Japan Feeds China’s Anime Addiction

20-Dec-2016 Intellasia | WSJ | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Animation sales are booming, aided by a Chinese piracy crackdown and streaming services’ appetite for content

China is driving a boom in Japanese animation sales, thanks to video-streaming services hungry for content, tighter controls on piracy, and fans like Gao Jiaqi.

Gao, a 27-year-old cosmetician in Wenzhou, has watched Japanese animation, or anime, since she was a teenager. She favours classics such as the basketball-themed “Slam Dunk” and the adventure story “One Piece,” which follows a band of pirates as they hunt for treasure.

“The style of Japanese animations is pretty and the plots are always full of imagination and out-of-box [twists],” said Gao, who also engages in anime-themed costume play.

Foreign sales of Japanese animation shows soared 79 percent last year over 2014, to nearly 34.9 billion yen ($296 million), according to the latest figures from the Association of Japanese Animations. The trade group said China accounted for more than half of that sales increase.

Japanese anime has been popular in China for decades – it just wasn’t much of a moneymaker for its creators until the Chinese government began taking a harder line on pirated content a few years ago, according to industry figures.

“All Chinese video sites used to stream pirated content,” said Masaki Nishida, an executive with Dentsu Media Palette in Beijing, a unit of Japanese ad agency and anime investor Dentsu Inc.

The government crackdown has changed that, Nishida and others say. Animation sales also have gotten a lift because they aren’t subject to the same Chinese quotas and reviews that foreign live-action content for streaming must undergo, these people say.

A lack of government interference additionally means animated shows can usually be released in China at the same time they are released in Japan, further cutting the risk of piracy, Nishida said.

Chinese buyers of Japanese anime include streaming sites backed by China’s internet giants, including Alibaba Group’s Youku Tudou Inc. and Tencent Inc.’s v.qq.com, as well as anime-centered video sites such as Bilibili.com.

The Japanese animation viewers “are young and very active on social media,” said Ge Yangqian, head of the animation division at Youku Tudou. “This group of viewers are very loyal and sticky to what they watch.”

Industry insiders caution that Chinese imports of Japanese anime could come to a screeching halt at the whim of Chinese media regulators, who historically have kept a tight lid on Japanese content amid longtime tensions between the two nations.

“The ongoing shopping spree looks like the last carnival to me before the regulation tightens up,” said Ge. As insurance, he said his company is shifting to produce more original content with the help of Japanese talent. China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the top media regulator, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In Japan, “anime” refers to all animation. Outside Japan, anime generally means the distinctive style associated with Japanese animation, which often features colorful graphics and stylised beauty.

The demand has created extra work for Japanese anime talent. One 28-year-old Tokyo animator, who wasn’t authorised by his studio to speak publicly, said he had been working “around the clock” in recent weeks on a project aimed at Chinese audiences.

Competition for hit anime shows has driven up prices. Shows such as the science-fiction series “Gin Tama” sell for about $100,000 an episode, which run about half an hour, according to executives of Chinese streaming sites. That’s still far less than rights to popular live-action shows such as “House of Cards,” which sells for nearly $5 million an episode to be streamed in China.

“Chinese video sites now come to snap up almost all new anime content which are not too sexual or violent for [simultaneous] release at home,” said Chen Yan, a doctoral candidate at Tokyo University who lectures on animation in both China and Japan.

The video sites make most of their money from selling ads displayed alongside the programming, although increasingly they are pushing paid subscription services that give viewers access to exclusive content and ad-free programming.

Chinese streaming companies are also moving beyond the simple purchase of licensing rights to become partners with Japanese animation studios and talent to produce original programming.

iQiyi.com, a video-streaming site backed by Baidu Inc., said it invested “tens of millions of yuan” with Japanese firms two years ago to co-produce “Cerberus”, a Chinese-language animation based on a popular Japanese mobile game.

The 26-episode anime series, which follows the journey of a young dragon slayer and his partners, has garnered about 150 million clicks after being streamed on iQiyi’s video platform since March.

iQiyi vice president Yang Xiaoxuan said her company drove the project from start to finish. That kind of involvement is likely to become more common if Chinese streaming companies want to ensure their anime pipeline isn’t disrupted by government regulators, said Yuji Mori, senior managing director of Tokyo-based Dentsu Consulting Inc.



Category: Japan

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