If there’s anything that anime director Masaaki Yuasa is known for, it’s crazy ideas. His works thrive on his bizarre premises and an equally free-flowing animation style, and artistically, they succeed quite handily. Where they do not succeed is financially – I believe Kaiba’s first volume sold fewer than 500 copies – and this puts him in a hard place when it comes to getting his works greenlit. To overcome this obstacle, Yuasa had another of his trademark crazy ideas: why not obtain a portion of his new project’s budget by crowdfunding it on Kickstarter? So Yuasa teamed up with legendary creator Mamoru Oshii and Production IG to create the animated short Kick-Heart, and asked fans to help fund the project where investors would not (took names, if you will). Three days in, and fans have pledged over $64000 of the $150000 required for the project. I didn’t even have an account on Kickstarter before now, but finally decided to make one specifically so I could fund Kick-Heart and similar projects. And here’s why.
My initial reaction to the Kick-Heart announcement was that I wanted to see it happen because Yuasa was involved. Yuasa is possibly my favorite director in the anime industry today, and I’ve actually said on several occasions that I would personally pay to see him direct another anime. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to make good on that statement, but here’s my chance, right in front of me.
Once the initial excitement wore down, I stepped back and began to realize that this project was important, not just for me as a Yuasa fan, but for the anime industry as a whole.
The most obvious impact this has is the introduction of a new source of funding for independent or unusual animation projects – projects that would otherwise be turned down by a studio for being too risky. In an interview on the Kickstarter site, Yuasa says, “My hope is that investors would pay for what they think is interesting, but they don’t. I think crowd-funding is a great attempt for individuals who want to try to work on these types of projects.” If Kick-Heart succeeds, other creators are sure to follow suit with their own crowd-funding requests, opening the door for other “risky” anime like Yuasa’s that might otherwise have been abandoned in favor of a “safer” choice. Evan Minto at Ani-Gamers puts it quite well:
“In an industry plagued by risk-free remakes and design-by-committee garbage, something like Kick-Heart is a breath of fresh air. A creator had an insane idea, and he wants to make it into a movie — an unthinkable idea in the modern anime landscape. If Kick-Heart succeeds, other studios will surely follow I.G’s example, and we may start to see a renaissance of geniune creativity in anime. Heck, Masao Maruyama (founder of studios Madhouse and MAPPA) might even attempt to crowd-fund Satoshi Kon’s unfinished final film, The Dreaming Machine.”
And let me tell you, if there is anything that raises the possibility of completing The Dreaming Machine, it is a worthwhile cause. If this starts a movement with the potential to “kickstart” the more creative and experimental side of the anime industry as a whole, that’s even better. If I can get a Masaaki Yuasa short in the process, that’s just icing on the cake.
Assuming this type of crowd-sourcing does take off, the more interesting issue is that of a change in anime fans’ involvement in the industry. Currently, the biggest way for a fan to support his or her favorite series is to buy the DVDs and Blu-Rays when they are released. From an industry perspective, this is a large risk, because it can be hard to judge what will sell and what won’t while the show is being considered for creation. Just as there are surprise hits, there are also surprise flops. From a fan perspective, it can be hard to get across to producers what specifically they want to see more of. With the Kick-Heart model, however, studios can have guaranteed monetary input from supportive fans before production on the series is even completed, and fans have a more direct method of supporting the series they want to see. In addition, the fans who funded the project feel that they were more directly involved in the creation of a series, and will be more personally invested in its ultimate success.
Digging even deeper, this model has the potential to increase the involvement of international fans in the anime industry. Buying a DVD in the Western market has nowhere near the impact to producers as importing a DVD from Japan, but the costs of Japanese BD/DVDs are often prohibitively high, shipping makes it even worse, and the media often comes only in raw Japanese, with no English (or other) translation. Kick-Heart’s crowd-funding was opened up to an international audience, and affords non-Japanese fans a significantly more effective way to vote with their wallets (and still get a region-free, subtitled BD and HD digital download out of the deal). With this increased possibility for direct Western funding, Japanese studios may begin to consider this new source of revenue, and try to make more anime that target this large-yet-underrepresented audience.
But what about the movie itself? Well, it’s just the kind of wacked-out crazy idea with a human touch that Yuasa does so well. Kick-Heart is about a wrestler who is secretly masochistic – he wrestles because he enjoys the pain it brings him – who fights a sadistic female wrestler, and what the fight means to each of them. It’s something that only Yuasa could make work, but at the same time it’s something so clearly “Yuasa” that he can’t help but make it work. He really sells the idea in the Kickstarter’s promotional video, and you can tell that he knows exactly where he wants to take this idea and how sincerely he believes in it. It’s that sincerity, that honest passion, that I love so much about Yuasa’s work, and it’s something that the anime industry could always use some more of.
If the funding goes through, the film will be released to supporters in April, and if you’re a fan of Yuasa or unique and creative anime in general, you should totally be one of them.