Anime Industry Hits Income Milestone

The market size of the Japanese animation industry has surpassed 2 trillion yen for the first time, reaching 2.1527 trillion yen in FY2017. Mizuno Tetsu investigates.

“Animation pilgrims” on the seafront in Kamakura pay their respects to the opening scene in the “Slam Dunk” manga series.

Tuning in to Kohaku uta gassen, a live music show produced by the public broadcasting network NHK, has been a New Year’s Eve tradition for decades in Japan. The content of the annual TV and radio program, familiarly known as Kohaku, has undergone a slight change in recent years, however. Alongside the successful pop bands and enka folk singers now selected to take part in the show are artists who sing popular animation songs. Artists who performed on the big stage in 2018, for example, included Agours, a group comprising voice actresses for Love Live! Sunshine!!, a popular animation, and Token Danshi, a musical group originating from Token Ranmai-ONLINE, a popular browser-based gaming application.

The total production time of animations was 116,409 minutes in 2017. With the production time exceeding 110,000 minutes for five consecutive years, animations have a major influence, not only on product-based businesses but also on those featuring content in Japan today as evidenced by the release of related products, live-action movies and dramas. As a matter of fact, Kohaku cannot ignore animation songs given a situation in which voice actors/actresses are seen as idols and live events featuring voice actors/actresses for animations attract large audiences. The impact of animations has become so strong as to create “Anime-tourism,” or tours that take people to the real places featured in animations. Some animations are playing a key role in efforts for regional revitalization.

Global Animation

According to the Association of Japanese Animations (AJA), the market size of the animation industry, which has been expanding for the past eight years, reached 2.1527 trillion yen in FY2017, driven by increases in the production of animations and the distribution of videos, whose markets stood at 244.4 billion yen and 5.40 billion yen, respectively. In particular, the overseas market contributed to market expansion, showing an increase of more than fourfold from the level five years previously, reflecting the established popularity of animations and growth attributable to a shift to highly profitable business models such as moving video distribution services and the gaming application-related business. The overseas market size accounted for more than 46% in terms of monetary amounts. The report did not include the commercialization of animations for smartphone games or digital products, however. If such products are reflected, different results may emerge in terms of the market size and the ratio thereof between Japan and overseas.

The Japan Expo events held in France are very well known overseas and another indication of animation’s reach. The number of visitors to the events that have been held so far exceeds 2 million. In addition, many contracts on animation content have been concluded with France, the United States, Korea, Taiwan, Canada and China.

Japan’s Neighbor China

The rise of the Chinese market in recent years cannot be ignored. It was somewhat surprising that the hit 1988 Studio Ghibli animation My Neighbor Totoro was released officially in China on December 14, 2018. This reflects a craze for Japanese animations among Chinese animation fans comprising youngsters, in particular, with information on Japanese animations accessible almost at the same time. With respect to businesses originating from animations, cosplayers are spotlighted due to the increased popularity being created by so-called cosplay. Such players enjoy as many as one million followers on Weibo, the most-accessed social media service in China, attracting attention even in Japan, the home of animations. Also increasing is the number of Chinese fans who visit Japan to go on pilgrim tours to places spotlighted by animations. They visit a range of locations such as Kamakura, the Shinjuku Gyoen garden, and a variety of spots in the Tokyo Metropolitan area, Gifu and Nagano, all of which are featured as important places in Slum Dunk, Garden of Words and Your Name. Comments and photos posted on social media by such fans help enhance the charm of these places and create new demand.

To respond to these trends, the Anime Tourism Association, which was established in 2016 by Kadokawa, JTB and Japan Airlines, among other companies, has been sending out information such as the 88 Japanese Anime spots to prospective tourists both in Japan and abroad.

Creative Challenges

Reportedly, approximately 6,000 people work for more than 400 animation production companies. The animation industry, which appears to consist of high-profile companies, has apparently been experiencing a chronic shortage of human resources since the late 1970s due to partially outsourcing video production and finishing processes to overseas companies whose personnel expenses are low. Domestic production companies continue to work on the fine-finishing process to secure quality. However, they are facing a number of challenges as attention is paid to chronically low wages and long working hours. Looking at the future of the animation industry, the Animation Industry Report also points out that the 5G-vMVPD market is expected to develop, and races for the creation and acquisition of prospective content will certainly be intensified due to participation by a range of companies, including broadcasting stations and Internet companies.

The future market growth depends on whether or not Japan will successfully go with the flow of such developments while at the same time nurturing good animators in the animation industry. Creating good things does not necessarily guarantee survival in this business. Even so, the industry must continue to provide attractive works in order to prevail.

MIZUNO Tetsu is a freelance writer.

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