Why It’s Hard for Your Favorite Series to Get Licensed

A lot of anime fans ask a simple yet complicated question, “Why hasn’t my favorite series been translated or released yet!?” The answer is simple: licensing rights.

The problem is that it’s not that simple. The definition of a license is a binding legal agreement between two parties with the intention of collaborating on a project or goal. It’s through this legal agreement that many of the western world can enjoy various anime, manga, and video games in their country’s respective language. 

However there are a multitude of factors to consider before attempting to export a series to the greater global market.  

Popularity and Translation

The first step is finding a company that is willing to make a deal to get a series exported to another country. The more likely a series is able to bring a marginal profit to the marketing target of its choice, the more likely it is to be licensed.

It is due to this that many popular shows, games, and comics are more likely to be given rights, as there is more of a demand for them which leads to people supporting its international release.

There is also the issue of what is actually “acceptable,” or “appropriate.” An example of this would be the controversy around Kodmo no Jikan when it was first released in the U.S.

The manga was originally licensed by Seven Season Seas as Nymphet, but due to the controversy over the storyline, a grown adult teacher and his elementary school-aged student having a crush on him, Seven Seasons stopped licensing it.

Translation, on the other hand, is another issue in of itself. The issue of translation stems from the ability to translate a series in its entirety—meaning the longer a series is, the more money it will cost to translate. They also have to make sure that the original Japanese syntax is translated as close to its original meaning as possible. There are certain words and phrases that only make sense in Japanese. 

Policy and Pricing

After two companies agree to collaborate with each other, they must first create, and adhere to a standard term and agreement policy.

Some examples of this includes the following:

  • Term: How long the actual license lasts. The number of years can easily range from one to two, or even up to 10 years. In the case of short term contracts, it’s possible to renew them without too much difficulty. 
  • Selling Location: Where you are actually able to sell it. This can be labeled by country, continent, and language.
  • Payment Guarantee: The bare minimum a company is expected to pay. This also applies if the intended series doesn’t do as well as the company hopes.
  • Target Sale Revenue: Making sure the series or games hit the intended sales target. A series is usually determined as a hit based on if it can reach or suppress these calculated numbers.

Once the two companies come together and agree on their terms, their next challenge is getting all the needed documents approved and all the required materials obtained.

Logistical Madness

Paperwork and deadlines are dreaded, especially when it comes down to getting every single minute detail right. Nonetheless they are vital to the protection of licensing rights.

After a deal has been made, the next steps for the companies are:

  • Needed Materials: The materials section lays out exactly what the licencor is obligated to give them. If the company needs additional materials, it's quite possible they will be denied or charged extra just to obtain them. Keep in mind that the process isn’t smooth. Communication and teamwork are key, and if company interactions are weak, it can result in a lot of accusation arguing—such as not sending materials or production delay.
  • Copyright Acknowledgement: This is an acknowledgement of credit to the copyright holder or author of a work. Copyrights are especially taken seriously in Japan. Therefore, if a company were to miss a single credited person, this is grounds for major legal issues.
  • Legal Trouble Rules: These are legal rules established to protect the licencor's rights in case of any major troubles. 

Examples:

  1. Emergency situations: In the case of either party’s work being affected by an emergency situation such as natural disasters, there are no legal penalties. 
  2. Non-disclosure agreement: A promise to keep the contents of the agreement secret.

Once all of the above has been completed, the work can begin, right? 

No, not exactly. At this point it becomes a legal battle in ensuring that all parties follow the signed contract and market efficiently enough to gain a profit.

Patience and Support

While we have barely touched the complete process involving the challenges of getting an anime series licensed for international release, it's clear that it's a extremely difficult and time-consuming process. If you have a series that you would like to see get released for western audiences, the best way to help is to support the original source material. Show them that an audience does exist.