An Oasis of Thoughts

Original Anime versus Adaptation and a Quick Look at Production Committees

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This post will take how original animes get their start compared with adapted animes and other factors, using three original animes and two adapted animes and a quick look at production committee of Fate/Zero, which will be the topic for next month. It’s a pretty long post (my apologies for being more than three weeks late).

Original Animes Are on the Rise

Tsuritama is the brainchild of director Kenji Nakamura who’s past works include [C] – The Money of Soul and Possiblity, Mononoke and Kuuchuu Buranko. I admit, while I haven’t seen any of his past works, I did briefly glance at some of his past series and I also see a very prominent thread that ties them all together: surrealism. Does being an original series involve tons of creative freedom, like most of Nakamura’s works, or is their something else? I’ll be looking at a few original animes to discuss and analyze: Tsuritama, Guilty Crown and Ano Natsu de Matteru.

There’s a growing trend in original animes for reasons unknown, which I feel is sort of surprising given the fact that the rise of one-cour (i.e. – 11, 12 or 13 episode series) series has grown heavily because producers are afraid of big financial losses if they try going further. Why else do we see adaptations of popular manga getting only one-cour treatment? As much as the MANGA is popular, that necessarily doesn’t mean the anime will also follow suit. Take a look at Medaka Box: It’s a pretty popular manga written by one of the biggest writers in the anime industry, NisioIsin (Monogatari series) and it’s Shounen Jump. But the anime is only twelve episodes long, not nearly enough to dive into the series’ constant genre changes and animating the least liked aspect of the show. So what does that have to do with original animes, anyways? Medaka Box is a perfect example of executive meddling and playing it safe financially, which leads me to the first show to analyze.

Tsuritama’s premise is odd and it definitely stands out. But there’s a lot of things an original anime must do that makes it harder to see series like this: financial backing. Manga publishers like Shueisha and Kodansha are usually the big financial support for animes that are being adapted from their magazines. That’s one issue taken care of, but what about the other financial necessities? Let’s look at the production committee of Fate/Zero:

From top-bottom: Aniplex, Seikaisha, Notes, Nitroplus, ufotable

To make it brief (I’ll be talking about production committees in the next monthly in-depth corner): Production committees control EVERYTHING. They decide if FUNimation or Sentai Filmworks gets to license their series (or take down streamed videos like Fractale), they have informal authority over the director and other key staff mainly because they’re the ones who hold the money needed to produce an anime series. But I want to talk about the usual members in the production committees, usually it is the following: Publisher (manga/LN only), music producers, DVD/BD distribution company and broadcast station, occasionally some advertising agencies and very rarely the animation studio. Here Fate/Zero’s committee is represented by Aniplex, who produces the music (Kalafina <3) and distributes the series in Japan for home release, Seikaisha is the publisher of the Fate/Zero novel by Gen Urobuchi, Notes is the official business name for Type-Moon, Nitroplus employes Gen Urobuchi and of course ufotable is animating the series.

Tsuritama needed to have the backing of a lot of different companies, each with their own interests and opinions on how the show should be. But luckily, original animes have some support in the form of noitaminA, aka Fuji TV’s late night one hour timeslot devoted to anime. Lately they’ve been involved with original series like Guilty Crown, UN-GO, Ano Hana, [C], Fractale and Black Rock Shooter. One can argue that it is because of noitaminA that we’re seeing an increase of original anime. Now back to Tsuritama: I think it’s very possible that Kenji Nakamura was the reason the series got animated. He’s directed  past noitaminA series like [C], Kuchuu Buranko, Mononoke and Ayakashi and their motto is to find and support animes that can appeal to all demographics and not just otaku. Tsuritama had a lot of creative freedom in part to Nakamura’s track record and some of his shows were financially successful (and Tsuritama looks to be as well), and that’s one way an original anime gets to be created. Original anime has to jump through a lot more hurdles, but let’s take a look at a show that is ‘original’ but has a lot of influence from major anime companies.

Production committee members: Production I.G., Aniplex, Fuji TV, Movic (in charge of the Animate stores which carry special Animate-only items for anime BD/DVD releases) and Dentsu (advertising agency)

Guilty Crown is known for being involved heavily with the band supercell. It’s true that their members, specifically Ryo (who wrote and composed the openings, endings and some insert songs) and Redjuice (original illustrations), had a very big hand in the project but the real big names are the production committee members. Production I.G. was able to recruit veteran Madhouse director Tetsurou Araki (Death Note, Highschool of the Dead) for the project which is usually impossible because studios like Madhouse rarely let their own staff work on other studio’s projects (to this day, I’m not sure how I.G. got Araki anyways). At this time, supercell’s Ryo and Redjuice were also heavily involved with the project as was their record label, Sony Music Entertainment’s subsidiary Aniplex. Such a concept grabbed the attention of the folks at Fuji TV to the point where it gave GC an unprecedented 22 episode run – when the normal series on the block gets only 11. They and everyone else on the committee might as well be credited as the ‘original work’ because without them, Guilty Crown would have just been an idea by supercell that never got realized. It is original in the sense that it wasn’t an adaptation of a manga, light novel, visual novel or video game but as many of us who seen the series can attest to, it definitely got too much input from different competing interests resulting in a disjointed narrative that plagued this series. The next series is a balance of creative freedom and production committee influence.

Production committee members: J.C. Staff, Geneon Universal Entertainment, AT-X (broadcast station), Showgate (advertising agency), Bushiroad (card makers like Weiss Kreuz and Vanguard), Genco (production agency)

Ano Natsu de Matteru took the middle of the road approach: It was the work of Onegai Teacher’s Yousuke Kuroda, a screenwriter for many many anime series, and illustrator Taraku Hon. Many people have noticed a lot of similarities between the two: the red headed alien, the mysterious brown haired girl (both of whom are voiced by Yukari Tamura) and less noticeable is how eerily similar their air dates are. Looking at their MAL profile, Onegai Teacher premiered on January 10, 2002 while Ano Natsu premiered January 10, 2012, that can’t just be a coincidence that it aired on the tenth anniversary of the first series? Anyways, this was the whole point of Kuroda and Hon, but they ended up with completely different staff than the Onegai series: J.C. Staff, noted for being almost despised as Studio Deen but a lot of competent folks like director Tatsuyuki Nagai and character designer Masayoshi Tanaka. Ano Natsu had freedom, but it didn’t use it much at all because many claim it is a carbon copy of Onegai Teacher but being able to air exactly ten years on the date of Onegai Teacher’s premiere, acquiring a lot of different production members and yet able to hold its own creatively, Ano Natsu is a great example of a show that, while it could have been more creative it didn’t suffer from executive meddling. Fun fact: anyone who watched this show should know the episode with the ‘zombie movie’ was of course Highschool of the Dead, I can’t think of a show actually taking another idea and using it exactly as-is, though Kuroda was the screenwriter for HOTD and Tanaka did do the character designs so perhaps the Nakamura effect does hold some sway in the industry.

The point is, not all original animes start out the same. They each can be subjected to executive meddling depending on the type of series (whether it can be marketed to a wide audience or just standard otaku fare). There are three types of original animes: the ones that have total creative control, the ones that are dominated by production committee members and a mix of both. But what these animes have an advantage over adaptations is the pacing: long mangas require long amounts of episodes or risk cramming it in a short timeframe (like Sakamichi no Apollon), but original series do not suffer from this, like Tsuritama and that is why I feel that Tsuritama is the better show compared to Sakamichi: it just doesn’t feel rushed at all.

Playing It Safe, Or Taking Risks?

Adaptations are by far the most popular type of animes around with manga adaptations leading the pack overall. But at the same time, the number of 11-13 episode series has also dramatically risen. That is mostly due to financial worries: Indeed, a recent Anime News Network article wrote that 70% of all animes do make a profit but after many, many years either from TV reruns or other forms of income.

The next two shows on the adaptation side I’ll be talking about are Steins;Gate and Chihayafuru. One is a visual novel adaptation, the other is a manga but have a very different audience and ultimately different types of revenue.

Producers: Media Factory, Kadokawa Pictures, Movic, AT-X, Frontier Works (music distribution)

Steins;Gate is a very interesting series. It didn’t have a very huge fanbase, most visual novels by 5pb. are very niche (they’ve also produced Corpse Party, another very small fanbase) and it’s intended audience were even more niche. Yet, this show was a really huge success financially: it sold over 15,000 Blu-rays and brought in 1.226 billion in revenue ($15.5 million USD). So, how did it do it then? The series only deviated very slightly from the VN (to the point where it is, essentially negligible in the long run) and stuck to the source. It also was projected to sell decent, but typical of series with small fanbases – but after the series entered the second half, pre-order sales spiked dramatically (a major event happened that’s to spoilish to reveal). In that sense, S;G capitalized on the strengths of the source, marketed it to a wider audience and ended up pleasing both established fans and newcomers alike, and casting high profile voice actors helped a bit as well: guys, here’s Kana Hanazawa voicing yet another adorable moe character. Girls, here’s Mamoru Miyano voicing another completely different type of character. Its the best kind of success story, though I wonder why 5pb. and Nitroplus aren’t part of the production committee as the original creators are usually the most important aspect of the committee, I’ll probably cover that in the next in-depth corner.

Producers: Madhouse, VAP, Nihon TV, Kodansha

Chihayafuru is the true unsung hero of the 2010-present in terms of success. It’s growing in popularity, but the anime was aired in a very late night timeslot because the producers did not have enough money and sponsors. It could have been a bigger hit had it aired in the evening or morning timeslots, but nobody wanted to take a risk on it. Well, it was successful but only in bringing in new readers:

Manga Rankings for September 12-18 (before the Chihayafuru anime):

#1 – Kimi ni Todoke – 714,858 copies
#2 – Detective Conan – 250,441 copies
#3 – Chihayafuru – 171,585 copies

Manga Rankings for December 12-18 (during the airing of Chihayafuru)

#1 – Detective Conan – 300,585 copies
#2 – Silver Spoon – 202,276 copies
#3 – Fairy Tail – 196,406 copies
#4 – Shingeki no Kyojin – 194,173 copies
#5 – Chihayafuru – 192,448 copies

Manga Rankings for June 11-17 (last week)

#1 – Chihayafuru – 222,909 copies

That’s a pretty noticeable increase, but it’s not as large of a bump as I expected. But apparently the producers are happy enough to give the show another season, so I can’t complain about that. This is one way a manga/light novel adaptation can succeed if the blu-ray and dvd sales are poor: increase the readership. These types of anime are mainly exposure for the original source anyways, and bringing in new readers is just what the editors of the major magazines want. So, don’t fret if you’re favorite series sells even worse than Gundam AGE (~1,500 copies average currently) because it’s the manga that matters. Anime series here are just a 24 minute promotional video for the manga, plain and simple.

In short, adaptations thrive on its fanbase whether it’s small or large. The smaller ones are much more dedicated than the larger ones, which are usually the shounen manga adaptations. They balance a fine line between adhering to the original source and completely going off on their own vision, and the results can be completely different for different series. Even the most faithful adaptations doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a success financially. What the other option is for an adapted anime to be called successful is if the show brings in new readers for the manga/light novel: an increase in readership is likely the reason why Chihayafuru got a second season, because quite honestly this show had the usual “let’s leave it open-ended and never come back” ending like many animes who SHOULD get another season but don’t.

Conclusion/Sources

To sum it all up, the growing trend in new original anime is promising. More original animes tend to have more creativity and they can better handle the one-cour format. Not to say that adaptations can’t, but they have a harder hill to climb not just trying to adhere to that format but to also please the established fans as well. There are series that adhere strictly to the source (Chihayafuru and Steins;Gate) and are rewarded for it, though those rewards can be completely different but still lead to great financial success. There are also series who take cues from production companies and powerful executive meddling (A great public example is Code Geass R2 – It’s hard NOT to hear all of the production issues that show had) and their success is 50/50 – Pass or fail. But whatever the scenario may be, there will always be series that can clench your thirst if a series you really liked ended for good – anime is full of large quantities of the same type of product, and you’re bound to find one you’ll enjoy. (I was going to use the “there’s many fish in the sea” analogy, but I already talked enough about Tsuritama today. *rim shot*)

Information on producers: http://animenewsnetwork.com – Most anime’s listed on ANN have the production company list, it’s on the right usually near the animation studio. If it’s not listed, I check the anime’s opening or ending sequences that usually list the producers.

ANN: The Anime Economy: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2012-03-05 (Part 1)

List of series selling 10,000+ BD and/or DVD sales since 2000–Important if you’re highly interested in ‘Does it sell or not?’: http://www.mania.com/aodvb/showthread.php?p=1972211#post1972211

Next month: The Big 5 production companies – Aniplex, Geneon, King/Starchild Records, Media Factory and Bandai Visual/Lantis. Important information, history and their influence in the anime production business. Also, a more in-depth look at production committees.

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