For the past 20 years, thanks to cable TV and now the internet, anime has managed to find an international audience. Granted anime is Japanese in origin, how anime is marketed in domestically and abroad are differentially unique, and we wish to explore that.
If one key aspect differentiates the marketing of anime between Japan and other nations, it’s of course the emphasis of merchandising. Japan has many unique exclusives with its toys, pillows, mouse pads, books, and just about everything you can think of (and you also didn’t think of). So, why is merchandising such a big deal in Japan? We’ve partially shared this in an old Editorial Tuesday as to whether or not anime is truly expensive, but we’re willing to provide a brief refresher. It simply comes down to how TV shows are pitched and funded in Japan, in comparison to let's say USA (we can’t speak for any other country beyond that).
In the American industry, a studio pitches a show to a network through a pilot. If the network approves it, then the network also provides funding. In the Japanese TV industry, it doesn’t work that way. The studio pays the network to air their show and the studio not only has to pay the network, they also have to pay the production costs on top of that. It entirely explains why DVD/Blu-ray costs are sky high in Japan! However, that’s still a different topic. So to cover those costs beyond DVD/Blu-ray, they focus on their merchandise department to make profits. Because the merchandising is more niche outside of Japan, they don’t entirely require to sell overseas to make a profit.
Of course, using animation to sell merchandise is by no means a unique phenomenon. In the US, the He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe animated series served as glorified commercials for its respective products. But in the US, it’s about the toy companies making a profit, but in Japan, it’s about studios making a profit due to their own respective market conditions and circumstances. Internationally, you can just easily sell it on its own artistic merits of being different from one’s local animated products.
Use of Source Materials
A lot of anime is taken from manga and/or visual novels. What has been a recent controversy is how the opening theme songs of Attack on Titan tend to portray spoilers from the manga. To a Japanese viewer (who has likely read the manga), this is no big deal and they like the notion of seeing their favorite scenes animated. But to a non-Japanese viewer who has more than likely not read the manga, it can be confusing and frustrating. It goes down to how most anime based on manga and visual novels, when allowed, tend to be faithful to the original source material, and the studios likely assume that their native viewers are already familiar with the story. Consequently, a non-Japanese viewer is considered secondary, which is why their feelings of being spoiled aren’t taken into consideration.
With adaptations of American comic heroes such as Spider-Man and Batman, despite taking inspiration from its original materials, they’re by no means a panel by panel adaptation of them. Marvel and DC make their adaptations for comic and non-comic audiences alike, while anime studios tend to make their series for those that were likely familiar with the source materials. However, we can reasonably expect that if an anime is cut off short, it could encourage the viewer to check out the manga or visual novel to see what happens next, while a viewer of a comic book adaptation may or may not likely become a comic book reader.
Home Video Market/Streaming
As we stated before, Blu-ray/DVD prices in Japan are expensive due to production costs, but it also relates to outdated businesses practices dating back to when VHS first started, but never went out of fashion in Japan. When VHS made its debut, the prices in America were pretty much $100+ and back then, the movie industry never expected it to become a collector’s market, which paved the way for video rentals (remember those?). While they’ve gone the way of the dodo in the US, they’re still pretty big in Japan. Those Japanese prices are truly meant for rental stores to purchase as it was in the US back in the day, and thanks to that, studios can still make a profit through rentals. Plus, you also have to take into account that Japanese homes aren’t as spacious as American ones to allow someone to collect DVDs.
While streaming in the US has been a thing for the past decade, services such as Netflix have just started to catch on in Japan. Due to the commuting society of Tokyo and other Japanese big cities with its reliable public transportation, streaming can effectively be implemented to complement Japan’s rise of mobile gaming.
Obviously, differences of infrastructure, business practices, and supply and demand are going to dictate how anime is marketed in Japan and other nations. Due to how the studios in Japan need to make money domestically, unfortunately, home video sales aren’t going to cut it, so selling merchandise is the way to go. For non-Japanese viewers that wish to collect DVD/Blu-rays, they’re in a better position to collect because they’re cheaper in their respective nations due to licensors having more ability to dictate prices (the studios don’t make any profits on overseas sales since the licensing fees are considered making a profit on their part). However, in the end, the fact that anime is artistically distinguishing is its own selling point on the international scale to watch it on their local TV, buy DVDs, etc. For the domestic audience, their dedication and love for it has some similar qualities by is expressed in different ways by buying merchandise that allows them to feel their own connection.