About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Evaluating Anime Trends by Sales Figures

With us now around the midpoint of 2010, and with significant sales data available for us to evaluate (thanks to you, Eggplant of Anime Suki) I felt that now might be a good time to once more take a 'big picture' look at the anime industry at a whole, but this time rooted in concrete domestic (i.e. within the Japanese market) sales figures.

This is something that I honestly don't see a lot of amongst online anime discussions, and perhaps with good reason, as the business side of anime is like the business side of many entertainment industries: lots of dry mathematical data, and the crunching of numbers. At first glance, it may seem boring, but yet, it's very relevant, and can help us understand present and future decisions by industry leaders (in the case of anime, companies like Kyoto Animation, SHAFT, Sunrise, Brains Base, AIC, and so on and so forth).

For example, you may wonder why one of your favorite Japanese light novels or visual novels has yet to be fully adapted into anime. Well, knowing that the writer thereof has had one or more of the anime adaptations of his work bomb, and bomb hard, may give you a good, albeit cold and hard, answer here.

Furthermore, you may wonder why certain anime character types, or character designs, are so very prevalent. Well, knowing that all of the big sellers have them could help to explain that as well.

In the business world, what sells is ultimate what gets continued, if there's anything left to continue with, and even then, more may be forced out even if the original author would rather not go along with that. Dragon Ball Z is a classic example of this.

Furthermore, what doesn't sell often doesn't get continued, no matter how passionate a vocal niche fanbase may be about it. Popularity at sheer discussion, hype, and interest levels is almost meaningless if its not accompanied by good, actual, concrete sales.

With that out of the way, I'm going to break this post down into the good, the bad, and the ugly, when it comes to how animes recently released are selling on DVDs and Blu-Rays domestically.

Although, there's two particular recent releases that rise above even the good, and they deserve a category all of their own:

The Outstanding

I must admit that while paying attention to DVD and Blu-Ray sales figures for various animes can help to solve some mysteries, it can pose some other ones.

One such mystery, to me, is "Why aren't there more mecha anime?"

Mecha Anime + High Production Values = Instant. Epic. Win.

Granted, Evangelion's popularity resides in much more than just mecha action, but let's be frank: that is at least part of the appeal. And it is a central source of appeal for Kidou Senshi Gundam UC, otherwise know as Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn.

And these two are, far and away, the anime sales winners (thus far) of 2010, with both actually topping 100,000 DVD/Blu-Ray sales in total. Although, it should be said that Eva is well ahead of Gundam here, with Eva now starting to close in on a million sales in total for Evangelion 2.22 .

Still, the fact that the only two animes to cross the threshold of one hundred thousand sales totals, for a lone release, for DVDs/Blu-Rays combined, have giant robot action as part of its appeal, is very telling. Especially when you consider the success of Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, and various Gundams. Furthermore, the Nanoha series' unique mixture of maho shojo with mecha also contributes much to its success.

Mecha animes aren't surefire successes, but they do seem to open an anime series up for potentially streaking stratospheric success

One wonders if the answer to much of what ails the modern anime industry can be found by getting back to mecha-oriented roots. Mecha is certainly not the only type of anime that sells well though...

The Good

While merely standing upon mountains, while gazing way, way, waaayyy up at the mecha action between Gundam Unicorn and Eva Unit 01 in the skies above, there's no denying that Angel Beats!, and Durarara!! are selling very nicely. When lacking mecha, it seems that exclamation marks in your anime's name tends to really help. ^_^;

Fairly close behind these two are Working!! and Toaru Kagaku no Railgun.

Of these four, I have yet to see Working!!, but I've seen at least some of the other three, and all of Angel Beats! High production values, and familiar yet eye-catching character designs, seems to be common strands of appeal that run through these four animes. And, to some extent, action elements perhaps help as well.

Durarara!! has similarities with cult classic Bacanno!, but also has the same sophisticated strokes, added to the easel of modern school life, found in Bakemonogatari. I suspect that it is these Bakemonogatari elements that has aided Durarara!! into selling much better than Bacanno! did. Although, perhaps the real secret for the added success can be found in that added exclamation mark. ;)

In all seriousness, we may be seeing a new anime genre emerge; a mildly dark and mature and sophisticated genre; an answer and compliment to many of the more moe-centric animes.

Moe itself continues to sell well, but usually only when couched within animes that are otherwise interesting, or appealing in ways that go beyond moe alone, as is the case with Angel Beats! and likely Working!!

It's a safe bet that Jun Maeda could now demand just about any job on the creative side of the anime industry that he could want. His record, particularly at a sales level, is sterling.

Not everything shares that sterling record though...

The Bad

I've actually watched most of Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou, and have mostly enjoyed it at a guilty pleasure level. It is, in many ways, a much tighter, plot-driven, and juiced up, version of Kampfer.

However, the sales figures for this anime are middling at best, and probably below average.

And, contrary to popular belief, ecchi (i.e. sexual fanservice-driven) animes tend to have middling at best sales figures.

Chuubra!! proves that not even multiple exclamation marks can save all animes, as its sales figures are awful, with a signal volume having yet to exceed a thousand in sales.

Ikki Tousen Xtreme Xecutor, a sequel to the first anime that many think of when the word "ecchi" crosses their mind, has done substantially better than Chuubra!!, but has had very mediocre success in a broader sense. None of its releases have hit five thousand units sold.

Ladies Versus Butlers has posted similar numbers.

So has Kiss x sis.

Kiddy Girl-And bombed, and bombed hard.

As far as I can tell, the only anime with substantial amounts of sexual fanservice that has done very well is the afforementioned Toaru Kagaku no Railgun.

Fanservice is not the hot-selling commodity that many make it out to be; at least not unless you interpret the term very loosely. Gundam Unicorn's first OVA had none to speak of, and Angel Beats! had none beyond the level that I'd feel comfortable showing to a twelve year old.

At the very least, anime can not rely on fanservice to raise its fortunes. It tends to provide middling at best sales figures.

However, some things sell even worse than that...

The Ugly

Just to be clear, I'm certainly not saying that Nemuru Kushinada is ugly. Quite the contrary, she's rather cute, and her outfit is an exceptional one that feels like its straight out of the Touhou games.

However, the anime that Nemuru Kushinada is featured in has extremely ugly sales figures.

And here is where I go back to how knowing sales data can help answer certain questions.

Let's say a year or two passes, and there's no new anime adaptations of the works of Ryukishi07. Many of his fans may be displeased by this, and wonder why more of his works aren't being adapted. Well, look no further than the sales figures for Umineko, and Ookami Kakushi. Both of these bombed, and bombed hard. I certainly wouldn't be able to fault the anime industry for thinking that its just not worth it, at a basic financial level, to adapt more of Ryukishi07's works. At the end of the day, many may prefer Ryukishi07 to Jun Maeda as a writer, but there's no question as to which is helping the anime industry more.

Another big disappointment is Fairy Tail. Many had hoped that the Shounen world had finally found its answer to what would follow in the footsteps of Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece, but the sales figures for the Fairy Tail anime tell a very different story. It looks like anime is still very much needing an eventual successor to the Shounen Big Three. Shounen, in general, is in a state of decline right now, as Bleach's DVD sales are starting to sink after several years of excellent consistency, and the other two of the Big Three are merely treading water for the most part.

More than perhaps any other anime genre, the shounen one is in dire need of a shot in the arm. It could really use something fresh and new. There can be little doubt that the Big Three are now in a wind-down phase, and successors for them are badly needed.

So, what can we take from all of this?

My analysis is far from completely calculatingly comprehensive, of course, as I have certainly not seen all of the animes that have been put out in 2010, and hence can't comment on all of the movements and trends within the industry. However, I've seen enough, and am familiar with enough, to make some general observations.

One is that mecha still rules, though few attempt it, and many more probably should.

Moe does well, especially when put forward by Jun Maeda and/or Kyoto Animation. It's always nice to spice up your moe with some good action, though. And there appears to be a market for slightly dark, mature, and sophisticated school-based animes.

Ecchi and fanservice are not the surefire sellers that many people seem to think that they are. One does not need to personally dislike fanservice to now argue that there's probably too much of it in the modern anime industry for the anime industry's own good. A sales-based argument can now be made against it, not just a personal taste-based one. I suspect that the fanbase for ecchi and sexual fanservice is largely tapped out, and split between too many titles.

Ryukishi07's impact on the industry is now nil, and fading fast. It should not be a surprise if we do not see many more of his works adapted into anime.

The shounen genre is in real need of a booster shot.

It's not all bad news, certainly, but it points to how the industry continues to change, and perhaps needs to change more than it has. For while Angel Beats! and Durarara!! sold well, they did not sell as well as K-On! (2009) or Bakemonogatari did. Hype alone doesn't seem to generate sales quite as much as it did in years past.

Still, there are a fair number and variety of animes that still turn a decent profit, and there's some room for optimism. With some smart shrewd moves, the anime industry could grow and reassert itself. It's just that it won't get there through quick and easy pandering as much as what was once the case, as we see with how ecchi-driven animes aren't selling all that well, and shounen is arguably starting to decline.

Ultimately, appealing characters, intriguing narratives, and solid production values, are what will be needed to move anime forward. May it magically charm and soar like an Unicorn...


  1. I think hype is actually the biggest deal here. (How else could Angel Beats sell so much haha?=p) Well, no, I'm not implying that the buying masses are mindless sheep like your typical elitist are. But, people can't get interested in something they've never heard of before? When something is made by a big familiar name whether it be Evangelion, Gundam, or Kyoani, people will take interest. It's the same on both sides; we've seen so much crap that when we see old faithful, we're gonna prioritize it first.

    This is especially true considering how many anime is out there. So yea, the big names can pretty much just print money whatever they do. Because we're curious and they usually can deliver to some degree.

    Also, we must remember that anime is a very niche market; you can't just milk them to death with random ecchi shows =p Just too many and too expensive. It's gotta at least stand out.

    Umineko and Okami Kakushi... lol. Well, it seems to have more to do with the quality of the anime themselves. Okami Kakushi just wasn't that great, and the complaints for Umineko I've sure you've heard enough-- poor adaptation, lousy animation, and it looks very cheap. I've also heard that the dvd/blurays do not contain much extras which is really the death knell. Japanese anime DVDs are hella expensive, but they typically come with a bunch of stuff a collector would want. It's just not the type of anime people would go out and shell out tons of money on.

  2. Trying to figure out just how popular mecha is among the TV show crowd is kind of tricky. Most of the big titles of the past few years (Gundam 00 and Unicorn, Rebuild of Evangelion, and Macross Frontier) are backed by 90s or older brands. Geass is the exception in that’s it’s s newcomer, but on the other hand, if you look back a couple years, there’s a lot of mecha shows that only experienced moderate sales at best. Heck, even Full Metal Panic only managed to break 10K in one of its three seasons. I’m not quite sure what made Geass a breakthrough, but it’s probably an example worth studying.

    In the case of Unicorn and Eva 2.0, I think a large part of their success is due to the combination of a well known franchises with price points accessible to non-otaku. Even with Japanese market prices, you can probably collect these franchises for less than $100 a year. The big questions, of course, is a) how many titles can you convince this group to buy before the market fragments like the otaku market has, and b) how do you convince this group to take a chance on an unknown brand?

    As for why Eva completely destroys everything else sales wise… I think this comes down to “Unicorn is a solidly executed OVA. Eva 2.0 is a jaw dropping movie.” I watched it twice within a week of subs coming out – once with friends, once with my anime club. My best friend saw it four times within a week, and at Japanese market prices, that sort of rewatchability probably matter even more than elsewhere. Plus, the movie doesn’t just have one appeal – it’s got jaw dropping action, but it also gives Rei a more subtle characterization that’s actually a lot cuter than her 90s incarnation.

    Regarding Durarara, I suspect you’ve hit on some of the big reasons for its success, but I would add that I suspect the show has a sizeable female fanbase - Shizou and Izaya are definitely estrogen brigade bait. Female otaku are a much less fragmented market than their male counterparts – the number of shows targeted at females that break the 10K barrier compared to the number of shows aimed at female otaku is quite high compared to for male otaku. Of course, Durarara probably appeals to both genders, which is actually a trait shared by many of the more popular moe shows around – note that K-On’s second season was one of the most anticipated shows among readers of an anime magazine targeted to female otaku, and Angel Beats and Working also had decent if less impressive showings.

    (I hope you’re right about an emerging market for sophisticated otaku shows like Bakemonogatari and Durarara – those shows are probably my favourites of the past year or so.)

    I’m glad you mentioned that the ecchi market is fragmented, but as you may have noticed, market “fragmentation” is consistently coming up in this discussion. I think the number of shows in this genre is driven by a couple of factors thought: first, while the sales numbers pale compared to truly popular shows, true “bombs” like Chu-bra and the new Kiddy-Girl make up a relative small portion of the number of shows produced. Second, ecchi anime tend to have a lot of associated merchandise. I have the suspicion that the reason why these anime keep getting made is that while almost nobody is making a killing on them, they almost always make a small profit for the company that owns the original rights to the franchise (who is usually the one who funds the production in the first place). Basically, the market is fragmented enough that many shows are being produced, but not yet fragmented enough to cause a severe contraction. Definitely a tightrope walk there.

  3. (Kind of disappointed to see Ichiban do so poorly against such shows as Mayoi Neko Overrun and Ladies vs. Butlers though. Ichiban’s plot may have become a mess towards the end, but it still had more of a multifaceted appeal than the other two.)

    I’m not sure I’d consider Railgun an ecchi show in the stricktest sense. It does have fanservice episodes, but from what I remember, it also has long stretches without them, particularly late in the series. To me, the reason it’s a breakthrough hit is that it merges the “four girls moe slice of life” genre with the “action girl” genre, all sold under the aegis of a loli-tsundere with one of the coolest abilities I’ve seen on an anime girl. Which isn’t to say the fanservice doesn’t help, but it’s not as reliant on it as most ecchi shows are.

    Note the continuing trend here, BTW: the shows that make it big tend to be ones that have appeal to more than one audience – for example, K-On and Durarara with their mixed gender audience, and Railgun with it’s appeal to both the moe and action crowds.

    As for Ryukushi07, I consider him down but not out. Umineko and Ookami Kakushi failed for different reasons: the first because the only fans willing to shell out hundreds of dollars to collect a 26 episode show are hardcore fans of the game who bemoan any changes to it (imagine how much harder Peter Jackson’s job would have been if his audience had included very few casual fans and tons of hardcore LOTR purists…), and I suspect Ookami failed because it was kind of lackluster compared to the true 7th Expansion works. Certainly, nobody is going to back a project just because he wrote it anymore.

    But I don’t think he’s out. Because along with Romeo Tanaka, he’s writing Rewrite for Key. I don’t know what Key’s plans for anime adaptations of works after Clannad are, but if we here an announcement for a Little Busters anime, I suspect a Rewrite anime to follow within a few years. Ryukushi probably is going to have to wait for his next crack at it though.

  4. Ah, forgot to mention one important trend in early 2010 that we haven't discussed since I was concentrating on DVD/Bluray sales.

    Early 2010 saw the first wave of big anime franchise movies inspired by the huge sales numbers of Type Moon's "Kara no Kyoukai" movies: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, Nanoha the Movie 1st, and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. I suspect these will all be huge sellers just because they're cheaper than collecting TV series for the casuals and will be essential items for the hardcore. And of course, they're all big franchises - Haruhi and Fate/Stay are obvious, but even Nanoha is up there. It's one of the few "otaku" shows I've seen get reruns (rare in an industry where anime often earn less from ads than the cost of the airtime).

    In regards to shounen, the low DVD sales are a concern but considering that unlike otaku anime, these shows actually do earn ad revenue because of their good timeslots I suspect that this is probably less of a worry than decline in ratings - and I wouldn't be surprised if that's an issue too, given how much more competition TV as a whole has for people's time these days.

    (The really scary one is when you look at Fullmetal Alchemists: Brotherhood's ratings and realize that they're one third the originals, although this might just be fan fatigue... I doubt collecting the original was cheap.)

  5. Archon_Wing - I think that a lack of hype is a bad sign. I can't think of many "sleeper hits" (i.e. animes that lacked hype, but went on to sell very well). Hype alone doesn't move DVDs though. Or, perhaps its better to say that being talked about a lot doesn't move DVDs. Perhaps there's such a thing as bad publicity, and this hurt Umineko and a few other animes. I was surprised to see how much Umineko was savaged on its series review thread over on Anime Suki.

    Positive hype is still a factor, though, yeah. Though flawed, Angel Beats! generated a lot of that, and it probably helped.

    I also agree that Okami Kakushi was probably the weakest of Ryu07's works (at least it was the weakest at the anime level) and that was probably a factor.

    I loved Higurashi, liked Umineko, and found Okami Kakushi amusing... so I personally would like to see more Ryu07 works. I just wouldn't get my hopes up, that's all. I probably came across as a bit too critical in parts of my blog here as it was a bit of a rush job before I headed off to work yesterday. ^_^;;

    Thanks for the feedback, though!

    0utf0xZer0 - You raise several good points, and possible explanations for some of the observations I made. Thanks for that. :)
    Yeah, it's a bit disappointing that Ichiban isn't doing better, relative to other ecchi animes. At least it has a somewhat serious plot, like you said. I also think Ichiban has the ideal sort of art style and character designs for an ecchi-driven show. I mean, it's very colorful, curvy, and bouncy. ;)

    I'm glad you raised Little Busters. I hope that we see this adapted into anime soon. It has a wonderful cast, and will probably make for a great anime.

    I think that you're right that simple fan fatigue is factoring into FMA: Brotherhood not doing as well as the original.

    With this in mind, perhaps OVA one-shots and movies are more compelling in general to casual anime viewers. I mean, you don't have to buy multiple DVD volumes, and the story is very self-contained.

    With this in mind, it'll be interesting to see how the Haruhi and Nanoha movies do once released.

  6. Durarara!! is a nice, refreshing series when compared to the moe genre. It could be the start of more sophisticated fare. We'll have to see.

    All I know is that they could do a 2nd season in the future due to the fact that the light novel is still ongoing.

    If that does well, then I think we will see a boom.

    I did a look at the chat room psychology aspects of the series. You can read it at: http://www.mangatherapy.com/post/932185689/chatrooms-durarara