Outsourcing anime production out of Japan is nothing new. Just look at the laundry list of anime from Korean animators Dr Movie (in-between animation on Ghost in the Shell, the Pokémon movies, animation on Hellsing, backgrounds on Naruto and Bleach). Top show business industry magazine Variety has a new report on how outsourcing is extending into new territories and new responsibilities.
In recent years, the pace has been picking up, to the point where observers fret about the cratering of a key Japanese content industry. "A third of the labor pool for Japanese animation is actually outside Japan," says Jonathan Clements. "I can see that climbing ever higher, until a Japanese animation company is three men in a Tokyo apartment, outsourcing every other aspect of production overseas."
The example that Variety uses is the revival of classic kids anime Ninja Hattori-kun, which is being produced by a parternship between Japan's TV Asahi and India's Reliance Media Works. The series is intended for Japanese and other Asian markets, including India,where the original ninja anime is Nickelodeon's Nick India. Shin-ei, the TV Asahi subsidiary that made the original show, will provide creative direction, while Reliance will handle production chores.
Takahiro Kishimoto, a producer on Hattori admits that outsourcing animation production is a sensitive issue in the Japanese business, but argues that the Reliance deal differs from the usual outsourcing arrangment since the anime draws high ratings in the subcontractor's home market. "Ninja Hattori is currently being broadcast in India multiple times every day, so all the animators at Reliance are really motivated to work on this project," he says.
Despite the Indian input, the show will remain 100% Japanese in content, aimed primarily at Japanese audiences. "The deeper Shin-ei focuses on its audience in Japan, the better its shows will reach outside of Japan," Kishimoto says. "Trying to produce shows for everybody in the global market often means that they appeal to nobody."
Variety attributes the push to outsourcing to production costs, but also notes larger social trends driven by declining birth rates.
The anemic Japanese birth rate, currently the lowest in the world at 1.21 children per woman, has led to a total population decline. With fewer kids tuning in, the number of toons on Japanese TV has fallen nearly 30%, since hitting a peak in 2006.
The Reliance deal is also about expanding sales overseas. You can read about that and more in Variety's full report, but what do you think about the increasing trend toward outsourcing anime production?