We’re out of Ideas!

Recently, the Taiwanese publisher of Tong Li Comics lamented on the lack of ideas in the Anime industry. He complained that right now if a manga has even a limited following and is incomplete, Anime producers are racing to turn it into a TV show in order to fill the airwaves with their content. And that very few original shows or ideas are coming from within the actual Japanese animation industry itself.

Sound familiar? It should. People say the same thing about Hollywood constantly.

But, the truth is Anime and Hollywood aren’t out of ideas at all. They’re swimming in seas of ideas, big and small, and they’re surrounded by potential great new projects.

The problem is- they won’t use them.


Simple economics.

Here’s the deal most people don’t understand. This was explained to me by someone in the entertainment industry a long time ago when I made similar complaints.

Let’s say you’re an exec at an anime company making US$100,000+ a year. (Heck, you don’t even have to make that much, just enough to keep your family fed.) Your job is to greenlight new shows.

Now you have two projects sitting on your desk to make into a show:

a) An amazing new proposal from one of your company artists for an original show that’s one of the best things you’ve seen in years.

b) An adaption of a manga title with a decent following in some secondary magazine (not even JUMP) that’s got a few chapters out. Not bad, could do well, but not even in the same league with the original idea in a).

So which do you choose?

“b” will win 95% of the time, maybe even more.

Why? You ask. Don’t they want to produce quality shows?

Sure they do, but the most important factor here is fear, not quality.

Anime are expensive to produce, and each one requires a lot of time and effort. A big show can make or break the company, and most of all- it can break your career.

If you choose “a” and it’s a success, you could literally be set for life as a genius producer who saw the talent for what it was and made it reality. Your name could be remembered like Yoshitaka Amano and Hideki Anno. However, if “a” flops, it’s also 100% your responsibility, and you will accordingly have to explain to your wife why you didn’t get the promotion, got demoted, or even lost your job.

On the other hand, if you chose “b” and it succeeds, you’ll get a job well done, and a promotion. (You’re still a wheel in the system, but your company will be happy with you.) But, if it fails, then when you face your bosses you can say you did everything safe, and didn’t take any major risks. You took a previously successful story and you picked a good crew to adapt it. Clearly the audience wasn’t ready for it. Everyone will shake their heads sadly and things will move on.

But you won’t lose your job, and likely won’t be blamed unless they really really need a fall guy.

Which would you choose if you were them? With your wife, kids future, career, and $100,000+/year job on the line if you fail?

This, by the way, is also happening in Hollywood (in fact, it’s the RULE in Hollywood) and that’s why so many books and comics get adapted. It’s also why so many focus groups are used with movies, so the producers can show the studio they’re not to blame.

Almost nothing good will come from the entertainment industry establishment for this very reason. It’s the independents that take risks because they need to in order to get noticed, but once they’re “in” they fall under the same system.

5 thoughts on “We’re out of Ideas!

  1. I gather the same pattern has taken root in the video game industry. Big business plays it safe while the plucky independent creators go digging under the couch cushions hoping to scrounge up the scratch to buy another pack of ramen-noodles (slight exaggeration, but not much).

    • No Glenn, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all, unfortunately. Although I think many would say that’s the true nature of capitalism- once you get slow and old the young ‘uns run loops around you like snow speeders until you fall and they can grow to take your place. The problem is instead of dying, our “too big to fail” companies keep eating the young ones to survive in their own bloated lich-like way, while the young ones now dream of “selling out” to the big boys instead of trying to grow on their own.

  2. In many ways, I guess this gives what we do hope.
    If you write something that’s a hit in a novel or comic form (who knows, maybe one day in audio drama), you’re more likely to have a hit on your hands than if you send it in strictly as a screenplay.
    Although, like manga, I would bet that this is pretty genre based.
    If you write a romantic comedy, chances are you’ll probably have a better opportunity of it getting made as a new vehicle than an old one.
    Good thoughts as always!

    • Jack,

      Well, we’ve seen Julie’s work get optioned (even if it’s by independents), and I’ve heard the rumours that Leviathan Chronicles and We’re Alive both have big boys sniffing around them to see if they might be worth something. I think that it’s natural that even AD will become a source for the mainstream entertainment industry, it’s just a matter of time and who “hits the jackpot”.

      It may turn out that AD is actually the completely correct way to get into the business, since is rises or falls on your scriptwriting skills.

      Now back to writing my romantic comedy script…


  3. Although this is prevalent in indy world too (not to mention the fanfiction community), just that they’re not well-known enough to be scrutinized. People like me will create cliched stuff until the world ends, and we’ll still be the first to lambast the “big players”. πŸ˜‰

    Actually, your next post provides a good example.

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