You may recognize the terms: co-production, “co-pro” or “on the committee for” coming from an overseas distributor of anime. But what does that really mean? And how does it benefit you as an anime fan?
So let’s talk about anime production committees, and the roles they play in the process. Because the more we learn about the anime we love, the more we can support those who create it.
One misconception some have with anime is that the animation studio is responsible for producing everything related to an anime production, including home video releases and merchandise. For the vast majority, that’s not true at all. Almost all anime productions today are financed by something called a production committee. A production committee is a company specifically created to be a joint venture between a group of companies with the dual goals of producing something entertaining that will also recoup its costs and eventually lead to a profit.
In the past, a lot of television anime were funded primarily by the TV station and the lead animation studio. As anime gradually shifted away from airing during prime viewing hours in Japan to the late-night blocks for most titles, the production committee method became a common way to finance the creation of a show.
Why do companies collaborate on anime?
There are two main reasons: risks and specialization.
If one company produces something by themselves, they’re the only one on the hook if it fails. Thus, that’s only used for massive “safe” properties and franchises or titles produced by big companies who could afford the loss. If you spread that risk across many companies for titles whose popularity isn’t known ahead of time, then the potential losses are spread out among the group and could be manageable for each company. This is done for the same reason that investors are told to diversify their investments instead of placing 100% of their savings into one asset: diversification reduces risk and generally leads to a net positive return on investment across all assets.
A blow-away success means your company wouldn’t make as much, but that would be an insurance cost to guarantee you aren’t losing a ton of money if the production didn’t bring in the revenue you thought it might. Additionally, producing anime on your own is very challenging if you’re not used to it.
There’s a lot of steps you have to take to produce a new anime: finding cast and staff, promotion, getting someone to broadcast, producing its music, selling its merchandise and home video, and so forth. A company that specializes in printing magazines, comics and novels wouldn’t know the first step in producing music for a show. Having a music production company on the committee allows a print publishing company to focus solely on what they can do while allowing the others to play to their specialty. The music company can then say, “We have this new artist we want to promote, so let’s use them as a vocalist in the show!” or have them as a main character. That benefits both companies at the same time.
What are the roles on a committee?
Each company on the committee has their own role. Some work to promote the series (advertising agencies), some produce the Japanese home video release, some sell rental versions to rental shops, some sell Japanese streaming rights to domestic companies (while others sell rights internationally) and the list continues.
Animation studios don’t typically have a lot of in-house staff, so they wouldn’t be able to handle each and every responsibility for a title without assistance from the other companies. The production committee method helps them focus on what they do best while allowing for the title to be advertised all around the world for fans to anticipate and enjoy.
As mentioned, part of the benefit of committees is to split risk across the different companies. That risk isn’t spread evenly, however, as each company contributes a different amount to the overall production. If a title is expected to sell a lot of home video, then the home video publisher should put in more money than others and risk more than an advertising company who wouldn’t see that type of revenue back.
Generally, each company works to earn back their investment and then contribute to the other members of the committee as per the contractual structure of the production committee. This allows for smaller companies like animation studios to invest as much as they can into production and earn money back from other companies if it’s a success.
How does this work with international partners like Funimation?
Funimation is listed on the production committee for three titles during the Winter 2020 season: Hatena Illusion, ID: INVADED and Plunderer. They’ve also been on the anime production committee for titles like Fruits Basket (2019), Fire Force and Dimension W.
Due to the work they’ve done and the strong relationships the company has built with Japanese partners in licensing shows from them, they were invited to participate on these committees to help fund these productions directly.
Instead of simply licensing the rights to a finished show (as companies usually do), Funimation is now able to take part ownership of some titles directly when bringing them to the rest of the world. There’s no fear about losing the rights to these shows either; they are here to stay in the Funimation library in perpetuity. Conversely, Funimation is trusted by the rest of the committee to use their international expertise to better market the show to foreign viewers and provide more detailed input to the other Japanese companies regarding what fans abroad would like to see. It’s a win-win.
For fans, this kind of access means the ability for international partners to collaborate with creators on things like key visuals, PVs and exclusive behind-the-scenes content. For example, co-productions between Funimation and KADOKAWA have led to new key visuals for titles like ID: INVADED and Plunderer. This access can also sometimes allow for faster subtitling and dubbing production, leading to an increase in the number of “day and date” simulcasts/SimulDubs which air within 24 hours of Japan’s initial TV broadcast.
Anime is no longer focused solely on the Japanese market. Japanese companies are looking to foreign fans’ interest in titles more than ever before to increase the financial return on their investment as well as allow them to reinvest that money into new productions of ever higher animation quality. This means that subscriptions to Funimation and purchases of home video releases, digital downloads, and merchandise supervised by Funimation will help creators in Japan more directly than having a finished title licensed as-is would.
And while it’s only been a handful of titles in the past, there’s a future where Funimation and companies like it are on the production committee for more and more shows. The more involved they get in helping these shows resonate around the world, the stronger these relationships grow, and the more people get to experience the brilliance of anime. That’s a future we’re here for!
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