The "problem" the deputy director states is inherently multi-faceted then; wherein the high demand of Japanese animation intimates a crunch in manpower, a resource already poked, prodded and squeezed of every drop of energy available. Within the past two years or so, efforts have taken off on the part of union organizations and ministry officials to organize educational events, seminars and other contests to raise the visibility of select young talent in addition to petitioning for better finances and benefits care for those already inside the weakening Japanese animation industry.
The Japanese animation industry, through a myriad of approximations, is valued somewhere north of USD $7 billion worldwide. The overwhelming majority of the cash earned in the anime business however, is made in merchandise. It is not unusual for a United States or other foreign-based brand management/licensing company to offer several million in U.S. dollars to purchase the rights to promote/sell a character in a lucrative overseas market through toys and/or videogames. Such a deal at times favors studios seeking additional money to fund their over-budget projects, but still leaves much to be desired for those who feel local organizational commitment from the animation industry is yet set back another step.
Commercially, worries over the impact of "fansubs," a form of digital shoplifting, will continue to hang in the back of the minds of many. Although calculating the approximate financial damage of the proliferation of digital copies of Japanese animated programming and its dissemination via the Internet remains far off, few organizations on either side of the Pacific appear wholly invested in ceasing the annoyance. It remains true that most anime studios are small and without the funds to adequately pursue the legal action granted by Japan's Copyright Law (which contrary to popular assumption, does not protect the distribution of audiovisual material for non-profit purposes); the same can be said with regard to western organizations (whom under U.S. Copyright Law, have the right to pursue legal action per the infringing importation and/or distribution of copyrighted materials). But regardless of legal measures, the "fansub" effect and the greater concern over the very real impact of tech-savvy industry-squatters, is becoming a heavier and heavier mortal blow to the global market.
The weakening community and business of animation in Japan necessarily affects the continuity and profitability of the distribution market in the west. High-priced title licenses, a lack of mainstream promotional efforts and/or acceptability, limited channels of circulation, and still other reasons have similarly eaten away at a once driving force of creative entertainment. In the 2007-year; a year-through-July seven-month DVD release report details that new titles released were down 19.8%; while in November 2007, eleven-month release reports note a decline of 20.5% of new titles released. Additionally, in January 2008, a decline of 27.3% was found in a new-to-DVD comparisons study.
In recent years, the current situation has witnessed a continued drop in the number of animators willing to dive into such an unstable business. The Japanese animation industry, for all of its marvelous narratives and beautiful artwork, is slowly eroding into a trade that young persons begin to fear becoming a part of. Among several factors; an imbalance of expectations in the sphere of production, as combined with an existing production environment that is more conducive to long work weeks and mental breakdowns than another breakthrough in storytelling; the modern market of animation in Japan is ailing more and more, with each passing day.
(Sources: The International Herald Tribune/The Asahi Shimbun, AnimeNewsNetwork.com, Home Media Magazine, Channel NewsAsia, Copyright Law of the United States (October 2007), Copyright Law of Japan (Trans. Yukifusa Oyama et al., March 2008), Hindustan Times, China Daily)
This article is the fourth and final of multiple feature news items from Animation Insider, that profiles the many challenges currently affixed to eastern animation contenders to the world market. To read all four chapters in this line of articles -- on India, South Korea, China, and now Japan -- don't hesitate to search "AsiaFeature" only at AnimationInsider.net.