5 Things To Know About Licensing Companies

Want to know what makes me just face palm every time I see or hear about it? People who don't quite understand how licensing companies seem to work. I'm not just referring to the ones in North America either, because I'm sure similar occurrences have happened to ones in the UK and Australia. It seems that people misunderstand that a licensing company equals an animation studio which is not the case AT ALL. Granted, I'm sure many other people know this, but for the ones who don't, I decided to put those silly mistakes to rest by talking about it today. After searching the dark corners of the otaku world, I've got some of the most common mistakes and misunderstandings that I and others have seen quite often and have managed to narrow it down to the five big ones.

1. Licensing companies DO NOT produce anime.

You would think this is a no brainer for some, but it seems for others it's not. Especially when I see things like this on FUNimation's forums:

This first point is probably the most frustrating I've ever come across. Let's get one thing straight... Licensing companies in no way actually make anime series. There are very rare exceptions, but even then it's not even a full production from the company in question. The largest example I can come up with here is Mass Effect: Paragon Lost, a joint effort between North American licensor FUNimation Entertainment and Japanese animation studio Production I.G. No matter how many times you ask for a third season of Rosario + Vampire, I hate to say it, but it will never happen. It's up to the Japanese animation houses to decide on that, and, even then, there's no guarantee that a licensing company will even pick it up once it's made. First and foremost, the Japanese company has to produce products that will sell well with their audiences. It's why, for example, One Piece has, and probably will, continue on forever and ever. Meanwhile, Toriko, another shonen series, ended after 147 episodes because it didn't do well in Japan. Hell, going back to Rosario + Vampire for a minute, the second season did so badly in Japan that it almost put it's animation house Gonzo out of business! Hence why you will probably never ever see a third season.

Sure, to those new to the world of anime, it's an easy mistake to make. You buy anime from the companies you find in your region so they automatically have to be the ones making those series. That's a little forgivable. What's not forgivable are the people who are a bit more of hardcore fans that still believe this. That's the part that annoys me. You've been a fan for a long time, and yet you still don't realize this? Either you're being a complete troll when you say things like the above comment or you have yet to do your research. Believe me, it's not that hard. Just look up a series and you'll see which studio it came from and who has the license.

And another thing, while you beg for that third season of Rosario + Vampire and ask FUNimation to make it, they can't. Not only are they not an animation studio, they don't have influence over the Japanese studios as to what they should make. It's not that simple like an email asking them to make it. Once again, it's all up to how well it does in Japan. Sales from other regions may have an effect on an animation studio's decision to make another season, however that only goes so far. Just, please, do us all a favor and stop demanding licensing companies to make anime series. That's not their job and they have very little influence over their Japanese studio counterparts in that department.

2. Broadcast materials DO NOT equal a final product, YES companies make mistakes.

Another no brainer, but considering recent events and controversies surrounding broadcast materials, I felt it was a good idea that we chat about it. Because simulcasting new anime series as they air is a very popular means of people seeing fresh stuff from Japan, that doesn't mean it's a final full product. In other words, what we see while we follow a new simulcast is what people in Japan see on TV as the show airs. What seems to be the misunderstanding here is the expectation of the simulcast being that final product, which is far from the truth. Japan is known for producing these series even as they air, so, for example, let's say you're watching the first episode of a brand new anime that's on TV. Meanwhile, the animation studio may be working on the final touches for the third or maybe even fourth episode! If you would like to see an example of this, in anime form, then see the recent Shirobako as it does portray the anime industry rather well even if it is a slightly more dramatized narrative.

With this point comes some interesting controversy as it seems that the number one complaint is the use of censor ship in a series and especially with it's broadcast materials. Two more recent examples of this that have been brought up quite a bit are Tokyo Ghoul and Terra Formars. The thing you need to remember here is that this is being broadcast on television.... There are things that are not ok for television. Just because Japan comes up with the weirdest and craziest of things doesn't mean that they can show every little bit of that insanity on TV. Sure, there are some series that use censorship tactics as creatively as humanly possible in order to keep as much of the visuals intact, a la Tokyo Ghoul, but then you have others that will.... How should I put this.... Just use cheap methods in order to censor their broadcast materials. So much so that, in Terra Formars's case, become a rather well known internet meme that just totally trashes the series instead.

Something that good old Jonathan even used when talking
about the show back in the summer.
Once the series has completed it's run, that's when action takes place in order to prep for a home video release (some times even while the series is still airing). Animation companies can then take the time they need to make any necessary changes from the original materials which can include removing censorship and even revising scenes and episodes for many reasons such as animation quality and even dialogue. Remember Madoka Magica having some press about it's Blu-Ray materials? This is why.

Licensing companies will then take these new materials and use them for home video release as well as replace their old broadcast materials on their sites in order to give everyone a chance to see them through online streaming. There are some rare cases where a licensing company makes the mistake of selling home video releases that use the broadcast materials rather than the home video masters that Japan uses, with one case in particular having come up in the past few years.

curtsey of FUNimation Entertainment

Yes, I have to bring this up since it is one of those instances where there's a mixup regarding broadcast materials. Licensing companies are people too, and there are times where miscommunication occurs and slight oversight, which is the result we received for the Sankarea release problems. Because it was pointed out to them that it wasn't the home video masters, FUNimation had to recall the units that were previously sold during the latter half of 2013, and they actually just released the new uncensored version this year.

Speaking of FUNimation, I want to touch upon their Broadcast Dub initiative to quickly explain it. This is the exact same idea with the broadcast and home video materials. In order for the company to get english dubs to their loyal fans out there much faster, they are dubbing series and using the materials they initially receive from Japan. Again, this doesn't mean it's a final dub because once the home video masters are received, then there may be a need to redub parts of it or even dub new scenes that weren't previously there to begin with.

3. There is a process in choosing anime acquisitions.

This one is a little more complicated than the previous ones, and I myself still try to figure it out. I'm going to do the best I can here, because there are times where fans really hope a licensing company picks up a series but they don't or, in the case of license rescuing, we wait for years until a series is available in other regions once more. Believe me, I've been waiting on someone to rescue Paranoia Agent; so I understand. There are a good amount of factors that come into play when a licensing company picks and chooses their acquisitions both for new and older series.

For the new series that haven't been released yet, this is a tough call. If it's a sequel season or a spin off of sorts, it's not hard to be picked up by the company that currently has the previous season. However, there are some exceptions to this. One, in recent memory, being Aniplex's acquisition of Mushi-Shi's second season rather than FUNimation. The main reason for this is because of, once again, poor sales of season one. The first season was even sent to FUNi's SAVE label (which I'll explain more about in my fourth point) because of it. It is humanly possible for sequel anime to end up in different hands than the first did. As much as we don't want that to happen, it does.

As for brand new anime series that companies pick up for licensing, it's almost like viewers who go into watching a show nearly blind. It really is! Prior to the start of a new season of anime, licensing companies will get the chance to look into what new series will be premiering in Japan and, based off of different criteria, they determine which ones to pursue for licensing. Some of the pieces that they may look into can include the Studio involved, who's directing the series, some of the voice acting talent, and even small clips and trailers for the shows. Based on what they can see and find out about these upcoming products, the licensing companies can find the best way to market them to their customers in their respective regions.

Licensing companies have to do much more digging when a previously unlicensed series or a possible license rescue is involved. In terms of license rescues, during my first Sentai Filmworks panel at Anime Boston a few years ago, I asked about the possibility of them picking up Higurashi and Umineko. I was told that they are constantly looking into shows to acquire with some of their criteria including things such as previous sales, fan demand, and even testing the waters to see if there's a need for a certain series. What I mean by the last point is if the product is able to sell well. I know I sound like a broken record by now, but you're going to keep seeing me say the word "sales" quite a lot here. Licensing companies are still businesses, after all.

A similar process can more than likely be said for previously unlicensed series. Until 2014 passed by, the 2007 series Bokurano had gone completely unlicensed. Luckily, Discotek Media was nice enough to pick up the series this past year, and with a release date of March 2015. Even series that just finished airing or were still airing can be picked up for licensing. For example, Sentai Filmworks just picked up Amagi Brilliant Park a couple weeks ago and it finished airing in December 2014. Then there's Parastye which Sentai picked up prior to the series's completion and Crunchyroll's addition of Magic Kaito 1412 to their streaming services prior to January 2015.

Believe me, there's a method to a company's madness of picking out their licenses. They want to cater to their fans, but they also need to consider what series will help keep them in business. From there, they have to strategize and market their products to the fullest extent in order to hook the consumer into buying or, at the very least, into watching them. I know it's easy to get mad when a certain company doesn't pick up something you want, but it's not because they hate you... Well... I think Aniplex hates everyone, but that's just my opinion.

4. Why some releases are much more expensive than others.

Now here's something that everyone can understand and get upset about. Because a good amount of people who buy anime typically don't have a lot of income of their own, the price of a release is always important to them. I'm one of those pains in the butts that is picky about this kind of thing, always looking at sales on many sites in order to find the best deal. There are ones that are much more expensive than others, of course, but there are ones that are for a reasonable price. I think it's best to try and explain some of the more common release types, though, for a better understanding. This is just based on the releases from North American companies, but I can imagine other regions are fairly similar.

Obviously the premium packages are among the most expensive. This can include some of the new premium releases like Attack on Titan, Space Dandy, and Kamisama Kiss from FUNimation which includes plenty of extras and little in package items to go with it. Then there's Aniplex of America who will charge an arm and a leg for their sets. Sets that, during the initial release, only include four episodes. Let's take Kill La Kill's release as an example. There are five sets, each with four episodes and there are two versions of this: the standard DVD set and the Blu-Ray set. While the DVD set doesn't include any extras outside of textless themes and web previews, these will run almost $40 a piece at retail value totaling at about $200 for all five. Then you look at the Blu-Ray sets as each one has extras including features, CDs, posters, little postcards, etc. Each one of those sets will cost you about $75 at retail price and totaling around $375 for all of them. This isn't uncommon for Aniplex as they tend to do this with many of their releases though some of them are full season sets that just have the Japanese track... and no special extras.... Thanks for that with Silver Spoon.... You're real awesome, Aniplex....

To give you a comparison with one of FUNimation's premium sets, let's look at Kamisama Kiss. This single set includes all 13 episodes as a combo pack (DVD and Blu-Ray), includes textless themes and commentaries, etc. But then this one also includes the following, "This Goddess Edition premium box set is limited to 2,500 copies, and includes Nanami's ornamental hair stick, a folding fan, a tote bag, a Tomoe Omamuri lucky amulet, and seven postcards, all housed in an exclusive art box!" This according to RightStuf. The retail price for this set is about $130. Meanwhile, there are other premium sets FUNi has, in limited quantities, that are exclusive to their site alone! Attack on Titan and the recent rerelease of Cowboy Bebop being a couple examples. With the amount of extras both Kill La Kill and Kamisama Kiss have, the prices make sense here, even though I still rage over Aniplex like many others.

FUNi is actually fairly new to the premium set game compared to Aniplex, oddly enough, so that means I can talk about their other releases along with Sentai Filmworks and Viz Media since they are much more similar to each other. For FUNi, there are two standard versions of their initial releases as of now, the Limited Edition and the non Limited Edition. Really, that's the only way to describe them because the main difference is that there's a chipboard box involved in one. Both are combo packs making the prices fairly expensive with the Limited Editions running an average of $70 at retail and the regular editions at $65 retail. Not much difference there. There are some exceptions to this if the Limited Edition does have some kind of nice little extra attached to them. Viz Media typically has their standard sets and their Blu-Ray sets as well, however they are creating nicer sets... Mostly because Sailor Moon is their larger property at the moment. Sentai Filmworks is a bit of a different animal because of their overall process of what to release and what format should it be released as. Nine times out of ten, if you purchase a DVD set from Sentai, there is no dub attached to it. Meanwhile, nine times out of ten, if you buy a Blu-Ray set, there's a dub attached. From personal experience, I own five DVD sets, with most of them having a dub attached to them since they also have a Blu-Ray version. It may be weird and confusing, but that's how Sentai tends to operate most of the time, however, they are beginning to make premium sets as well as of this year and they are trying to put more of their series, without dubs, on Blu-Ray for those to enjoy. A company can change with the times, folks. You have to in order to stay a float here.

I'm sure I'm not the only one that gets confused or even irritated at how FUNimation's Classics and SAVE labels work. I mean, some of the series on the Classics line are no brainers since Baccano, Black Butler, and Ouran High School Host Club among others. But, there are those that make the Classics label that kinda irritate me.... Like, for example, Master of Martial Hearts. Meanwhile, while the SAVE label has some decent shows, it does have some really good shows that end up on here. Michiko & Hatchin and Princess Jellyfish are a couple that ended up here even though they are great series! Sadly, this, once more, goes back to sales. If a series sold really well, then it's a good bet that they'll end up on FUNi's Classics label eventually while series with poor sales end up on the SAVE label. There are some exceptions to this, as Hellsing, Haibane Renmei, and Texhnolyze were initially released on the Classics label after being rescued. While Anime Classics range in price from $35 to $55 in retail value, the SAVE Editions can range from $20 to $30 retail depending mostly on the amount of episodes in the series or the quality of the series itself.

5. There is a reason for lack of dubbed episodes for certain properties.

Most people know the acquisitions companies have rather well, but there are others who ask why certain properties are not dubbed after a certain point. Some of the most common ones, that I notice, include Case Closed, Sgt Frog, D-Grayman, and (once again) Toriko. This goes back to the first point in this article, sales. All of these examples did not sell well in other regions to the point where it became pointless for licensing companies to continue their dubbing. Believe it or not, it does cost money to produce dubs and if a product, particularly a long running one, is not selling well, then the company is just losing money by producing more dub episodes.

As sad as this may be (believe me, I love Sgt Frog so I understand), there are some factors in play here. While the lack of sales has a lot to do with it, there's also the problem of piracy and illegal downloading of anime and manga. I had heard a story from a friend, one time, about a convention panel where someone asked about when more Sgt Frog was to be released so he can download them. Someone on the panel, I believe a voice actor involved in the project, became so upset by this that he told the person that they can't make anymore dub episodes because of people like this curious mind who goes through illegal means rather than supporting the industry and buying it. This then ties back into lack of sales which, in turn, results in canceling production of a dub.

Licensing companies love what they do and want to get their loyal customers the kinds of products they want, but there are instances where it is completely out of their control and it's up to the hands of the consumer in order for the companies to continue their work and keep the cycle from dying out. This is why I, myself, have been striving to support the industry that feeds my little hobby. I used to pirate series a while ago, and, even though I still for the unlicensed ones, I now avoid it as much as possible. I have a Crunchyroll account (though not premium as of now), an Elite Subscription to FUNimation's site, and I buy home video releases as often as I can. By doing this, I can help keep the possibility of dub production alive and well, even though there is a chance of it still turning out poor sales that can result in canceled production. Not only that, but for series that Sentai Filmworks and Aniplex license, I can help them determine which series they should create dubs for. It's a risk, yes, but I think it's worth it.

I hope this cleared up at least some of the mistakes and misunderstandings that some people still have about licensing companies and their methods. At the end of the day, licensing companies are still businesses and they have to do what they can in order to remain open and provide us otaku with our wonderful anime series. If I have crushed your image of a licensing company with this article, I would apologize, but I won't. It's a subject that's rarely talked about outside of industry panels at conventions, so someone needs to set the record straight even though I may not be 100% accurate on some points. Coming from experience and asking questions at industry panels, this is just what I had learned along the way and I hope this article makes things a little more clear for you. But, if I am wrong about something, feel free to tell me because I would not only love to be as accurate as possible, but I would also love to learn about the business side of licensing! It's just how my mind works.


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