Midsize publishers want a piece of the digital manga pie
Plus: The labor shortage driving AI experiments in anime; A webtoon artist's take on studio production; Investors flocking to Japanese webtoon companies; and more
This is the weekly newsletter of Animenomics, covering the business of anime and manga. Today is Wednesday, June 21, 2023.
In case you missed it: Crunchyroll and Aniplex promoted Sunday’s season finale of Demon Slayer: Swordsmith Village Arc with a takeover of New York City’s Times Square jumbotrons.
Midsize publishers seek to break manga oligopoly
With sales of digital manga in Japan overtaking that of paper manga and pushing the overall manga market to highs not seen since the 1990s, medium-size publishers are now expanding into the medium with the help of digital platforms.
Why it matters: Three publishers, Shueisha, Kodansha, and Shogakukan, account for 60 percent of the domestic manga market, a position that a new report in The Tsukuru culture magazine calls oligopolistic.
Weekly Toyo Keizai also reported last month that the success of anime titles adapted from manga, particularly those published by Shueisha, has helped net profits at the big three publishers climb to record highs.
What’s happening: Traditional manga publishing on paper is a low-margin, high-volume business, and the digital format reduces costs and risks for new players.
Bungeishunju launched the digital manga platform Buncomi in April to develop new original works for its manga portfolio. The publisher is known for its literary and political magazine namesake and a weekly tabloid.
Opportunities for growth: To avoid direct competition with big publishers, the industry’s newcomers are choosing to invest in niche genres.
Kobunsha, a publisher of women’s magazines, established its manga team in 2019 and now operates the digital platforms Comic Nettai and Comic Pureri, with the latter focusing on gay manga (also known as BL, for boys’ love).
Shinchosha, whose recent hits include The Way of the Househusband, plans to launch a new label for women’s manga in August.
Shufu to Seikatsu Sha has diversified from publishing an anime information magazine into mixed media projects involving light novels and manga.
Between the lines: Midsize publishers don’t always have the know-how of to run a manga business, so they have to look externally for talent.
Shinchosha got its start in 2001 by hiring former Weekly Shonen Jump editor Nobuhiko Horie.
Bungeishunju grew its manga editorial team by hiring candidates with manga experience from rights management companies and electronic bookstores.
Magazine House launched its three-person manga department in April after poaching Takehiro Sekiya from Leed Publishing to serve as editor-in-chief.
Bottom line: “In terms of market share, the three large publishers still dominate, but it may be fair to say that the face of the manga industry is changing,” Tsukuru editor-in-chief Hiroyuki Shinoda writes.
AI usage in anime production faces an uphill battle
A short animation published by Netflix Japan earlier this year that used artificial intelligence to generate background art drew swift rebuke from artists and viewers online, but little attention has been given to Toei Animation and its use of similar technology in 2021.
Driving the story: While the anime industry’s shortage of animators is commonly known, less reported is the shortage of background artists and how it is spurring interest in AI image generation, writes Tadashi Sudo in Weekly Toyo Keizai.
Some necessary context: Over the past decade, studios supplying background art have struggled to keep up with the growing number of anime projects.
To make up for a shortage of artists domestically, studios increasingly relied on outsourced labor in East and Southeast Asia, but those costs are rising.
What they’re saying: Anime producers argue AI-assisted background art have the potential to solve the labor shortage issue because of gained efficiencies.
Toei Animation worked with Preferred Networks (PFN), a Tokyo-based robotics and deep learning company, to convert landscape photos taken with a camera into anime-style background art for its experimental short Urvan.
The AI-assisted Scenify tool developed by PFN reduced the time required of art creators to preprocess images to about one-sixth of the current process.
Yes, but: Staff on anime creative teams argue that AI tools deprive rookie artists of basic learning opportunities.
Untrained artists create more work for veteran artists who must then spend time to make corrections or adjustments, deepening the labor shortage.
Clippings: ‘Tunnel to Summer’ wins at Annecy festival
The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes won the Paul Grimault Award at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival. Director Tomohisa Taguchi was present to personally accept the award. (NHK World News)
Dutch film distributor Piece of Magic Entertainment will release The First Slam Dunk in 35 territories this summer. The newly-formed POM Anime division plans to release four to six anime films per year. (Screen Daily)
A new anime adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin, popular among anime and manga fans, is reviving discussion on “separating the art from the artist” in light of charges levied in 2017 against creator Nobuhiro Watsuki for possession of child pornography. (Anime News Network)
Artist: Studios reduce barriers to webtoon production
“I think diversification is a good thing. Speaking as someone who draws them, I think making webtoons is very challenging to do. Among manga artists, I often hear others say, ‘Having a weekly serialization is insane.’ Moreover doing that in full color, they would say, ‘What were you thinking?’ (Laughs.)”
— Manga artist Yayoiso, an early webtoon creator, on studios producing webtoons
Context: Yayoiso is the author of ReLIFE and one of Japan’s earliest creators of vertical-scrolling webtoons. Originally published between 2013 and 2018, ReLIFE was an early hit and was adapted into anime and live-action film. She reflects on her experience drawing webtoons for the past ten years in an interview with the entertainment news portal Oricon.
As previously reported by Animenomics, the number of webtoons being produced by studio teams is rising, but Yayoiso is among those who are still creating them alone.
On the format’s global popularity, she says, “I think there is a greater need [in webtoons] to consider the overseas readers than in horizontally-read manga.”
Webtoon startups draw investors with technology
Investors are flocking to Japanese webtoon production startups, elevating a new crop of entrepreneurs that are helping the country’s manga industry compete on the global market.
Why it matters: Entrepreneurs armed with digital technology help ensure that Japan doesn’t fall behind emerging content producers in China and South Korea, the Nikkei business newspaper writes.
Just last week, The New York Times reported that investors betting money on Japan’s post-pandemic recovery has helped the stock market climb to levels not seen since the early 1990s.
What’s happening: Whomor is the latest firm to obtain webtoon production funding, raising ¥630 million (US$4.4 million) from publishing giant Kadokawa, anime studio MAPPA, and early ByteDance investor SIG Asia Investments.
Whomor’s webtoon venture will leverage its previously built crowdsourcing platform that connects artists with outsourced promotional manga and game illustration projects.
Whomor plans to produce 100 webtoon chapters per month using a division of labor system that assigns illustrators to specific roles such as drawing, coloring, and character design.
Zoom out: Earlier this year, webtoon production studio Sorajima raised ¥1 billion (US$7 million) in a Series B funding round led by Z Venture Capital.
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