One of the frustrating things about being an anime fan is the reality that like all forms of entertainment, anime is a business first and foremost. The profitability of a series not only plays into the likelihood of a sequel, but of the overall well being of the company that made it, or even the fate of certain anime genres as a whole.
This has been of chief concern to me as most ecchi titles have not sold well in Japan, and there was clear evidence of the anime industry noticing and reacting to this sales trend in 2013. The number of nude ecchi titles in 2011 dwarfed the number of similar shows in 2012, and 2013 was looking very grim before a massive Fall season for ecchi eased concerns some.
Unfortunately, those Fall series have been selling worse than ever. Even FREEZING Vibration is having a very hard time and seems like a bit of a long shot to break even. The only ecchi TV series to have encountered likely financial success in 2013 were High School DxD New and Vividred Operation, with Unbreakable Machine Doll having some surprisingly decent success early on as well.
Yesterday a reader shared a link to this website- the whimsically named Someanithing.com– which has been incredibly informative with regards to anime sales numbers while also doing a great job of putting numbers into full context (his FAQ section is a must-read).
If informing yourself about anime sales is something you care about, I highly recommend bookmarking his site. Not only does he provide better information than alternatives like myanimelist, but he brings an economics major type know-how to the data and is full of good insights.
Now before I get to that, I need to cover the nuts and bolts, many of which someanithing covers in his FAQ section.
The first is that blu-ray is not the only revenue stream. DVDs, international licensing, TV advertising revenue, merchandise (figurines, toys, wall scrolls, dakimakura, music, etc), spinoffs (manga, visual novels, mobile games, drama CDs, etc), rentals, product placement (Pizza Hut and Lawson are some famous examples this) as well as general retailer collaboration.
There’s also cases where companies will release multiple versions of the blu-ray so it’s important to notice this and add those numbers together (someanithing does a great job noting alternative blu-ray versions). There’s also the lower cost blu-ray complete series packs that come out later on which generate some additional sales.
For the most part, limited edition initial blu-ray sales make up the bulk of an anime’s sales power. But it’s not everything, and it’s not totally unheard of for an anime to struggle a little in blu-rays and still make up for it in other areas. To use an analogy, it’s kind of like how the Dragon Ball Hollywood movie utterly bombed in the US, but did very well in Asia and turned such a nice international profit that there has been talk of a sequel. This doesn’t often happen in anime, usually BD sales tell the story, but there will always be exceptions so be mindful of that.
On the other side of the coin, just because an anime sells well does not guarantee success, because we usually have no idea what the budget for the anime series was, or how much money they sunk into advertising. This is what I mean when I said a “less imperfect” understanding of profitability. Unless a series sells extremely well or extremely poorly, we can’t say with great confidence that it succeeded or not.
It’s also worth noting that the costs of these productions are often split among several investors, so when an anime succeeds or fails, the production companies involved suffer less damage or receive less reward than you might have imagined.
Of course, everyone wants a baseline number as some kind of reference. The “Manabi line” is a term that’s been kicked around for a while, one that intimates that roughly 3000 blu-rays sold per volume is the break even point for most anime. As explained above, a universal break point doesn’t exist.
That said, I’ve looked at some budgets from many years ago and with some admittedly fuzzy math I would say that in a totally normal world the break even point for most anime would probably be between 3-4k BD units average. That’s not to say it’s definitely in that range for every anime. It’s only to say that the fat part of the parabolic curve probably sits in that range. If you had industry insider information and charted the actual break even points of every late night TV anime made the last 3 years, the 3-4k range would probably be the fattest part of that curve. Probably. Grain of salt, please. That’s just my guess based on the best information I could find.
Now, these kind of numbers are not an absolute rule, especially for series like Queen’s Blade that seem to do quite well with merchandizing. It’s also worth noting that ecchi series have been a smashing success internationally, though it’s my understanding that the fees that anime companies charge internationally are pretty small.
Anyway, let’s roll with that estimate I had before, let’s call it 3.5k. (Again, this number is far from absolute). Only the three aforementioned nude ecchi series from last year sold in excess of that average (Kimi no Iru Machi sold surprisingly well, though we’re not yet sure what category this anime falls into). One of the worst selling series of the entire year had nudity, that series being Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge. Overall, this was a pretty tough year for ecchi sales compared to the peak years (2010, 2011), and down somewhat from the mostly disappointing numbers 2012 posted.
In particular, this was a BRUTAL year for ARMS, which didn’t produce a single anime over 3k (Maoyuu came the closest). Sekatsuyo has averaged less than 1k so far, but what might be even more heartbreaking is that ARMS’ high production values Hyakka Ryouran sequel Samurai Bride only averaged about 1.7k per BD volume (the original series averaged 6k). ARMS lost their shirt making anime last year, and it’s all the more reason to root for them to have financial success with Wizard Barristers.
FREEZING also saw a HUGE drop in sales from its first season, in fact the before and after numbers are virtually identical to Samurai Bride’s. I think you can safely close the book on a third FREEZING season, at least until the market changes significantly (and, in my opinion, unexpectedly).
High School DxD’s sales were down very slightly from the first season, but it held steady for the most part. It’s part of an interesting trend across anime where sequels often make less money, sometimes a lot less money, than the originals.
On the whole, it’s impossible to look at this data and not be concerned. DxD was a guaranteed sales powerhouse, as was Vividred Operation with its ties to the massively popular Strike Witches. Further, previously successful nude ecchi series like FREEZING and Samurai Girls saw their follow-ups utterly bomb. The only totally new nude ecchi series to have even a little success last year was Unbreakable Machine Doll.
It’s no wonder we’ve seen so many nude ecchi series acting like non-nude imposters on their TV runs lately. These anime execs know what’s up, and unfortunately the verdict is not the kind we’ve been hoping to hear. Barring a sea change, the industry is on a path back to the days when nudity was reserved mostly for OVA due to the lack of risk involved.
Of course, there will still be some unassailable franchises like To Love-Ru and Strike Witches, but I think it’s pretty clear that we’ve seen the peak of the second ecchi boom, and right now the genre is on the down slope heading to the next valley. That is unless these new tactics by nude ecchi producers actually start working (no such luck for Yuushibu). I hope they do, they are quite ingenious. If Maken-Ki Two! struggles, then you know things are getting bad. Though I seriously doubt it will.