Visual Spectacle and Impressive Drama Expand the Anime Film Industry
Back-to-back animation blockbusters made 2022 a special year. According to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, 26 Japanese films released in 2022 were hits earning 1 billion yen or more. About half of these were anime films, most notably the 10-billion-yen-toppers “One Piece Film Red” , “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” and “Suzume” . The anime industry boomed with total box office revenues for animation films reaching an all-time high in 2022.
The anime film industry boom in 2022 was the result of changes in the decade since 2012. That year marked a turning point when total anime film revenues exceeded 40 billion yen in the absence of a Studio Ghibli release. This was a significant increase, since previous years without a Ghibli film were at the 20-billion-yen level.
There are two main points in the decade of change that kicked off in 2012. One was the establishment of the directorial and box-office credibility of Hosoda Mamoru and Shinkai Makoto with their hit films, namely Hosoda’s “Wolf Children” in 2012 and Shinkai’s “Your name” in 2016. Both directors gradually expanded their fan bases in the 2000s and gained wide-spread audience support in the 2010s.
The second factor is the development of “Detective Conan” and “One Piece” into blockbuster franchises. Box office revenues for “Detective Conan” topped 3.5 billion yen in 2009 and grew annually to be consistently within striking distance of 10 billion yen in recent years. “One Piece” rebooted in 2009 with “One Piece Film: Strong World” and has since joined the ranks of blockbuster movies. These two franchises mobilize a broad audience base from elementary school children to adults with spectacular visual intensity and straightfoward dramatic appeal.
These two tendencies would seem to reflect what audiences are looking for in anime films. In short, that is visual spectacle and impressive drama. Foreign films excel at visual spectacle, but this area has been a weakness for Japanese films. Anime films make up the deficit and fulfill audience demands. The stance of enjoying anime films as a kind of live performance, such as cheer screenings, is an extension of this. As for impressive drama, that manifested as entertainment focusing on the lead character for “Detective Conan” and themes selected by the director in the case of Hosoda and Shinkai’s films. Within this framework, anime films steadily expanded their audiences in the 2010s.
Those broad conditions combined with expanded anime viewership due to streaming service proliferation under COVID-19, thereby giving birth to the conditions of 2022. These conditions will remain unchanged for the time being, so the annual box office revenue for anime films will likely top 40 billion yen for another three years or so.
Beyond that, two other factors will determine the fate of the anime industry. First, can the anime industry create a production system that steadily generates the visual spectacle that audiences demand. The other is the emergence of directors beyond Hosoda Mamoru and Shinkai Makoto who have both directorial and box office credibility.