Media streaming service company Netflix partnered with Production I.G and Bones earlier this year and began the global simultaneous streaming of their new original works, B: The Beginning and A.I.C.O. Incarnation, on 2 and 9 March respectively.
There have been Japanese anime co-produced and exclusively streamed by Netflix before, including BLAME! and DEVILMAN crybaby. We wonder what makes this collaboration different and how the Japanese anime industry will be changed by them, if at all.
We invited Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, the president and CEO of Production I.G, and Masahiko Minami, the president of Bones, to ask about the significance and impact of the new alliance.
[Interview and composition = Eiwa Ishijima]
B: The Beginning
According to the announcement, your alliance with Netflix is described as ‘a comprehensive business alliance’. What are the differences in this from a general business alliance?
I compare a comprehensive business alliance to the multi-year contract of a professional baseball player. The alliance is to plan and release several works together with Netflix over the course of a few years. That’s because the ability of an anime studio can’t be judged by the works it produces in a single year.
An executive from the anime section of American media distribution company Funimation Entertainment told me that their research showed North American anime fans want to watch new anime works by I.G, Bones, WIT-STUDIO, A-1 Pictures, and Sunrise the most. I presume our new contract might be influenced by such positive opinions.
We’ve been creating anime mostly with the production committee system and it’s the first time for us to do this with a comprehensive business alliance. I think the advantage of this alliance is to provide new possibilities for our works to be viewed, such as with their global simultaneous streaming service and being able to reach 170 million+ Netflix users.
I was also encouraged by the multi-year contract because it allows us to take enough time to create anime, which is unusual in the Japanese anime industry.
What impact do you think this new alliance will bring to the Japanese anime industry?
I believe the comprehensive business alliance is a worthwhile approach even for the production committee system, which is mainstream in creating anime in Japan, for the medium and long-term.
Some companies might not be happy with us, thinking, ‘We’ve nurtured I.G and Bones with our production committees, but now you are allied with an overseas company.’ However, I think they also know something has to be done against the declining sales of DVDs and Blu-rays for the future of the production committee system, of which the members make large profits from the sales. I believe our challenge will inspire people who want to change the situation, as well as giving new opportunities for relatively new anime studios.
Around 5 years ago, people said that the number of anime would decline, however it actually increased because of the inflow of Chinese capital. Then, the contracts with Chinese companies became tight, and the rumors of declining anime productions spread again. Subsequently, media streaming businesses based online, including Netflix, appeared and the number of productions increased. The anime industry has been experiencing many ups and downs over the years. We’ve been continuing to produce innovative, original works despite such circumstances. I think that resulted in the new alliance.
We began our project 3 years ago. We spent a year in planning and development, another year producing 12 episodes, and the next 6 months on the final adjustments and multilingual translations. We were able to do the dubbing with the fully-colored animation and composed the background music after we had the voiced versions. We prepared 4 different endings for the story and began production without knowing how the story would conclude. We decided on the ending after recording Episode 10 while considering the flow of the storyline. After that, we were able to alter the plot of the beginning to establish consistency. I had never experienced such luxury in scheduling which allowed us to pay meticulous attention to the work. It was a refreshing experience.
Making a TV series must finish within a year in Japan generally. Works which take some time to make, such as B: The Beginning, are difficult to fit within this time frame.
A.I.C.O. Incarnation is an original work by Murata, the director who created it from scratch. It’s impossible to make works like this within a year. The alliance with Netflix made it possible.
I hope our new undertakings will encourage other anime studios to take up the challenge to make anime which nobody has watched before, and change the attitude of the anime industry, which only considers business within Japan.
You’ve talked about the advantages of the comprehensive business alliance. Did you experience any difficulties or struggles? Did Netflix give any instructions or alteration requests?
At the first script meeting, they told me that our script was difficult to understand. They said ‘viewers won’t continue to watch it if they stop watching after Episode 1. We know it’ll be difficult for the work which is original and suspenseful, but the series must kick off at top gear, not second.’ I remember that they were particular in that regard. Having said that, after we began making the series, they believed in us and didn’t intervene in our production.
We didn’t change our scenario, as we made the contract with them after they checked it.
As your works are streaming globally, did you have to change some parts due to broadcasting regulations which prohibit religious or violent scenes?
Not at all. I don’t think Bones did either. The broadcasting regulations in Japan are actually quite strict and creators are used to them.
We are always conscious of the regulations.
Exactly. I feel Netflix has a more tolerant policy than Japanese broadcasters. Even some scenes which I was worried could be dropped ended up remaining.
Especially for B: The Beginning.
There were no limitations in that work
I love the original manga on which the anime is based, so I wondered how far director Masaaki Yuasa would be able to express the original when I heard Netflix was co-producing an anime adaptation. Yuasa stated that he would be tackling it head-on and the result was Yuasa’s head-on effort indeed.
We must consider the fact that each country has its own culture when making anime. However, I was more conscious about what should be the subject matter of the story regarding this work.
As an anime fan myself, I feared the exclusive streaming and the comprehensive business alliance might hinder adventurous anime productions. It didn’t happen in reality, did it?
Actually, we felt the opposite. I only felt they made our production process freer, rather than restricted. They only told us constructive opinions and didn’t intervene with things like ‘You can’t do this and that.’
I’m glad to hear it. Thank you very much for talking to us today.
B: The Beginning
(C)Kazuto Nakazawa / Production I.G