Do or Die, Kyoko Mogami Style! Ann Yamamoto on the Skip Beat! Kickstarter

Skip Beat! follows 16-year-old Kyoko Mogami on a personal journey to discover different sides of herself as she rises as an actress in the entertainment industry, striving toward her goals no matter which obstacles stand in her path. This shoujo (anime/manga produced for girls) series has been greatly successful since the manga’s publication in 2002, resonating with readers of all ages because of its focus on individual growth, friendship, and self-appreciation.  Although TV Tokyo released an anime of the series in 2008 (still available on Crunchyroll for streaming with English subtitles), the Skip Beat! anime was never properly released in North America. Since this is a series TV Tokyo values and believes is truly moving, they do not wish to release Skip Beat! for North American audiences without also producing an English dub. For this reason, even though years have passed, Pied Piper, Inc. is the first to try to finally bring this title to North America and give it the official release it deserves through the Skip Beat! Official North American Release Kickstarter campaign. I had the opportunity to chat with Pied Piper’s Ann Yamamoto about Skip Beat, the anime industry, and why this campaign matters for shoujo fans.

Thank you for chatting with me about the Skip Beat! Official North American Release Kickstarter. The Skip Beat! anime aired in Japan 2008-2009. Can you introduce the project to our readers?

Ann: My mission is to use crowdfunding to rally fans behind niche anime titles to create first-class releases. I was scouting for titles, and I found Skip Beat! in TV Tokyo’s back catalog. I was astounded! Then I found out the reason why it hadn’t been licensed – TV Tokyo requires a dub, and no distributor was willing to spend the money on a dub. At that point, I was only familiar with the shoujo anime market as a fan. I knew Skip Beat! was a great title, and that it has a strong fan base. But as I talked more with TV Tokyo, I learned that for shoujo anime titles, strong fan base does NOT necessarily result in strong sales. So that’s why no one was willing to do the dub.

You wrote the article about Skip Beat! subverting shoujo tropes, right?

I did!

Ann: I love that article! Have you seen the Skip Beat! anime? Or are you mainly a fan of the manga?

Thank you so much! I only discovered Skip Beat! a few years ago. A friend introduced me to the anime, and since then I’ve read the manga and watched the live action drama. While I was already a huge fan of shoujo anime/manga, I was also really critical of it because so many series seemed to rely on the same common tropes. But Skip Beat! ended up taking everything I was familiar with seeing in shoujo and twisting it completely. Reading your Kickstarter page, I was already on board just because I know this is a very different kind of anime, and Kyoko is a shoujo heroine that is truly inspirational. Her hard work, her determination despite the fact that so much of her life has been a struggle… The way she is living each day to find herself… I related to all of this so much, and even now, after years of being a fan, Skip Beat’s story and characters are still so relevant to me.

Ann: So we both are inspired by Kyoko!

I’m curious… did you realize Skip Beat! had been lacking an official North American DVD release?

I did! As an anime fan for years, I’ve noticed an enormous imbalance in the amount of shoujo anime that is officially released in the North American market compared to shounen (anime/manga produced for boys) titles. You said on your Kickstarter page that shoujo anime are considered riskier or too expensive by distributors to dub for North American releases, and that not enough fans would support them. Why do you think the anime industry is more likely to release shounen titles? If Skip Beat is a great anime with a huge following, why is it still considered a risk to release it and dub it for North American fans?

Ann: Absolutely, shounen titles are seen as being safer investments. There a few breakout shoujo titles (Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club, NANA) that do really well. But other shoujo titles haven’t sold that well. From talking with other distributors in North America, my sense is that over the years everyone has seen that shoujo titles don’t sell well.

To paraphrase what insiders have told me: (1) in general, shoujo fans spend money on manga, but not on DVDs, so it absolutely doesn’t make sense to pay for a dub because that cost will never be recouped; (2) Skip Beat! is especially a hard sell because it doesn’t have any sci-fi or magical elements to the story.

So here’s my take: if you’re a shoujo fan, it is obvious that Skip Beat! is a grade-A title and that it should be able to merit a first-class release. But if you are involved in the industry and know how products sell, you see that Skip Beat! is handicapped because it is a shoujo title without magical/sci-fi elements. And that handicap means that in the big picture, Skip Beat! is a niche title. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that sentence: “Skip Beat! is a niche title.” But in the big picture, that is the case.

And even in the manga scene, in Japan shoujo definitely has a much smaller market than shounen, as I am sure you are aware. And in the US, shoujo sales are even worse!

Just keeping up with manga sales, I know Skip Beat! does well among shoujo series, but still is unable to match sales for equally popular shounen manga. So I can see why popularity alone would not be enough to reassure anime distributors that Skip Beat! would actually sell or appeal to a greater audience outside of pre-existing fans.

You mentioned earlier that releasing a dub is a strict requirement for TV Tokyo to agree to a Skip Beat! North American release. Why do you think a dub is important?

Ann: From the very beginning, TV Tokyo has told me, “We believe Skip Beat! has a universal story and needs to reach the widest possible audience. So it has to have a dub.” To me, the dub requirement reflects that they believe Skip Beat! is a very strong title.

But when I launched this whole campaign for Skip Beat, I was surprised to get pushback — instead of applauding TV Tokyo for believing so much in the title, some people just saw the dub as being an absurd condition. In particular, a lot of fans are happy with subtitles only, and don’t want to see Skip Beat! saddled with this burdensome requirement of needing a dub.

And now that I am in the midst of the campaign, I understand very viscerally that it is VERY challenging to rally enough support to pay for the dub. It is easy to get sufficient fan support for a DVD release (or even Blu-ray release) with subtitles only. But the dub requires 10x greater investment.

The thing is, TV Tokyo could have easily licensed Skip Beat! for a subtitle-only release years ago. So they were actually foregoing revenue because of their insistence on a dub. I know they are very savvy business people, so I can only assume that TV Tokyo (or someone on the production committee) simply believes that Skip Beat! deserves a dub.

Now the question is: Will Skip Beat! fans actually pay for a dub? Or rather, is there sufficient fan support to pay for a dub?

When I licensed the title, my belief was this: Yes, Skip Beat! has enough fans out there to fund a dub — it is just a matter of rallying those fans together behind the project. We are in day 19 of the campaign, and just 70% funded, so the answer is not clear yet!

I really hope the campaign succeeds! I think releasing a dub will make Skip Beat! more accessible to a wider number of anime fans. I know when I was younger, the very first anime titles I watched were all dubbed. Some North American fans also prefer dubs to reading subtitles. I think releasing an official dub along with the original subtitled anime will introduce Skip Beat! to the greatest possible audience, and as a fan, I can understand why TV Tokyo would be so insistent on trying to share this amazing series with as many people as possible.

Ann: It is heartening to read that!

Is this the first time anyone has tried to release Skip Beat officially in North America? What caused you to consider Kickstarter to fund this project? I noticed on your page that you were able to crowdfund for an international Blu-ray release (Time of EVE) before. Do you think Skip Beat’s release, if the Kickstarter is 100% funded, will be similar?

Ann: Yes, this is the first time anyone has tried to release Skip Beat! officially in North America. More specifically, I am the first distributor who was willing to satisfy the dub requirement — TV Tokyo has turned down all offers until now.

What caused me to consider Kickstarter? Well, that’s my specialty. I crowdfund niche titles. I love working closely with passionate fans to create the best release possible, so I’m not interested in traditional distribution models (i.e. creating the product without fan involvement).

Yes, I did one crowdfunding project before — it was a phenomenal experience, and it got me hooked! I think Skip Beat’s release will be similar to the Time of EVE project, except this time I’m more experienced!

What exactly is the difference between licensing and releasing an anime the traditional way and releasing a series with fan involvement? I know part of the reason crowdfunding is a good option is because of the lack of financial support for a North American dub, but what else changes with the involvement of fans?

Ann: My goal is to get fans involved in the localization process as much as possible. For Skip Beat, this will happen in 3 ways:

  1. The $10+ tier rewards include a weekly behind-the-scenes update on the production process. I like to be as transparent as possible (discussing obstacles, unexpected problems, the process of working with different partners to create the rewards, etc). Very nitty gritty stuff. And the $15+ reward will include video updates on the dub process and also behind the scenes.
  2. The $500+ tiers give backers personal access to the dub process — listening to the dub session via Skype, private coaching session with a Skip Beat! VA, or speaking part in the dub.
  3. And then, my goal is to open up the production process to all backers, regardless of their reward tier. Specifically: backers can be involved in checking the subtitles, and I will ask for input on package design and merchandise design. I will also be as transparent as possible about the use of funds for the production budget.

I love this stuff, and I believe that backer involvement improves the quality of release.

That sounds amazing! It feels like fans will get to really be a part of the Skip Beat! release and watch it happen step by step. And I’m excited to see the quality of anime a fan-involved release produces!

Ann: Yes, me too!

Is there anything else you think anime/manga fans should know about the Skip Beat! Kickstarter?

Ann: This is do or die, Kyoko Mogami style!

Thank you so much for chatting with me, Ann! I really hope we are able to get the word out there about the Kickstarter to more Skip Beat! fans and give North American anime fans a truly amazing series.

The Skip Beat! Kickstarter runs until April 16, with just about 10 days to go. It is an incredible series, transcendent of shoujo demographics, that North American fans deserve. If you are an anime fan who wants to see more first-rate shoujo series produced and released internationally, please consider pledging today and spreading the word! Give anime producers and distributors the message that there is still a global audience for shoujo anime, especially for one as inspiring and refreshing as Skip Beat.

Aimee A.

Aimee A.

Aimee is a current law student and longtime lover of animanga and YA literature. She often finds herself locked in libraries, ranting on twitter, sampling cheesecakes, and singing super junior songs off-key.