Crunchyroll, Fuji TV Partner to Develop and Produce New Series

Global anime brand Crunchyroll and Japanese television network Fuji TV are partnering to develop and produce new series. The titles will be broadcast in Japan on Fuji TV’s +Ultra programming block and streamed on Crunchyroll in more than 200 countries and territories.

Under the partnership, Crunchyroll will work with Fuji TV and creative company Slow Curve to co-develop and co-produce a slate of series beginning in April 2022. The upcoming lineup includes “Estab-Life,” an original title by producer and director Goro Taniguchi (“Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion”) and a new project by popular manga artist Tsutomu Nihei (“Aposimz,” “Knight of Sidonia,” “BLAME!”) and Polygon Pictures.

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Crunchyroll will exclusively stream each series day and date with the premiere on +Ultra, Fuji TV’s midnight anime block that launched in October 2018 for viewers in Japan. The series will be streamed on Crunchyroll to the brand’s global community of more than 5 million subscribers and more than 120 million registered users. Crunchyroll will also manage the licensing and consumer products rights for each title worldwide outside of Asia.

Fuji TV and Crunchyroll are currently collaborating on “Muv-Luv Alternative,” an anime based on a hit game. This series will examine how humanity lives and dies on the brink of extinction. Starting in October, Fuji TV’s +Ultra block will air the series and Crunchyroll will exclusively stream the series worldwide outside of Asia.

Slow Curve is an integrated creative company that has been involved with the content planning and promotion of various popular anime series. The company will work with Fuji TV and Crunchyroll to create anime for global fans.

Q&A with Garson Foos: The Ever-Expanding Universe of Shout! Factory

Garson Foos is CEO of Shout! Factory, a leading independent film distributor that since its launch in 2002 has branched out into streaming while doubling down on its commitment to physical media. A cousin to the legendary Rhino Records label, co-founded by older brother Richard and sold to Warner Music in 2001, Shout! is known for its lavish boxed sets and collections like last year’s award-winning collection of “Friday the 13th” movies as well as its support of anime and other niche genres.

Media Play News spoke with Foos as part an ongoing series of conversations with home entertainment leaders past, present — and future.

MPN: At a time when the big studios are still suffering from the lack of fresh product resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of movie theaters, you seem to be releasing more content, both digitally and on disc, than ever. Can you put a number on how many titles you’ve released over the past year and how that compares to the prior year? And what’s the driver?

Foos: Our deal and release flow is stronger than ever. We had a lot of titles in the pipeline prior to the pandemic, and we benefited from the vast majority of our releases not requiring a theatrical release. We released two to four new films a month, and another 10 to 15 library releases. Beyond that we released a good number of library films and shows digital only. We released hundreds of episodes of both “The Johnny Carson Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show” only digitally. We have broadcast rights to the entire Stephen J. Cannell library worldwide, and we have other digital rights on a smaller number of those shows. We also started releasing seasons of the “Ultraman” series for digital streaming, largely on our TokuShoutsu channels. So a large amount of content is released physically, as well as a lot of additional content coming out digital only.

MPN: Shout! Factory continues to be particularly strong in anime. What prompted this, and how do you market your product to anime fans?

Foos: We’ve always been really good at playing in the niches. We’re pop culture junkies from way back, and we got into the kids business big in 2009 with Hasbro and their animated “Transformers” and “GI Joe” series, as well as “My Little Pony.” There were several rare Japanese-made “Transformers” series that we distributed.  We also had big success with the the “Power Rangers” series years later, and uncovered the Japanese versions — “Super Sentai” — and did well with those series. It made sense to move into anime from our roots. Melissa Boag is our head of Kids & Family and she had her eye on the anime business for years. She helped us acquire the film In This Corner of the World, which was beautiful and exceeded our expectations. Soon after that we struck up a relationship with GKIDS, who are the best in the business in anime film. Through them, we got the Studio Ghibli library in late 2017. Together with GKIDS we released new deluxe versions of the films on DVD and Blu-ray, and the sales were far beyond expectations. In late 2019 GKIDS was able to make the titles available for the digital transactional business and we worked with them on that. We’ve (via GKIDS) put out many other new and library films, including Promare and Weathering With You last year, which have performed extremely well. We also work with Eleven Arts, which had the film Silent Voice in 2019, which did very well, and we have several more really good projects coming with them. Anime is one of the best categories that is not dominated by the major studios, and it’s a growing category for us that we see continuing.

MPN: Despite your obvious commitment to transactional and, in particular, physical media, Shout! does have other business models. Can you give us a brief rundown about other distribution platforms you have under the Shout! umbrella?

Foos: We distribute directly to just about every account in all revenue streams. We’ve been highly focused on growing our digital and broadcast business in the last many years. Our combined non-physical businesses have doubled each of the last two years and will again this year. Our TVOD business and ad supported streaming are the two biggest areas. Licensing sales for streaming services and broadcast is growing rapidly and is also significant. The Shout! Factory TV business, including our Mystery Science Theatre 3000 channel, The Carol Burnett Show channel, Johnny Carson TV and TokuShHOUTsu channels are a big part of the ad-supported digital streaming business. They are FAST channels on some platforms and on demand on others, and they’re everywhere you’d want to be. We see a lot of growth potential in our channel business, and in our digital distribution business in general. As we continue to get more and better content both on the library and new film side, and see the number of platforms and market size grow, we’re going to see big growth for Shout.

MPN: What’s next for Shout, other than the growth areas you mentioned already?

Foos: We’re starting to do some of our own original productions and see a lot of opportunities here, while doing it with a low-risk approach. We partnered on the production of the Western Old Henry starring Tim Blake Nelson. It comes out in October and premiered at the Venice Film Festival to a fantastic response. We’ve made deals in all the major international territories thanks to the Venice success.  We had seen indie Westerns succeeding transactionally, and thought that it would be a good genre to produce ourselves. We had been trying to get one made for years, and finally with Hideout Pictures we were able to get Tim Blake Nelson to take the lead role, and it came out extremely well. We’re going to do another one with them.

With our partner Joel Hodgson we had rebooted “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” after buying the rights to the library and brand in 2015. Given the passionate loyalty of the audience we had crowd-funded to raise the money for the first reboot season (11). We then sold it to Netflix, which ordered a second season but didn’t continue after that. We crowd-funded again this year and raised $6.5 million so we’re making another 13 episodes. They first one should premiere in February for the Kickstarter “backers” initially.

We also just completed a remake of the Roger Corman classic Slumber Party Massacre for the SyFy channel. It comes out in October. We own 270 films from the Corman library and have remake rights, so we’re working on films and series born out of that fertile I.P. We have other films and shows in the works as well, and it will be a growing part of our business.

We’re highly focused on buying film and TV libraries. We’ve bought a handful over the years and are looking to do a lot more in that area. We have a number of large library film distribution deals in the works and we’ll be announcing several soon, and more as they close.

We’re doing bigger new film pre-buys and pick-ups. The recent Mark Duplass/Natalie Morales film Language Lessons is a good example. It’s getting excellent reviews and we’ve licensed it to a major streamer to start next year. We intend to continue to up our game in genre films, and in smart and quirky indie films as well.

We see opportunity in the international business. Our business is growing there and we’re having good success with Cannell library, our Corman films and other content that we control internationally. We see continuing to partner with strong independent companies in each territory, and eventually having our own staff, or investing in local companies locally to make sure that we really understand the nuances of each significant territory.

Tell us about the Shout! Factory back story – starting with the name.

Foos: We had a really hard time coming up with a name. Every time we liked one we couldn’t get the URL, or it was already taken. We wanted something that sounded active, and a little retro. We were coming off of our success at Rhino Entertainment, which was mainly a retro music business, and we thought that we would be a music, film and TV company. Shout! felt classic and then there’s the Isley Brothers song that everyone loves. We were going to be Shout! Entertainment then we had trouble getting that trademarked. We were told to add something to it to distinguish it so we came up with Factory.

And now tell us the Garson Foos back story.

Foos: I grew up in Los Angeles, and went to college at U.C. Berkeley. I was entrepreneurial early on and started several cafes in Oakland with a friend. I realized that the restaurant  business wasn’t for me, and thought that maybe I’d like the entertainment business. I had worked at the Rhino Record Store that my brother owned in high school, and he had started the Rhino label years later. He gave me a paid internship at the label and my timing was great. Rhino was starting to take off, and I was able to learn the business and move up the ranks as the company expanded. I eventually became the EVP of marketing and one of the key executives. Richard and his partner Harold Bronson sold the company to Warner Music Group in 2001, and Richard decided to leave in 2002 and start another company. He asked me and our other partner Bob Emmer, who had been our head of BA at Rhino and later became an EVP of BA at Warner Music, to join him in his new venture. We started Shout in 2003, and over the years Richard has stepped out of the day to day of the business, and Bob and I are co-CEOs.

Sony Completes Acquisition of Crunchyroll

Sony Pictures Entertainment has completed its acquisition of AT&T’s Crunchyroll anime business through Funimation Global Group.

Funimation is a joint venture between SPE and Sony Music Entertainment (Japan)’s subsidiary Aniplex.

The agreement was first announced in December 2020.

Crunchyroll has a direct-to-consumer anime service with 5 million SVOD subscribers. It serves 120 million registered users across more than 200 countries and territories, offering AVOD, mobile games, manga, events merchandise and distribution.

The deal provides the opportunity for Crunchyroll and Funimation to broaden distribution for their content partners and expand fan-centric offerings for consumers, according to the joint announcement from SPE and AT&T.

“We are very excited to welcome Crunchyroll to the Sony Group,” Kenichiro Yoshida, chairman, president and CEO of Sony Group Corp., said in a statement. “Anime is a rapidly growing medium that enthralls and inspires emotion among audiences around the globe. The alignment of Crunchyroll and Funimation will enable us to get even closer to the creators and fans who are the heart of the anime community. We look forward to delivering even more outstanding entertainment that fills the world with emotion through anime.”

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“Crunchyroll adds tremendous value to Sony’s existing anime businesses, including Funimation and our terrific partners at Aniplex and Sony Music Entertainment Japan,” said Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. “With Crunchyroll and Funimation, we are committed to creating the ultimate anime experience for fans and presenting a unique opportunity for our key partners, publishers, and the immensely talented creators to continue to deliver their masterful content to audiences around the world. With the addition of Crunchyroll, we have an unprecedented opportunity to serve anime fans like never before and deliver the anime experience across any platform they choose, from theatrical, events, home entertainment, games, streaming, linear TV — everywhere and every way fans want to experience their anime. Our goal is to create a unified anime subscription experience as soon as possible.”

The purchase price for the transaction is $1.175 billion, subject to customary working capital and other adjustments, and the proceeds were paid in cash at closing, according to the announcement. AT&T expects to use the proceeds from this transaction to help support its debt reduction efforts.

Crunchyroll to Develop ‘Dark Star Squadron’ With Zoe Saldana’s Cinestar

Anime streamer Crunchyroll is developing “Dark Star Squadron,” an epic animated space opera, in partnership with Zoe Saldana’s Cinestar Pictures.

Todd Ludy (“Voltron: Legendary Defender”) will write with Zoe Saldana, Cisely Saldana and Mariel Saldana of Cinestar Pictures serving as executive producers. Sonia A. Gambaro and Maytal Gilboa from Pollinate Entertainment are also producing.

“Dark Star Squadron” follows the journey of four failing cadets who return from a joyride with a stolen starship to find their academy in ruins and everyone vanished. Now on their own, the ill-equipped heroes embark for the far side of the galaxy to find the missing and prove their worth.

“As true animation and anime fans ourselves, we are so excited for the opportunity to partner with Crunchyroll to bring ‘Dark Star Squadron’ to a wide audience,” Cinestar’s Zoe, Cisely and Mariel Saldana said in a statement. “We can’t wait for everyone to meet the crew and follow the journey of our unlikely heroes.”

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“We’re elated to be working with such a talented creative team on the development of ‘Dark Star Squadron,’ a new fantasy adventure series,” Sarah Victor, head of development at Crunchyroll, said in a statement. “We love working with creators who are passionate about telling stories through anime and we can’t wait to bring this interstellar epic to fans across the galaxy.”

“The tremendous growth of our streaming service is indicative of the growing love for anime and its deserved spotlight in popular culture,” Joanne Waage, GM of Crunchyroll, said in a statement. “Zoe and her team are bringing their own anime fandom to their storytelling and we’re excited to be a part of it.”

Crunchyroll offers an anime library of more than 1,000 titles and 30,000 episodes in more than 200 countries and territories. The global brand has more than 5 million subscribers, 120 million registered users and more than 60 million followers across social media. A streaming service delivering AVOD and SVOD content, Crunchyroll also provides social, events, games, consumer products, content distribution, content creation and manga publishing.

Amazon Prime Video Streaming Japanese Anime Movie ‘Evangelion:3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time’ Aug. 13

Amazon Prime Video Aug. 13 is streaming the global premiere (outside of Japan) of Japanese anime movie Evangelion:3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time. The movie is the fourth and final chapter in the theatrical franchise that has been the most-watched movie in Japan in 2021.

To celebrate the finale of the franchise, Prime Video will also release the three previous movies, Evangelion:1.11 You Are (Not) Alone, Evangelion:2.22 You Can (Not) Advance, Evangelion:3.33 You Can (Not) Redo in more than 240 countries and territories.

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The franchise is based on the story of Evangelion, an artificial human and multipurpose humanoid weapon, and the Angels, an unknown life-form which takes place after the Earth has been shattered by a cataclysmic event.

The movies will be dubbed in 10 languages including English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, and offer subtitles in 28 languages.

“The Evangelion films have been thrilling Japanese fans for years and we know that there is a huge appetite around the world for the finale,” Brad Beale, VP, worldwide content licensing Prime Video, said in a statement.

Disney+ Reveals Details for ‘Star Wars: Visions’ Anime Series to Debut Sept. 22

At Anime Expo Lite July 3, Disney+ announced seven Japanese anime studios working on “Star Wars: Visions” — a collection of animated short films from Lucasfilm that will stream exclusively on Disney+ Sept. 22.

They are Kamikaze Douga, Geno Studio (Twin Engine), Studio Colorido (Twin Engine), Trigger, Kinema Citrus, Science Saru, and Production IG.

Lucasfilm’s Jacqui Lopez (executive producer), James Waugh (executive producer), Josh Rimes (executive producer), and Qubic Pictures’ Justin Leach (co-executive producer) and Kanako Shirasaki (producer) were on hand to reveal each studio and give fans a special look at the environment and concept art as they debuted the title and first details of each short.

The shorts are The Duel (Kamikaze Douga), Lop and Ochō (Geno Studio, Twin Engine), Tatooine Rhapsody (Studio Colorido, Twin Engine), The Twins (Trigger), The Elder (Trigger),  The Village Bride (Kinema Citrus), Akakiri (Science Saru),  T0-B1 (Science Saru) and The Ninth Jedi (Production IG).

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“As a first formal venture into anime, each ‘Star Wars: Visions’ short bears a unique Japanese sensibility, which in many ways aligns with the tone and spirit of Star Wars storytelling,” according to Disney+. “From the beginning, stories told in the Star Wars galaxy have counted Japanese mythology and the films of Akira Kurosawa among their many influences, and these new visions will further explore that cultural heritage through the unique animation style and perspective of each anime studio.”

Funimation Releasing Classic Anime Series ‘Robotech’ on Streaming Channel, Blu-ray

Funimation is bringing the “Robotech” franchise to its service this fall via streaming, Blu-ray and licensed products.

The space opera anime epic about humans defending their homeworld against alien domination, produced by Harmony Gold and Tatsunoko Productions, introduced an entire generation of viewers to anime when it first premiered in 1985.

Funimation will be premiering 85 episodes of the series — told over three sagas — on its streaming service worldwide (except Japan) and will debut a collector’s edition box set on Blu-ray in Dolby Digital on Sept. 28 and through a series of licensed product partnerships.

The “Robotech” home entertainment collector’s edition, available exclusively at Funimation Shop, is remastered for the first time on Blu-ray. The remastering will be faithful to the preceding DVD box set release and retain a classic “film grain.” The set also includes retro packaging design, an exclusive Variant Transforming Robotech — Roy Fokker’s VF-1S;  an exclusive Variant Action Figure — Roy Fokker in Pilot Uniform Variant Shade of Black; and a series of Robotech-embroidered patches.

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Funimation now has rights to “Robotech” merchandise and will begin to roll out the products this summer, including the new game on Switch (Robotech Macross Saga HD) and WAX’s “Robotech” Series 1 NFTs released on the digital blockchain.

“Robotech is a beloved series and an integral part of anime history,” Mitchel Berger, Funimation Global Group’s SVP of commerce, said in a statement. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to engage the original passionate fans from decades ago and also expose a whole new generation to this classic series.”

Headquartered in the United States and connected by a global network, Funimation serves fandom in more than 49 countries and 10 languages.

Funimation is an independently-operated joint venture between U.S.-based Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Japan’s Aniplex, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment (Japan), both subsidiaries of Tokyo-based Sony Group Corp.

Netflix Launching 40 Original Anime Titles in 2021

Netflix returned to the virtual AnimeJapan March 27-28, 2021, to showcase its pending slate and voice casts. Netflix is trying to strengthen its anime portfolio with the premiere of about 40 new original titles this year — double the number of titles released in 2020.

Netflix announced the upcoming release of Record of Ragnarok (premiering in June), an anime adaptation of the successful manga of the same name. The story about the epic fight for the fate of humanity will join previously announced titles The Way of the Househusband (premiering April 8) or Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (premiering later this year).

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Netflix also gave sneak peeks at upcoming projects Yasuke (April 29) and Eden (premiering May 27), including special artwork by Yasuke’s character designer Takeshi Koike. Both projects are new stories brought to life by international creators, further strengthening Netflix’s ambition to diversify its line-up of original anime by working with creators from both in and outside of Japan.

The event also included appearances from Japanese voice talents Kenjiro Tsuda (The Way of the Househusband), Marika Kono (Eden) and Toshiyuki Morikawa (Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness).

 

Crunchyroll Unveils Updated Streaming Features

Anime streaming service Crunchyroll is unveiling a new beta experience for Crunchyroll Premium users in the United States.

Crunchyroll Beta includes the launch of the new Crunchylists feature alongside an updated home page, redesigned browse and watch pages, new search capabilities and a mobile responsive experience.

Within Crunchyroll Beta, the Crunchyroll home page has a new user interface, allowing users access to personalized recommendations and the ability to navigate easily to their watchlist or to specific show or episode pages, which have all been redesigned. Crunchyroll Beta also offers users improved search and filtering so that they can more easily access simulcasts, new and popular anime, and explore different genres, while filtering between subtitled or dubbed anime series. In addition to the new search bar, Crunchyroll will continue to offer curated collections, handpicked by Crunchyroll’s anime experts.

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Users also now have the ability to create unique user names and select from a curated library of avatars and header images featuring different series.

The Crunchylists feature allows users to create a curated collection of their own. Users can add a title to their unique Crunchylist creations, add any series or select episodes from Crunchyroll’s extensive collection of more than 1,000 series, and organize their Crunchylist however they choose.

To experience Crunchyroll Beta, eligible Crunchyroll Premium users can opt-in through the header images or pop ups that appear across the Crunchyroll website. Currently, Crunchyroll Beta is only available to 20% of premium users, but it will eventually become available to all premium subscribers and all free users in the United States. Users can opt in and out of the beta experience to Crunchyroll Classic as they would like and can share feedback in the “Leave Feedback” function under their profile header.

Crunchyroll is available in more than 200 countries and territories, with translation in eight languages. Users can watch anime for free with ads or can choose from three different subscription memberships that allow for ad-free viewing, access to popular simulcast titles day and date with premiere in Japan, offline viewing, and a mix of additional benefits.

‘The Legend of Hei’ to Get Digital Release April 20, Disc Debut May 11

Shout! Factory has announced the April 20 release of The Legend of Hei, an animated fantasy adventure movie from filmmaker Ping Zhang that was derived from a popular flash animation series he created in 2011.

The film will first be available digitally on April 20 and can subsequently be purchased, on May 11, on DVD or in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

The Legend of Hei follows the story of cat spirit Luo-Xiao Hei on his journey of self-discovery after his home is deforested by humans. He embarks on a search for a new home and runs into a group of other spirit creatures who take him under their wing, with dreams of reconquering the land they say is rightfully theirs. When the group runs into a human known as Wuxian, Hei is separated from the other spirits and goes on a journey that teaches him to control his abilities and allows him to form his own opinion of whether he should ally with the spirits or the humans.

Following successful openings in China and Japan, The Legend of Hei screened at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and the Japan Media Arts Festival. The film features an English voice cast of Chinese-American talent that includes Emi Lo (Bofuri, Valentine), Aleks Le (Funan, Ne Zha), Howard Wang (Dragon Ball Z, Marvel Avengers Academy), Kaiji Tang (Justice League, Grantz-O), Caleb Yen (Black Clover, Scott & Crowley), and Suzie Yeung (Kemono Friends).