1 The Japanese Anime Industry: Studio Trigger Finds Its Mark

Tim Craig, Mike Adams, Joe Kesslering, and Niko Iftner

On January 8, 2017, Masahiko Ōtsuka, CEO of Studio Trigger, sat back in his recliner, a smile spreading across his face as the opening song of Little Witch Academia rang out from his big-screen television. Ōtsuka always enjoyed seeing his studio’s newest animations make their debut, but today was special. Four years ago, the first Little Witch Academia, a short film written by Ōtsuka and directed by Yoh Yoshinari, had made its debut as part of the Japanese government-funded “Anime Mirai” Young Animator Training Project. Although the film failed to gain much traction in Japan, when Trigger released it on YouTube with English subtitles, it turned out to be a hit among Western anime fans, receiving over 850,000 views in four months. Ōtsuka, a firm believer in serving his fans wherever they may be, made the call to produce a sequel. Financed by a crowdfunding campaign, Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade was warmly received both in Japan and abroad, and now the anime had grown to become a full-length TV series.

Ōtsuka and Studio Trigger had a lot riding on Little Witch Academia. To finance the making of the television series, Trigger had short-circuited the usual mechanism for funding anime, the “production committee,” which brought together several companies in anime-related businesses to invest in a project, sharing the costs, risks, and, if the work was successful, profits. Little Witch Academia (TV) was financed by only three entities: Toho Animation, Good Smile Company, and Ultra Super Pictures, the holding company of which Trigger was a part. If the series proved to be popular, it would solidify Trigger’s reputation as an up-and-coming anime studio and bring in revenue that could be used to fund new projects. If the series failed to live up to expectations … well, if such thoughts were lurking somewhere in Ōtsuka’s mind, he wasn’t going to let them spoil his evening.

As the opening episode of Little Witch Academia unfolded before his eyes, Ōtsuka pondered what it meant to be Trigger, and what path his anime studio should follow to secure its place as a profitable player in Japan’s competitive anime industry and a rewarding place to work.[1]

Japanese Anime

Anime is the term used worldwide to refer to Japanese animation. Along with other forms of Japanese pop culture, including manga (Japanese comics), television dramas, video games, and J-pop music, anime has become internationally popular over recent decades. Unlike Western cartoons, anime targets not just children, but adults as well. Susan J. Napier, a leading anime researcher and critic, has written:

To define anime simply as Japanese cartoons gives no sense of the depth and variety that make up the medium. … anime works include everything that Western audiences are accustomed to seeing in live-action films—romance, comedy, tragedy, adventure, even psychological probing of a kind seldom attempted in recent mass-culture Western film or television.[2]

Short animated films were made in Japan as early as the 1910s, and in subsequent decades Japanese animators gradually adopted technologies such as cel animation,[3] sound, and multiplane cameras[4] in an effort to bring their work close to the level of overseas producers like Disney. Japan’s first color animated feature film was Toei Animation’s Hakujaden (Tale of the White Serpent), released in 1958.[5] But it was Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s legendary “god of manga,” who set Japanese animation on the course to what it is today when he established his own studio, Mushi Productions, in 1961, and applied to animation the visual effects, richness of characters, themes, and storylines, and all-round inventiveness that made his manga so appealing to people of all ages.

In 1963, Tezuka turned his manga Tetsuwan Atom (Mighty Atom) into Japan’s first animated television series, and two years later he produced the country’s first color series, Jungle Taitei (Jungle Emperor). Both were exported to Western countries, where they were re-named Astro Boy and Kimba, the White Lion and broadcast on television. Tezuka went on to produce dozens of other anime TV series and feature films in various genres. But his talent as a creator of great manga and anime was not matched by his business skills, and Mushi Productions went bankrupt in 1973.[6]

Four Anime “Booms”

Tezuka’s works launched Japan’s first anime “boom,” as anime became a staple on Japanese television. From 1965 to 1970, an average of 15 new shows were broadcast each year, with around 11 series running continuously at any given time. (See Exhibit 1.) Most anime were shown in the evening—30-minute episodes broadcast once a week and targeting kids and families. Popular series included Obake no Q-tarō (Q-tarō, the Ghost), Mahōtsukai Sarī (Sally the Witch), Ōgon Batto (Golden Bat), Ribon no Kishi (Princess Knight), GeGeGe no Kitarō (Kitarō of the Graveyard), Kaibutsu-kun (Little Monster), Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants, about baseball), Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe, about boxing), and Attack No. 1 (about volleyball). Sazae-san, Japan’s longest-running anime, still being broadcast today, also began at this time, in 1969.

A second boom began in the late 1970s, when the number of new anime and continuing series aired each year on television doubled. Several successful full-length anime feature films also appeared at this time, including Space Battleship Yamato (1977), Mobile Suit Gundam (1981), The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984), and Urusei Yatsura (4 films, 1984–1986).[7] The 1990s saw the number of new anime level off, but several classic long-running series made their debut, including Dragon Ball Z (1989), Sailor Moon (1992), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), Pokémon (1997), and One Piece (1999).

Anime’s third boom began around 2000, fueled by “late-night” anime, which targeted a mostly teenage / young adult fan base. Business model-wise, the main purpose of late-night anime was not to attract large viewing audiences and TV advertisers but to promote the sale of DVDs.[8] The number of anime shown on Japanese television peaked in 2006, when 195 new anime programs were broadcast and 84 anime series were running, but dropped off after that.

In 2017, Japanese anime was riding a fourth boom, with six consecutive years of positive market growth and broadly-defined market value—including direct anime revenues plus revenues from anime-related markets—at an all-time high. This boom was attributed to increases in market channels, including internet distribution and anime-based pachinko and pachinko-slot games, and rising overseas sales. The amount of anime being produced was near its all-time high, with 115,533 total minutes of anime created in 2015.[9]

Source Material

The keys to a successful anime, content-wise, were the story, characters, and artwork, and the most common source for these were popular manga series. According to the anime streaming site Crunchyroll, more than 40% of anime from the years 2000–2013 relied on manga as source material. Other sources included books, sequels, video games, visual novels, and short films. Around 12% of anime were based on original material. (See Exhibits 2 and 3.)

The advantage of producing manga-based anime was that the work and its popularity were already known, and there was a built-in fan base. This reduced the risk of failure, and made it easier to attract outside financing. The same held true for anime based on previously published books, visual novels, and video games. For an anime studio, a disadvantage of producing manga-based works was that unless the studio invested financially in the production committee, it did not share in the copyright to the anime it produced; it only received a fixed payment from the production committee for producing the anime.

Original anime were the reverse. There was greater risk of failure because the story and characters were unknown; unlike an already-published manga, they had not been tested in the marketplace. On the other hand, if the anime was an original creation of the studio, the studio became a member of the production committee and retained a share of the copyright to the anime. This was more profitable for the studio, as it not only received payment for producing the animation but also shared in revenues that flowed back to the production committee, including licensing revenues and a portion of DVD sales. Licensing revenues were generated, for example, when a toy manufacturer made and sold toys based on the anime, or a game maker created a video game based on the work, or when the anime was licensed to an international streaming service like Crunchyroll or Netflix. Licensing income was continuing and could be significant. Around 30% of the sales of Toei Animation, which generally invested 25 to 35% in the anime it produced to become the largest copyright holder, was in the form of licensing revenue.[10]

Anime Overseas

Tezuka’s Astro Boy was the first anime series shown on North American television, beginning in 1963, to be followed over the next four decades by Star Blazers, Robotech, Gundam, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and many other series. Televised anime’s popularity was complemented by a video-tape / DVD based boom that began in the 1980s with tape swapping. At the time, anime videos were not sold commercially overseas, so fans either bought videos from Japan or borrowed and copied them from rental video shops, if they were lucky enough to live near one that carried anime. Then they communicated and traded these with other fans, aided in the 1990s by the advent of the internet.[11] The overseas anime market peaked in the mid-2000s, when English versions of Hayao Miyazaki movies like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away were playing in major cities and children’s TV channels were filled with Japanese animation. In 2002, Japanese toy and anime company Bandai Entertainment released 75 anime shows and movies in the US. Twenty different companies were distributing anime in North America (up from one in 1992), and sales of anime-based toys were increasing by 120 to 130 percent a year.[12]

The overseas market declined in monetary terms after 2005—due to internet piracy, falling DVD prices, and the availability of anime online, both illegally (aided by “fansubbing,” the production of subtitled copies by amateurs) and on legal streaming sites like Crunchyroll and Hulu.[13] But while the market was shrinking in value, the volume of anime being sold overseas was not. Anime—and Japanese pop culture more broadly—continued to gain popularity internationally, and by 2014 overseas anime revenues were once again rising. In 2015, the overseas market was valued at 349 billion yen (US$2.88 billion), surpassing its 2005 peak. (See Exhibit 4.)

A Changing Distribution Landscape

In 2017, anime distribution in North America was experiencing significant change with the entry of Amazon and Netflix into what, for the previous two decades, had been a niche market served by smaller anime distributors like San Francisco-based Viz Media that licensed content from Japan and provided it to streaming services like Hulu, CrunchyRoll, and Funimation. Both Amazon and Netflix had the market power to license anime directly from Japan, which was making it difficult for the smaller distributors to acquire content. In January 2017, Amazon launched its own on-demand subscription service, Amazon Strike, which, for $5 a month, offered “more than 1,000 series episodes and movies ranging from classic titles to current shows broadcast on Japanese TV.”[14] Netflix was also aggressively negotiating anime streaming rights, and even starting to create its own original anime content.[15]

To better compete, CrunchyRoll and Funimation, which specialized in subtitled programs and dubbed content respectively, formed a partnership which gave their streaming subscribers access to anime from both services. But the increase in anime providers was a headache for consumers, as each service offered different programs; in order to have access to all their favorite anime, fans had to sign up for multiple services, which could get expensive. This was driving many anime fans to illegal torrent sites, where they could download for free practically any anime they wanted to watch.[16]

The Anime Industry

Overview

In 2015, the narrowly-defined Japanese anime market—the revenues of all domestic animation studios—was estimated at 201 billion yen, or approximately US$1.66 billion at the average 2015 exchange rate. The broadly-defined market—which includes anime studio revenues plus sales from anime-related markets—was estimated to be worth 1.826 trillion yen, or US$15.1 billion.

The broadly-defined market was divided into nine segments (see Exhibit 5):

TV: domestic TV animation revenues (5.9% of the total market)

Movies: domestic theatrical animation box office revenues (2.6%)

Video: domestic video and DVD animation revenues (5.1%)

Internet Distribution: domestic online animation revenues (2.4%)

Merchandising: domestic animation-related merchandise revenues (31.7%)

Music: domestic animation-related music revenues (1.4%)

Overseas: overseas Japanese animation revenues (movies, TV, videos, merchandise, etc.) (31.9%)

Pachinko and Pachinko-slot: estimated shipment value of animation character-themed pachinko and pachinko-slot machines (16.1%)

Live Entertainment: revenues from animation-related live performances, events, exhibitions, and cafes (2.9%)

Trend-wise, the steady growth of overseas revenues was notable, particularly the 2015 jump (an increase of 79% over 2014), which was due to a shopping spree by Chinese companies, mainly for internet distribution. According to the Association of Japanese Animations, 4,345 contracts were made in overseas markets in 2015—a record high and four times the number in 2014. The largest number of deals was with the U.S. (289), followed closely by China (286), then Canada (181), Korea (171), Taiwan (152), Italy (114), and Thailand (108). Around 40% of all overseas contracts were with Asian countries.[17]

Other growing segments were live entertainment and pachinko / pachinko-slot machines. Live entertainment revenues included anime-related music concerts, stage performances, plays, exhibitions, and cafes. Pachinko is the Japanese version of pinball and slots; in recent years, many pachinko games had been developed based on (and licensing the rights to) popular anime series. The video segment was shrinking, as internet streaming replaced DVDs as the preferred method for watching anime.[18]

Industry Structure

The Japanese anime industry was highly fragmented. In 2016, there were 622 animation production companies in Japan, of which 542 were located in Tokyo.[19] At the top were large well-known studios like Toei, Ghibli, Gainax, Pierrot, Sunrise, and Kyoto Animation. These companies, and perhaps 30 or 40 others, were “prime contractors” (元請け), meaning they had the capacity to carry out most of the processes involved in producing an anime. At the other end were a much larger number of small specialized sub-contractors (専門スタジオ), which handled only one or two processes; 42% of Japanese anime studios had fewer than 10 employees.[20] In between the whales and the minnows was a category called “gross sub-contractors” (グロス請け), studios that could take on, under contract with a prime contractor, full responsibility for producing individual episodes of a once-a-week TV anime series. (It was beyond the capacity of most prime contractors to produce an episode a week for several weeks running, so they often sub-contracted individual episodes to these studios.)

The lines between these categories were blurred, as main contractors and gross sub-contractors, in addition to taking full responsibility for the production of some works, often also performed specific processes for other studios as sub-contractors. Many studios were spin-offs of major anime companies, often started by animators or directors who wanted more creative freedom than they were able to enjoy as employees of large studios.

Anime Production and Financing

© Sakuga Blog.

People

Creating an anime is a labor-intensive process that involves many different players, including producers, directors, scenario writers, editors, art directors, character designers, music and sound effect directors, voice actors, and animators.

Producers are responsible for putting a project together, including funding, managing the budget, and coordination between the anime studio and the production committee.

Directors are responsible for the artistic side of the anime, including its look and feel and making sure that the story and characters form a coherent and consistent whole. The director chooses the staff, supervises the animation process, approves work as it is created, coaches the voice actors, and may become directly involved in developing and writing the script, creating storyboards, revising key animations, and working with the music composer and sound effect team.[21]

Animators are divided into “key animators,” who draw the key animations or genga (原画), the frames that anchor a scene, and “in-between animators,” who draw the pictures that go between the key animations. A typical 30-minute anime episode requires 300 to 350 key animations and 3,500 to 4,000 in-between animations, making animation the most labor-intensive part of the production process.[22]

A single 30-minute anime episode typically costs from $100,000 to $150,000 to produce, making the cost for a three-month “season” (12–13 episodes) $1.2 to $2 million. The average staff size for a season of anime is 200 to 300 people, in the following categories:

  • Key animators: 20–30 people
  • In-between animators: 50–100
  • Finishing: 50–100
  • Backgrounds: 10–50
  • Filming: 5–30[23]

Process

Historically, most Japanese anime were made using cel animation, with each frame being drawn by hand on a celluloid sheet, painted with a brush, and then photographed on film stock. Starting in the late 1990s, digital animation has gradually replaced cel animation: except for the initial drawings, which are done by hand on paper, drawing and coloring are done using computers, and image scanning and editing by computer has replaced physical cameras and film (although the terms “filming” and “film master” are still used). Digital animation shortens production time, reduces material costs, and, as digital files can be sent electronically, allows artwork to be easily exchanged among different departments, studios, and even countries. Despite the economic and efficiency advantages of drawing by computer, hand-drawn anime, which is imperfectly aligned from frame to frame, creating a warmer or more “living” effect, remains alive, and is preferred by some studios (e.g., Studio Ghibli) and fans.

Even with the shift from cel to digital, the basic production process remains largely unchanged, and is fairly standardized throughout the industry.[24] The pre-production phase involves working out the basic story, writing and revising the script, and creating a storyboard: a set of rough sketches of the scenes of the anime in sequential order. The in-production phase involves drawing and coloring the key and in-between animations, adding backgrounds and special effects (such as shadow, fire, smoke, or the glint on a sword), and putting the frames together in their proper order to create the “film master.” Post-production involves recording the dialog and mixing it with the background music and sound effects to create the audio track, and combining this with the film master to produce a master copy, from which copies are made to deliver to television broadcasters or DVD manufacturers.[25]

The Production Committee

Anime projects are generally initiated by a studio producer, a manga publisher, a TV network, a toy maker, or an advertising agency. But because of the high costs of producing an anime, and the risk that the finished work may not be well received in the market, it is unusual for an anime project to be funded by a single company. Instead, several companies in anime-related businesses typically join forces to share the costs, risks, and profit potential of a project in the form of a “production committee,” or seisaku iinkai (製作委員会): a joint venture set up for the purpose of funding and coordinating the production, distribution, and marketing of an anime work. Membership in the production committee varies from project to project, but may include television networks, advertising agencies, DVD publishers, movie distributors, manga publishers (for anime based on a manga), record labels, video game makers, sponsors (such as merchandising companies), and international web streaming services. An anime studio may also be a member if the anime is an original work created by the studio or if the studio makes a financial investment in the project.[26]

In return for their investment, each member of the production committee receives a share of the copyright to the finished anime and the right to distribute and earn money from the anime via their particular business area (e.g., TV broadcasting, DVD sales, movie distribution, merchandising, or advertising). A portion of profits from the business activities associated with the anime flows back to the production committee, where it is shared among members according to the amount of their investment. The committee contracts an anime studio to produce the actual anime, paying it a fixed amount for production and delivery of the finished product, and in some cases giving it a small share of the copyrights.[27]

Below are three examples of production committee membership, for anime that were scheduled to air in 2017.[28]

Love Tyrant Production Committee:

Nikkatsu (Japan’s oldest major movie studio)
Comic Meteor (a manga website run by Japanese manga publisher Flex Comix)
Avex (a Japanese record label and entertainment conglomerate)
Crunchyroll (an American internet anime distributor)
TV Tokyo (a major Japanese television network)
Klockworx (a Tokyo-based movie distributor)
Sotsu (a Japanese advertising agency)

My Hero Academia S2 Production Committee:

Toho (a Japanese movie distributor)
Yomiuri TV Enterprise (a music publisher and subsidiary of Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation)
Shueisha (Japan’s largest manga publisher)
Bones (a Japanese anime studio)
Dentsu (Japan’s largest advertising agency)
OLM (a Japanese animation and film studio)
Nippon Columbia (a Japanese record label)

The Royal Tutor Production Committee:

TV Tokyo
Square Enix (a major Japanese video game maker)
AT-X (a Japanese anime television network)
BS Japan (a satellite TV broadcaster and subsidiary of TV Tokyo)
A Sketch (a Japanese record and artist management company, part of Amuse Inc.)
Thanks Lab (a Japanese website and mobile site designer)
Bridge (a Japanese anime studio)
Sotsu
TV Osaka (a Japanese television network)
Dai Nippon Printing (a Japanese book and magazine printer)
contents seed (a Japanese designer, producer, and seller of character goods)

 

An anime production committee meeting. © Sakuga Blog.

The production committee meets regularly to discuss details of the anime, receive updates on how production is going, and coordinate marketing plans. Regarding the content of the anime, Japanese law stipulates that the original creator has final say over major decisions. But creators are usually busy creating, so they are often represented by someone else; for example, if the anime is manga-based, the manga publisher typically represents the artist.[29]

Not all anime turn out to be popular enough for the production committee to earn a profit from its investment. As in movies, music, publishing, and other branches of the entertainment industry, a small number of big hits earn the largest share of the money, and subsidize the smaller earnings or losses of numerous less-successful works. One veteran anime executive estimates that around 70% of all anime eventually earn a profit, but this may take several years of television reruns, back catalog DVD sales, and international re-releases.[30] At the end of the day, to make good money an anime must appeal to a lot of people and be marketed well.

Industry Working Conditions

In 2016–2017, with industry revenues at all-time highs, the movie Kimi no na wa (English title: Your Name) receiving critical acclaim and earning hundreds of millions of box office dollars worldwide, Toei’s One Piece Film: Gold setting a record by opening on 743 movie screens across Japan, and Masaaki Yuasa’s Lu Over the Wall winning the top award at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in Paris, Japanese anime appeared to be doing quite well. Beneath the surface, however, there were serious concerns about working conditions and a looming talent shortage that cast a shadow over the industry’s future.

According to a 2015 survey by the Japan Animation Creators Association, the average annual income for a worker in the anime industry was 3,328,000 yen, or US$27,500. The chart below shows the average annual incomes for different jobs categories.[31]

Job Category Average Age Average Yearly Income  (in yen) Average Yearly Income in US$ (at average 2015 exchange rate)
Director 42 6,486,000 $53,594
Chief animation director 43 5,638,000 $46,587
Producer 39 5,420,000 $44,785
Character designer 38 5,104,000 $42,174
Animation director 38 3,933,000 $32,498
3D CG animator 34 3,839,000 $31,722
Episode director 41 3,803,000 $31,424
Storyboarder 49 3,723,000 $30,763
Background art director 35 3,416,000 $28,226
Color designer 38 3,335,000 $27,557
Cinematographer 34 3,194,000 $26,392
Production assistant 30 3,092,000 $25,549
Key animator 36 2,817,000 $23,277
In-between checker 35 2,607,000 $21,542
Layout / rough key artist 38 2,341,000 $19,344
Paint staff 26 1,949,000 $16,105
2nd key animation / clean-up 27 1,127,000 $9,312
In-between animator 24 1,113,000 $9,197

Working conditions were especially tough for animators. Only 15% of Japanese animators were permanent company employees, with guaranteed minimum wages and benefits. The rest were sub-contractor or freelance animators who were paid per-piece rates of around 200 yen ($2) per drawing. With high quality requirements and the level of detail demanded increasing, even the fastest of these animators could produce only around 20 pieces per day, which translated into monthly earnings of around 100,000 yen (less than $1,000)—barely enough to live on. On top of the low pay, the hours were brutal: a survey conducted by the Japan Animator Creators Association found that the average animator worked 11 hours a day, and had only four days off per month.[32]

The main reason for the low pay rates and long hours was structural. While the broadly-defined anime market, which included not just anime studio income but also “secondary usage” revenues such as the sale of anime-related merchandise and overseas distribution revenues, had grown by 24% between 2013 and 2015, anime studio income grew only 8.6% over the same period. This was because the majority of anime industry income came from secondary usage, and the profits from these businesses went to the investing members of the production committee. Unless a studio also invested in the production committee, which was beyond the financial capacity of most studios, it did not share in those profits, no matter how successful the anime it produced was. It was estimated that one out of four anime studios and sub-contractors was in the red.[33]

In this situation, most studios could not afford to raise pay rates for animators. And until now there had been little need to do so: there was an ample supply of overseas animators based in low-wage countries, and in Japan many young people had grown up watching and loved anime, and were eager to work in the industry. But demand for Japanese anime was increasing, with new players like Netflix, Amazon, and Chinese companies investing heavily in the industry, and studios were being asked to produce more. With the long hours and low pay, it was becoming harder to attract and keep good Japanese animators. It typically took two or three years for an in-between animator to develop his or her skills enough to graduate to key animator status, and many dropped out before this. An executive at a major anime studio lamented, “People dream of working in the anime industry, but when they do they find the pay is so low that they quit after half a year.”[34]

This had produced a growing sense of crisis in the industry. Anime director Osamu Yamasaki estimated that “only one out of every 10 people who enters the industry remains. In another 10 years, most will be in their 60s, and the future of anime production might get brutal.”[35]

Studio Trigger

Origins

Studio Trigger was founded in 2011 by animator Masahiko Ōtsuka, director Hiroyuki Imaishi, and producer Kazuya Masumoto, who had worked together at Gainax, one of Japan’s top animation studios.[36]

Hiroyuki Imaishi began his career at Gainax as a key animator on the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. He made his directorial debut on Production I.G.’s anime film Dead Leaves in 2004, and at Gainax directed the award-winning series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007), followed by Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (2010). The latter two works had a unique artistic and animation style that would become known as the Trigger aesthetic; although they were Gainax productions, many fans consider them to be “honorary” Trigger works.

Masahiko Ōtsuka graduated from the Department of Art of the Osaka University of Arts before joining Studio Ghibli as an assistant director in filmmaking. He then moved to Gainax, where he was an assistant episode director on Neon Genesis Evangelion, assistant director on Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and co-director on Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. Kazuya Masumoto, a graduate of the Yoyogi Animation School in Fukuoka, joined Gainax in 2006 and produced both Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt.

The founders’ reasons for leaving Gainax to strike out on their own went beyond the simple desire for greater creative freedom that often motivated anime creators to form their own studios. Ōtsuka explained that they had been given a lot of freedom at Gainax, so much that they “felt that we were becoming insensitive to taking risks”[37]:

Even a project like Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, which would normally be turned down because it was unlikely to earn a profit, got the green light. The trouble was that this made us feel uneasy: “Is it really OK to just do whatever we like?” Plus, various things are beginning to change in the industry—ways of interacting with customers, how anime is sold, things like that. In order to respond to these changes, we want to start something new. At times like this, if you belong to a well-known studio like Gainax, you have to keep the brand image in mind, and that makes you a bit cautious. We wanted to be more carefree, to be able to say, even if we have some failures, “We’re a new company so we’re doing a lot of trial and error.”[38]

Organizationally, Studio Trigger was set up not as a completely independent studio but as part of Ultra Super Pictures, a joint holding company, also formed in 2011, for the anime studios Sanzigen, Ordet, and Trigger (and later Liden Films). The purpose of this arrangement was to allow Ultra Super Pictures to consolidate and manage licenses for member studios’ works and to create and tap synergies in employee training and other shared resources.[39] Providing capital to Ultra Super Pictures were Good Smile Company (a maker of anime-, manga-, and video game-based merchandise), Max Factory (a toy and figurine maker), Bushiroad (a card game maker), Nitroplus (a video game maker and character designer), and Pixiv (a licensing, merchandising, and internet advertising company), as well as overseas investors.[40]

Regarding the decision to join Ultra Super Pictures, Ōtsuka said:

We knew how to make anime, but managing a company was an unknown for us. So we thought that, instead of going it alone, it would be safer to have a relationship with other similar companies where we could help each other. But even though we’re a “group,” each member studio maintains its own independence—that’s why we decided to participate.[41]

While [the studios] do cooperate with each other, our relationship when working on a project does not differ so much from working with another studio outside of the group. The grouping is more oriented towards unifying the merchandise and copyrights procedure.[42]

Works

With the debut of the Little Witch Academia (TV) in January 2017, Studio Trigger had produced five anime series for television, two series for internet distribution (one of which was subsequently broadcast on television), and several short works in either ONA or cinematic form.[43] (See Exhibit 6.) In addition to Trigger’s own works, the studio had been involved in the production of numerous other anime, in roles including key animation, in-between animation, background art, and production cooperation.[44]

Kill la Kill

The studio’s biggest hit to date had been Kill la Kill (2013–14), the story of Ryūko Matoi, a high school student whose search for her father’s killer brings her into violent conflict with her school’s student council president Satsuki Kiryūin, and Kiryūin’s mother’s fashion empire, and involves school uniforms made of special fibers that give their wearers superhuman powers. Kill la Kill aired on the major TBS television network and its affiliates in Japan and on America’s “Adult Swim,” the late-night programming block of Cartoon Network, and was streamed on CrunchyRoll and Hulu. It was quite popular worldwide, earning a score of 8.21 out of 10 on the anime ratings site MyAnimeList,[45] and critical acclaim like the following:

Every now and then, an anime series will make waves not just in Japan, but also everywhere else in the world. These past few months, that honour has fallen upon Studio Trigger’s Kill la Kill, a fast-paced action show that is as absurd as it is funny, but on the rare occasion, also manages to be touching in a meaningful way.[46]

Kill La Kill was a product of the same writer-director team that created Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Kazuki Nakashima and Hiroyuki Imaishi. Ōtsuka talked about the process of creating this anime:

From the planning stage, Imaishi and Nakashima apparently felt that they had to top Guren Lagann. But this led to an impasse. The story was looking like the typical format: bad guys appear, they get beaten, this happens again and again, and at the end it builds to a climax. But the people making it gradually felt that something was lacking, and the project lost momentum. So we went back to the drawing board, re-thought the whole thing, and it became what it is now. When we did this, the staff came to life again: “Yes! This is way more interesting!”[47]

“What it is now” Ōtsuka described as the story unfolding at a very fast pace, quickly progressing to a point that would be the climax in an ordinary anime series, then blasting beyond that by taking a new and unexpected turn, then another turn, all the time gaining in intensity, until finally, at the very end, it reaches an all-encompassing climax.[48] He continued:

When Nakashima gets serious and goes all-out, the result is really interesting! When I read the [new] manuscript, my thought was “Wow! This is great!” but my face was probably turning pale. I knew, like everyone else, that making an anime with this much action crammed into it would be not be easy. The staff all looked at me, saying “This will be hard. Is it really OK to do it?” But their eyes were glittering, so how could I say “No?” [Laughs.] I thought, There’s no point in holding them back from making the anime they want to make.[49]

Other Series

The Trigger series that followed Kill la Kill did not quite live up to expectations. The least well-received was the studio’s sole non-original work, When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace (Inou-battle wa nichijou-kei no naka de), which was based on a light novel by Kōta Nozomi. Rated 7.33 on MyAnimeList, fans said that while the style was unmistakably Trigger, it lacked the creativity of Trigger’s original works. In 2016 Trigger had released two new anime series: the full-length series Kiznaiver and the short series Uchuu Patrol Luluco. Kiznaiver aimed at a more mainstream audience and was more subdued artistically than the studio’s previous works, but received only a lukewarm reception, both in Japan and abroad. Uchuu Patrol Luluco was more popular, especially among Trigger fans, who felt it paid homage to everything that makes Trigger unique.

“What It Meant to Be Trigger”

Ōtsuka believed the anime industry was undergoing a paradigm shift, and that for a studio to thrive it was becoming increasingly important to build a strong “brand”:

Ten years from now, the main money to be made from anime will be in the form of internet streaming services. With consumers having so many anime to choose from, studios and directors will have to sell their “brand names”; the best-known will win. It’ll be like “Ghibli’s got a new anime out, I want to see that.” If we can make it “Trigger’s got a new anime out…” and consumers click on that, we’ll be in good shape.[50]

In 2017, in its sixth year of operation, the Trigger “brand” seemed to be made up of two key elements: the Trigger aesthetic and reaching out to fans and the West.

The Trigger Aesthetic

First and foremost was the kind of anime that Trigger produced. Ōtsuka wanted Trigger to be a studio “that can’t be predicted,”[51] and to that end adopted as a creative philosophy three points:

  1. Don’t pay attention to the market. Creating an anime is tough, and if the staff is not enthusiastic about a project it can lose momentum. For this reason, we dare to ignore the market and ask ourselves “What do we really want to make?”
  2. Don’t apply the brakes. In the eleventh hour if we think something needs to be changed, we go ahead and change it, even if it means going over budget. The feeling of having gone all-out and having no regrets gives the staff confidence.
  3. Don’t be particular about technique. Hand-drawn or computer graphics? As a studio, if we confine ourselves to one or the other, it limits the kind of projects we can do. We’re flexible, keeping both options open work by work, even scene by scene.[52]

Asked what style of anime he wanted his studio to be known for, Ōtsuka said:

Anything is fine. We don’t think there needs to be any particular Trigger “color”—that’s up to each director to decide. The one thing I don’t want is to produce anime that the director is not completely committed to and excited about. I want Trigger to be known as a studio where the staff and director produce anime they really want to make.”[53]

That said, among anime fans there was clearly a distinctive aesthetic and narrative style that Trigger was known for: a visual approach that switches back and forth between smooth & flowing and harsh & choppy, and a kind of grandiose over-the-top rush of excitement and fantasy. In the studio’s quintessential works, characters find themselves faced with impossible odds and overcome them in stunning fashion, at times bending, or even breaking, the rules of their universe through sheer force of will. Trigger storytelling leaves viewers on the edge of the seats, eagerly waiting to see how the characters will overcome the next looming obstacle, only to be blown away by an unorthodox approach.

Reaching Out to Fans and the West

To be able to interact with customers was one of the reasons Ōtsuka left Gainax to start his own studio, and this is something he had put into practice, including communicating with Western fans on Twitter. Addressing fans in an interview, he said:

If any of you have an interesting idea, please send it over to Trigger! Any form of encouragement, even if they are short comments via social networks, do surely boost the morale of our staffs. Please do send any form of comments to us as well.”[54]

At least one fan suggestion had paid off handsomely: “Our reasoning in trying out the Kickstarter project [for the Little Witch Academia sequel] was due to a fan asking us if we were going to start a Kickstarter project.”[55]

Asked whether Trigger produced anime with a global audience in mind, Ōtsuka said:

We always want to create something “interesting and fun,” but “interesting and fun” tends to rely on what we think is interesting and fun. At this stage, we are not really considering much about whether a title is suited for Japan or other regions of the world. What we want to do is support and communicate with the fans who enjoy our titles and cheer us on, no matter where they are from—Japan or otherwise.[56]

Trigger had also worked with several Western content creators, producing animation for the Cartoon Network television series Steven Universe[57] and for video game developer Lab Zero Games,[58] and producing a short featured on the Blue-ray release of Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story That Time Forgot.[59] Trigger works also had a solid presence on Netflix, which generally tended to pick up past and mainstream titles rather than contemporary niche titles like those of Trigger. Little Witch Academia (TV) was to be “simulcast” weekly on Netflix in Japan and was scheduled to be streamed on Netflix internationally starting in June 2017.

People

An anime studio, like any company, is only as good as its people. Much of Trigger’s initial success could be attributed to the qualities, experience, reputation, and connections its founding members brought to the new venture. But starting a new studio from scratch meant hiring new people as well, and Trigger seemed to be doing well in this regard. Despite the negative press the anime industry had received in recent years due to the low pay levels and harsh working conditions, founder/producer Kazuya Masumoto said that college graduates were applying to anime studios in higher numbers than when he had joined the industry years earlier, and that this allowed him to be choosy when selecting new employees. The qualities that Masumoto looked for in recruiting new staff included:

  • serious about work
  • able to handle lots of on-the-job training
  • ambitious, curious, not passive
  • able to empathize with anime viewers, to think about why certain scenes make them laugh, cry, etc.[60]

Little Witch Academia

Little Witch Academia is the story of Atsuko (“Akko”) Kagari, a girl who enrolls in Luna Nova Magical Academy to pursue her dream of becoming a witch. The plot is summarized on Anime News Network as follows:

In a time when magic is on the decline amid society, Atsuko Kagari is a cheerful girl who enters Luna Nova Academy in order to accomplish her dream of becoming a witch like her idol, Shiny Chariot. Shiny is a famous witch who disappeared from public view many years ago. On her way to school, Kagari meets the kind Lotte Yanson and the mischevious Sucy Manbavaran and the three become friends as they share a bedroom in campus. At the academy, Atsuko soon discovers she is in serious disadvantage compared to the other girls since she doesn’t come from a magical family and is required to learn the magical curriculum from scratch. Having found an item that once belonged to Chariot, Atsuko must discover how to activate and properly use the mysterious Shiny Rod as she hopes it might lead to finding out what has truly happened to her vanished idol.[61]

The young and impressionable Akko takes as her motto the words once spoken by Shiny Chariot, “Never forget, a believing heart is your magic.”

 

Akko of Little Witch Academia. © Studio Trigger.

The initial Little Witch Academia, a short produced in 2013, got off to a bumpy start: a scheduled screening and talk show in Tokyo with the director (Yoshinari), scriptwriter (Ōtsuka), and producer (Naoko Tsutsumi) had to be cancelled because only 94 of 400 tickets sold.[62] But when it was released on YouTube with English subtitles it was embraced by overseas fans, which led to a successful sequel, Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade, in 2015, and then the full-length TV series in 2017.

Innovative Financing

All three versions of Little Witch Academia had involved innovative funding methods that provided Trigger with benefits it could not have gotten with traditional production committee financing. Funding for the first Little Witch Academia short came from the 2013 “Anime Mirai” Young Animator Training Project, a project launched by the Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Japan Animation Creators Association with the goal of training a new generation of Japanese animators. In return for the funding (which studios had to bid for), veteran Trigger staff participated in the project as teachers, giving guidance to aspiring young animators.[63]

Encouraged by positive overseas response to the short that came out of the Anime Mirai project, Trigger launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to finance a sequel.[64] The pitch read:

As of now, we have the funds to produce a 20 minute episode. However, if we can receive support through the Kickstarter program, we will be able to add 15 more minutes to the running time. The episode will be subtitled in 7 different languages.[65]

The one-month Kickstarter campaign exceeded all expectations, becoming the first successful use of crowdfunding to raise money to finance a Japanese anime. It reached its initial goal of $150,000 within the first six hours, and went on to raise $625,518 from a total of 7,938 contributors.[66] By bypassing the usual means of financing an anime—the production committee—Trigger was able to retain ownership of the rights to the finished anime. Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade was released in theatres in 2015, and received positive reviews both in Japan and abroad.

For Little Witch Academia (TV), the high cost of producing a full-length television series made it necessary to use production committee financing, but the production committee for this project was unusually small: just Toho Animation, Good Smile Company, and Ultra Super Pictures. (By comparison, the production committee for Kill la Kill had included Aniplex, Dentsu, Kadokawa Shoten, Lucent Pictures Entertainment, Movic, and Ultra Super Pictures.) The smaller production committee meant that Trigger was bearing more of the risk if the series failed to live up to expectations, but it also meant the studio had more to gain from its share of the copyrights and “secondary usage” revenues from manga, video games, merchandise, and overseas distribution rights.

A Trigger Classic?

The anime community had embraced the two Little Witch Academia shorts and had been eagerly anticipating the TV series since it was announced in June 2016. Both fans and the studio hoped that the new work would reignite Trigger’s upward trajectory after the mixed results of its post-Kill la Kill efforts.

Yoh Yoshinari, who directed the first two versions of Little Witch Academia and was back to do the TV series, described the series as a story that “unfolds at a very fast tempo, with an extremely large amount of ‘information’—visual content and action—crammed into the screen.”[67] He spoke about the anime’s target audience and some of the challenges of creating an anime that viewers would enjoy:

Up to now Trigger hasn’t made any anime that targeted kids. We wanted to make Little Witch Academia for a children’s audience, to show that Trigger can do this too. The edginess of Kill La Kill and Gurren Lagann made them interesting, but with the Little Witch Academia series we want to go in a new direction, to broaden our audience.

To keep an audience engaged you want to surprise them by double-crossing their expectations. You do this by overturning one part of their view of the world, while at the same time giving them what they expect in terms of continually upping the tension and building toward a climax. … The challenge is how to achieve the right balance. If the story goes too much as expected, it’s boring, but if you go too far the other way and turn things upside-down too much, that’s no good either. The trick is getting that “seasoning” right.

I don’t want Little Witch Academia to be like the typical “magical girl” story. Of course, I don’t mean to disavow that particular genre. Akko has that kind of magical girl image when she enters Luna Nova Academy. But viewers soon see that she’s actually quite different. In both the shorts and the TV series, she encounters people with entirely different values from her own. [68]

Like Anime, Like Studio

Trigger’s signature works highlighted the qualities of wonder, overcoming adversity, and dreaming big. In a sense, Studio Trigger had embodied those same qualities in the short six years it had been in existence, aiming to create high-quality original anime in an industry dominated by licensed works, pioneering a unique high-energy aesthetic, and breaking new ground in company organization, anime financing, interaction with fans, and working with Western creators.

As Episode 1 of the Little Witch Academia TV series drew to a close with its ending theme song, “If You Follow the Stars” (星を辿れば), Ōtsuka let his mind drift back over the path he and his studio had followed in pursuit of their own stars. Studio Trigger had accomplished much and made a name for itself, but Ōtsuka, Trigger staff, and the studio’s growing fan base hoped that there would be many more accomplishments, and great anime, on the road ahead. In 2017, words that Ōtsuka had spoken in a 2013 interview with Anime News Network still applied:

We were able to create titles with a lot of creative freedom while at Gainax. However, we came to the conclusion that if we wanted to do things surrounding our titles, such as communicating directly with fans in the way that we want, then we shouldn’t rely on the studio. We concluded that we had to take responsibility for such things ourselves. Things were tough at first, and the most challenging part of this journey was money-related. We still worry about money, but we also want to keep creating new things. That being said, I don’t think we will have a single worry-free day going forward![69]

Epilogue

The Little Witch Academia TV series was a hit. Half a year after its debut, over 48,000 viewers had given it an average score of 8.17 on MyAnimeList, and it had generated positive reviews with comments like the following:

… a hand-drawn work full of appealing motion … packed with ingenuity as well as superbly edited images. … More than just the excitement of the story, the work helped me to rediscover the beauty of the anime art form.[70]

… a fun and light series that’ll be worth watching for fans of great animation. … has an appeal not many other shows have. It’s just so pure.[71]

If you ever feel like reliving your childhood in a modern sense, then this charming anime is the show for you! Being able to learn about the world of Little Witch Academia, see the characters grow and mature over time, and witness the deeper plot unfold was a truly fantastic experience! I can say with certainty that, just as Shiny Chariot’s show left a mark on Akko, this show will also forever be in my heart![72]

One notable aspect of the full-length Little Witch Academia was its numerous references to Western pop culture, something not often seen in Japanese anime. Scattered throughout the series’ 25 episodes are references to Star Wars, the children’s cartoon Dexter’s Lab, the video game League of Legends, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, The Wizard of Oz, Disney movies, Beatles songs, Monty Python, and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, among others. Whether a conscious strategy to appeal to Western audiences or simply an honest expression of the anime’s creators’ interest in and love for Western pop culture—or both—this symbolized Trigger’s influence by and outreach to the West and made for a rather unique blending of Japanese and Western pop culture.

~ ~ ~

Exhibit 1. TV Anime Series in Japan, 1963–2015.

Source: Hiromichi Masuda, et al., Anime Industry Report 2016, The Association of Japanese Animations.

Exhibit 2. TV Anime Source Material.

Pie chart of anime adaption sources
Source: Crunchyroll.

Exhibit 3. TV Anime Source Material, Trends.

Source: Crunchyroll.

Exhibit 4. Overseas Sales of Japanese Anime.

Source: Hiromichi Masuda et al., Anime Industry Report 2016, The Association of Japanese Animations.

Exhibit 5. Anime and Anime-related Revenues, 2010–2015.

Source: Hiromichi Masuda et al., Anime Industry Report 2016, The Association of Japanese Animations.

Categories, from bottom:
(1) TV: domestic TV animation revenues
(2) Movies: domestic theatrical animation box office revenues
(3) Video: domestic video animation revenues (DVD, etc.)
(4) Internet Distribution: domestic online animation revenues
(5) Merchandising: domestic animation-related merchandise revenues
(6) Music: domestic animation-related music revenues
(7) Overseas: overseas Japanese animation revenues (movies, TV, videos, merchandise, etc.)
(8) Pachinko and pachinko-slot: estimated shipment value of animation character-themed pachinko and pachinko-slot machines
(9) Live Entertainment: revenues from animation-related live performances, events, exhibitions, and cafes

Exhibit 6. Studio Trigger Works.

TV Series Japanese Title Year(s)
Kill la Kill キルラキル 2013–2014
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace 異能バトルは日常系のなかで 2014
Space Patrol Luluco 宇宙パトロールルル子 2016
Kiznaiver キズナイーバー 2016
Little Witch Academia TVアニメ『リトルウィッチアカデミア』 2017
Web Anime Series
Inferno Cop インフェルノコップ 2012–2013
Ninja Slayer from Animation
(also broadcast on TV in 2016)
ニンジャスレイヤー フロムアニメイシヨン 2015
Shorts – ONA
SEX and VIOLENCE with MACHSPEED 2015
POWER PLANET No.33 2015
Electronic Superhuman Gridman: boys invent great hero 電光超人グリッドマン boys invent great hero 2015
Shorts – Cinematic
Little Witch Academia リトルウィッチアカデミア 2013
Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade リトルウィッチアカデミア 魔法仕掛けのパレード 2015

Sources: “Works,” Trigger website; “Studio Trigger,” Wikipedia.


  1. The opening and closing scenes of this case, with Masahiko Ōtsuka watching Little Witch Academia on his big-screen TV, are fictional. The rest of the case is factual.
  2. Susan J. Napier, Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 6.
  3. Prior to the advent of cel animation, animated films were made using “cutout animation”: the background, characters, and items were all drawn on individual sheets of paper and these were photographed. As the drawings differed slightly from sheet to sheet, the resulting animation had a “jittery” appearance. Cel animation used clear celluloid sheets called “cels,” which allowed the non-moving parts of a cut to be repeated from frame to frame, saving labor and producing smoother animation.
  4. A multiplane camera is a special motion picture camera used in a process that moves multiple pieces of artwork past the camera at various speeds and at various distances from one another, creating a 3-dimensional effect.
  5. Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy, Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2014), p. 616.
  6. Frederik L. Schodt, Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 1996).
  7. Ryōta Fujitsu, “The Beginning and End of the Anime Boom: The Three Golden Periods,” Manga Tokyo, February 3, 2017, http://manga.tokyo/otaku-articles/looking-objectively-at-the-beginning-and-end-of-the-anime-boom/ (accessed June 6, 2017).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Hiromichi Masuda, et al., Anime Industry Report 2016, The Association of Japanese Animations, March, 2016.
  10. Andrei Hagiu, et al., Production I.G: Challenging the Status Quo, Harvard Business Case No. 9-707-454, 2007.
  11. Debbi Gardner, “Anime in America,” Japan Inc, January 2003, http://www.japaninc.com/article.php?articleID=972 (accessed July 14, 2017).
  12. Ibid.
  13. Tim Craig, Anime News Network: Building a Sustainable Internet Business, Ivey Publishing, Case No. 9B14M118, 2014.
  14. Todd Spangler, “Amazon Launches Anime Channel for $5 per Month, Its First Branded Subscription Channel,” Variety, January 12, 2017, http://variety.com/2017/digital/news/amazon-anime-channel-subscription-1201958402/ (accessed July 5, 2017).
  15. David Ng, “For the Anime Industry, the Streaming Revolution is Both a Blessing and a Curse,” Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-anime-business-20170701-story.html (accessed July 5, 2017).
  16. Ibid.
  17. Masuda, et al., Anime Industry Report 2016.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. “Anime seisaku gaisha” [Anime studios], Wikipedia, https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/アニメ制作会社 (accessed July 8, 2017).
  21. Rebecca Manley, “What Is an Animation Director?” Directors UK, https://www.directors.uk.com/news/what-is-an-animation-director (accessed June 25, 2017).
  22. Nikkei BP Technology Research Department, ed., Anime Business is Changing (Tokyo: Nikkei BP, 1999), p. 173.
  23. Matt Schley, “Eight Things We Learned from Kill La Kill’s Kazuya Masumoto,” Otaku USA, August 27, 2015, http://www.otakuusamagazine.com/Anime/News1/Eight-Things-We-Learned-From-Kill-la-Kills-Kazuya-6801.aspx (accessed July 8, 2017).
  24. “Production Guide: The Animation Process,” Kanzenshuu.com, http://www.kanzenshuu.com/production/animation-process/ (accessed June 15, 2017).
  25. Hagui, et al., Production I.G.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Kevin Cirugeda, “What Is an Anime’s Production Committee?” Sakuga Blog, May 2, 2017, https://blog.sakugabooru.com/2017/05/02/what-is-an-animes-production-committee/ (accessed July 10, 2017).
  29. Justin Sevakis, “The Anime Economy—Part 1: Let’s Make an Anime!” March 5, 2012, Anime News Network, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2012-03-05 (accessed June 7, 2017).
  30. Ibid.
  31. “Animeeshon seisakusha jittai chōsa hōkokusho 2015"[Animation creators factual investigation white paper 2015], Japan Animation Creators Association, http://www.janica.jp/survey/survey2015Report.pdf#search='JAniCA report 2016' (accessed June 27, 2017).
  32. Ibid.
  33. “Accelerating ‘Black Labor Conditions’ in the 2 Trillion Yen Anime Industry,” Closeup Gendai, NHK, broadcast June 7, 2017.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Eric Stimson, “Director Osamu Yamasaki Discusses Anime Industry’s Working Conditions,” Anime News Network, January 4, 2017, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2017-01-04/director-osamu-yamasaki-discusses-anime-industry-working-conditions/.110623 (accessed June 27, 2017).
  36. “Sanzigen, Ordet, Trigger Form Ultra Super Pictures Holding Firm,” Anime News Network, October 27, 2011, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2011-10-27/sanzigen-ordet-trigger-form-ultra-super-pictures-holding-firm (accessed July 5, 2017).
  37. Ishaan, “Studio Trigger’s CEO Wants to Take Risks, Enable Creative Freedom,” Siliconera, June 18, 2014, http://www.siliconera.com/2014/06/18/studio-triggers-ceo-wants-take-risks-enable-creative-freedom (accessed July 6, 2017).
  38. Miki Kobayashi, “Gainakkusu wo yameta riyū. Shinsaku ‘Kiru ra kiru’ Torigaa Ōtsuka Masahiko daihyō ni kiku” [The reason for leaving Gainax: We ask company director Masahiko Ōtsuka of Trigger, whose new work is Kill La Kill], Excite News, October 3, 2013, http://www.excite.co.jp/News/reviewmov/20131003/E1380729604652.html (accessed July 6, 2017). This and other Japanese-language quotes appearing in this chapter were translated into English by Tim Craig.
  39. “Sanzigen, Ordet, Trigger Form Ultra Super Pictures."
  40. Ibid.
  41. Kobayashi, “Gainakkusu wo yameta riyū” [Reason for leaving Gainax].
  42. Ishaan, “Studio Trigger’s CEO Wants to Take Risks, Enable Creative Freedom.”
  43. ONA stands for “original net animation”; an ONA is an anime released directly on the internet. A cinematic anime is one produced to be shown in theatres or at film festivals.
  44. “Trigger,” Encyclopedia, Anime News Network, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/company.php?id=10354 (accessed June 14, 2017).
  45. “Kill la Kill,” MyAnimeList, https://myanimelist.net/anime/18679/Kill_la_Kill (accessed July 12, 2017).
  46. Ishaan, “Studio Trigger’s CEO Wants to Take Risks, Enable Creative Freedom.”
  47. Kobayashi, “Gainakkusu wo yameta riyū” [Reason for leaving Gainax].
  48. Ibid.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Assawssin, “‘Kiru ra kiru’ ni miru, Nihon no shinshin anime hausu ‘Torigaa’ no keisan sareta kageki” [The calculated radicalism of up-and-coming Japanese anime studio Trigger, as seen in Kill la Kill], Wired, June 26, 2014, http://wired.jp/2014/06/26/trigger/ (accessed July 6, 2017).
  51. Ishaan, “Studio Trigger’s CEO Wants to Take Risks, Enable Creative Freedom.”
  52. Assawssin, “‘Kiru ra kiru’ ni miru” [Seen in 'Kill la Kill'].
  53. Kobayashi, “Gainakkusu wo yameta riyū” [Reason for leaving Gainax]
  54. Ishaan, “Studio Trigger’s CEO Wants to Take Risks, Enable Creative Freedom.”
  55. Ibid.
  56. Bamboo Dong, “Interview: Masahiko Otsuka and Yoh Yoshinari of Studio Trigger,” Anime News Network, August 28, 2013, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interview/2013-08-28/interview-masahiko-otsuka-and-yoh-yoshinari-of-studio-trigger (accessed June 29, 2017).
  57. Michelle Nguyen, “Steven Universe Collabs with Renowned Anime Studio Trigger,” GEEK, August 27, 2016.  https://www.geek.com/tech/steven-universe-collabs-with-reknowned-anime-studio-trigger-1668255/ (accessed July 5, 2017).
  58. Michael McWhertor, “Skullgirls Developer Teams up with Anime Studio Trigger for Indivisible,” Polygon, December 6, 2016, http://www.polygon.com/2016/12/6/13850780/indivisible-studio-trigger-animation-lab-zero-games-anime (accessed July 5, 2017).
  59. “Studio Trigger Animates Extra for Toy Story that Time Forgot Home Video Release,” Anime News Network, November 7, 2015, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2015-11-07/studio-trigger-animates-extra-for-toy-story-that-time-forgot-home-video-release/.95114 (accessed July 5, 2017).
  60. Schley, “Eight Things We Learned.”
  61. “Little Witch Academia (TV),” Anime News Network, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=18486 (accessed July 5, 2917).
  62. “Little Witch Academia’s Tokyo Event Cancelled Due to Low Ticket Sales,” Anime News Network, August 12, 2013, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2013-08-12/little-witch-academia-tokyo-event-cancelled-due-to-low-ticket-sales  (accessed June 29, 2017).
  63. Matt Schley, “Little Witch Academia / Anime Mirai Exhibition,” Otaku USA, March 4, 2014, http://otakuusamagazine.com/Events/News1/Little-Witch-AcademiaAnime-Mirai-Exhibition-5523.aspx (accessed July 14, 2017).
  64. “Crowdfunding” is the practice of funding a project by soliciting monetary contributions from a large number of people. Kickstarter is a popular American crowdfunding platform.
  65. “Little Witch Academia 2,” Kickstarter, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1311401276/little-witch-academia-2 (accessed June 14, 2017).
  66. “Trigger's Crowdfunding Project for Little Witch Academia Episode 2 Concluded with over $625,000,” Anime News Network, August 9, 2013, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/press-release/2013-08-09/trigger-crowdfunding-project-for-little-witch-academia-episode-2-concluded-with-over-5000 (accessed June 14, 2017).
  67. “TV anime ‘Ritoru Uicchi Akademia’ Yoshinari Yō kantoku intabyuu—Trigger wa kō iu anime mo dekirun da to misetakatta” [Interview with Yoh Yoshinari, director of the TV anime series ‘Little Witch Academia—I wanted to show that Trigger can make this kind of anime too], Anime! Anime!, December 26, 2016, https://animeanime.jp/article/2016/12/26/31933_2.html (accessed July 12, 2017).
  68. Ibid.
  69. Dong, “Interview: Masahiko Otsuka and Yoh Yoshinari."
  70. Thankyou-Tatsuo, “Grand Finale of ‘Little Witch Academia’ Was Magical,” The Japan News, August 8, 2017, http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0003840536
  71. Nick Valdez, “Review: Little Witch Academia (Season 1),” Japanator, July 5, 2017, https://www.destructoid.com/review-little-witch-academia-season-1--446877.phtml
  72. Asie, “Little Witch Academia (TV Winter–Spring 2017) Series Review,” Manga Tokyo, https://manga.tokyo/anime-review/little-witch-academia-tv-winter-spring-2017-series-review/

License

The Japanese Anime Industry: Studio Trigger Finds Its Mark Copyright © 2018 by Tim Craig, Mike Adams, Joe Kesslering, and Niko Iftner. All Rights Reserved.

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