The animated movie Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (In a Corner of This World) was released on November 12, 2016, on just 63 theaters throughout Japan in the first week. Thanks to the positive reviews, it ended up being released in 90 theaters. As of December 26, it had sold a total of 600,000 tickets and had made 800 million yen at the box office.
What many people don’t know is that the anime movie was crowdfunded. Director Sunao Katabuchi asked the fans to help him create a short pilot to promote the creation of the anime movie. The company responsible for the campaign website was Makuake of CyberaAgent Crowd Funding, Inc.
Makuake’s CEO, Ryoutarou Nakayama, was one of the people who fully supported the movie from behind-the-scenes. I interviewed him to learn more about the the production of Kono Sekai no Katasumi Ni, and crowdfunding. I wanted to discover more about the future of anime.
[interview/article: Tomoko Oomagari]
People Wanted an Anime Adaptation of ‘Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni’
――Because they collected the production funds via Makuake for the pilot film, Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni became a big hit. How do you feel about this situation which you are involved in as the CEO of Makuake run by CyberaAgent Crowd Funding, Inc.?
‘I think it’s a good example of a good thing spreading out. The promotion of movies always used to begin with the mass media, such as the introduction of new things on popular information programs. That’s the classic way. However, people nowadays first connect to new things via the internet. I think it’s a big deal that Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni was first met by most people on the internet.’
――What were the circumstances of collecting production funds via Makuake for the Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni pilot?
‘I think it was during winter 2014 or the beginning of 2015. Aoki, who is the producer of this anime, asked me to have a talk. So, I went to the office and he asked me what I thought about crowdfunding for the pilot film.’
――Why did you think Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni would do well?
‘Actually, the production plan of Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni had already been running around Director Sunao Katabuchi since 2010, and he had been tweeting once in a while about workshops relating to the movie and such. Most of the reactions I saw from people were full of enthusiasm saying that they wanted to see the anime adaptation of Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni. I thought that there was a lot of enthusiasm all over the internet from fans of the manga and of director Katabuchi. Seeing that, I said, “Aoki-san, this should work well.”’
――Was there any precedent for collecting anime production funds via crowdfunding?
‘Actually yes, but most of them were to collect funds for self-produced short movies. There weren’t any precedents for this kind of commercial work, and it was also the first anime work for Makuake too. When you look at the collection of funds for self-produced anime, it’s considered great if it reaches 1 million yen. You need to have around 100 million yen to make a feature-length movie, but Aoki-san said “lets set up 20 million yen for the objective. You can make a 5-10 minute long pilot with that. Then, do business with that to collect the production funds that we need for the feature-length anime and make a production committee.”’
――Even if its a small amount of the production funds, 20 million yen for the target amount is a big case for Makuake.
‘It was 10 times more than the average amount at the time. I thought, “but if I can’t hit the target amount in this production plan, I won’t be able to face the anime industry anymore” [laugh]. To make it successful, I thought I needed to cut off any chance of turning back, so I told Aoki-san that I would collect 20 million yen.’
Start small and then grow it!
―― In these cases the start-ups often give something to the supporters who donate money. What did Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni do?
‘It is very important to plan what to return to the people who have donated funds for crowdfunding. There were ideas like sending autographs from the voice actors or giving original artworks as a present. However, Maruyama-san had a wonderful idea. “These funds reflect the pure feeling from the fans who want to support us and it’ll be wonderful if all those feelings from the supporters appear in the work itself. So I think the returns should all be the same.” There are differences in the amount of money donated, but they all get the same thing in return. I think Maruyama-san has known the anime industry for many years, and has seen the reactions of people for hundreds of works. So everyone agreed with the idea from Maruyama-san.’
――People who want to support can give as much as they want. There are people who want to give support even if its just a little bit. There are no difference in the feelings from those who want to support the work.
‘The sizes of the names in the ending credits might be different depending on how much was donated, but by not making too much of a difference we can reflect the pure feelings of the supporters. Of course, it’s better for the returns to differ between works. But for Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, the opinion was that we should protect the pure feelings of support. That’s how we ended up with that idea. I learned so much from this. Even the fans gave an average of 10,000 yen each, so Aoki-san also said “I’m definitely going to finish this project with this enthusiasm”. We were able to hit 20 million yen in 8 days, which was faster than I expected, and we were able solidify the production of the feature-length movie.’
――What was the reason that helped you reach the target amount so early?
‘I think the people could understand that the passion by director Katabuchi was a big thing. It doesn’t go down well in crowdfunding if the person in the center doesn’t explain what they want. But director Katabuchi had been already telling the world through Twitter and at events before I started the crowdfunding. I think the people supporting this understood both via the net and in real life that Katabuchi really wanted to make Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni.’
――What else happened due to the collection of so many funds?
‘It’s a waste if the anime created with so much hard work is finished just at the completion of the anime itself. The people who created it won’t earn money if it doesn’t run as a business after it is completed. You also can’t make a production committee to make anime through crowdfunding later on. We thought about what kind of support should we do to make it a business after producing it. And we thought we should do a lean startup for this anime.’
――What is a ‘lean startup’?
‘It’s a way to open a business like a venture company in the internet industry. Sharing minimum products quickly in the beginning and thinking of the next step with that reaction. Making a production committee no matter how small and to make it big, using Makuake as a first step. I thought it was suitable for use of Makuake in the anime industry. I think it became a great model case.’
――The enthusiasm of supporters kept getting bigger and bigger as the release date drew near
‘The first 3,374 supporters have been involved with the work with a huge amount of enthusiasm. It was a year and half before the release of the movie when social media sites started filling up with messages of support. And actually the production side were getting the same feelings of enthusiasm. After the funding from Makuake closed at 39,121,920 yen, the production staff were able to keep the fans’ enthusiasm by sending a newsletter out to all the fans, including illustrations and behind-the-scenes stories every single week until the opening. It worked well as the work itself was of first-rate quality. People nowadays might say it’s bulldozing if you make the mistake of leaking the work to the world even if it’s really good. But since the support from the fans of Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni was all positive, people could only find positive opinions when they searched for the movie online. I think it was also good that they had a flow of positive comments saying, “it’s a good movie after all”, and positive comments called in more positive comments.’
A new method of support
―― Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni is the first anime case for Makuake. After that, the final episode of Shounen Hollywood and the anime adaptation of the popular PC game Gakuen Handsome were funded in this way. They even succeeded in reaching the target amounts very quickly. How do you see all these successes?
‘Something all 3 of these anime have in common is the fact we were able to make space for the fans to become a part of it. Furthermore, the last episode for Shounen Hollywood was completed thanks to this kind of support. It was a different style of getting the fans involved compared to Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni. We funded the finale instead of the start. We were able to set the next goal called a ‘stretch goal’ for Shonen Hollywood and Gakuen Handsome.
――Does Makuake give ideas for each work?
‘Yes, many. We plan while we think hard about what the target users want. We add a suitable curator for each work and also had an additional curator for Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni other than myself. She was a big fan of the original manga, so she gave many ideas from a fan’s point of view.’
――The main way for fans to spend their money on a work was by buying the DVDs. However, the way to interact with works is going to change by being able to get involved with crowdfunding, right?
‘The distance between works and their fans is different. Not just with anime, but the feeling that you want to get closer to the things you like is the same in any case. By using Makuake, spending money directly to support the work itself makes the distance between you and the work a bit smaller. A new way to get closer. But the difference in buying the DVD is that the contents will not always be interesting. It will be a new experience because the things you think are good are close. I think wanting to get closer to the things you like is a characteristic of the consumption trend over the internet community nowadays.’
――Is that something you found out after continuing Makuake for 3 years?
‘Yes. When Makuake started up 3 years ago, it was just “collect the money and that’s it.” However, many products have been created in these 3 years. Like, the distance between a customer and a restaurant gets closer by supporting the restaurant and keeping it open. I would want to take my friends there and talk about how it opened. If I’m involved some way in the creation of a product, there is this effect where I end up wanting to spread it to others. I think it all goes for all things such as shops, anime or idol concerts too.’
――I think the way people create anime and the mechanism of anime industry will change after this since the start up of Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni was with crowdfunding.
‘I think so, too. Like I said in the beginning, we all just accepted that in the world of entertainment and television, everything gets their start in the mass media. But people are starting to think, “the media is recommending this, but is it true?”. So on the other hand, success for collecting funds via crowdfunding means that fan recommendations are essential. It makes sense to get recommendations from the end users right at the beginning. It becomes the funds, of course, and it has a promotional effect too.’
――Are there works that goes well with crowdfunding and some that don’t?
‘There are no achievements in crowdfunding yet when it comes to educational anime for children. Children are the ones doing the watching but they are not the ones who are donating the money. I would like to try it some time in the future if somebody is willing to try it.’
――What is the ideal form of crowdfunding in the anime industry for you?
‘For me, crowdfunding is the mechanism to collect the feeling of people’s desire for a title to be created. I want to revive ideas that are about to be shelved, or help works that received high praise but the creators can’t make a sequel, works where fans think “I wish it were like this”. Makuake’s role is to make a bridge to anime fan’s wishes. Please feel free to contact us if you have a plan that’s about to be buried [laugh]. We will be there as much as we can for any work.
*Right now, Makuake is running a project to help get Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni overseas.