5 Questions to Netflix Anime Head Kohei Obara – The Hollywood Reporter

In just over five years, Netflix has gone from being a newbie in Japan’s anime industry to a major player.

Netflix only launched in Japan in late 2015 and released its first anime feature film, To blame!in 2017. Fast-forward five years and the streamer says that half of its estimated 222 million subscribers watched some anime on its service in 2021. Globally, the company also saw a 20 percent increase in total hours. users spent watching anime last year.

During the AnimeJapan convention in Tokyo, which wrapped up last week, Netflix revealed that it would release 40 new anime titles, spanning an ever-increasing range of genres, in 2022 alone. The company is bringing back new seasons of popular series like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure STONE OCEAN and Ghost in the shell: SAC_2045as well as premiering feature films from top-tier creators, such as Tetsurō Araki’s teen action fantasy. Bubblewhich premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, and Studio Colores’s drifting house.

Tokyo-based veteran producer Kohei Obara currently oversees all of Netflix’s anime acquisitions and originals as the company’s anime creative director. Obara began his career at the powerful Japanese studio Toei Animation, then worked as a freelance producer and also spent three years developing anime projects at Disney. He has been with Netflix since the beginning of 2019.

the hollywood reporter connected with Obara during AnimeJapan for a quick chat about Netflix’s optimism in the anime business and how Japan’s industry is coping with the incoming rush of international production cash.

How would you summarize the current state of the Japanese anime market internationally?

It’s going incredibly well. The popularity of anime has increased quite a bit in recent years. Anime has been big here in Japan for more than seven or eight decades, ever since Osamu Tezuka created the first anime title. But in recent years, its popularity has been growing a lot internationally. On Netflix, more than half of our global subscribers watched anime last year, which is an incredible number. In Japan, at least 90 percent of our subscribers have been watching anime. In Japan, it has always been very big, but the popularity has also increased quite a bit globally.

Even in the beleaguered North American theatrical space, some anime titles are racking up some really impressive numbers lately. Obviously he’s not involved in theatrical distribution, but he must see some synergy in that.

Absolutely. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 it’s just killing it (distributed by Sony’s Crunchyroll, the film opened in North America on March 18 and has grossed around $30 million). It is an incredible achievement. It’s tempting to say it’s never been done before, but Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train in fact, it got that slice of the US box office a couple of years ago (the anime blockbuster made $49.5 million in North America and $454.7 million worldwide). Seeing this trend continue is really encouraging and reassuring. It tells us how much anime really is a global medium now.

Could you give an overview of how Netflix’s anime strategy has evolved since you started working in the local industry?

Netflix Japan started investing in anime in 2016 with Blame!, and we have been increasing our investment year after year. We’ve been leaning towards a lot of action, adventure, fantasy and sci-fi, action-heavy titles, but I think we’re just starting to hit a new stage recently. Anime has a very wide range of expressions and reaching out to different genres has been one of our goals, especially this year. We have about 40 titles that will be announced and released this year as originals, but we’re trying to diversify the lineup by bringing in, for example, laid-back content, romantic dramas, and things that are different from what we usually go for. .

Based on the sheer volume of original and licensed anime content you’ve released, which categories have proven to be the most popular so far? And what have been some of your interesting conclusions or surprises about the movies and series that connected in different parts of the world?

Well, the most successful shows we’ve had so far, like crying devil man, for example, have been very edgy, gory, and sexy R-rated anime titles that have caused quite a stir globally. When many people who are new to anime still expect cartoons to be more familiar, I think those kinds of things have a great influence in drawing people in, by broadening the understanding of what anime and animation can be in general. On the other hand, we have very laid-back comedy shows like The disastrous life of Saiki K and The Househusband’s Way, which are kind of high-concept comedy pieces. Those titles resonate very well with the Japanese audience, as expected, but also with global audiences in the US, Europe, and Latin America. The way anime titles resonate is quite diverse and unique, where you never know what’s going to happen. But that’s how we feel about the ability and potential of anime on the service right now: that any show could become a worldwide hit.

Its main streaming rivals (Amazon, Disney+, HBO Max, etc.) are now following the same playbook by ramping up their anime output, so there is a flood of international capital pouring into Japan’s anime sector. How do you think this will affect the local industry?

That is a very good question. Capital spillover is not necessarily a big deal, given the relatively small size of the industry and the number of people who work in it and actually design the frameworks for these shows. It’s not like we can have two or three times as many of them instantly, just because the money is there. We really have to nurture new talent and give them time to learn how these prestigious studios work, and that’s not something that just happens overnight with more money.

That’s the hard part, but we’re in this for the long haul. We are not just trying to snatch the best shows for a good amount of money. We are trying to establish a really warm and organic relationship with studios, artists and creators. Of course, we want to create the best titles, but we want to do it in a healthy and fast-paced way that helps the industry grow and stay sustainable. In order to do that, I think we all need to be more grounded in the sense of staying in touch with what anime is and how it’s made. Those who understand what is happening on the ground for these artists are the ones who will prevail in the end. We are there to really understand what is going on.