Reaching a Wider Audience – How can the anime industry spread its wings?

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, released on the 18th October, has quickly climbed its way up the bestsellers charts and has firmly established itself as one of Manga UKs success stories for the year. But why is it so popular? I mean, it’s storyline isn’t as strong as, say “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time“, and its art is nothing extraordinary…

I guess a small part of its success can be attributed to the fact that, as mentioned at the MCM expo industry panel, The Eternal Diva shipped to all major retailers (except Sainsbury’s). A priviledge not shared by most of its Manga UK counterparts. But then again, The Eternal Diva has something that set it apart from the rest: a successful video game franchise.

Most of you will probably have heard of Professor Layton’s DS puzzle-based adventures over the last two years, the series currently boasting 2 games that have sold over a million copies, and a 3rd (The Lost Future) whose release coincided with The Eternal Diva has already developed a loyal following and will surely find its way onto most fans (and the curious’) shelves before long.

All this begs an interesting question: Is anime more marketable in a video game format?

An anime is generally considered successful if it reaches unit sales of three figures in a year, and if you compare that with average sales figures estimated by Manga UK (a series should be able to sell 8,000 units for a release to be considered, Ouran High School Host Club, considered popular, sold around 15,000 – 20,000), you begin to see a real gulf between anime sales, and figures well in excess of 3 million units for Professor Layton and The Curious Village. Heck, even less well known anime-style games such as Sengoku Basara have recently announced unit sales of over 500,000, we can only hope its new anime series has similar success.

Maybe this is a problem with the anime industry. Maybe it doesn’t appeal to a wide enough audience, and maybe this is where the games industry can lend a hand.

Which leads me to two points of interest:

1) Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage

Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage was released in the UK to XBox360 and PS3 on the 5th November.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Fist of the North Star, and if you haven’t, now’s your chance. Fist of the North Star can perhaps be attributed to the rise in popularity of battle manga in Japan, although sadly this popularity wasn’t shared in the west.

The series is set after a nuclear holocaust, that has rendered most of planet Earth into uninhabitable desert wasteland, leaving the surviving remnants of manking to band together in tribes, fighting each other for the scraps of uncontaminated food and water that remain. The story follows Kenshiro, a martial artist, as he roams the land in search of his lost fiance.

Of course, Fist of the North Star is essentially a battle manga, a format which fits perfectly into the Dynasty Warriors style gameplay, and whilst its reception may be varied in the UK, its faithful following of the manga in the game’s “story mode” is a feature I would certainly like to see more of.

Previews of Gundam Unicorn Episodes 1 and 2 were available for free streaming on the Playstation Network last month ahead of the US an Japanese blu-ray release.

I’m not a big fan of battle manga, or anime, and I tend to tire too easily of long running series, but the prospect of being able to pummel my own way through the story is certainly appealing to me, and as such I hope to acquire Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage as soon as I can. With the popularity of RPGs and gaming as a story telling medium in recent years, can we hope to see more manga following suit? I sure hope so.

2) Anime on Playstation Network?
The idea of streaming anime has been raised in many an industry panel over the past few years, however it appears that the idea is now becoming far more developed. As last month, Bandai streamed free previews of various episodes of Gundam Unicorn before their blu-ray release, to much success, it is becoming increasingly more likely that future anime may be available for release in this format.

The advantages of streaming not only reduce the cost of anime, but also allow for synchronised global releases. A prospect that no doubt has many anime fans with mouths watering.

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