(Disclaimer: This article covers topic related to sexual harassment and sexual violence. If you find this topic uncomfortable, that is completely understandable. That specific topic will be discussed at the end of the article.)
2019 has been a yo-yo of a year within the anime community. We’ve had moments of happiness, sadness, uncertainty, and everything in between. Here are some of the top major news stories in 2019 surrounding the anime industry and the community at large.
1.Corporate Consolidation Comes for the Anime Industry
In 2018, AT&T acquired Crunchyroll. That same year, Sony acquired Funimation. There were some major changes initially, like the end of the Funimation Crunchyroll partnership, but things were mostly quiet until this year.
Funimation has shifted from a United States-only anime distributor to a global distributor, aquiring UK anime distributor, Manga Entertainment UK. Aniplex (which is also owned by Sony) bought Australian anime distributor, Madmen Entertainment. Funimation also made agreements with Chinese streaming service Bilbi. Not to be outdone, Crunchyroll then acquired Viz Media’s European branch.
We are seeing anime distribution go from regional to global. Why? Because these major corporation are massive in size and scale. A regional success is chump change to these corporate behemoths. For a Crunchyroll or Funimation to be valuable, these anime distributors needs to match the scale and profits these corporations typically expect to earn every year.
Alliances and Corporate synergy
Though the Funi/Crunchy relationship dissolved, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some other notable partnerships sprout up. Viz recently announced that they’re bringing their catalog of anime titles to Crunchyroll including hits like Death Note, Inuyasha, and One Punch Man. Select Crunchyroll titles will also appear on their parent company’s upcoming streaming service, HBO Max. It’s unknown exactly which anime titles will be on HBO Max, but with the recent announcement that Studio Ghibli films will be on HBO Max, the titles will most likely be their big, mainstream hits like Dragon Ball Super, Naruto, etc.
Funimation and Aniplex of America (both owned by Sony) are beginning to work together. Aniplex titles like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Fate/Zero, and Black Butler are heading to Funimation’s streaming service. It was also announced that Right Stuf titles like Gravitation and Big Windup Season 2 will be headed to Funimation Now.
We are slowly seeing anime streaming being siloed into the two major players, Funimation and Crunchyroll. That doesn’t mean other streaming platforms won’t have anime (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Retrocrush have their own large selections), but it looks like you’ll have to have at least two services to get all the anime you want.
Loss of Personal Connection?
Compared to most industries, anime companies have long maintained a personal relationship with anime fans. There is a valid fear that this interpersonal relationship will go away as these companies become absorbed into megacorps. We are beginning to see this as Crunchyroll has given control of it annual convention (Crunchyroll Expo) to Reedpop, the convention organizing company that runs New York City Comic Con and the PAX conventions all across the U.S which attract 10,000 plus attendees each year. We’ll see if the personal connection between anime companies and their fans can be maintained.
2. The Kyoto Animation Arson
Kyoto Animation is a special animation studio. They have been an independent studio since their founding in 1981 and unlike most anime studios in Japan, KyoAni staff are fully paid with benefits, paid leave, and maternity leave. Kyoto Animation also has a number of women in prominent roles in animation production. Most anime studio employ their staff on a freelance basis and rarely have women in leadership roles. Kyoto Animation is most known for K-On, Free!, and Sound! Euphonium.
On July 18, 2019, an arsonist set fire to Kyoto Animation’s Studio 1 building. The fire killed 36 people, and injured 33 others. Once news began to spread of the fire, the hashtag #PrayforKyoani began trending on Twitter.
Sentai Filmworks set up a Gofundme to help support the victims of the attack, raising over $2.3 million. Online retailer Right Stuff said they would be donating a portion of their profits to the victims as well. Kyoto Animation also took direct donations into their company bank account. In total, over 26.8 million dollars was raised to support the victims of the attack.
What happened was an unbelievable tragedy that we all wish had never happened. If I could take a small positive from this tragedy is that anime fans will rally and support creators after a terrible event. It was amazing to see how much money was donated by fans. I hope with the money raised and time the victims can find peace after what they went though.
3. Anime Goes to the Movie Theaters
2019 was a big year for anime in the movie theaters. Thanks to Fathom Events (who do 2 to 3 day limited screenings of a variety of boutique films) there was an anime movie or TV premiere every month in 2019. In total, I counted 24 different screenings in the United States, and I’m probably missing some! Not only were there a lot of screenings but they had surprising good box office profits. Dragon Ball Super: Broly made over $29 million in the United States and $100 million globally. Studio Trigger’s film Promare also did well, getting a second limited screening event in December and making over $2 million in the United States.
Why are these limited time event screening so successful, even with the ubiquity of streaming? I’d argue that it’s because these screening are community events. It’s fun to cheer and laugh at a movie with a group of friends or like minded individuals. Plus, it’s exciting to see a movie or first episode before it becomes more widely available. I predict anime in movie theaters will be a continuing trend.
4. The #MeToo Movement comes to the Anime Community
In late 2017, allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence committed by former movie producer Harvey Wienstein were reported by The New Yorker. This led to multiple women coming forward with their own stories of sexual violence and harassment. The Weinstein story inspired victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault in all industries and all over the world to finally speak out and share their stories. Dozens of men in positions of power, from entertainment to politics, ended up losing their power or facing trial for their acts of sexual violence.
The anime community was no exception. Multiple allegations of unwanted touching, sexual harassment, and sexual assault by popular voice actor Vic Mignogna were reported. Mignogna is best known for his role as Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist. He was also a frequent and popular convention guest. Following an internal investigation, Funimation announced that they would no longer contract Mignonga for any current or future projects. Mignogna has denied any acts of wrongdoing.
Mignogna filed a failed defamation lawsuit against Funimation and voice actors Monica Rial and Jamie Marchi. Rial and Marchi spoke out about their stories of sexual harassment by Mignogna.
I don’t feel sorry for Mignogna. He will always have supporters, even though multiple women and photographic evidence of his sexual harassment and assault have came out. The best we can do is to not minimize these acts of sexual harassment. Do your part to speak out against people who commit these heinous acts. To learn more about sexual violence and sexual assault, you can go to RAINN.org, the largest anti-sexual violence advocacy group in the United States.
Sorry to end on such a sad story! Like I said at the top, it’s been a yo-yo of a year as an anime fan. I hope 2020 will be a happier and less stressful year. Here are some “smaller” stories that also happened this year:
- Anime live action adaptations continue to be a mixed bag. Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop show is still happening but got delayed, Akira is still in development hell, but hey Alita was awesome! Let’s hope Cowboy Bebop isn’t as disappointing as Netflix’s Death Note movie.
- Monkey Punch, creator of Lupin the Third, passed away at 81 years old. You can hear Austin and I discuss his life and work in our review of the first Lupin TV special Bye Bye Lady Liberty: Episode 68.
- Viz is on the look out to publish original works. I wish them the best of luck but Toykopop tried that a few years ago it didn’t go so well.
- Kazuo Koike, creator of Lone Wolf & Cub and Lady Snowblood, passed away at 82 years old.
What was a major anime news event to you? Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter @wbforeman999.