Among its most successful collaborators is Mamoru Hosoda, an animator who has taken over the hitmaker mantle of maestro Hayao Miyazaki with such films as “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” (2006), “Summer Wars” (2009), “Wolf Children” (2012) and this year’s “The Boy and the Beast,” which earned $57 million since its July release. The first film was released by Kadokawa and all four were accompanied by comics and novels.
Kadokawa, however, faces the same turmoil as other Japanese publishers and production companies. The company is responding to a range of challenges from the rampant piracy in its backyard to rapid user migration from print to digital.
In July, Kadokawa and five other Japanese producers invested $3 million in increased capitalization for Anime Consortium Japan, a streaming, e-commerce and licensing company that offers anime in 10 languages to nearly 1 million overseas users through its Daisuki site.
“We’re not limiting ourselves to Daisuki,” says rep director and senior managing executive officer Shinichiro Inoue. Kadokawa is also streaming its anime in Japan via the Niconico site operated by corporate ally Dwango and in North America with Crunchyroll, Funimation and Sentai Filmworks. “If we continue to enjoy good conditions with a company (like ACJ), we stream with them. But if another company offers better conditions for an individual title, we’ll go with them instead.”
Kadokawa takes a similarly results-oriented view of anime piracy. Dwango’s Niconico, Inoue notes, once streamed pirated content. “But they’ve since cleaned up. The Bilibili site in China was also a pirate video-sharing site, but they’ve cleaned up as well. Sites in various countries are going in that direction.”
But if a site, such as Japan’s notorious FC2 video hosting service, continues to provide pirated content, “Kadokawa is going come after them really hard,” says Inoue. “And that’s not just us, it’s the entire industry.”
Meanwhile, Kadokawa is not only relying on Hosoda and other well-established talents for future anime hits, but is also looking to the generation coming after. “We are going after directors who were born around 1980,” Inoue says. “We want to establish a relationship with them from their small-scale start until they are able to work on larger productions.”
The reason: Animators of the millennial generation started high school and college about the time computer animation was finally taking off in Japan. “They can make animation entirely in the PC, unlike the generation above them, who have come up making realistic hand-drawn animation. The younger generation has changed the way animation is done here. We’ll be focusing on them from now on.”