Something almost unbelievable happened last night. Trigger Inc. set up a campaign to crowdfund the next episode of their 2013 Anime Mirai title Little Witch Academia, and in less than five hours, they met their $150,000 goal and more.
This is remarkable for many reasons. While there have been other projects related to Japanese animation that have tried this crowdfunding model (mainly with regards to legal distribution), this is only the second original piece of animation work from Japan to come out of this. The fervor with which this was funded tells us that there is a Western market for these products at Eastern prices, and that we have yet to reach the mythic “Kickstarter fatigue” for this medium. If current statistical trends hold up, this campaign has the potential to raise millions of dollars.
I say that without yet mentioning the amazing outreach by the creators at Studio Trigger. Through keeping open and ongoing dialogue with Western fans and providing free, easy, and legal means by which we can watch the first Little Witch Academia, they’ve done a remarkable job of endearing themselves to the fandom at large. This is further exemplified in their campaign pitch where they claimed to have first learned about crowdfunding through the English commenters’ repeated use of the word “Kickstarter.”
This is a masterstroke on the part of Studio Trigger executives. It shows how much they value the Western market and fandom by directly acknowledging their comments and wishes. In turn this fueled the initial funding frenzy to 180% of their initial goal at the time of this writing, one day into the campaign. This shows a belief in the fans on the creators’ parts, and the fans responded in kind by participating with a sense of invigorated ownership and a belief of their own in the quality of the product.
But this ownership and belief on the part of backers and fans has given rise to a sense of possessiveness. Reading through the commentary you’ll see two common refrains: don’t use any of the funding for an English language dub track; or no funding until an English dub is confirmed. On the cutting edge of democratized funding, we are in the midst of a subs vs. dubs debate.
One late Saturday night when I was 17, I was flipping through cable channels when I came upon a boy complaining about how “nothing amazing ever happens [t]here.” In less than half an hour, I can confidently claim that my life had changed. There was a kind of manifest love on my screen that I responded to viscerally, perhaps also as a consequence of my age. It had just the right amount of “cool,” sardonic wit, disaffected angst, sexual imagery and symbolism, and aching sincerity to speak to me and other adolescents of like mind. Perhaps another title could have had the same effect for me later on, but I came to FLCL at the exact right moment at the exact right time to instigate a life long love for this medium. FLCL was my gateway anime, and ten years later, Little Witch Academia has the potential to be the same for a new generation. This is my belief.
The argument is, that instead of spending money to hire additional English actors, the money can be used to pay the animators to lengthen the new episode itself and keep the Japanese cast. The animation is what the initial backers and the current fandom fell in love with. I understand, and sympathize, but if we were to limit the creators to only lengthening the project we do them a disservice. We all believe that Trigger will put out something unparalleled, but we need to show them something more than belief in this instance. A high quality professional dub of Little Witch Academia that can be accessed by any number media venues (including broadcast television or perhaps even a theatrical run) can have a lasting impact on the right person at the right time.
Anime as it is, is part of an entertainment industry that has a very narrow and specific appeal. Americans don’t like subtitles. Yes, it’s not just Americans that will reap the benefit of a successful Little Witch campaign, just as it’s not just them who are seeing to its success to begin with. But America is still a vast market, and success there through TV broadcast or video stream services (or even cinema!) can ensure not just an ease of access to this title, but possibly brand new fans. New fans, in turn, can contribute to the robustness of the industry as a whole, which means more creative work can be created to cater to all of the markets around the world.
But for that to happen, we as backers need to relent just a bit. We need to understand that dubbing something like this isn’t a waste of our money. The through-line of Little Witch Academia is a simple and universal one, that “a believing heart is your magic.” We in turn need to reciprocate to the creators our belief in their creative decisions, but we also need just a little more than that.
We need a little faith.
- The Kickstarter campaign itself can be found here.
- The first Little Witch Academia can be seen in its entirety for free on YouTube or on Crunchyroll.