Kemono Friends went from afterthought to surprise hit of 2017. Yet, as Krystallina writes, it's future is up in the air.
How important is the staff of an anime to you? For many viewers, they may recognize some of the voice cast, the studio, and maybe the director. But if a different team took over the second season of a series you liked, would that be enough to cause you to drop it? Or would you only stop watching if you felt like the production committee did not handle its firing well?
By now, most anime fans are probably aware of the Kemono Friends controversy. It’s a rather long, complicated story. One summary of the situation is here, but for those who missed it, here goes.
Kemono Friends started as a joint multimedia project about anthropomorphic girls in a zoo. Mine Yoshizaki, of Sgt. Frog fame, did the character designs, and a mobile game and manga were produced in mid-2015.
In January 2017, an anime directed by Tatsuki of studio Yaoyorozu began airing on Japanese television and simulcasted by Crunchyroll around the globe. Kemono Friends is unusual for an anime since it is done in 3D CGI, but the series turned out to be a breakout hit. News of a penguin falling in love with a cutout standee of one of its characters also attracted a lot of attention.
Considering Kemono Friends was so popular that preorders had to be put on backorder, a second season seemed to be a forgone conclusion. Unfortunately, that’s were things get complicated.
Several Kemono Friends shorts were produced after the first season concluded, including a short that was uploaded to NicoNico and an ad for Nissin noodles. Tatsuki then announced in September 2017 that he was not asked back for the next season by Kadokawa, the publisher of the manga and a leading company on the production committee. Kadokawa accused Tatsuki of producing these works without permission, essentially accusing him of copyright infringement. Yaoyorozu disagrees, saying they had permission, and Nissin also seemed to back up Yaoyorozu’s assertion that these shorts were made legally. Some people felt like Kadokawa was hiding behind the voice actresses to cover their abrupt and vague reasons (“communication issues“) for firing Tatsuki, and although Kadokawa and Yaoyorozu tried to negotiate, the studio will not make any more Kemono Friends. In fact, it is rumored that Sunrise (known for Gundam and other anime) has been offered the series.
First, Japan is somehow both less restrictive and more restrictive when it comes to copyright infringement. All anime and manga fans are familiar with the “MgRonalds” or the “Doraxxxmon”-type avoidances. In the United States, while there are people who are hired just to watch for any random product placements, no author would get in trouble for saying their characters went to McDonald’s. However, even though artist alleys are available at most fan conventions, America doesn’t have the underground doujin market that Japan has. Producing doujin of copyrighted works is illegal, but almost all the major publishers turn the other way — and instead they often go there to scout for new talent.
With that in mind, let’s look at the two versions…
Scenario A: Kadokawa’s version is accurate
A small animation studio finds itself with a major moneymaker on its hands. Kemono Friends‘ popularity goes to the staffs’ heads, and the director starts to make deals with other companies to release more shorts. He even releases a doujinshi, and he won’t take his professional fanworks down.
First, as the larger corporation, Kadokawa should have had a contract that specified that all future animations must have the explicit written consent from Kadokawa. (If and when until Kadokawa no longer has rights, yada yada.) And if Tatsuki was spearheading several unofficial projects, then ads with the Japanese Racing Association should have pulled immediately when the teaser site went live. As soon as they made the decision that Tatsuki and/or Yaoyorozu wasn’t going to be asked back, they should have explained their decision to them and, perhaps more importantly, have a good, solid statement ready to go. The parent of your company shouldn’t be worried right after you let go of someone.
Really, though, how much money could a NicoNico video make? At worst case, couldn’t they take in extra revenue by having episode 12.1 as an extra on a disc or whatever?
Also, who thought it was a good idea to send voice actresses to apologize on your behalf? If you or company want to apologize to the fans, you don’t send out people who don’t actually work for your corporation!
Scenario B: Tatsuki’s version is accurate
Plenty of media in Japan, America, and elsewhere have thrived in part to the creators and developers interacting with the fans. It’s easier for fans to support something when they feel valued, that the people running the show or empire are not just faceless corporate executives but are, at their hearts “one of them”. However, the staff should remember that they actually have little power, that corporations don’t like anything that potentially interferes with profits. And if Kadokawa, Yoshizaki, or whoever had given permission, Tatsuki should have made sure to get written permission. That way, it would be easy to CC Kadokawa executives or whoever on upcoming projects. Kemono Friends‘ rights are also more complicated than just if a manga author’s work had been adapted into anime, so just getting Yoshizaki’s permission is probably not enough.
If Kadokawa did contact Tatsuki and asked to pull the other works down, it would probably be easier to just do it and write a statement to the fans saying something like, “There is a miscommunication; this wasn’t supposed to be up yet.” Then hopefully release it later as an extra or expanded version or whatever.
So Who’s Right?
Ultimately, no matter who was right or wrong, Yaoyorozu might end up in a better position than they were before while Kadokawa may take a hit in both revenue and public opinion. Passionate supports of Tatsuki took to Twitter to protest his firing, and they’ll watch his next work even if they weren’t interested just to support him. Meanwhile, Kadokawa looks like the big bad meanie who fired a passionate director. In general, it’s not a good thing for a company when fans have created a hashtag and a meme in response to a decision you made.
Kadokawa betrayed many fans of Kemono friends. But, we still not give up our Japari park. We'll never stop. This is our will for Kemono friends.https://t.co/2x2lbpugDI #紙飛行機は世界をつなぐ #ShiningSandstar
#燃える紙飛行機 #NoTatsukiNoTanoshi #たつき監督“`
— overlight (@sdgetter) December 27, 2017
Unfortunately, though, while the fans will be disappointed, it’s everyone else connected to Kemono Friends who will suffer. Already, the themed restaurant that was set to return in the summer is being debated, and no doubt game developer Bushiroad would have preferred a scandal-free second season in hopes that all the viewers will buy their upcoming games. Any studio that takes Kemono Friends will probably receive a lot of complaints that they “stole” the series, even if they had nothing to do with Kadokawa’s pressure on on Yaoyorozu. If Kadokawa is already in talks or finalizing deals with Sunrise or anyone else, Kemono Friends fans will wonder if the whole situation was a pretense to get a switch to a larger, more established animation team without making them appear to be the bad guys. If that was Kadokawa’s goal, then they failed miserably.
Either way, the whole situation should serve as a reminder to everyone the importance of written communication and written contracts. With foreign companies like Amazon and Netflix and game studios like Bandai Namco and Idea Factory ponying up money in advance, who owns what and who can do what with the characters and settings is only going to get even more complicated. Series like Macross and Candy Candy have had their works released in limited fashion due to legal problems, and no fan wants to see others fall to a similar fate.