Chris Hitchcock: Welcome True Believers to another installment of Wave Motion Conversation!
Today I’m joined by Josh Dunham and Subtle Doctor to talk about Crowd Fundraising in the North American Anime Industry.
For those who are not aware, At the beginning of March 2016, FUNimation launched a Kickstarter to raise funding to re-release Visions of Escaflowne on Blu-Ray and DVD with a brand new uncut and uncensored English dub. The campaign originally asked for $150,000 and met their goal within the first two weeks. It is now currently sitting at Over $200,000 with more than 15 days left to go as of this writing.
So I think before we get into the heart of the conversation, I believe we should go around and give everyone at home a little context into where we stand with Crowd funding in general and go on record on if we have ever supported projects on Kickstarter, Indygogo, or other sites of the sort.
Josh: So, I have supported anime Kickstarters in the past, Otaku no Video and Riding Bean come to mind, but there’s something that unsettles me when I look at FUNimation ‘s Escaflowne. I’m coming from a background of only seeing the movie and not as a fan of there series at all. I know it’s history and that it was chopped up, but I’m a tad confused as to why this needed a Kickstarter. I think Kickstarters are a great thing, especially for anime, but I see some dangers with the way FUNimation is handling this title.
Subtle Doctor: I myself have never supported a crowdfunding project of any kind. I’ve never been a big pre-order guy, and crowdfunding is just another way to talk about pre-ordering, rather than becoming an investor in a product or idea. At first I was a bit skeptical of the process, and I initially resented big companies coming into the crowdfunding space. But, after several years of success stories, I’ve warmed up to the idea.
I take no issue at all with FUNimation ‘s Escaflowne kickstarter campaign. The product was going to be released one way or another, and the new dub (necessary for the HD master) is essentially a glorified disc extra. What’s wrong with Funi asking consumers to out their money where there mouth is for a special feature? I feel like there are far more dubious uses of the crowdfunding model and many more sketchy proposals we should be pointing the finger at before FUNimation here.
Chris Hitchcock: To get it out of the way, I have supported three crowdfunding projects. Bee & Puppycat, the Swat Kats revival, and Don Bluth’s Feature Length Dragon’s Lair Film. With all of these projects, I always opted out of receiving benefits or rewards, because unlike what Doc said, I do contribute towards projects I believe should be successful. I’m not pre-ordering a product, I’m supporting a creator make their craft.
Which is why I have a lot of issues with FUNimation using this platform for this project.
Like what Doc said, Escaflowne was always going to get another dub, it was just a matter of time. Funimation has just taken the cheep route on this and forced their customers to foot the bill for them to make a larger profit.
Outside of producing a dub, FUNimation isn’t creating anything from this. With Dragon’s Lair, their project took the same amount of money for fund an entire animated short film, with voice acting and what have you. Why does FUNimation need $150,000 just for audio work and to print a few dozen blu-rays? Thoughts?
Subtle Doctor: The dub will cost more than that, 150k is the company’s “benchmark to ensure there is a want.” Voice work is expensive. Also, this dub was t going to be made one way or another, not at all. According to the company, the HD remaster was going to be made, but the dub was an extra they would throw in (again, new dub being necessary for the HD footage) if the want was there. Funi was just asking people if they wanted it.
I hardly find it cheap for a company to gauge demand for a lavish bonus feature such as this, again, when the HD remaster itself was going to be made regardless. Why sink money into that and cut into your profits if people didn’t want it enough to pay for it?
Josh: Ok, so addressing two things: I think Kickstarters should be more or less preorders. If I bought this in a store, how much would this cost? I don’t see any reason to pay extra for something unless it’s an exclusive to the Kickstarter, i.e. my name in the credits or some sort of perk. For me, the Kickstarter price should be 1:1, early bird stuff puts a bad taste in my mouth. I know why they do it, but if you can sell the product for less, why make all but X amount of people pay full price?
Looking at the Kickstarter prices, these are Aniplex prices – but for a mainstream title. I can understand wanting to gauge interest, but they made it clear ‘this money does not cover the dub’ – then what is it for? I personally don’t care if there’s a demand for this or not, but what I’m afraid of is this mentality of “If we don’t sell X amount of units for Y profit, then we won’t sell it at all.” And that’s not fair to us fans. That type of stuff breeds fansubs.
Subtle Doctor: Re: CJ’s crowdfunding philosophy: I more or less agree that this is what crowdfunding ought to be, what it was probably originally conceived to be, but the thing has morphed into something else. Everybody is in it. It has become a pre-order mechanism, and the bigger companies likely don’t want to be creatively beholden too much to consumers ao adopting an investor type of model is mostly dismissed. Having said all this, there are waaaaaay worse offenders (in the eyes of your philosophy) than FUNimation in the crowdfunding arena. Even for someone like yourself, I find it hard to see why you’re upset about this in particular.
Josh: they mean that the money doesn’t completely cover the cost of the dub. It goes toward it, but 150k won’t totally do it. They are footing the rest of the bill themselves.
Chris Hitchcock: I want to tackle a topic that both of you have mentioned at this point that I MAJORLY disagree with. Crowd funding is not a pre-ordering system.
I think there are two ways of looking a crowd funding, through the eyes of the consumer and the eyes of the creator. From a consumer’s point of view, I get that the idea of giving money to a creator and not receiving anything in return seems like a scam, but in order for a lot of Independent creators to do their thing, they need monetary support. Because the idea of a truly independent creator isn’t, “How can I turn a profit?” It’s “How can I buy the things I need to make the thing I want.” As a creator, it’s frustrating to hear people say, they’re expecting a major $60 product, when you’re only giving them $5 to make it. It’s like they don’t actually care about the craft, they just want the thing and damn the creator.
Now where it gets muddy is when big companies like FUNimation come in and use the system, thinking it’s just another way to cut cost. They come in an ruin a fantastic system set up for creators. They bring in this pre-order culture to a system that was not meant for it and set expectations too high for the average Joe Blow.
Subtle Doctor: FUNimation is following in the footsteps of, like, a million big companies though. It was “ruined” long ago. Funi has just stepped through the broken doorway.
Chris Hitchcock: Yeah, but that doesn’t make it right
Subtle Doctor: But you are arguing about oughts. Funi is acting on the practical reality of what the system is today. Your attack should be aimed at KS, not this one company following a successful formula.
Chris Hitchcock: Doc: The problem isn’t Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a site and means for everyone to use. Big, small, simple folks like you and me and even big companies. If they closed their doors towards a certain group of creators, that would just open the flood gates for a whole other debate, on who is allowed to create and who isn’t
Josh: That’s not what I mean at all. Kickstarter never truly was crowdfunding. The idea was right from the get go to give money and receive a product. If the goal isn’t met, no money changes hands. I think of a show like Space Dandy. I paid $50 for that per season, 12 episodes. So where is this $65 coming from? Maybe the extra $15 is a credit listing? Sure, I’d buy that. But they didn’t need any of that extra money for Space Dandy, or any other series they’ve been dubbing until now. Granted it’s a redub, but how does that differ from any other show? If the costs of production can be covered for a show with $50, why are you now asking for more? And to me it’s because they want a certain profit margin.
I want to quote Bertchy’s ANN interview with Funi “It wouldn’t cost $150,000 to dub Escaflowne and nobody would consider the show a serious sales risk… Why can’t you just produce the new dub without needing to have the fans raise this money for you?” To which Funi’s rep replied, “hey! If you really want this, almost consider this a preorder.” And that’s where I feel icky about it. Why is my preorder costing more?
Subtle Doctor: It is a premium product. It’s going to be effectively a special edition of the thing. I’m sure licensing costs are prohibitively expensive; according to Shawn Kleckner’s recent AMA, the rising price of licensing is THE most difficult obstacle for U.S. anime distributors today.
Josh: But did Escaflowne need to be re-licensed? It seems like of silly to me to assume Space Dandy cost less than Escaflowne.
Subtle Doctor: Justin Sevakis tweeted the same thing. (About licensing costs)
Chris Hitchcock: The problem is though, FUNimation isn’t creating, it’s reselling a known and tested property that’s gotten plenty of NA exposure before and has a well established audience. Which is my issue with them using this platform
Subtle Doctor: It is an out of print show that has an HD edition, a popular one that people would love to buy. Funi would have been crazy to pass on it. It’s one of the great shows ever, IMO. Would you rather have them just not re-dub it to begin with? I don’t think they would take on faith that fans would pay premium cost for the re-dub. Guessing demand and polls/verbal commitments from fans have not been kind to the anime industry. I think it’s important to remember the massive bath Bandai took when they released Haruhi over here. Everyone said, “Yeah I’ll buy that!” And nobody did b/c they had their fansubs. Crowdfunding that set, or certain costly features of it, seems in hindsight like a great solution, a way of both directly engaging your customers and also covering your own ass should the demand not, in fact, be there.
Chris Hitchcock: I was going to get to that later, but now that you brought it up. Yes, I don’t think Escaflowne needs another dub. The first dub was perfectly fine in my opinion. Plus one aspect Funi keeps touching on, is this will be uncut, which was done before with the VHS tapes and the Bandai DVD Legends release in 2008. So I do feel giving this another dub, is a waste of time when they could be focusing their efforts on other projects.
Subtle Doctor: But people wouldn’t have been able to watch the new remaster dubbed. Funi has said that the old dub can’t work with the new footage for tech reasons.
Josh: There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t sell. None. Even with a new dub. And the interview made is sound like the asking price was over asking. I’m not so worried about this one show, but what if they decide to bring back FMA one day, or hell, if Eva 4 gets locked into production hell, what’s to stop them from saying “We need $50+ for this movie”
And that answer is nothing. We can speculate all night about the process and such, but I want to focus on what was said, and was what said is not very promising at all. Every other company sells like a normal vendor does. By why would they if they can go this route and grantee sales? This means we’d never get any shows that weren’t profitable for the company, and that sucks for us.
Subtle Doctor: But will it sell enough to cover the cost of the new dub? Will it be worth their while to re-dub if they don’t sell that edition to enough people?
Josh: Of course it would be, it is and does all the time. They can dub a show in a week. I don’t see why this is an issue
Subtle Doctor: I think you’re assuming too much. Kickstarter isn’t the new model for what gets licensed. That’s taking the slippery slope too far, I think.
Chris Hitchcock: We’ve gone a little all over the place, so let’s get focused again by going around and thinking about this? Do you think FUNimation would gain anything if they just released the new dub on streaming sites, Netflix, Hulu, or even their own as opposed to just putting it on DVD? Because I feel as though this leads to another grip I have which is putting this series on Blu-Ray is starting to feel outdated as we move towards more and more streaming based media services. It makes you wonder, why spend that money on the old method instead of the new method
Josh: That’s a good point, streaming for a dub has seemed to work just fine, there are no numbers on that, but I think it’s a valid point. As for Blurays being old: nah. This is a collector’s market, and people want it on their shelves, some even collect tapes because they’re old! But I know I buy stuff to show it to other people. I can bring the DVD/Bluray over and pop it in, no need to worry about logging in to CR or whatever the case may be.
And I think that would lead me to my next point that Funi is aiming to expand the anime market, but I’ll get back to that and let Doc make his point.
Subtle Doctor: Agreed, Josh. Kleckner has said the same thing, that the trend he sees is that anime is becoming more of a collector’s market again, with premium editions and such, rather than a broadly-focused one. That’s a trend, not a universal. So, I think there is very much a place for BD. As for making a whole new dub, just to stream it, you’re basically asking them to flush that money. The economy is just not there to justify doing that for an individual show.
Chris Hitchcock: Well I think if they made the dub as an exclusive for FUNimation’s streaming site, it would actually give me an incentive to look into signing up for their service. Make more exclusives to get more customers to sign up for your service
Josh: I guess I see a lot of things happening at Funi all at that same time. Theatrical releases, simuldubs, entering into the streaming games, even dropping references to GG; to me it all points to one thing, Funi is trying to expand the anime user base outside of collectibles. And that’s fine, great even. But I’m kinda concerned with someone who already sells a collectors edition of something like Aniplex or Discotech going this route and me never seeing some of the awesome things that have come out form them because they didn’t make massive profit. On the flip side, that is a companies right, so i can only be so mad, but a the end of the day, I’m a consumer, and have to side with the consumer.
Subtle Doctor: CJ: That’s an awfully big gamble. The history of U.S. Distributors is littered with the corpses of companies who took speculative gambles like that. I see crowdfunding as a pretty consumer-friendly way for companies to mitigate these risks. Funi has shown aptitude in the past of being able to distinguish among its various anime brands which products are mass market and which are premium. I don’t think one should assume that because they sell one product one way, they are going to sell all products this way. They are keenly aware that this strategy is a good one for this product. This wouldn’t work for, say, Kenichi. And Funi knows that.
Certain products get premium chip boxes, etc. ( Lain) and some go straight to S.A.V.E. edition (Le Chevalier)
Chris Hitchcock: Interesting perspective there. One last question and then I believe we should call it a night: Do you believe this will help boost or weaken sales of the actual DVD/Blu-Ray, and why?
Subtle Doctor: I think it will increase sales, if for no other reason than the amount of publicity this thing is getting. I’m sure ours isn’t the only piece that deep dives this issue.
Josh: Is that really a question? I think the numbers speak for themselves: this is an overwhelming success. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t double it’s goal amount before it times out. I just wish this could have been handled in a more tasteful fashion besides selling Blurays with my name on it at knife point.
And that knife is price point.
Subtle Doctor: How do you guys think this sort of direct customer interaction and demand gauging should have been handled?
What’s your solution here?
Josh: My answer is not a feasible one bound to induce eye rolls, but some level transparency. That’s really what it boils down to. Maybe anime, with it’s lack of transparency, is ill-suited for this form of distribution.
Chris Hitchcock: I don’t think this is going to help or hurt sales at all. Because at the end of the day, it all comes down to the product itself and Escaflowne sucks, I don’t see why giving it a new dub will make it any better.
Even though I’m a hardcore Escaflowne fan who watched edited scenes straight from Japanese LD’s and DVD-box, I do have mixed feeling about Funimation’s Kickstarter though. I have sponsored 2 anime kickstarter projects previously and I understand that there are other costs associated with Escaflowne dubbing. We could use some transparency on what percentage is used on dubbing and the rest.
Temptation is really big on this one because Japanese version BD is very expensive.
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I agree that transparency in crowdfunding seems like it would be a good thing. However, looking at the response that companies in similar markets (video games) have gotten to revealing costs, I can’t say I blame Funimation for being hesitant to disclose that information. The fact is that people like us have no idea what it costs to produce an anime release. The same folks complaining that the lump sum cost is too high are still going to complain that the cost is too high if they see a pie chart detailing how funds are distributed. “WHAT? You’re paying them that much per recording session? I’d do it for free!” Sure you would, junior, but you’re not a talented, unionized voice actor who we have a working relationship with! Honestly, given the entitlement of current fan culture, I see next to no benefit and a ton of negatives for FUNI being more transparent about the project.
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Tell you truth, I’m not a fan of dubs in general. I’m more into behind-the-scene than another dub and I am tempted simply because the Funimation is throwing in Japanese release artwork for chipbox and art book and CD and whatnot. And then I’m not too sure if art book will include some great behind the scene information though. I already have three art books of Escaflowne already, but the show is now 20 years old and it would be nice if they can throw in some great production commentary for fans who never had access to such thing. other than American voice actors making comments.
Speaking of entitlement, I think it is one of the problems that prevents western fans from having “nice stuffs” which Japanese otaku have been enjoyed for years.
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Personally, I ascribe most of the vagueness of the campaign not so much to Funimation as I would towards Sunrise. They are also not above holding materials hostage or pulling stupid stunts with their properties. Just ask any Gundam fan. It was Sunrise/Bandai that helped tank the franchise’s chances here by INSISTING that Cartoon Network air the original series or refusing to let companies license rescue the popular Gundam shows unless they took on ALL of them (and even then, they still insisted on the original UC series getting released right away). These are the kind of stunts that Sunrise will pull on their pet franchise, the one that they WANT to be successful abroad!
Then you have to factor in the fact that Escaflowne is far bigger (and thus more profitable) in the West than it is in Japan. They did a BD release of the show a while back in Japan. Sunrise has gotten as much money from their domestic market as they’re going to get. I would not put it past them to get the most out of their license by basically holding the show itself (or at least the unedited masters) hostage unless Funimation was willing to pay a premium. Thus, the crowdfunding could be a way to mitigate those costs in addition to a new dub.
My suspicion is that Sunrise (and likely many other Japanese licensors and corporations) have observed the success for Kickstarters like Little Witch Academia and Sony’s campaign for Shenmue III and concluded that Kickstarters = easy money and free publicity with little to no effort and that therefore this is something they can exploit to the fullest. Thus, the Kickstarter could just as easily be Sunrise’s idea as it could be Funimation’s, and Funimation would have little choice but to play along. After all, no anime licensing company is going to criticize a publisher for their actions unless they want to commit professional suicide. It’s the same reason that Viz had to play coy about the technicial issues on the Sailor Moon release, which were eventually revealed to be caused in part by Toei giving them inferior materials.
I’m not saying that people can’t or shouldn’t criticize Funimation for their handling of the campaign or its very existence. What I am saying that there is likely more than one guilty party in play and that people should be giving Sunrise just as much of a side-eye here.
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I have no doubt that the reason Funimarion has effectively sat on this license for ///three years/// is that they wanted to get ahold of all the materials and bonus content that should go into a premium release like this, especially given the fact that most fans of this title probably own it already. Everything I’ve heard about Sunrise squares with your speculatuon: they aren’t an easy company for anime distributors to deal with. Funi could have rushed this to market, knowing the demand was there, but it appears to me that they have done right by the fans here by slowly acquiring content to make re-buying this show worthwhile.
I’ve been thinking a bit about this topic recently, and I want to propose a binary choice:
(a) Funimation unilaterally makes the decision, based on their data, not to re-dub Escaflowne
(b) Funimation allows the fans to decide whether or not re-dubbing Escaflowne is worth their while by getting monetary commitments
It seems to me we would want to live in world (b), the one with consumer power. That’s the easy pick every time, right? You get to decide if it’s worth it to you.