Netflix just re-released one of the most popular animated television programs of all time — "Neon Genesis Evangelion." The show, which combines dark, complex themes of alienation and loneliness with action-packed battles between robots and monsters, captivated worldwide audiences when it came out in 1995. It introduced an entire generation to Japanese animation, whose high-quality adult themes and unique sensibilities helped redefine Japan's culture in the eyes of the world, supplanting traditional visions of Mount Fuji, geisha and tea ceremonies. But a quarter-century later, Japan is having difficulty transforming its newfound cultural cachet into economic riches.
Yet Japanese pop culture is thriving, with enormous fan conventions all over the world. Thanks to platforms like Crunchyroll (owned by AT&T) and Netflix — which has licensed many TV programs from Japan, as well as ordering its own originals from Japanese studios — overseas sales have been increasing rapidly, with cartoons making up the bulk.
This is progress, but the Japanese entertainment industry could do much more. As things stand, the profits from platform distribution flow to AT&T and Netflix. If a Japanese company bought Crunchyroll or started its own worldwide streaming distribution service, those profits would go to Japan instead. Japan also has so far failed to make an internationally successful live-action movie business, despite possessing the technology to make cutting-edge visual effects that could rival Hollywood.