Monday 1 October 2012

Bucking the trend: Kickstarter

One of the recurring themes in this hobby lately, from the perspective of a foreigner, is that the industry is closing itself off as much as it can from entire regions, actively preventing sales and growth. Realistically, foreigners outside Japan (and the major markets it recognises such as the US) aren't worth a great deal, I know. There is a old fashioned belief both in America and in Japan which persists that each market needs to be treated separately, and those not being catered for don't wish to contribute.

However, today a project was set up which moved me to create a post (and indeed, to finally start using the blog I'd prepared!).

Kickstarter is a website which arranges for projects stuck in funding hell to get a boost from private individuals with money to burn. It's like a matchmaking website for wallets. For some reason, it's become extremely popular lately in America and people who would normally be too cheap to pay $20 for a PSP game are suddenly breaking out their savings to help fund strange indie gaming projects which may never go anywhere. I don't entirely understand it, but there have been a number of significant successes to date and if it's convincing fans to contribute more, it seems like a good idea.

Kickstarter was successfully used for a US manga project recently, but to date it had never been used for anime. Rumblings from western companies implied that it caused problems in negotiations with the Japanese rights holders and had a stigma of making things seem that the production companies had no money; in Japan, where companies generally retain some level of dignity and distance from their customers, it wasn't seen as presenting a good image.

There's also a logistical problem in that to put an anime project on Kickstarter, you need to have the licence to it; speculatively creating a project for something you don't actually have any rights to is not going to look good to anyone, and only risks ending in disaster when the contract negotiations fail or the asking price jumps. Similarly, few Japanese companies are going to want to let a western distribution house sit on a title trying to raise funds, preventing the creators shopping it to other companies. Not to mention the fact that a US distributor would only hold the licence for their region, crippling their ability to reach out to would-be investors globally.

In other words, the only way Kickstarter was ever going to get a proper anime project going was for someone in Japan to take the risk. Amazingly, that has finally happened.

Today, Yuasa Masaaki has launched a one month Kickstarter for a short, experimental anime called Kick-Heart. It's an absurd-sounding story which is bound to make for a very entertaining short film, and he has enough on his resume to get me interested even before considering that Production I.G. and Oshii are attached to the project too.

As I was just watching another quirky indie-style anime only the other day (Yamamoto Soubi's This Boy Can Fight Aliens, which received a US Blu-Ray release recently), I finally signed up to Kickstarter today and threw my support in for this one too. One of the site's gimmicks is that 'backers' can be encouraged to bid more by being offered rewards for meeting certain targets, and the $60 reward is a Blu-Ray of the finished animation if it all gets off the ground. Given that standard Blu-Ray pricing in Japan isn't cheap anyway, I decided that it was more than a fair price and this was the tier I went for (sadly, the $10,000 tier with its promises of a dinner with staff and a personal studio tour is a little out of my reach). The creators have since added some more reward tiers between the ultimate prize and the more affordable ones, so hopefully the response will pick up quickly as the wealthier backers start bidding. They've already been making good progress towards their target ($14,000 raised out of $150,000) in the few hours the site has been online.

Although I'll certainly be happy if I can be watching a shiny Blu-Ray disc of secret pro-wrestling nun romance in a few months from now, I want this project to succeed for other reasons. The creators are reaching out and directly targeting English-speaking foreigners with their Kickstarter page, and for the first time we can go straight to those creators and show them how much we want to support imaginative new anime. Even though I'm not in America, even I can throw my money down and show them that I both love anime and am willing to pay for it, and it doesn't have to be a safe romantic comedy adapted from some flashy new light novel with guaranteed sales potential.

I'd like to see more of this kind of thing. 

As for what the next Kickstarter project should be, I've already decided what the most sensible western anime company funding need is: the second half of Glass Mask! Sentai Filmworks reportedly mentioned at Anime Weekend Atlanta in the past few days that it was never happening (the first half sold too poorly for a release of the second to be profitable). Ok, Sentai Filmworks, you have the rights to it, and there is a small and passionate minority of fans who bought the first half sitting around waiting for the second. Stick it up on Kickstarter and we'll fund the release of the rest of the show. I'm ready when you are.

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