Insights

Q&A with anime expert Jerome Mazandarani

28 May, 2021
Jerome Mazandarani Anime Q&A

As part of our Parrot Analytics LIVE series, we bring together the entertainment industry’s most influential leaders to share ideas about the convergence of art and science. In honor of Ani-May, we convened a group of anime experts to share their thoughts about the rising global popularity of anime in a webinar titled "Are you a true Otaku? And other mysteries solved about the world of anime" which you can watch in full here.

Panelist Jerome Mazandarani, the executive producer of Netflix Original anime series Cannon Busters, shared his expertise by answering the outstanding comments and questions from the LIVE panel.

Read on to learn Jerome's take on the business of anime, who to approach if you have an idea for a project, and why he thinks co-productions between Japan and foreign partners will become essential.

In the anime demand growth chart that showed 32% growth YOY, there is a bump in Q3 2020 and Q4 2020 - do you think this is pandemic driven or due to a big, exciting title launch? Or something else?

The Pandemic wreaked havoc on the Summer 2020 anime simulcast scheduling. Summer 2020 had the least number of new series debuts since Summer 2012 (following the Tohoku earthquake of March 11, 2011, and all of the interruptions that brought to production and scheduling). There were hardly any major titles released in Q3 2020, so I am presuming the growth was entirely driven by lockdown restrictions including stay at home orders, restrictions on travel, cinemas and other entertainment venues being shut down etc. The growth in Q4 can also be attributed to the continuing lockdown, but also to the launch of some major new IP including Jujitsu Kaizen on Crunchyroll and Attack On Titan: The Final on both Crunchyroll and Funimation. Demon Slayer Season 1, which also had a lot of heat behind it thanks to the box office success of the movie in Japanese cinemas, during the pandemic was carried over to both Funimation and later in the quarter, Netflix (despite officially launching in April 2019) with a brand-new English dub. The massive growth in demand for anime content during Q3 and Q4 of 2020 can be attributed to the pandemic-induced captive audience, the slow burn growth in the popularity and “mainstreaming” of anime in Western culture and the generous amount of resources being invested into the marketing for programs by the three major anime streaming platforms (Netflix, Crunchyroll, Funimation).

Is there a link between consumption of anime on TV or SVOD platforms and wider anime IP success in gaming? For example, mobile games like DBZ, One Piece Bounty Rush which are very successful and therefore might contribute to more people being introduced to anime IP.

Without seeing any real data on the mobile and console game demand for these titles it is hard to draw a correlation between overall franchise growth and anime audience demand. However! I am confident that the success of spin-off games, particularly for these very long-running triple A brands (One Piece, DBZ) has helped to prolong and even reinvigorate these franchises. There was a very long pause between the end of Dragon Ball Z and the launch of Dragon Ball Super anime series; however, there was no such pause in DBZ console game development and the launch of DBZ games for free-to-play mobile, so I support the assertion that gaming helps keep franchises alive and can deliver new audiences to the anime programs based on those IP.

Are Japanese creators starting to face competition from Chinese and Korean Manwha [a style of South Korean comic books and graphic novels]?

Not in a hugely significant way yet, but the success of The God of High School and Tower of God (both Crunchyroll Original co-productions with WEBTOON) suggests that there is room for Manwha adaptations in the anime fandom. Older purist fans may not like these shows as much in their ongoing quest to maintain the “purity” of anime (Man! I hate typing that so much), but younger, more casual anime fans don’t have such problems with it. There will be a lot more Manwha and WEBTOONS anime co-pros coming down the pipeline over the next few years. Also! Let’s not forget that Japan has been adapting Korean manga for quite some time now. It isn’t a new phenomenon. The Japanese audience doesn’t hold the same prejudices as some of the Western “gatekeeper” fans.

Could anime content be more "global-friendly" now that shows with global themes and settings have a more global appeal (ex: Attack on Titan, One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, etc.)?

A good story is a good story! I assume that Japanese producers will continue to chase down and option the most popular IP available via the local publishers (manga, light novels, mobile and console games) to ensure they own the next big anime hit. The chances are that if it is a genre show that connects with local audiences it will travel successfully to global audiences. Reviewing Parrot’s global anime demand rankings we can see that the current Japan Top 5 programs also sit within the USA Top 10 for the most part.

From a merchandising perspective do you think that the casual anime consumer will adopt core fan habits such as buying figures and collecting merchandise?

Yes. Funko Pop have done an amazing job popularising figurines as collectibles to younger and broader audiences. Namco, Bandai (and their Bushiroad brand), Mattel and Hasbro are all entering the market with both entry-level and premium collectibles via their own e-commerce platforms, specialist retail partners and generalists. Hobbyist and collectibles brands need to consider carefully which IP they will license, keep on top of audience trends and develop more entry-level products that surprise and delight the consumer.

Since anime is only famous because it's spreading on major OTT platforms, do local TV distributors in Japan face problems in the future?

This is not true. Anime’s slow burn in North America is thanks to early network television support in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The OTT platforms have taken that ball and run with it.

One could argue that Cartoon Network, Toonami and Adult Swim were instrumental in bringing anime into the mainstream. One could also argue that the shows that were hits on those programming blocks were much bigger license and merchandising success stories than those equally popular anime franchises that are only exclusive to OTT. For some reason there is a BIG disconnect between streaming success and L&M success. I personally think it’s because nothing stays in the popular imagination long enough to sustain the depth of engagement and that’s because the OTT model is focused on piping brand new content to the audience on a continual basis with very little or no window between launches.

I can’t comment on domestic TV broadcast versus domestic OTT platforms for Japan. I don’t know enough about it. I do not think Japan’s local TV channels are seeing their audience share decline as rapidly as those similar channels in countries like the UK and USA for example. It’s also worth noting that less than 4% of Netflix’s anime audience is based in Japan!

Much has been said in recent years about quality vs quantity of content coming out of Japan. With such diverse range of choices targeting specific audiences, it seems quantity is triumphing over quality content. How do creators and distributors strike a balance?

Quantity isn’t necessarily what an HBO, Peacock, Disney+ or even Amazon requires. Dedicated, “otaku-friendly” anime streaming platforms like Crunchyroll need a high turnover of programming every quarter to retain and grow their subscriber base. So! My advice to premium OTT services that aren’t 100% dedicated to the audience is look for your killer app and get your check books out. For example, Katsuhiro Otomo and Sunrise announced a brand-new AKIRA series (and spin-off from the acclaimed movie) will go into production sometime in 2021/2022. AKIRA is the “Watchmen” of the anime world and look at the smash hit spin-off series HBO produced. Keep an eye out on the next BIG Shueisha manga adaptation that gets announced. Go after those IP and be creative and collaborative in your pitch to the producers. Offer them control and a say in how their IP is marketed and distributed locally. Get them invested in what your platform can deliver to them. Anime studios will take your money and deliver an average product. Go to the production companies or a specific producer with pedigree. Or approach the creatives you want to work with - the directors, designers, boardists etc. Package your project with A-list creative talent and then an A-list studio and animating staff will follow. If you take your project and your production finance directly to a studio all they will do is take your money, not care about the project and sub-contract most of the cuts out to over-worked and underpaid freelancers. This is a harsh truth I’ve learned so you don’t have to.

Co-productions between Japan and foreign partners will become essential. Especially if you don’t want to become a clearing house for those over-saturated mystery and romance genres global fans have no interest in watching. That’s the only way. And make sure you work with the right IP and creatives. If you are determined to translate your non-Japanese IP into an anime, first ask yourself, “Will my [American] comic book character and stories translate well into a Japanese language anime, and will Japanese audiences engage with it?”

Is there a way to track the penetration and popularity of anime to under 13-year-old fans?

I use comic conventions as a litmus test and use my son’s high school classmates as my focus group. There is massive interest in anime amongst boys and girls aged 11-13. When judging the suitability of the content of programs like My Hero Academia, Naruto or Dragon Ball Super for this age group I would recommend you also consider what apps, video games and YouTube channels they are already viewing/playing. There is a tendency to presume anime contains inappropriate content for this age group while not considering the other content they are already freely enjoying outside of television and streaming.

With the violence, sexuality and adult themes shown in anime, do you think there's a future for anime for public broadcasters like BBC, ABC, CBC, France TV (linear and platform)?

Yes. If the public broadcasters can stop looking at anime as “cartoons” because they aren’t. They are genre stories told in 2D animation for people aged 15 and older. So! Put them in the appropriate programming block and update your knowledge and perspective. Public and terrestrial broadcasters failed to take the initiative and have ceded way too much market share to the streamers. You snooze. You lose.

What are some market sales values of the anime inventory? Which are top markets outside of Asia?

#1 market in terms of sales value outside of Asia is the English-speaking market (UK, Ireland, USA/Can, Australia/NZ), followed closely by France and Germany. LatAm is becoming more valuable as is rest of Europe incl. Spain, Italy, Benelux and Nordics, Russia and the Middle East. There’s a lot of money being left on the table by the Japanese licensors currently. They could do more to close sales in those less sexy territories.

Is there appetite for anime written and produced in markets like Europe and Latin America?

Yes. But! At this stage, I suspect it will only be a hit if it is IP-based. And it will need to be a big IP that already has an audience in the millions. Case studies for you should be Castlevania, Invincible and the soon to be released Critical Role animated series.

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