The portal Anime News Network held a special interview with George Wada, the newly appointed president and CEO of Production IG, and also president of Wit Studio where he explains why they didn’t continue animating Shingeki no Kyojin. Check out the full interview below.
This year is very exciting. You have been named President and CEO of Production IG. How has your work changed at this point and what do you hope to accomplish in your new role?
Wada: So I became the CEO of Production IG, but I’m still the CEO of Wit Studio, which is a very exciting challenge. Both are anime studios under the IG Port Group. These two anime studios are two very different companies. So I would like to leverage the unique characteristics of these two companies to increase the number of anime fans out there and get them to like the works we create.
IG Port achieved a record number of revenues in the fiscal year from June 2021 to May 2022, during a time when many other animation studios were struggling. What do you credit for the company’s impressive revenue gains?
Wada: The animation industry in Japan has really been changed by the global fan base. Right now, there are so many platforms that want Japanese animation: Netflix, Crunchyroll, Disney, and Amazon. So in the past we were only getting a few companies in Japan, but now we have a lot of options. So what I really think adds to that revenue is the fact that we’re on the deciding side of who we’re going to work with.
There is an established interest in working conditions among anime viewers, especially in the west. What is the current work-life balance for animators at Wit Studio?
Wada: As I mentioned before, because there are so many platforms, there are now so many people wanting more anime to be created. Due to this increase in demand, high quality work is expected and, as a result, highly skilled animators are needed. This allowed animators to have a better work-life balance, but it also made it necessary for them to improve their skills. To ensure a steady supply of work, the studio is now able to hire animators directly, allowing us to pay them a living wage and provide them with a stable living.
This is great news because living as a contractor in this industry is very difficult.
Wada: This is happening at other studios as well. You are definitely starting to see this improvement in overall work-life balance.
There seems to be a trend with Wit Studio moving on to work on sequels to previous projects such as Shingeki no Kyojin, Vinland Saga, and The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Is this a matter of scheduling conflicts or a change in the studio’s approach to accepting projects?
Wada: For all the titles that Wit Studio has made, we wanted to create sequels to those series. 5 years ago, for many of these titles, one of the biggest factors was DVD sales. As a business model, the decision to make a sequel depended entirely on DVD sales. Back then, for all those titles you just mentioned, we had only been signed for the first season. Then, as soon as the DVD sales results came in, we would get an offer to do a second season based on that. Back then, my management skills weren’t as good as they are today, so I couldn’t add (the next few seasons) to the schedule right away because I already had other shows lined up for funding. And, of course, fans and publishers want to release the second season as soon as possible, which leads to it being animated by another studio.
It really can’t be helped, so I think it was the right choice in those cases. Therefore, due to the increase in global fans and the number of streaming platforms available, this allows us to make more lasting decisions about whether to continue a series. What I would like to do with Wit Studio in the future is that we now have the financial foundation to continue hiring for longer periods.
What kind of information do you look at now if DVD sales are not as influential in decision-making?
Wada: Streaming platforms like Netflix and Crunchyroll generate a certain amount of revenue based on the number of paying subscribers, so that’s their base. Before, as you know, DVDs were expensive and few people could afford them. Now that the basis for determining whether or not to continue a series depends on how many people are watching, it becomes much easier to predict and make a decision.
Spy x Family got great television ratings on TV Tokyo, especially among time-shift audiences who are recording and watching later. Are there any plans to reconsider your airlock or consider airing future anime series during prime time instead of late night based on this?
Wada: I’m actually really surprised that Spy x Family has become such a huge hit. But the series, as you know, has a family theme, which I think is part of its success. I think it actually opened the door for people not to record or watch late at night, but to show more anime in prime time.
Wit Studio has produced several projects for Netflix such as Great Pretender and the movie Bubble. How has the creation of projects for the platform been working on the business side? Does Wit Studio want to continue working with Netflix in the future?
Wada: Wit Studio’s take is that we definitely want to continue working with Netflix, but there’s one thing we really have to figure out and work on. I think one of the things that Netflix will have to work on in the future is merchandising and events and filling in additional aspects behind the titles they release. Working with netflix in the future, I think that’s something we definitely want to work on, clearing that hurdle together.
On the western side of things, there have sometimes been complaints about Netflix not promoting the anime series as much, so they’ve lost their way a bit. Have you experienced this with the Wit Studio offerings there?
Wada: In my opinion, Netflix is mostly promoting the streaming platform itself. They are not promoting individual series for their own success. I think the way the marketing structure is set up will be one of the biggest challenges in the future. Netflix must understand that each and every title is important to creators, and they must keep that in mind going forward.