KADOKAWA should be no stranger to anime fans, given that the major publishing company is home to many well-known light novel series that have received anime adaptations, such as Sword Art Online, Konosuba, and Re:ZERO. The publisher isn’t content with just having a few adaptations of its properties either, making headlines last year for announcing that it will produce up to 40 anime titles per year until 2023. In the currently ongoing Summer 2022 anime season alone, there are at least five anime series based on Kadokawa-published titles.
We had the special opportunity to talk to KADOKAWA Executive Officer Takeshi Kikuchi and Senior General Manager Daijo Kudo at Anime Expo 2022, where they spoke about KADOKAWA’s expanding anime plans and what to expect in the future.
Last year, Kadokawa established 3D CG anime studio Kadan which is centered around
Hiroyuki Senshita-san. Could you talk about how the studio originated and what direction
the studio will take creatively?
Takeshi Kikuchi: Senshita-san was actually working on something else, before all this was announced, as a director. We at KADOKAWA were really interested in the 3D CG animation space and it was his production style, the style of how he produces, that was particularly interesting.
It’s quite different from how a lot of other Japanese animation studios produce. That really moved me and it was the combination of his creative side and how he systemized the production pipeline that really interested us in wanting to have a joint venture together.
With Senshita-san, again, it’s really his creative talent that we were interested in at KADOKAWA. There’s a lot of other big studios that have ties to Mamoru Hosoda or Makoto Shinkai that have deep ties with Nippon TV or TOHO. As KADOKAWA, we wanted to have a creator first, creator-centric type of venture. There’s some other companies we have, like Kinema Citrus. Those are focused more on transmedia, multimedia type of product development. But with Senshita-san’s project, I really want to focus on the creative first.
When you say “creative first,” could you elaborate on that? Would it be like more original works, or a more different approach towards making anime?
Kikuchi: We are looking at possibly taking existing properties or franchises and potentially rebooting them, and at the same time there’s also a transition from taking original works that KADOKAWA has and animating them.
We also want to explore the possibility of Kadan having their own original properties that perhaps they would own as a business. There’s a lot of different opportunities that we are exploring right now with how to work with Kadan.
Speaking of new projects, a financial report from last year stated that KADOKAWA intends to produce 40 titles a year until 2023. What do you see as the biggest hurdle to realizing this goal, and what would be the solution to that hurdle?
Kikuchi: The biggest bottleneck in this case is talent. There’s not enough staff to go around to create the projects at the rate that we would like to.
There’s a lot of challenges in the sort of labor situation with respect to the conditions and how the anime industry is trending. A lot of the talent and animators moved into the video games space. We have a lot of original properties that we would like to explore, but it’s the people that can execute those visions and ideas that are currently lacking.
Daijo Kudo: As Kikuchi-san also mentioned, there’s a shortage of producers and promotional producers, marketing strategy producers. At KADOKAWA, we’re also trying to create programs to help develop young talent. Speaking strictly with respect to the domestic market, there’s a movement in Japan right now to kind of revolutionize the way people work and limit certain hours and be more mindful of people, which is of course very important to us as well.
So, we want to, while respecting those rules, still hit our target of 40 titles. That’s where these development programs come into play.
What are the factors that lead to light novels and manga series being chosen for anime adaptation?
Kudo: KADOKAWA is a publisher, of course, so we publish light novels and manga and have access to the data of how popular [a series is], how many units are being moved as well as which demographics they resonate with. With that data, we want to take certain properties and then explore how would this become an interesting anime adaptation, but in making that transition, the most important key factor is a producer who wants to lead that charge.
So we evaluate it by the producer who picks a property and has a lot of passion towards making that vision a reality, because it takes a lot of will power to take a light novel or manga, and turn it into an anime and deliver it to the world.
Once the producer has that willpower, it’s the studio and the creators that he or she can bring together, and then take a certain IP and transform it into something that translates well to an anime adaptation.
With anime and content from Japan now being simulcasted and international fans at the same time, do international audiences become a factor in an anime adaptation?
Kikuchi: As you said, with many partners, there’s a lot of [international] market data that’s available that we as an industry share with each other. There might be characters that are more popular in Japan that could be different from characters being popular in North America or anywhere else overseas. We try to take all that into consideration and analyze everything
Some titles, like Osamake, Full Dive and The Detective is Already Dead, received adaptations within 1-2 years of publication. What were the factors that led to them getting adaptations so quickly, and can we expect this to become more common in the future?
Kudo: As you mentioned and pointed out very accurately, Osamake, Full Dive and The Detective is Already Dead received very quick anime adaptations. That partially has to do with the light novel genre. It’s different from manga, so there’s a different release timing and beat and there aren’t as many volumes and not as much serialization that we can do. So, we want to align that timing strategically on the original creator’s side. Likewise, if one of the studios happens to have an open production line, we want to make sure we’re taking all that into consideration when green lighting some of these anime projects.
You’re right, one to two years is a very fast turnaround for an anime adaptation, and basically the average is two to three years.
Kikuchi: To add on to that, of the anime you mentioned, Full Dive and The Detective is Already Dead are produced by ENGI while Osamake is produced by Doga Kobo. We have access to these studios because they’re part of our company network and that helps green light projects quicker.
With a lot of the popular series, we always take into consideration sequels, and having access to our own studio makes that turnaround much faster. If we work with external animation studios, oftentimes, we want to make a sequel but the timing does not align. We might be forced into a situation where you have to change studios and the character design. This leads to animation changes and it isn’t always the best for the project.
Studio Kadan is definitely a studio that I want to have creativity at the center, whereas with ENGI, because of their media mix and transmedia background, they’re really quick. Thus, they can release part two, part three of a series.
Classroom of the Elite is suddenly returning this year with a sequel. Why now?
Kikuchi: We wanted to announce it quickly! (laughs)
Kudo: Season 1 was very well received, and it’s something that we know because of what we mentioned earlier about the data, but it was challenging to make a second season the same way that we did. We knew that it was a very strong IP in terms of the light novel genre and it was very likable and performing really well.
As the demographic who liked this series grew older they had more disposable income, so we knew that there was a business motivation here as well. I think that this light novel perhaps can almost represent the genre and the entire light novel industry as a whole in a way. It’s one of the top sellers by far.
Instead of waiting too long to have a second season… with how anime is being consumed now, it has changed the industry over the past few years. There are new production committee architecture stances that we can take and order to produce other projects that we haven’t been able to in the past.
Kikuchi: At the core foundation, KADOKAWA is a publishing company. While animation is important, all those anime and movies in a way are also supposed to feed back into the publishing side. When you have a popular series like Classroom of the Elite, the anime adaptation also gives feedback into book sales, which also feedbacks into the anime. There’s a cycle between the two and a direct relationship.
Any final comments to international fans as they look forward to the many Kadokawa anime and titles this year and beyond?
Kikuchi: Over the next three years, there’s a lot of projects that we’re currently working on that we will be able to share, and I’m personally very excited and want to proudly present this.
We’ve got isekai type of projects, and studio Kadan is working on a new type of anime. We’re developing new looks in anime. KADOKAWA has many different genres available. I think there’s a lot to look forward to and I personally am very excited about what we have on the horizon. Of course, there are going to be sequels to a lot of popular series as well, so please look forward to them.
Kudo: We’re going to make an announcement for Konosuba and that’s something that I think will create a lot of shockwaves. As Kikuchi-san mentioned, there are new properties and new franchises we are looking at and they are very highly anticipated. And expect sequels to existing franchises; it’s not going to be just isekai shows.
We’re really looking at the entire world and not just the Japanese domestic market. I think with what we have in development right now, there’s a lot to look forward to and as a final note, it’s the anime fandom that goes beyond KADOKAWA. To all your readers and your audience, please tell them to recommend anime to others, so we can grow the entire fanbase and keep the industry healthy.