AnimeSols: A Star is Born

narutaki Everyone is ready to jump into crowdfunding after some high-profile and monetary successes. Anime and manga have found their own success in this new branch of business as well. Even as we write this, the Time of Eve Kickstarter is climbing its way to $100,000 with more than half a month left to go. So it seems only natural that we’ll be seeing more and more of these types of projects popping up.

AnimeSols is taking it a step further with their own streaming portal attached to bringing over series for DVD release here in the U.S. They are putting the focus on older titles and iconic characters many of which U.S. fans have had little access to like the beloved franchise of Yatterman or enduring magical girl Creamy Mami. There is a lot to be excited about with this new endeavor.

AnimeSols is certainly an idea that several people have been playing with ever since Kickstarter has started to gain real traction as a method for seemingly impossible projects to get funding by going directly to the fans for support of things that would be seen as far too micro-niche to be profitable. After several successful Kickstarters around Tezuka manga and Kickheart there has been a growing interest into what other areas of anime and manga creation and licensing could become a reality with funding via crowdsourcing. It seemed like an idea that could work for more than what has been explored so far.

One of the more popular suggestions has been the idea that older manga series that most companies would pass over as being not financially viable via normal means or might have a chance with a well orchestrated Kickstarter. No one might normally be interested in picking up Aim for the Ace! using the traditional anime localization model. But with something that circumvents the risks that are inherent with older series might make them a more distinct possibility.

And so it seems while everyone else was talking about the idea Sam Pinansky and AnimeSols were already working on setting up a system to do this very idea on a much larger scale than almost anyone else had proposed. The idea behind AnimeSols is to bring together several major anime Japanese companies and have them create a site that lets them attempt to crowdfund the psychical release of older or more unusual titles that would not normally have a chance in the U.S.A. Instead of trying to drum up support for each title individually with different people involved each time AnimeSols would let people have a one stop shopping site with a wide variety of titles to choose from. Theoretically this allows the Japanese companies to see what titles can garner a small but devoted fan base that might otherwise be invisible to the standard U.S. licensors.

But the important part of that last statement is this is all theoretical. As much positive and hopeful conversation has come from successful crowdfunding projects the whole system has produced just as much negative and skeptical backlash from failed or troubled cases. Even some very successful ventures are engendering a good deal of rumination on the idea that maybe all the pie in the sky talk coming out of these is a bit misguided. And AnimeSols is grander in scope that any previous attempt in the anime and manga field. Some ideas just don’t scale well when you get them to a bigger size. Others thrive. So this post is an examination of the AnimeSols project as we see it so far. How well does it work as a website and what do we see in it as the future of anime crowdsourcing?

The site itself is rather bare bones but not horrible to look at. I was surprised to see more of a focus on streaming on the AnimeSols site rather than the monetary contributions needed from its viewers. Both have a place on the main page but somehow the site is lacking a sense of urgency and excitement for the projects.

A more information rich environment would be more appealing to me and also lend some legitimacy to the site and companies involved. A lot of good information is buried in the FAQ which quite honestly most people just don’t bother to read.

Still there are plenty of questions like what happens when a goal is not reached? The site is also vague on how long episodes will remain up. And I had a number of questions when looking at the rewards like what is a “character letter” or “character settings”?

Having the fulfillment of DVD sets go through RightStuf is a perfect partnership for this kind of endeavor and again lends a bit of confidence in the product and distribution here in the U.S.

The idea is to take titles that other companies have passed on and let the people choose what they want to fund. Like Kickstarter there are many different levels of support you can give a project. You can pledge as little a dollar and anywhere up to something like 2,500 dollars for a title you wish to support. If you want to get a DVD of a certain set of episodes the baseline price is 40 dollars. Anything less than that just gets you some cool trinkets related to the series and anything above that nets you the DVD set and some hard to get merchandise or production materials. If the series can raise the needed money within a select amount of time then the DVD are made and everyone who contributed money to the project gets their rewards. There will be some additional DVDs made that will be sold through online channels for those who might have been interested in the series but did not want to back the series.

They are not thrown out the whole series to licensed at once. Every show is being divided up into 13 episode blocks. If the first 13 episodes of a show are successfully funded then they will start the next 13 episodes the same way. But the shows are not put up for funding without a major sampling available. Every week a new episode of each show being highlighted on the site is put out fully subbed for streaming. So as the series tries to raise money for its goal more episodes go up so theoretically you can see how much more the series needs to succeed as you watch more of it. But all the shows have a time limit for how long is needed for the anime in question to reach its minimum amount of support to be spun off into a physical release and the next batch of episodes.

The real question that has not been answered is this: What happens if shows does not achieve its funding goal. That is not really clear at this point. They seem to have possible plans like given unfunded projects some cool down time and then putting them up at a later date or moving them over to a regular Kickstarter styled site but none of that is presently set in stone. I have a feeling the number of shows that succeed plus how well any of them do will determine what methods they use. But it does seem like a very critical step that has not been unveiled. But I suppose no one wants to start with the idea they are going to fail but it is a scenario you should plan for.

 The streaming videos and player are very simplistic so no fuss and easy to use. The quality isn’t the greatest for some of the older titles but I have no complaints about such things. There are technical specs listed in the FAQ but I am unsure if they refer to the streaming video and what we can expect on the DVDs or whether the DVDs may provider a higher quality.

The streaming portion of the site is a really smart piece to the crowdfunding puzzle for anime. If people can watch the shows, know how they feel about, they are more likely to throw in their dollars. There is a variety of genres to choose from and so far everything is available free and without ads. There is really no reason not to check out these titles at this point.

The real problem, like so many other anime sites, is finding AnimeSols in Goggle without simply typing “AnimeSols.” All official streaming sites still compete with tons of pirated ones so it is hard to cut through the clutter. At least when you search for crowdfunding anime the results turn up a news article about AnimeSols so that is something.

So far the series on AnimeSols are almost universally in the classic anime category. Tekkaman and the original Yatterman are from the 70s while Tobikage, Creamy Mami, and Blue Blink are from the 80s. The New Yatterman and Black Jack TV are from the 2000s but they are based on older franchises and stay rather true to that classic aesthetic. So anyone who snubs their nose up at non-digital anime is going to find little that interests them here. But if you are a fan of the warmer hand drawn atheistic of a bygone era then all these shows are swimming in them.

The thing is all the shows I saw were the definition of quirky. Creamy Mami is distinctly from that period before Sailor Moon changed magical girls shows. It is when Magical Girl shows were all about mundane wish-fulfillment as opposed to fantastical adventure and romance while beating up monsters. But even that aside Yu Morisawa is sort of strange and spacey girl that makes her stand out. Yatterman on the other hand seems like Barry Levinson’s Toys combined with Gatchaman and all the genre alchemy that would be required to mix those two things together. Probably the show with the most conventional appeal is Ninja Senshi Tobikage. It is a very busy show but it is about people piloting ninja robots on Mars. That is a strong point of sales.

BUT when your mecha show has the largest conventional appeal to American fans you might want to reflect on your choices.

It just seems like other than Black Jack TV (because everyone loves Black Jack) most of the shows really only cater to select audience. They are all influential series but distinctly in the space between utterly forgotten and undeniable classic. You can get old-time fans to wax poetic about Space Battleship Yamato or Princess Knight and what they did to change the medium. But these shows so far tend to get more a passing mention by hard-core fans of a specific genre. It is the difference between Zambot 3 and Mobile Suit Gundam. They are both Tomino shows that changed the genre but the power of one is very clearly greater than the other. But so far all the shows seem more like Zambot than Gundam.

Also they have gone out of their way not to pick shows with a big cache of nostalgia. Old classics of fandom like Voltron and ANYTHING Discotek Media would pick up are right out. For better or worse they are putting out shows that don’t have a huge following in hopes that they can gain one. While this means that they are not really poaching a lot of series the standard licensors are gunning for but it also means they have to build a lot of the interest for these shows from the ground up.

I will note they did not even attempt to start with any sports shows. I think that is a fairly good sign that a project like this that goes for things outside the norm still thinks sports anime are radioactive. So don’t hold your breath for Touch unless your Guybrush Threepwood.

 The site definitely needs more of a sense of urgency on the part of backers. With only a month left, most of the sets look like they won’t make their goals.

I think perhaps the site is trying to do two difficult things at once. It takes a while for a streaming site to catch on so perhaps they could have focused on that for a month or two. Then after people were coming and enjoying all these shows, they could have introduced the crowdfunding. And even then maybe only a show or two at a time. At the very least, I think they should consider giving these first projects a longer time to reach their goal as people discover the site here in the beginning.

For the record, my money is with original Yatterman because of course giant robot dog and 70sness.

I found the amount of publicity for the site paradoxically everywhere and nowhere all at once. As someone who listens to anime podcasts on my commute I think I must have listened to a new person doing their own AnimeSols episode very week for a month and half. Everywhere from ANN to Otaku in Review to AWO did a dedicated segment on their sites. And there were just so many written interviews and articles. Sam Pinansky even did a Reddit AMA. So you can’t say AnimeSols was not putting themselves out there.

But at the same time it does seem like I don’t see anyone discussing it. There was a lot of press but that is very different from your day-to-day fans beating the drum for a show they are fanatical about. When Kickheart was looking for backers it was unavoidable on the web. People were constantly talking about the project. There were constant debates on how it was going to effect anime production and tastes. There were unending accusations that TRUE ANIME FANS THAT CARE ABOUT ART would fund the cause. A lot of it was the standard hyperbole and saber-rattling you see on the Internet but it was happening.

I don’t see ANY of that with projects on AnimeSols. Where are the constant flame wars about abstaining from or supporting Yatterman or Creamy Mami? Where are the fanatical Tobikage diehards who won’t shut up about how it changed mecha anime? Were is the Tezuka manga brigade with a relentless Blue Blink Blitzkrieg?

Those questions in many way are the heart and soul of discussing AnimeSols. As it stands it does not seem like ANY of the shows on the site are going to hit their funding goals. Did AnimeSols bite off more than they could chew? Did they try to raise funding too many shows at once? Can the old school fandom not support that many different shows? Did they not target the right micro-niches? Did they pick the wrong show to jump out of the gate with?

Or is the answer much more dire than that? Did no one ever pick these titles because they just can’t get the support they would need to be financially viable in English? Do the few fanatical and vocal old school fans only represent themselves and a few others? Are they only REALLY willing to put their money where their mouth is in very select cases?

I think the real answer is of course not any of these factors as a single spy but in fact the legion that is keeping AnimeSol from being a huge success. It seems like a wonderful idea that shoots from some lofty ideals. Sadly those ideals might very well be detached from a viable reality.

But hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully one of two of these titles will gain a second wind as the time they have left starts to run out. But I think that hope is just as ephemeral as the project itself will be.

7 thoughts on “AnimeSols: A Star is Born

  1. BruceMcF says:

    Creamy Mami seems like the one most likely to make their goal, at 28%+ right now.

    Lots of the unanswered questions above seem like undecided questions, since they ask about what people think they should do in the survey.

  2. Tsunami3k says:

    A critical hesitation for me and many of those with whom I’ve spoken with about this project is that, despite being very enthusiastic about it in concept, none of us wants to fund a show one cour at a time at the risk of ending up with only a part of a series.

    It might be counter-intuitive at first but I think having larger full-series funding goals would actually fuel the sense of urgency if, as this article keenly notes, those flames are properly fanned.

    • BruceMcF says:

      But fueling a greater sense of urgency might not be helping meet the target ~ an extra $12,000 on the target reaping an extra $2,000 urgency is not what the site needs at the moment! It seems quite possible that Creamy Mami will get funded, but there’s no particular reason to think that if it were two-packs instead of single-packs that it would be doing that much better ~ indeed, the same early funding level against a much higher goal might have meant fewer pledges in the following weeks. Instead of being at 28% of its goal, it might only be at 10% of the much larger goal.

      The thing that can really address that concern is a history of follow-up series being hit once the first is, and the only way to provide that history is by doing it.

      Also, sales of the balance of the first set have to start before the proceeds can reduce the target required by the next set. At the same time, going on sale in the regular online channels will attract the attention of people who are precisely those that AnimeSols needs to attract to fund the follow-up sets.

      So I reckon the sooner the initial target is hit, the better.

      • Tsunami3k says:

        Like I said, perhaps it’s initially counter-intuitive but the very urgency you so quickly dismiss with straw-man numbers is the very life blood of crowd funding. At least from my working knowledge I can say with fair certainty that it’s unanimous among my peers that we’d have cumulatively funded 16-20 sets (4 cours x 4-5 people) vs none just for Creamy Mami.

        I can’t speak for my peers when I say this but, with the risk of ending up with a partial release eliminated, I’d gladly fund all cours of all the shows on Anime Sols if they went to this model.

        The vague hope of future goals being reduced is hardly comforting when we haven’t been given any concrete information regarding that. Additionally, fans indulging in extras more than once per show is progressively less likely so latter set revenues are weakened on this front as well.

        But regardless of whether either of our armchair quarterbacking has any effect on reality at all, I still want Anime Sols to be wildly successful and I’ll gladly promote any approach which draws me into a tighter orbit with its aspirations.

      • BruceMcF says:

        Running the alternate model of the full half year, year, two year, etc. series in one go, there will not only be additional people coming on board, there will be current pledges dropping out. My point was not that it WOULD BE $2,000 net extra pledges for $12,000 but that it COULD BE. You have no idea how representative your five peers are of those who have not pledged, nor how many among those who have pledged would not do so if the targets & pledge levels were, say, three times higher at $57,000, with a pledge level around $120.

        I’m not questioning that the counter-productive hesitation that you describe exists ~ I’ve seen it expressed recurrently over the years. We can be sure that the “I won’t buy because it might not complete” has led to the non-completion of some longer anime releases, and a number of longer manga releases. Its a perfect self-fulfilling prophecy.

        On the other hand, there’s the fact that the Tezuka specials are a completed set at a $30 pledge, and the four-pack Creamy Mami is the one that looks likely to have the first pack hit.

        The self-fulfilling prophecy hesitation you describe is not the only hesitation. There will be people hesitating because they don’t think that any of these series will make their goals. Those people will tune back in if the first set of Creamy Mami hits its target.

        As far as drop off of special pledges ~ I’d not be surprised. There’s that on one side. There’s the fact that there are some series fixed costs in the initial set target, which isn’t there for following targets. There are the new members of the community that come in from people who encounter the sets in the online channels.

        And they haven’t even started their marketing in cons ~ though I’m happy they seem to be doing that more by sweat equity and not dumping a lot of $$$ into the con circuit, since I don’t expect the cons to be any kind of gold mine in terms of generating pledges.

        All up, I expect the net impact to be that its easier to hit their first few follow-up targets, but first they have to hit a single target.

        Indeed, if you think there is a big bunch of people not pledging because its an incomplete set, you could suggest in your response to the onsite survey that if a lead off set shows some promise but falls short, that it is opened up for four weeks for pledging the whole ball of wax. If there’s the massive net differential in willingness to pledge for per season sets and complete sets, that’ll easily hit for any series that got past its halfway mark for its initial set.

  3. Sam P says:

    To put some numbers behind BruceMcF’s intuition, on our survey a very small percentage stated they weren’t pledging because it wasn’t for the entire set. In fact “I can’t afford it right now” was more than 4 times more common (and by far the most common reason was “I’m not interested in collecting a DVD of any of your shows”). So making the minimum buy-in ~2-4 times higher ($160 for the full set of a 52 episodes show, for example) would cut out a LOT of people who can’t afford to put down more than $100 at once.

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