make it find themselves encountering the names of certain directors and studios over and over. Kasai Kenichi excels at college life stories. Hiroshi Nagahama was the bold visionary who directed Mushishi. Perhaps one of the more preeminent studios in that regard are Madhouse and Gonzo, the studios behind Death Note and Gankutsou, respectively. They can flash those series names on “from the studio that brought you” title cards of the trailer for anything else they make, despite the fact that Madhouse made the Marvel anime and Gonzo hasn’t been run by the people who made Gankutsuou since 2008. I’m here to make the case for why Madhouse’s reputation, along with a number of others, may be a bit overblown. It’s not that they’re not making awesome anime, but they are picking source material that gives them a lot of help.

This situation with directors can sometimes be a bit like that of the quarterback in American football; they get too much credit when things go well, and too much blame when things go wrong. In reality, lots of factors beyond the men at the top contribute to an anime’s success. I’m here today to take a look at one in particular; the pre-production choice of high-quality of source material. What follows is a look at anime adaptations of Shogakukan/Kodansha Award-Winning manga, including observations based on both their relative frequency over the years, their strength as a function of which studio makes them, and their performance in the marketplace.

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Fun With Numbers: Was Aku no Hana Commercially Successful?

“[…] 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.

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What the Aku no Hana Fracas Reveals About the Internet’s Anime Community

So if you’ve been following the Spring 2013 season at all, you’re probably aware of how much of a hubbub Aku no Hana has kicked up. The trimodal mal score distribution attests to the strong difference in opinion, which has caused tensions to flare up in any number of discussion forums. Forums nominally for discussion, anyway, because there hasn’t been much actual discussion going on.

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Animetics’ Drunken Vegas-style Spring 2013 Anime Preview

If the anime blogoshpere were a field of corn, and each post that summarized the spring 2013 season were a corn husk, then you could stand in the middle of it and toss a match in any direction, and end up with something on the order of 10 gallons of popcorn. And some third degree burns. Um.

So, what I mean to say is this; seasonal anime preview posts are really a saturated field. But we like anime, and we want to cover it, too. Thus, we labored hard to find a hipster angle, and we found it; instead of putting up a dime a dozen post, we’re putting a dozen dimes on the post. In simpler terms, we’re taking mad bets on the upcoming Spring 2013 lineup, Vegas-style!

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