In August, Netflix reached out to anime fans in a way very few ever expected. The growing site announced it would be producing 13 original anime projects that ranged from Saint Seiya to Godzilla. Earlier this month, Netflix then admitted it had 30 different anime projects in the works behind-the-scenes, and Japan hasn't blinded itself to how the streaming site is shaking up the anime industry.
While anime dipped in popularity following the 1990s, the medium has made a resurgence in the U.S. and around the world in the past few years. Hollywood has started to tentatively embrace the medium by making adaptation of franchises like Death Note and Ghost in the Shell, but the industry itself has always been fueled by domestic TV runs. Over in Japan, animation studios are lucky to make a profit off even their most popular anime titles due to network contracts and tight budgeting, but Netflix is opening up the industry with the promise to streamlined creative control.
While the money pool for anime is limited in Japan, Netflix is luring studios to its side with the promise of cold, hard cash. Earlier this month, the site announced its content budget of next year is upwards of $8 billion and that a sizable bit of that money will go to its anime projects. While animation studios are not keen on sharing its budgets to the public, money spent on anime titles in Japan is significantly lower than what Netflix is ready to spend. Low-wages and 90+ hour weeks have made Japan's industry a war zone for burgeoning animators to navigate, but Netflix is wanting to partner with those studios to help roll out its own content.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Joseph Chou opened up about the issues plaguing Japan's anime industry. "Lately the media has been bashing the anime industry over working conditions; the TV stations have been reporting on it, but they're a big culprit," the producer explained.
"Netflix is restoring it to a sane business model. You're looking at maybe a 15 percent margin rather than a 5 percent loss," Chou said, and the producer should know. The man is currently overseeing the site's upcoming series Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya.
"There's Netflix, Amazon, Crunchyroll and Apple Studios all talking to people, as well as rumors there's another major player about to get involved," Chou finished. "They're all scrambling to meet with everybody, but Netflix is the most aggressive."
With Netflix eager to back up animation studios, the site has allowed its partners to skip the need for tight oversight and cumbersome production committees. The streaming site is large enough on a global scale to promote its anime titles in-house, and the process narrows the number of voices trying to control a finished anime series. Still, Netflix's orders have yet to address some issues with the industry; The site may be able to pay better for anime projects, but the demand for animators is still a persistent issue.
From Studio Ghibli to Toei Animation, Japan is in need of artists and quick. The medium's booming popularity in the U.S. and around the world has prompted most of Japan's studios
to go into overdrive. Right now, the majority of companies abroad are booked well into 2020, so there is still work to be done to ease the industry's growing pains. It seems Netflix and its support is just the first step of many still needed to come.