Japanese animation: competition intensifies between streaming platforms

(AFP) – Whether it’s science fiction not recommended for those under 16 or clashes between gangs of thugs on motorcycles, streaming platforms are fighting a fierce battle to dominate one of the most lucrative sectors. of the moment: the Japanese cartoon.

Fueled in part by the pandemic, anime’s popularity has become a gold mine for companies like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime, with an estimated global market of $28.6 billion in 2022 and set to double by 2022. by 2030, according to Grand View Research.

“We don’t think competition in anime is going to slow down anytime soon,” Aya Umezu, president of entertainment consultancy GEM Partners, told AFP. Global demand has increased by 35% between 2020 and 2021, according to the specialized service Parrot Analytics.

In recent years, Disney+, which arrived relatively late in anime, has started to offer series also available elsewhere such as “Demon Slayer”, “Spy Family” and “Jujutsu Kaisen”.

“Offering them can prevent people from canceling their subscriptions,” Ms. Umezu points out. But this is far from enough: to stand out, the platforms are seeking to obtain exclusive rights to the content or to co-produce their own original cartoons.

– “Black vessels” –

Last year, Disney+ secured exclusive rights to stream the second season of “Tokyo Revengers,” an animated series featuring gangs of thugs, as part of a lucrative deal with the entertainment giant. the Kodansha edition.

Amazon Prime has also sought to “monopolize” blockbusters, author Tadashi Sudo believes, including “One Piece Film: Red,” the top-grossing film in Japan last year.

Netflix has distinguished itself by working directly with animation studios, granting them unusual creative freedom. Traditionally, Japanese cartoons are produced by “production committees” bringing together publishers, broadcasters or toy manufacturers.

These committees play a key role in diversifying revenue for a series, through merchandising or video game adaptations.

Netflix therefore offended the industry by partnering directly with Tokyo-based animation studio Production IG in 2018, bypassing the system.

“Some thought we were going to destroy what they had built,” says Production IG President Mitsuhisa Ishikawa.

He even compares Netflix to the arrival in Japan in the 19th century of Western “dark ships”, which forced the opening of the country to commerce after centuries of isolation.

And Netflix has reaped the rewards, with its original content making it “the platform that drove the biggest increase in global demand for anime in 2021,” says Christofer Hamilton of US firm Parrot Analytics.

– “Demon boy”, violence and nudity –

But the global streaming giants have a relatively small footprint in Japan where publishers want maximum exposure for anime adaptations of their manga and worry that exclusive streaming deals could be too restrictive.

Experts note that Netflix original deals are often set on works less likely to become national hits like “Demon Slayer.” According to Shota Ito, an analyst at GEM Partners, no Netflix original anime made the list of the top 20 most-watched movies by Japanese users in 2022.

However, Netflix is ​​an attractive platform for Japanese studios who perceive the traditional market as too small.

Early Netflix originals reflected this bias, with a high proportion of productions that some say evoked the hard-core sci-fi cartoons of decades ago.

This is the case of “Devilman Crybaby” which tells the story of a “boy-demon” with a lot of violence and nudity. “I feel like the creators wanted to do something with us that they had little chance of doing in the existing system,” says Taiki Sakurai, Netflix’s lead producer for the anime.

This first experience has since given way to other genres, from comedy to the story of fights between thugs, and even a “stop motion” project – frame by frame – featuring a teddy bear.

According to Netflix chief content officer Yuji Yamano, the market is far from saturated and competition will only make the “industry even more vibrant”.