Joanne Waage, GM of specialty streaming platform Crunchyroll, says that anime is becoming more popular. Speaking at TIFFCOM, she said it is becoming a global phenomenon, built around an essentially Japanese product.

The company, Waage said, has focused on expanding beyond core fans to viewers not familiar with the anime medium. Celebrities, including rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who has partnered with Crunchyroll to release an anime-inspired streetwear collection, have played a major role. “She’s been fantastic about celebrating her love of anime with her fans,” Waage said.

The company now has more than three million subscribers and nearly 70 million registered users.

Crunchyroll has also been fortunate, she observed, in belonging to the WarnerMedia group – though there are signs that Japan’s Sony is trying to buy the company. “Warner has had a relationship with animation going way back,” she explained, “They have so many great characters and understand where anime is coming from.” Through the Warner connection, Crunchyroll has become corporate allies with Cartoon Network and its Adult Swim programming block. Yet another important partner is HBO Max, which now offers a curated collection of Crunchroll content. “Having anime together with HBO’s big titles – that’s been huge,” Waage said.

The discussion moved to anime’s original source – Japan – where change is also afoot, with animation producers and distributors moving away from a sole local focus and a reliance on physical media for profits. “The audience outside Japan has become more visible – and they’ve had to take that into account,” Waage said.

For Crunchyroll’s partnerships with Japanese anime companies to succeed, Waage observed, both sides have to think globally from an early stage, with the aim of building lasting worldwide franchises, not just one-off hits.

“The co-production partners have to be receptive to input,” she said. “There are simple things that, added or removed, can maximize the audience in a given territory.” She added that Crunchyroll is uniquely positioned to help Japanese partners through cultural minefields abroad: “We have 150 marketing people across the globe with an intimate knowledge of their local markets. Hollywood studios can’t do what we do.”

“This is not a fad,” Waage said. “Anime is going to keep growing. And Japan will continue to be the center of it.”