YOUNG JAPAN: Looking Westward – The Kickstarter Phenomenon

JEREMIAH FAJARDO WRITES – From potato salad to Oscar nominated films, the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter has been at the forefront of rethinking project funding. Surprisingly, some of the most successful campaigns have come from Japan’s risk-averse entertainment industry. The time for change has come and it’s in the hands of the fans.

Before Kickstarter, financing a project, whether it was a new video game or an anime series, was a matter of finding the right sponsor or publisher for support. This often meant giving the backer some level of creative input, sometimes hindering the development process. The advent of crowd funding has made this avoidable, giving creators more artistic freedom and fans a sense of participation.

Two of the most fruitful Kickstarter campaigns originating in Japan are comcept’s Mighty No. 9 and Creative Intelligence Arts’ Under the Dog.

Mighty No 9 Title

A spiritual successor to the classic Mega Man videogame series, the first is headed by the co-creator of that seminal series, Keiji Inafune. As an outspoken industry figure, Inafune has been vocal about Japan’s current development style, calling it stagnant and ineffective. During the last console generation, Japanese game developers were slow to innovate, often refusing to listen to their western fans or learn from the success of studios such as Bioware. Instead, they continued to look inward, making games tailored to the shrinking demographic of Japanese youth.

This trend finally changed with the end of Mighty No. 9’s campaign. Originally asking for a minimum of $900,000 US, it ended last September with a grand total of $3,845,170 US, a majority of which came from the West.

Since then, comcept has been interacting with its supporters, welcoming their input on certain aspects of the game. The most recent development was a pair of announcements at this year’s Anime Expo in Los Angeles. The first was a well-received teaser for a planned anime series, while the second was a second campaign to fund the game’s voice acting.

Under the Dog is a more recent example following the same story of disillusionment with the Japanese development model. A bold, gritty anime concept headed by a group of industry alums, Under the Dog surpassed its goal of $580,000 US this August by nearly $300,000 US.

Hiroaki Yura, the project’s producer and known for his work on Steins; Gate among others, commented on Under the Dog and the industry in a recent Reddit AMA (Ask me Anything). Currently, the growing standard for anime production is the participation of production committees, which Yura decries as “restrictive” and risk-averse. According to him, these groups veer away from “innovative or edgy ideas,” opting for series that will merely sell well.

Inafune and Yura are not outliers among Japan’s vast entertainment industry. With each successful campaign, more developers and producers are coming forward voicing their praise and slowly acknowledging the need for change.

(Featured slider art from Creative Intelligence Arts’ Under the Dog.)

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