Megumi Ogata has truly been at the front of the battlefield as a voice actress, known for her roles in works like Yu Yu Hakusho, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and recently the Danganronpa series. Now, she’s celebrating her 25 years in the industry with a commemorative album that’s being produced through crowdfunding.
There was immediate support for this, taking only 90 minutes after the 10:00 pm start on May 12 to earn the goal of 10,000,000 yen. All of the stock was also sold out by June 23 before even reaching the end date of July 11. By that end date, more than 25,000,000 yen had been raised from more than 2,000 backers, surpassing even the stretch goals, an achievement reached by fewer than 1% of crowdfunding projects.
Crowdfunding the production costs weren’t the only goal of this, though. Ogata wishes to use this project as a way to simultaneously release the CD worldwide. With this, it’s also evident how international releases are a weak point of Japan’s anime industry, and how the industry suffers for it.
Now then, why did Ogata take this action as a voice actress and singer? Anime, manga and games site Anime!Anime! spoke with her on June 8 while the project was still continuing, to figure out its meaning and to talk about the difficulties she faced. bamboo, the representative for the game brand OVERDRIVE, adviser of the crowdfunding site campfire, and leader of his own punk-rock band milktub (which just released its 25th anniversary commemorative album M25), also joined in for the interview.
Q: The various challenges of business in the anime industry have become widely known, and were even brought up on an NHK program the other day. You’re also crowdfunding your own CD as a way to draw attention to one of these issues. As a voice actress and singer, what made you do this?
Ogata: I’ve had the opportunity to work in the anime field from my start 25 years ago to the present, and have spoken with many creators over that time… in other words, going out for drinks, haha. I was told directly that business these days is difficult. I saw my comrades suffering while hearing things like that, and I started wondering what I could do as a voice actress and as a friend.
People in the field were suffering and worrying, and they worked hard, but after so many years, you reach your limit. Of course, even if it’s another voice actor they’re a member of the anime industry, so I don’t think there’s anyone that isn’t concerned with this, but I also think that there’s a lot I understand because of all of the people I’ve come to know over the years. There might be things newcomers might have heard a bit about but they don’t know the whole picture, and there are things more experienced voice actors won’t know because they haven’t been in the scene recently.
I’ve reached my 25th anniversary with the situation like this, and now have the privilege of releasing a commemorative album. I received this chance and have come this far because of this industry, I’m thinking, and then it hit me. Is it really okay that I’m the only one that’s this lucky? I’m grateful to have been able to continue working all of this time, but I don’t think I’ll keep doing this forever, so I want to use this opportunity to do something about this situation.
Q: With that in mind, what was your reason for your crowdfunding plan of producing it and also delivering it to fans overseas yourself?
Ogata: From the beginning, when I announced that I was releasing an album, I was asked by a lot of people from overseas in many different languages, “Where can it be purchased?” There aren’t many established circulation markets, so I wasn’t able to answer that very well. Then it suddenly hit me that if I did it through crowdfunding as a reward for backers, it’d be unrelated to customs and I’d be able to get it to them. When I discussed this with those around me that I’ve been talking to about this, they all supported me and said, “You may be the only one that can do this, but if you manage to break through, this may be a way out.” Apparently, there are many countries where 25th anniversaries are a bigger deal than 5 or 10 years, so I took advantage of the timing and opportunity.
Q: What have you learned as a figure in the industry about overseas circulation and the popularity of Japanese anime abroad?
Ogata: In terms of recent appearances, there are definitely a lot of people who say they like works such as Angel Beats!, Assassination Classroom, and Persona, but those are the core fans. I also get the feeling from conventions abroad that there are a lot of fans of ‘90s anime like Yu Yu Hakusho and Sailor Moon. As for why, that was around the time when a lot of series not aimed towards children came out, series with big, epic, and easy-to-understand stories, and many that spanned over a long period of time.
The first time I heard I had fans overseas I wondered, “How do you know what I sound like?” My idea was that just like how Western films are dubbed, local voice actors would be chosen for Japanese anime overseas. In many cases, they knew my voice through illegally uploaded videos with subtitles or bootleg versions. There are also people who were signed up to legal routes like “Anime Mihoudai Channel” and those who purchased DVDs with both Japanese and dubs included, but in comparison that’s the minority. I wanted to do something about this situation where the original creators and production companies aren’t alleviating the problem.
Then there are those among the considerate fans who understand the entertainment industry isn’t set up for that who want legal products, so if there’s no market, they can’t purchase it. ANiUTa (an anime music streaming service set up with the support of anime music companies) will also be opening up to other countries this year, and I think it’s important to call for support in what we make through taking part in services with regular fees.
What is the true nature of the job of a curator?
Q: So through this crowdfunding you are able to deliver directly to overseas backers, and through the project, you are able to convey this issue domestically.
Ogata: Yes. Those were my two goals in crowdfunding. The 1st was to be able to deliver legal goods that fans want overseas on the same day as fans in Japan. The other objective was, although presumptuous, to share with people around the world why I did this by writing about it on the crowdfunding introduction page as a way to explain the situation in Japanese animation production.
Still, honestly, even if thoughtful fans here in Japan participate, I didn’t expect it to sell particularly well overseas because to people abroad it’s like I’m saying, “What you’re watching is pirated versions, so pay directly.” Not all countries have surplus money, and currencies have different values, so there are also people for whom it’s difficult to get official goods even if they want to. If they visit the site, learn about what’s going on, and have that in the back of their mind, then maybe down the road when someone else does something they’ll understand, or maybe it will spread. That’s what I had in mind.
Q: Even during the beginning of voice actor magazines, you stood ahead of others as a photographic subject and devoted your energy to gravure photography know-how including makeup and clothes, as well. It’s the same with this project. Despite being a veteran, you stand at the front and pave the way. What inspires you to do this?
Ogata: Workers in anime and video game companies are comrades. Even producers are dependent on everyone’s work, and they work hard through trial and error. If I’m only a voice actress, then I’m safe in a way because if you perform, you get paid. However, there are people trying to produce good work so if you’re working hard, then you hope to accomplish something as a group. If the industry shrinks, though, then there won’t be as much work for new voice actors.
Not to sound self-important, but I thought that if I didn’t seize this opportunity, then I probably wouldn’t be able to do anything later. That’s why my friend bamboo, who has had a lot of success crowdfunding, came over, haha.
Q: bamboo, you’re the curator, but specifically, what do you do?
bamboo: Project planning and I’m in charge of helping to relieve Ogata’s anxiety, haha.
Ogata: As far as I can figure, you did an absolutely splendid job, haha. But as I listened to bamboo, I started to realize ‘oh, we need this,’ and ‘oh, we need that,’ and it quickly became stressful.
bamboo: There are a lot of important things when it comes to crowdfunding, but there are a lot of big burdens on Ogata as show works on her own. On the extreme end, she even has to do her own user support.
Ogata: The first thing I worried about was the budget. I’ve made an album before but left all of the negotiations to the record company. When those all fell on me, there was a lot more to that weight than I realized on the money side of things. Even I think cover albums are a good idea, but basically, you’re borrowing someone else’s work to make those, and our concept was “delivering Japan-quality legitimate works to fans overseas,” so when I wanted a great arranger to accomplish that, I needed a suitable amount of money. The budget grew quickly as things came up like domestic and international shipping and costs of rewards, and the sum became one that wasn’t easy to ask of fans.
bamboo: Because people who say “you can’t run away” quickly end up wanting to run away, haha. We can look back on it and laugh now, though.
Ogata: I also kept thinking about what would happen if it failed. Originally Lantis told me to make my album, and when I told them I was going to make it myself, they gave me permission to have a go at it. It wasn’t going to cut into their profits, so it’s not that unreasonable of a thing. But that doesn’t mean I could just say, “The crowdfunding didn’t work out, so I’ll just make it at Lantis.” In other words, I wouldn’t be able to make the album I originally planned to make. Fans would be disappointed, I’d have made a failure in my career, and I worried that I might be told, “the fact that you weren’t able to get the money despite trying to put together a cover album of all of your works means that you don’t have any draw, so from now on we’ll going to use someone else.”
If just this solo work disappeared, I was prepared for it because I decided it on my own, but when I started thinking about how it might affect my value with my manager and producers who have supported me all this time, I became really afraid. If it was simply about those 25 years that’s fine, but when I realized that this has to be a gamble on everything I’ve been up until this point, and everything I will be, it felt really heavy, and true story, my stomach hurt and I started throwing up blood…
bamboo: Based on my experience working on crowdfunding with Takeshi Washizaki and Clammbon, I felt like there was no way that Ogata’s would be anything but a success because I know what kind of person she is and what kind of product value it holds. On the other hand, if this hadn’t been a success, I’d wonder what kind of platform crowdfunding is.
I’ve been an adviser on campfire, have worked with Tokyo Otaku Mode, and know how to best reach fans overseas. The mission was to release this on the same day both domestically and internationally, and how do we accomplish that? I felt like it was best for the customers to know directly what Ogata was thinking and worrying about. It wasn’t a strategy meeting, but we held a “Discussion Meeting” on NicoLive. But I didn’t think that many people would come to the project’s opening day. That’s Ogata’s cannon for you, haha.
Pressured to the point of vomiting blood
Ogata: Bamboo planned to have a crowdfunding countdown, but there were too many people accessing it, and we couldn’t open it, haha.
Ah, we really panicked. At that time I thought I had gotten myself stuck to a ridiculous project. Crowdfunding isn’t structured to be so crowded at the beginning in the first place. It caused trouble for some of the customers, but the campfire engineers were alerted, and things calmed down quicker than I expected. Honestly, I just didn’t think it would move that fast. (The goal of 10,000,000 yen was met within 90 minutes.) The projects I’ve prepared have moved pretty quickly, so I expected 70% on the first day and 100% in 3 days. That’s how fast it was, so I don’t think you’ll find a site that can stand up to the Ogata Cannon in Japan, haha. That’s the work of everyone’s love.
Ogata: On top of that, you were in the middle of your own album because our schedules didn’t line up otherwise, and from that initial NicoLive meeting we were constantly together. It’s the power of bamboo, the staff at campfire, and all of the fans looking out for us.
bamboo: Ah, at the time of the NicoLive meeting I saw a victory ahead, and from a marketing standpoint you can’t help but see the excitement of the customers. Plus, if a Japanese project fails, it won’t do well overseas, either, so I wanted to get the budget for Japan, and then move forward baton pass-style towards the overseas release. It worked out how I had hoped, and as expected, Ogata is amazing. The person in charge at Lantis was, too, and they even wished us congratulations on our success. I think a project has to make the people involved happy.
Ogata: Not that I didn’t believe bamboo, but I don’t really understand crowdfunding, so it’s scary. I’ve continued doing all sorts of work for my job over these past 25 years. I’ve always expected the worst, and then when nothing worse happens, I’m able to take it on easier, but I couldn’t find the bottom this time, and as always I felt like I had started something absolutely terrible. When you have a worried expression you worry those around you, so I was trying to put on a face like it was okay, but this sense of “what do I do?” kept popping up… so much so that everyone said during the TwitCast, “This is my first time seeing Ogata so worried”, haha.
Then, after we succeeded after 90 minutes on the first day and I finally got to relax, they all said, “Seeing Ogata smile after she was so worried is the best, I’m glad I backed her,” haha. Still, worrying all of my fans is really the worst.
bamboo: Well, I guess drama includes that, too.
Ogata: I guess so, but that’s not usually the kind of face you show. When it comes to work, no matter how hard it is, you definitely don’t do that. Even on the radio, you have to put on this face of everything being fine. Getting exposed isn’t necessarily the worst, but there’s this part of me that absolutely doesn’t want to be so exposed. I think I threw up blood because I was attacking myself for showing so much, haha.
Q: I also wanted to ask about the album “AniMeg. 25th.” How about features to look out for?
Ogata: It’s a cover album of my performances to date including openings, endings, and background music, so the tunes themselves are well-known. It’s a work that I had the opportunity to produce myself although on the budget side of things it was difficult.
I’ve also put on some demos. Earlier the lyricist for “Zankoku na Tenshi no Teeze” (“A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”), Oikawa Neko, said on Twitter, “When I write lyrics, even if it’s just “lalala”, if it’s a demo singer, the image is entirely different.” Even with “Zankoku na Tenshi no Teeze”, Takahashi Yoko’s singing voice stimulates your imagination, and apparently, it was written really fast. A composer I’m friends with agreed as well. I’ve wanted to sing demo tapes myself, but the record label probably worried about me. It was just one section. The arrangers I brought on for this project added a postscript to the letter that had the project’s goals and reasons for the request. “If everyone wants me to, I’ll add demos, so if you have any demo ideas, send them please. If you do, I’ll write a verse and send them back.” Everyone was really happy and said things like, “Really?” “Absolutely!” I was surprised that everyone wanted to, haha. After that, the later instrument images were entirely different. You could also find new instrument recordings. The album is a lot richer, and a lot of work when into every part of the process.
Q: Lastly, any messages for people who were interested in Ogata’s presentation through crowdfunding?
bamboo: When it comes to crowdfunding, the passion of the project owner is important, so everyone supported this after seeing that, and this industry isn’t through just yet. We’ll be looking forward to your understanding and support in the future, as well.
Ogata: The real success in Japan isn’t selling CDs, but getting the message out there about the difficulties of people within the industry and their worries despite all of their hard work. Maybe after reading this someone will learn that and have a better idea outside the industry, like someone from an EC site, and the circle will grow even more, so I hope you’ll lend some of your strength. As thanks to everyone who supported me, I’ll give it my all to make an album that’ll make you happy you did. An album packed with dreams. Please look forward to it!
Campfire Project Page: https://camp-fire.jp/projects/view/28110
Tokyo Mirai Mode Page: https://miraimode.com/projects/animeg25th
(Note: The project has already ended, and Ogata is working on the album.)
Adapted with permission from Anime!Anime!