A long anime series of 24-26 episodes will typically change gears halfway through with brand new theme songs, a new story arc and a fresh set of characters. But this spring’s crop sees five titles buck this trend, in a move that has surprised the industry. Cyzo News reports that “Fate/Zero,” “Medaka Box,” “Kimi to Boku 2,” “Jormungand” and “Hirono no Kaera” all have lengthened story arcs and will be keeping the same theme tune throughout the season. This effectively slims down the merchandising package for the season. Sales of DVDs, singles and figurines make up a significant part of the earnings for anime shows, and the move is seen as a reflection of economic hard times in otaku industries.
The ostensible reason is that anime creators want more time to develop story lines, rather than being forced to come up with fresh ideas every three months (the time needed to air a set of 12-13 episodes). But the real reason may be that while merchandise sales are still strong, the numbers of hardcore fans willing to buy up an entire collection of CD, DVD, and character models is dwindling. The slimline package is a way of enticing fans to splurge on the full set of merchandise instead of picking and choosing.
Japan’s falling birth rate means that anime aimed at adults (broadcast late at night) has enjoyed huge popularity in recent years among those in their 20s to 30s. During the 1980s, as the number of children fell, the number of kidults hungry for sexier, gorier anime rose. In the latter part of the noughties the number of fans willing to purchase anime merchandise aimed at adults increased. However, unlike hadcore fans, they opt to purchase only the merchandise that appeals to them. In fact, otaku culture is no longer the preserve of the hardcore nerd. According to Sankei, a recent study by Yano Research Institute showed that one in four Japanese identified themselves as otaku.
Dentsu advertising agency now considers the market so significant that they will be setting up a branch dedicated to studying otaku spending habits. Nevertheless, Cyzo’s article states that last year these otaku were spending less, so watch for the anime industry to keep looking for creative ways to keep the cash flow going.