Why there are so few movies in legal anime streaming services (unlike Netflix who specializes in films)? I think at the very least they should have movies from popular TV series in their catalog. IMO, it is easier to attract new users with a good movie than to have them watch a series of more than 10 episodes. This question also applies to autonomous ova such as “Hori-san to Miyamura-kun“.
In Japan and around the world, movies work completely differently from TV series from a business standpoint. Almost all animated TV series are represented by the same ten or so companies, which deal with the usual foreign release partners on a daily basis. TV anime is meant to be watched for free on TV, so online streaming is an extension of that. They’re used to coming up with new shows and series in a timely fashion and then going back and micromanaging everything for the eventual DVD / BD release.
Movies don’t work like that, and never did. While the creative staff of a cinematic incarnation of an anime may be the same, the company acting as a licensor is often different. Toei Pictures (different company from Animation Toei), TOHO, Shochiku, Warner Bros. Japan, and occasionally Nikkatsu are the major distributors of Japanese films, as well as a handful of independent and TV channels that also have their hands in the film business, such as TVN Where TBS. Then you have Kadokawa Pictures, which does just about everything from publishing manga and licensing to film and TV production.
Motion pictures are often managed by a separate office within these companies, and the entire legal structure of production is very different from a television production. The films are supposed to be captioned, trucked to movie festivals for about a year, eventually videoed at home, and sold to airlines for viewing on the fly. The process behind this procedure is not designed for speed.
When it comes to allowing these broadcasts internationally, that makes things a lot easier. Movie deals with talent agencies give the licensor a lot more freedom and autonomy to sign deals, high profile talent so dear, like members of boy group Johnny’s Entertainment (SMAP, Tokio, Kat-tun, NEWS, Arashi, etc.) generally cannot hold a deal. The music is also generally erased internationally, and much more carefully than with an animated television series.
But the process is slow, because it is not designed with the instant gratification of a television audience in mind. It’s meant to be seen in a movie theater, then – eventually – on other outlets like home video, paid downloads, and then possibly free streaming. This process works (to varying degrees) for almost everything.
And really, only anime fans are the ones who are clamoring for things to be different. Sometimes when a more typical animation company – like Aniplex, for example – is an important part of a film’s production committee, can the needle be moved and the show brought to American shores faster. But even then, it will probably take a while before it streams on Crisp Where Hulu.
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Founder of the Anime News network Justin sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the cartoon business at the time. Today he owns the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces numerous anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.