Netflix’s ‘Pacific Rim: The Black’ shows how anime spinoffs can bolster franchises

9 June, 2022

Netflix’s Pacific Rim: The Black is a great example of how Western companies can use anime to help expand the reach of their biggest franchises. 

Over the last 30 days, some of Netflix’s most in-demand original anime series are continuations and spinoffs of incredibly in-demand live-action originals. Pacific Rim: The Black, a spinoff of the sci-fi movie franchise, was the second most in-demand original Netflix anime series on the platform, second only to the megahit Arcane.

Arcane itself is an extension of Riot Games’ popular “League of Legends” game. Also on the list is Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy, an extension of Hasbro’s popular toy series which inspired Paramount’s six-feature (so-far) live-action film franchise.

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Every studio, production company, and over-the-top (OTT) service struggles with the question of how to turn a film or TV show into a full-fledged franchise. Franchise development is difficult. It’s expensive. It’s rare that a company takes an individual film and turns it into a multibillion-dollar franchise with pajamas sold at Target, roller coaster rides at global theme parks and, as we continue down the road of Web3 initiatives, NFTs that sell to the highest bidder. Anime has been deployed as a key component for studios looking to expand the audience for a potential franchise.

There are a couple of key reasons behind this: Anime is cheaper to produce on average than live-action series. Anime is continuing to see huge growth in the United States and globally, with the audience expected to grow to nearly 44 million viewers by 2027. Anime can help a live-action franchise find a younger audience looking for their next favorite find. Crucially, anime is an incredibly active investment section for many of the major OTT streaming services as they expand globally and try to maintain a strong domestic base.

Netflix is one of the more notable streamers using anime to help build out franchises. The Witcher and Army of Thieves are both examples of Netflix trying to expand the franchise potential of its most prolific IP and talent.

Netflix is far from the only company trying to use anime in this manner, though. Star Wars: Visions on Disney+ is one of the most innovative entries in the Star Wars universe. It employs the talents from several Japanese anime studios. Adult Swim created a Blade Runner anime that played on HBO Max. But what’s interesting about Pacific Rim: The Black is where the audience demand for the show lies. 

Most often, demand for a series is at its highest in the origin country. A South Korean drama often sees the strongest demand in South Korea, a Spanish comedy sees the strongest demand in Spain, or an English-speaking series out of the U.S. sees the strongest demand in the U.S. With Pacific Rim: The Black, the strongest demand actually comes out of Russia and China, followed by the U.S. This shows that an anime tied to a global franchise can have a strong travelability index — meaning the strength in a show’s demand in international markets — and is a smart way to increase a brand’s longevity with a global audience in a crowded environment. 

Here are some additional key metrics on anime growth over the last few years: 

  • Global demand for anime grew 118% from January 2020 to December 2021.
  • Anime’s global demand share grew from 4.2% in January 2020 to 7.1% in December 2021
  • Anime was the third most in-demand sub-genre globally for fiscal year 2021 (5.4%), and the second most in-demand sub-genre globally for first-quarter 2021 (6.6%).
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The most in-demand anime globally is still originates mostly in Japan. Series like Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia, Jujutsu Kaisen, One Piece and Dragon Ball have amassed outstanding and exceptional demand rankings, putting them in the top 2.7% or 0.2% of all shows globally. It’s hard to compete with those titles, but leaning into big, preexisting franchises is one key way for an anime adaptation to stand out amongst strong competition. A show like Pacific Rim: The Black manages to find its space. The series ranked within the 89th percentile of the anime genre, meaning that Pacific Rim: The Black has a stronger demand than 89% of all other anime in the U.S. 

Going forward, as the industry sees further consolidation and as franchises become key to standing out amongst a sea of content and developing flywheel properties, anime will become increasingly crucial to expanding key properties. Demand for the sub-genre and art form is increasing globally, it’s cost effective compared to relying solely on live-action ventures and it allows for a new type of storytelling that can move beyond what the original live-action property could ever achieve.

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