New Media Economy, Supporting Lesbian Works & Crowdfunding Classic Yuri Anime

UPDATE: Now 166 backers, $10,140 funded of $13,000; 78% funded, 22% to go with 9 days remaining.

What in the Sam Hill is "Yuri Anime", and what in the Sam Hill does it have to do with supporting Lesbian works?

Erica Friedman at Yuricon starts out an explanation of the term "yuri" by writing:

The term Yuri (百合) is used to refer to stories that contain romantic or sexual relationships between girls or women or, sometimes more generally, stories with a lesbian character.

Yuri is not a dominant niche in Japanese manga (ie, serialized graphic novels), but it does hold a place in the market, and sometimes this shows up in anime that are based on either a yuri manga, or a manga with a yuri side-stream.

Now, manga and anime are commercial media, and so Sturgeon's Law applies: 90% of everything is crud. Indeed, we might say that what makes somebody a "fan" of a genre is an appreciation of not just the 10% of the genre that is good, but an appreciation of some of the 90% that is crud.

Every genre has its history. From what I understand, part of the history of yuri is the "tragic lesbian". And the "Tragic Lesbian" features strongly in "Oniisama E", aka Dear Brother, originally created as a manga by the manga-ka (manga artists) Riyoka Ikeda in 1975, and made into an anime by Tezuka Productions in 1991.

Now, I'm not a media reviewer, and you can read Okazu non-review for a non-review or skim the Wikipedia Oniisama_e... page if you need an extended introduction to this melodrama.

However, if you reside in North America, you can, instead, stream it starting with Episode One: The Magnificant One as Nanako Misonoo, a first year student, starts her life in High School and encounters the "stars" of the school, "Hana no Sainte-Juste (Rei), Kaoru-no-kimi (Kaoru), and Miya-sama (Fukiko)" (according to the Wikipedia machine ~ I want to avoid charges of plagiarizing from Wikipedia).

Now, to see that free stream, you'll have to sign up for a membership at the site,
That is not a bootleg stream: that is a legitimate stream under permission of the rights owner.

But, how can a more than twenty-year-old anime series that has never had an English license be available with a legitimate, free streaming?

Well, that is a story about what the site is, and what its trying to accomplish.

AnimeSols: Experimenting With Crowdfunding to Make A Niche Available

I've discussed AnimeSols in Experiments in a new media economy, from 27 May, 2013, under the heading, Trying to Make Unlicensable Classics Licensable.:

Sam Pinansky had a different objective in mind. Sam Pinansky has established a career in Japan as a translator, among other things. Sam studied as a research physicist, and originally got his start translating as a member of a fansub group. After finishing a post-doc in Japan, he was able to stay in Japan by making the leap into professional translating, which has included translating subtitles for the new legitimate streaming.

Sam has been thinking for a while about the challenge of releasing series that are impossible to release under the normal rules of the game. These are classic anime, from the 70's and 80's (and maybe someday 90's and Noughties) which were never licensed for overseas release. They have no official English subtitles or dubs available. They were originally released before fansubs were commonplace, so they had little profile or exposure in the West. Based on the audiences attracted by streaming release of anime of similar vintage, getting finance for a simulcast would be challenging.

So what Sam has done is to establish a partnership with the original Japanese rights owners to support them offering a combination streaming site and crowdfunded finance site, AnimeSols. Rather than the "pledge whatever level" system of Kickstarter with special benefits tied to passing certain thresholds, the AnimeSols crowdfunding system is based on specific pledge levels for specific benefits.

Of the first wave of series made available for crowdfunding, two were successful: Creamy Mami, a foundation "Magical Girl" anime, and Black Jack TV, the Physician and Surgeon with mad skills and a tragic past who has had his license revoked.

Dear Brother was picked up to get its chance to have a release funded in the second wave of series, after the first 13-episodes sets of Creamy Mami and Black Jack TV were successfully crowdfunded. And looking at the progress of Dear Brother gives some idea why this Crowdfunding plus Free Streaming has a chance to allow series to be released that would be unlikely to ever gain a conventional home video release.

The Economics of Crowdfunding A Niche Home Video Release

The lowest cost conventional release for an anime series is a box set with the original Japanese video and audio, and overlaid English subtitles. A modest subtitle-only release that sells 3,000 copies is a moderately successful release. A release with an English dubbed audio track will be accessible to a wider audience, but the cost of an English dub adds substantially to the production cost: as described by long-time Western anime industry insider Justin Sevakis at AnimeNewsNewtwork:

Just like the production of the show itself, paying a license fee up front is basically a bet: essentially the distributor is wagering that they can sell enough copies to recoup that license fee. And in fact, until they do, they don't have to pay anything more to the licensor. That's why it's called a "minimum guarantee" -- it's the minimum amount that they would be on the hook for a given series. In the event the show makes money, the licensors get a royalty after that -- typically 20-30%.

And so, for the first few thousand copies sold, money from a DVD doesn't go directly to the producers of the show, but instead goes towards refilling what the distributor already paid for it, as well as their production costs (which can range from a few hundred dollars for a barebones subtitled DVD, to over US$10,000 per episode to produce a dubbed Blu-ray.) Every show that never recoups its money makes it harder for them to pay the MG for the next series.

And at present, with 10 days remaining as I write, 162 people have pledged to support Dear Brother.

Even if a conventional distributor could be confident that three times as many people would ultimately buy the box set, that's only about 500 sales ... far short of the 3,000 or so that makes for a moderately successful budget subscription-only release.

And yet, Dear Brother has already come around the back stretch and has entered the home straight, with a very real chance of getting funded.

How does that work?

AnimeSols establishes a budget required to license a show for home video release in North America, based on a production run of 1,000 box sets. 1,000 sets is the minimum sized order for reasonable scale economies. For Dear Brother, the budget is $13,000 for a 13-episode set. The basic unit is 13-episodes because, unlike US TV, each Japanese TV broadcast season is 13 weeks long, corresponding to an actual season, and a complete series may be from one season long to several years long. Dear Brother is 39 episodes long ~ 3 "broadcast seasons" ~ but the crowdfunding is working on the more manageable single season at a time.

Each week during its pledge drive, a new episode of Dear Brother has been streaming at the AnimeSols site. This is one thing that sets AnimeSols apart from Kickstarter for crowdfunding: there is a reason to come back to the site each week independent of checking up on the progress toward the goal, and something to share with others other than just an appeal to support the project with a pledge.

Dear Brother is already up to Episode 12, and next week is episode 13 with the season climax ... and shortly after that is the funding deadline to get the first season funded.

Now, each person pledging has a range of levels that they can pledge at. At $5 you get a sticker. At $10 you get that plus a digital wallpaper plus a copy of Astro Boy magazine (Astro Boy is from the same studio as Dear Brother). At $30 you get that plus the boxset of the work. At $60 you get that plus a storyboard from the work. At $90 you get that plus your name in the DVD. And there is a 140 pledge level and a $250 pledge level.

While the "order price" for a boxset is $30, the 162 people pledging support have pledged a total of $9770 (when I last checked), which is 75%+ of the funding goal of $13,000. That is an average pledge of $60.

$30 for a 13-episode boxset is $2.30 per episode, which is around what one would expect to pay for a budget sub-only anime release. For example, the budget release of the first season of the Maria-sama ga Miteru yuri anime from Nozomi (the home video arm of the anime and manga distributor RightStuf)) has a List Price of $40 for 13-episode, but is sold online from RightStuf for $30.

Because of the smaller market, one would expect to have to pay more for a series that is pretty much a micro-niche, being at the intersection of the "Classic Anime" niche market and the "Yuri Anime" niche market ... and with the pledge system, you can pledge to pay more, and many supporters do pledge to pay more ... but you don't have to.

In What Way Is This Supporting Lesbian Work?

So, in what way is pledging to support Dear Brother an action in support of "Lesbian Works"? And why did I just put the phrase in self-conscious quotes?

I don't know for sure that it is. I'm a straight guy, and I like yuri anime of the romantic / melodramatic variety because it does not have the male "insert" protagonist that infests much of anime. That is the clumsy, inarticulate, close to personality free, normally teenage boy that seems to be there to allow a teen or young adult male viewer to identify with the protagonist, sometimes fantasize about being in the protagaonist's shoes, while also feeling a bit to a lot superior to the protagonist. As I am neither teen nor young adult, whatever internal psychological buttons there may have been for that kind of insert character to push have clearly worn down decades ago, if they were there in the first place. So I like cheering for Nanako Misonoo to succeed in her various High School trials and tribulations without having the plotting, characterization and direction hitting me over the head to identify with the character.

Some yuri manga and anime clearly qualify as Lesbian Works, so that supporting them clearly qualifies as "Supporting Lesbian Works" ... some yuri manga and anime is directed to excite teenage boys (of a variety of ages) with the idea of Hawt Lezbyan Sex.

I am not expert on it, but it seems to me that if Dear Brother is not a "Lesbian Work" as such, it is an important antecedent to the side of yuri manga and anime that has been featuring Lesbian Works with increasing regularity. As such, those who are interested in yuri as a genre that at times includes Lesbian Works.

So I'm not actually going to advance the claim that supporting the Dear Brother crowdfunding effort is one way to support the production of Lesbian Works.

I'm just going to point out that its possible that some people might see it that way ...

... and point out that there is 10 days and counting (at the time of writing), in order for the project to make the final 25% (at the time of writing) of its $13,000 budget, so if you are considering supporting it on those ground, because you like all-girls-school melodrama, or as a tribute to the work of manga-ka Riyoka Ikeda, or the legacy of manga-ka and anime creator Osama Tezuka ...

... the clock is ticking.

Avenues of Support

If you do wish to support the series, bear in mind that given the set-up of AnimeSols, there are multiple avenues of support:

  • You can of course make a pledge for the series and encourage those in your social circles to do so;
  • You can also encourage people to watch the series, using the AnimeSols link to start with Episode 1, which is quite compact and suitable for tweeting directly, promoting on Facebook, etc.;
  • If you have a mind to, you could even write a blog essay about the series




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Great informative piece, BruceMcF

priceman's picture

The model at looks promising. I'm all about niche these days(why I like independent comic books more than Superhoes no etc.), though I do like a lot of mainstream stuff too. The economics of a crowdfunding a niche home video release is an interesting dynamic in there has to be the audience there to make up the costs of a dubbed feature etc. That certainly explains why the option isn't always there.

I don't mind subtitles and in anime Japanese(sometimes I prefer it), but to me, the metric is that the voice acting has to be good. A lot of the time, sad to say, the voice acting is just better when it comes to dubbed features(in an obvious way too, as sometimes guys do girl voices and girls do guy voices which can work, but rarely in my experience as a viewer). It may be unfair given that houses in the US have more resources for that sort of thing, sometimes, at A.D. Vision, that was stationed here in Houston, until it was sadly liquidated and sold off. But places like Funimation(I am a BDZ fan) and TokyoPop do an excellent job on that front. 

Now is definitely the time to direct attention to creative lesbian work in general. The french film based on the French graphic novel Blue Is the Warmest Colour, despite the controversy, did very well.

Anyway, there needs to be focus on different types of stories with regard to lesbian creative works, among other niches, and I am glad gives people an option and creators of important series people need more access to, because there are all kinds of people, a way to do what they love to do. Because that's what life is about in the end. Direct distribution seems to be picking up steam. Louise C.K actually tried it for his comedy forgoing major distributors, and it worked out. Of course he is already established, but it does get play and lets people know there is another way. I think there is hope in that for all genres and mediums.

Anyway, it's good to get away from what is called the dismal science once in awhile, and even more dismal poltics in effect. Thanks, BruceMcF!

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You're more than welcome.

BruceMcF's picture

Its still early days to say whether the AnimeSols model will establish itself, but then again that's what makes it an interesting case to follow ~ the fact that its trying something new enough that the level of success that it may be able to achieve is genuinely uncertain.

I would say regarding the quality of voice acting that one of the reasons I tend to prefer subtitles Japanese anime to dubbed is that the voice acting is often superior. That is, when the Japanese studios dub it in Japanese, they do it Radio-Theater style (generally with four mikes, so a bit of a dance to get to the mike when there are more than four speaking roles in a scene), which to my ear gives a more natural effect than the individual voice actor in a studio with the dubbing directory giving the line to a three beep and silent four count.

That's not universal, mind ~ Cowboy Bebop is an example of a series with a well acted English track.

Crunchyroll has just launched their manga service, starting with 12 titles (over thirty chapters per month, in addition to back chapters in the series where licensing allows that, since 7 of the titles are weekly), but they started up the process with "Artist Alley", a comics reader for mostly US-based independent titles, and while the main appeal in their comics side will be the manga, the attention that the manga attracts will also likely spill over to a certain extent to Artist Alley. (And what a coincidence, there is even a work in Artist Alley called Midnight Oil.)

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Ahh, yeah. We will have to see what's to come of it.

priceman's picture

It is still the early days.

Ahh, yeah, I have seen both badly and well acted series in Japanese and English. I haven't seen as many of the genres in your set, so that may be why my experience maybe tends more towards the dubbed being the better acted ones, whether we are talking about Cowboy Bebop (Steven Blum is Spike and no one else. He is that good and that series is my favorite of all time, though I will watch anything Shinichiro Watanabe directs and I love Blum in Samurai Champloo, too. Not to mention Watanabe and Yoko Kanno performing and directing some of the best music in anime for both dubbed and subtitled). I guess in my somewhat limited experience(there's so much out there so it has to be somewhat limited even though I have seen quite a bit), my compliant has less to do with the sound itself and the process then the casting of who is doing the voices and their performance, at times, like say with DBZ which just doesn't work for me.

However, if you ever saw Record of the Lodoss War which is a Medieval series that is good, both subtitled and dubbed versions are excellent and well acted in my experience. However, I like Japanese movies too and really can't stand dubbed. So it's basically just a metric as to regard to both being whether the actors themselves are good or not or properly cast for the roles as to what I prefer which goes both ways.

Wow, Crunchyroll looks like a good setup. Artists's alley is a great name, patterned after the place comic book creators go at Comicon. And Midnight Oil manga FTW!!

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Yeah, I shy away from long running shonen series ...

BruceMcF's picture

... like DragonBall Z (or as they would call it in Oz, "Dragonball Zed") ... I tend to watch current simulcasts, like The Eccentric Family (Summer 2013, 13 episodes), From the New World (Fall 2012/Winter 2013, 25 episodes), Humanity Has Decline (Summer 2013, 12 episodes) and Bodacious Space Pirates (Winter/Spring 2012, 26 episodes). I've always watched some longer ones, though normally because I started them before they got that long, like Chihaya Furu had a first series with 25 episodes Fall 2011/Winter 2012, and then a second series with 25 episodes Winter/Spring 2013, or Space Brothers, which started in Spring 2012 and has been running since, up to 82 episodes by now.

But my main experience with hybrid releases was before I started watching current simulcasts, when I was renting Netflix DVD's ~ on a three disc rental, typically with one in my portable DVD player, one on the way back, and one on the way to me. Most of the series were hybrid releases from the anime bubble years when almost everything was dubbed, and most of the dubs left me flat. But:

  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Baccano
  • Black Lagoon
  • Ghost in the Shell

... are all series where the dubs are as good or better.

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I understand. Not for everyone

priceman's picture

though I love it. I got my fill for free on Toonami on cartoon network where they played the whole thing. I don't like many others in the same genre, except for Rurouni Kenshin which also played on the network. Naruto I could care less about and Inuyasha is the worst. Those you listed look interesting. They all have good reviews which is cool, because per the diary and more wasted VHS $ back in the day then I care to admit, Sturgeon's Law does apply. However, that 10 percent is the shit and worth it.

Yeah, like I said, I like both and it depends on the casting and individual acting though there was a lot of crappy dubbed as well as good dubbed back in the day during the bubble, so I understand. Shinichiro Watanabe is tops in producing both. I got to meet him when he came to Houston. I was happy that TX was a big inspiration for Bebop.

Ghost in the Shell is also excellent like Cowboy Bebop in music, writing, and dubbed voice acting. The subtitles are good too peer your list. GITS: SAC is my fav of that series and gets a lot of the geo politics in all aspects correct(almost prophetic now). On that front I would recommend on more series dubbed, mainly because it has the same actors voicing some of the chapters as the Matrix series and that is the Animatrix. All of my favorite anime directors direct each of the chapters. I gotta check out Baccano and Black Lagoon.

Anyway, subtitled or dubbed, I like good stories, animation, voice acting, and sound as well as good comics and manga. I could probably go on, but I got a lot of good info from this diary. This is already very much more lively than the GOS and will hopefully be informing for others interested.

Thanks again, man. I will check some of these series out.

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Of those, ...

BruceMcF's picture

... From the New World, Humanity Has Declined, Bodacious Space Pirates and Eccentric Family has been licensed by Sentai, but as far as I know From the New World and Eccentric Family has not yet been release (Eccentric Family was only announced as licensed by Sentai for home video release this month).

The Anime Network shows Sentai titles on the Video on Demand cable channel, while Section23 distributes the home video. Unlike Funimation, they kind of license first and decide whether or not to dub later ... Bodacious Space Pirates was dubbed for Video On Demand cable by TheAnimeNetwork and home video distribution by Section23. Humanity Has Declined was released sub-only.

Most of the yuri anime that has been released has been released for home video has been released sub-only, given its niche market. However, in addition to Maria-sama ga Miteru, linked to above, Nozomi has also re-released the critically acclaimed Revolutionary Girl Utena, which was dubbed in its original release, so Nozomi was able to include the dub.

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