Can ‘Cool Japan’ revive the anime industry?

cool japanWhere are the times when not K-pop, but J-pop was trending?

Recent times have signified the rise of K-pop with stars such as PSY commercializing the K-pop concept and overshadowing J-pop. I want to thank commenter Micheal Do for being proactive on this topic in the Is anime really dying? -post. K-pop is going global and leaving Japanese entertainment goods far behind it. But this fact is not only apparent in the entertainment industry. Also companies such as Samsung, Kia and Hyundai set forth their growth, leaving all once famous Japanese powerhouse brands in their shadow.

While I don’t believe the anime industry is dying as a whole, there is some truth that the Koreans seem to be far more effective with their strategies to make their (entertainment) products more marketable. To counter this, Japan has started the Cool Japan fund to promote its products. The Ministry of Economy and Trade is in charge of this program to promote ‘creativity-based industries’. Which leads me to believe this is mostly entertainment products. Those industries consist of a total market share of 2 trillion Yen. With the Cool Japan program, the goal is to increase the share to between 8 and 20 trillion Yen. As a byproduct, this will hopefully lead to more tourism.

cool japan Despite the popularity of anime and manga products, it’s still relatively small. The anime industry has been having trouble making ends meet with the decrease of physical sales and the rise of online distribution, may it be illegal or legal. According to the article in the Japan Times overseas sales peaked in 2006 with 16 billion yen and plummeted to 9.2 billion yen in 2012.
That’s a pretty tough decline for an industry that is still rather traditional. But let’s be honest, the entertainment industry is trying to squeeze everything out of its outdated business model.
This effect is, apparently, also visible in the fashion industry, where Japanese fashion magazines are popular in China, but the industry itself wasn’t able to set ground in China itself. In an article published in 2014, there were actual plans to open a Cool Japan Mall in the city of Ningbo, a pro-Japan town , in China. This is a surprising move to promote Japanese products within main land China itself, considering the history both nations have concerning their foreign relations. The mall is supposed to cost approx. 56 billion yen, with 10 billion directly flowing from the Cool Japan holding.

In 2013 the Abe-administration finally gave the Cool Japan project proper funding, launching with an initial invest of 37.5 billion Yen. At the end of 2013 it was decided that there would be a dedicated Japanese cable channel for Southeast Asia, with yet another injection of millions of yen. I’m getting a sense that this is mainly becoming a subsidized gig, instead of a real action plan. The second article also states that there seems to “be a lack of focus.” There is no clear understanding with its stakeholders what the Cool Japan fund actually embodies. The government pushes all sorts of industries, while the most dominant ones namely anime and manga don’t reach their full potential from this program.

cool japanThe article also stated something very interesting, there are too many parties involved in the production process said; manga and anime productions. Sponsors, television networks, distributors, advertisers etc. They all want a cut, leaving almost next to nothing for the original creators. There is no real product ownership and optimizing this chain would give companies the leverage to create better content. An example would be The Witcher 3 game, which is developed and published by the Polish company CD Projekt (RED) games and distributed by Warner Bros. and Bandai Namco. There are no sponsors involved and of course the companies pays some licensing fees to the software providers, but the parties involved is minimal. No sponsors or advertisers that are involved within the production process, wanting a piece of the pie that can deplete the revenue jar that makes a sequel or new production possible.

As I’ve stated in other articles, the Japanese mentality of doing business isn’t catching up to modern times. Yet. I’ve taken Nintendo as one of my prime examples of a traditional Japanese company that is banning new media outlets, believing that internet is still something that’ll die out eventually and letting foreign experience away from entering their business. This is also the case for Sony which has been fighting to keep up in for example the television-market, mobile phones and other households products, while the more westernized Playstation division, is one of the few profitable entities within the Sony family.

It also has a lot to do with marketing and facilitating the necessary platforms to actually consume the entertainment product. The music industry has almost given into the battle they cannot win. Go Spotify, but the film industries have a long way to go in freeing the constraints around publicizing entertainment content. Products that got inspired by anime such as Avatar have reached unprecedented heights and are popular among many demographics around the world. It seems the American approach has a better knack for marketing and promoting franchises, while Japanese companies are still getting adjusted to a more competitive global environment.

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13 thoughts on “Can ‘Cool Japan’ revive the anime industry?

  1. Anime Shutterbug says:

    I think streaming services are definitely the key to success for anime in the future. We have crunchyroll and funimation both doing well. The problem is the advertising, you basically have to be really into anime and actively looking stuff up or you would know nothing about new shows coming out.

    • ninetybeats says:

      Advertising to the anime and/or manga interested audience is child´s play. But the success lies in redirecting it to an accessible source and not dissappoint whilst doing it. There’s a long way to go in creating such an accessible platform to reach the masses. I think there is a lot of uncertaintity with viewers whether a certain series will be available in their region. Whereas take for example Spotify has no geo limitations

  2. Cat says:

    I think Cool Japan can work, they just have to either keep at it for a long while, like all projects, or just do it one on one. If they invest 6 billion yen just pushing anime everywhere, with posters, cards, magazines, everything, it’ll GET there for sure. But yes, trying to push everything means it’s harder to push all of them :’D
    Hopefully they figure it out for the better, and also try to cut those middle-man down and work directly between studio and distributor, instead of everyone wanting a cut of the pie.
    WHile I think streaming like Netflix and Hulu are good, the perfect market IS Youtube. WHen I started watching anime some 10+ years, and didn’t even know the term anime, Youtube was what got me started and made me watch, tho it definitely wasn’t legal hah. Even right now, I think if all the companies focused on Youtube, they’d just get it all back. Youtube has algorithms, we have the “hole” we sink down, watching video after video, stumbling upon weird stuff. What’s best than using that to get people reeled in to anime?
    Sadly not enough companies are pushing for Youtube, and Crunchyroll is not what I call a solution. Crunchyroll is very centered around the premium market, has region lock for shows, and is niche by itself. You go there because you know you’ll get anime. Not the same with Youtube, or even others like Vimeo, Dailymotion.
    Great post, I’m glad you posted it on Arria’s Carnival!

    • ninetybeats says:

      Thanks for your elaborate reply, I appreciate the thought. YouTube has its own regional blocking as well. The main advantage of YouTube is its massive reach. No other medium, apart from Facebook and Google Search can reach such a massive audience. You could easily reach a big audience, even within the niche of anime. The only downside is that YouTube/Google has its own monetization program which of course favors Google and its Advertisers, but to a lesser extent the content creator. They’ll have to make a deal with the studio and distributor. Perhaps the business model has to change or accept the fact that most media creations won’t generate as much revenue as in a world decades ago where entertainment was a premium product.

      • Cat says:

        I think YouTube has all the tools creators might want, with the far reach crunchy and other such niche apps/sites will never get.
        Of course they’d have to negotiate with Youtube, but there’s plenty of companies already on youtube. Funimation is one, if i believe correctly. As is vizmedia, and others.
        I think what they lack is a clear target. There’s anime for every age and interest. If they used their cards right snd used different ones to attract all kinds of people, like Ghibli and Disney does, anime would definitely boom. Or so believe and might be wrong too, who knows 😹

  3. Sam - Unsheathed says:

    Streaming is one avenue, but making it easier for businesses to export goods to the US would be great as well. I mean, we all love anime merch, but it’s all so expensive and can be hard to come by. Expanding the ease of access to Japanese goods, especially anime merch, as well as opening up more streaming and liscencing opportunities will do a lot to help Japan.

    Also: have your film people liaison with Western film people sometimes. I’d love to have seen a more ethnically-accurate AoT live-action movie, and seeing Peter Jackson co-direct a film based off an anime would be a dream come true. 🙂

    • ninetybeats says:

      I think physical goods aren’t really hard to come by. Tokyo Otaku Mode and Jlist seem to be great exporters of Japanese products. Yes, it’s more expensive and you will probably not find a hardcore niche product that you can only buy on the fifth floor in a shop in Akihabara. I’m not based in the US so I don’t know much about the importing of goods.

      I think they’re fully aware of the cultural differences in their media, but a certain stereotype is easier to sell to native audiences. Thanks for your feedback;p

  4. Arria Cross says:

    Oh wow. I learned a lot reading this post. Thank you very much! I have heard of this Cool Japan initiative but not the specifics. It’s interesting, but we’ll see whether it takes off with flying colours or just fail spectacularly. We’ll see. There are many claims that the anime industry is dying. I disagree. True, the profit has severely declined but I think this is just a crossroad along the way to progression. If the industry manages to upgrade its model to fit more with the 21st century and really utilize the power of the web, I think it will return to its feet. Of course, there will be new regulations to be made and a new model to be constructed but as long as there are anime fans, the anime industry will not die. The beauty is that anime fans aren’t limited within Japan anymore. We have fans all around the world. We’ll see. Great post. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing it on my carnival. Cheers!

    • ninetybeats says:

      Thanks for your kind words and feedback. It was fun participating in your blog carnival. I’m anticipating the next round. It’s the same with all media companies, especially movie production where they refuse to enter the 21st century. The music industry is trying to reclaim ancient times, but Spotify has completely changed the digital music landscape. I guess the same will go for anime and the likes as well.

      • Arria Cross says:

        You’re welcome. Indeed, and they’re similar in that way. I’m planning the next carnival this coming March. Hope I see you there again. Keep up the great work. Cheers!

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