Do you love video games? What about anime? For some reason, many fans of one form of media are often fan of the other. I consider myself a fan of both, though the majority of my time is spent purely on gaming these days. In any case, because of my interest in Japanese animation, I was alerted to the launch of The Vision of Escaflowne Kickstarter when it began at the end of February. For the uninitiated, this series is tremendously well-loved and holds up to this day despite being twenty years old now. In any case, the crowdfunding campaign asked for $150,000 in order to re-dub the entire show for its Blu-Ray release. This new dub is apparently necessary because the upcoming disc release will be uncut, while the original show was not in its English debut. As such, there would be voices missing and therefore they have to redo the whole thing. Okay, there might be a bit more to it than that, but there’s actually not much description of the need of an entirely new dub.
Really, though, the key thing about The Vision of Escaflowne on Kickstarter that many failed to realize is that this project is headed by Funimation. If you’ve ever watched anime, then chances are you’ve heard of this company before. They bring tons of anime to English-speaking audiences and are no small company. Yet, here they are coming to a crowdfunding site for help… Kind of. This Kickstarter isn’t even about ensuring the upcoming Blu-Ray release. If it fails, then they would provide a subtitled release first and then potentially go for producing an original English dub version afterward. The project is one to “gauge… demand” as we’ve seen some other companies use the platform as before. A lot of this should have set alarm bells off for people.
Instead, The Vision of Escaflowne was funded in the span of a few days. As of this writing, it is on the cusp of reaching its second of three stretch goals. It seems very few lovers of the series took much convincing, as they pooled right in from the get go. As followers of video game crowdfunding campaigns, we know this is not always a safe move, but sometimes can’t help but jump in on a campaign regardless because of a famed developer or property. This is almost certainly what has happened on this project. After all, the page says precious little about anything of importance.
If you’ve never watched The Vision of Escaflowne then you certainly won’t learn a damn thing about it by reading through the project page (aside from the fact that it is old and a classic). Not only that, but Funimation has deemed a project cost breakdown completely unnecessary. So, uh, where the heck is this money going exactly? If we truly listen to the team and their goal of using this as a pre-order and interest-gauging stunt, then none of the money goes to anything other than early payment on those upcoming Blu-Rays. Yet they for whatever reason were not willing to explicitly state this in a clear way for all backers to see. Personally, I would have preferred such a move. It would not deter backers, but it would be a much-needed step toward transparency which the company seems uninterested in doing even when they’re collecting tons of fan funds and suggest that they “want our fans to be more involved.”
Anime projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo are nothing new. Even right now, there’s one running to give Skip Beat! an official North American release. The big difference here is scope, as well as explanation. The team on this project in particular seems more like a group of fans/friends looking to pay for the rights and give it the best treatment possible. This lack of outright business savvy shows as the project page isn’t particularly chock full of info either, but at least there’s passion – not to mention they did previously produce a high quality Blu-Ray for Time of Eve. Funimation, on the other hand, is a long established player in the industry which has little to lose and a lot of unneeded money to gain – and should know better. I am not certain whether or not the “Kickstarter gold rush” has hit the anime community before, but this shows that there’s still room for projects to succeed off of an established/loved property and little else.
The fact that one of the biggest names in anime localization is on Kickstarter is worrisome for more than just the fact that they apparently don’t know how to put even basic information on a Kickstarter page. It’s the idea that we may eventually see big name publishers come to Kickstarter under the guise of getting closer to their fans or meeting their needs directly. We should all be able to tell that this is primarily another means of them collecting funding earlier. The video game industry already loves this concept – just look at pre-orders. If companies could secure money from consumers even earlier than the pre-order process (aka: during development) why wouldn’t they go for it? Sure, this is already happening in the case of indie games getting crowdfunded and on Early Access, but generally the biggest companies aren’t direct participants.
Could we ever see Activision, EA, or Blizzard come to Kickstarter? I certainly hope not, but wonder if we may see that down the road in a few years. There are already established (if small) companies doing as much, such as Harmonix with their second crowdfunding campaign. I hope that we don’t ever see this come to pass because it would be just another means of getting consumer cash when it isn’t even required. “Gauging interest” is hardly an excuse, anyway. Don’t you think that large companies have a whole lot of analytics on their customer base and conduct interest surveys regularly? They do. Funimation should already be aware whether or not there is interest enough for a full re-dub of The Vision of Escaflowne. Apparently they already know there’s enough love for the show to produce a Blu-Ray release regardless. Anything else beyond that, though, just seems like a smokescreen to hide their true intentions.
Perhaps this worry is for naught and that we will never see a monolithic gaming publisher take their next project to Kickstarter. I just find it hard to completely dispose of the possibility given that it is now occurring in other industry segments. We’ll just need to keep an eye on the service and see what happens. Luckily, I have a feeling that gamers would most certainly not welcome a publisher like Activision with open arms onto Kickstarter.