Anime and Comics Blend for Licensing
Anime and pop culture comics, once standalone categories, are merging as widely available content drives demand for collectibles and other licensed products.
That much was evident at the recent New York Comic Con, where a heavy dose of anime and manga vied for attention with comic books and games on the show floor and amongst the cosplayers.
Part of anime’s increased profile at the show appeared tied to the ongoing actors strike, which for a second straight Comic Con, prevented them from making appearances on panel discussions and for autograph signings.
The presence of comic book companies was also greatly reduced. Marvel took booth space to promote the Spider-Man 2 video game that is being released on Sony’s PlayStation 5 on Oct. 20, while its rival DC Comics was absent. On the other hand, anime purveyors Crunchyroll and Viz Media had a large presence, the latter to promote its Zom 100 streaming series that launched on Hulu on July 9.
Anime also benefitted from the release of a live-action version of “One Piece” on Netflix (Aug. 31)that quickly generated licensing business. Bandai Namco showcased five-inch One Piece collectible figures based on the series and had six different booths for its various divisions. Viz also opened an online portal in its Viz Originals service for one-shot anime story submissions, and will establish IP and licensing for content that proves successful.
“Pre-Covid, anime and comic books were separate audiences, but now with anime being so accessible across many platforms and available everywhere, the demographics of the two worlds have collided,” said Justin Cavender, senior marketing manager at Bandai Namco. “There is now a shared demographic.”
Another sign of a melding of anime and comics has been the emergence of standalone stores. Bandai Namco, which owns the Gundam brand, opened a store in London earlier this year, expanding from similar locations in Tokyo, Osaka Yokohama, and Fukuoka, Japan. Bandai’s Tamashii Nation collectibles division, which has licenses for Spider-Man, Godzilla, and other properties, debuted its first location in New York in September. And anime publisher Yen Press has opened its first Manga Spot store near New York’s Columbus Circle.
“With mass merchants and chains like Barnes & Noble you are reaching people that don’t necessarily have access to the products,” Kurt Hassler, CEO of manga publisher Kadokawa World Entertainment, which owns Yen Press. “But [anime] products at those stores have a limited lifecycle because you are riding the trends. With our own outlets you can improve in an area where we don’t have a dedicated retailer. As publishers our challenge is to make manga as easily accessible as we can. And this [a dedicated store] is just one way to do that.”
Yet, amid the greatly enhanced anime presence at Comic Con, comic book and videogames publishers carved out their own space.
The Noble Collection, for example, brought Microsoft’s Minecraft brand into prop replicas for the first time with a seven-piece collection ranging from diamond sword replicas ($69) and chess sets ($59) to touch-activated LED-based redstone and diamond ores ($34). The collection will be available online and through select Barnes & Noble stores.
NFT developer and Marvel licensee VeVe is readying a “The Superior Spider-Man Returns” digital collectible that will be packaged with a physical version in the form of variant covers for the comic book that Marvel is releasing this week. An 18-inch Funko Gold Iron Man figure is also being introduced with a QR code for a digital collectible figure from VeVe. The limited edition run of 3,000 pieces also will also include five varieties of Iron Man suits. Publisher Skybound Entertainment licensed developer Terrible Posture Games for a videogame based on Atom Eve, the first such character brand agreement stemming from Walking Dead Creator Robert Kirkman’s Invincible comic book series.
“If it is a category that makes sense, true to the brand and doesn’t feel like logo slapping we make sure to partner in categories that our fans are excited about,” said Leon Maratchi, senior manager for retail development at Viz.