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The anime industry readies for another gold rush

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

If you didn’t already know that the anime industry was in the middle of a boom, a quick look around the trade fair AnimeJapan would give you a pretty good indication.

The annual event, held for its fifth time last week, was full of new players — from streaming giant Netflix, who recently jumped head-first into anime production, to new studios funded by sources as diverse as Japanese electronic commerce giant DMM (DMM Pictures) and a foundation created by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Manga Productions).

The four-day event, which took place at Tokyo Big Sight, featured all the usual trade show staples: flashy booths, costumed women handing out flyers and business seminars held in side rooms. In one such seminar, Hiromichi Masuda from the Association of Japanese Animations described the current excitement as the “third anime boom,” following “Tetsuwan Atom” (known abroad as “Astro Boy”) in the 1960s and “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” “Pokemon” and “Princess Mononoke” in the mid-to-late ’90s.

Masuda, who specializes in analyzing the industry through big data, explained that several major sectors of the market, including streaming, international and box office, hit their best numbers ever in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. One market that is not doing well: home video sales, which peaked in 2005.

“There are now more ways for fans to enjoy anime,” said Masuda, with many favoring “live experiences” over physical products. In fact, he has recently starting tracking a new category called “live,” incorporating concerts and events, and predicts its expansion.

There’s no better example of that trend than AnimeJapan itself, which brought in a reported 152,331 attendees. The event bills itself as “the biggest anime event in the world,” and while that claim probably only works because larger anime and manga event Comic Market is ostensibly centered around, well, comics, more than 150,000 after only five years is nothing to sneeze at.

Of course, it’s not exactly a fair comparison. AnimeJapan, born in 2014 as a fusion of rival events Tokyo International Anime Fair and Anime Contents Expo, is, unlike the fan-created Comic Market, a top-down, corporate trade show.

Still, these days it can be hard to tell the difference. Industry booths have become a major part of Comic Market (not unlike San Diego Comic-Con, an organic fan event largely co-opted by film studios), and the corporate AnimeJapan includes elements that appeal to fans, not just businesspeople, including special areas for cosplay and families with children.

Cosplay is a particularly big draw to these events. One cosplayer, American Reyshawna Markette, praised AnimeJapan as “much better” than conventions she has attended in the United States.

“They’re way more organized about where they’re going to put people,” she said.

Hosting a number of new companies hungry to get in on the market, and serving as a sign that live events are an increasingly large part of that market, this year’s AnimeJapan almost felt like a microcosm of the state of the anime industry in 2018.