An Anime franchise that allows near-zero-hassle use for promotion and profit
If you have travelled to Japan before, chances are you would have come across one, if not several, Yuru-kyara (location mascots). As with all things with a Japanese flavor of cute and novel, location mascots, usually a cute animal or anime character and a whole lineup of merchandise, are currently one of the hippest trends in tourism promotion in Japan.
The team behind one of the latest mascot character ensemble on the block, Urawa no Usagi chan 浦和の調ちゃん (lit. Usagi of Urawa City), took the largest anime and Japanese-medium-entertainment convention in Singapore, the Anime Festival Asia Singapore 2015 (AFA SG 2015), to showcase their newest creation to anime fans in Singapore.
The convention was held from 27th to 29th November 2015 at the Suntec City Convention Centre. Representing the product was Harappa LLC producer Tomotaka Misawa, character designer Shintaro Matsushima and their English presenter-cum-interpreter, Karl Hubenthal. One of J-Network’s reporters had a casual interview with on the third day of the convention.
Ease is key in character marketing
According to Misawa, ease of use appears to be the key intention of devising Usagi-chan. As a producer living in the Urawa city, he takes good stock of the state of promotion of his place as well as its problems.
Urawa is a city in Saitama, the adjacent prefecture north of Tokyo. The relative geographical positions sometimes causes Saitama to become an inadvertent overshadow of the more well-known capital of Japan. Hubenthal introduces their intentions to promote Urawa in Saitama, but not before chuckling a pun-intended reminder that he is referring to the prefecture, not the bald hero in the currently-trending One-Punch Man anime series.
Currently, there are already several other anime produced about Urawa city attempting to brighten up the limelight, albeit owned by major production studios.
This produces much red tape when third parties attempt to obtain the elusive rights to use the character for further promotion of itself and its represented region. Costs are also a deterrent, as demand for work from large, esteemed studios is naturally high.
“It’s very expensive and there is often a lot of paperwork,” commented Hubenthal.
There are also students who are reluctant to not be in full control of the character. Licensing it to third parties can sometimes be seen as “giving away” a character or “a pain”.
Practical re-inventing of the character business
For the aforementioned reasons, Misawa grew out of faith in the other studios in creating a mascot that is both sufficiently captivating and practical for promotion. He decided to tweak the formula to his own way in the form of the Usagi-chan franchise.
Urawa no Usagi-chan started as a anime 12 episode anime series that aired for 12 episodes from 9th April to 25th June 2015 on TVS and KBS Kyoto in Japan and streamed internationally on Crunchyroll. The story is well, you guessed it, about citizens of Urawa city, more specifically members of a local railway club, and the voice cast comprises actors from Saitama prefecture. Several actual shops and their owners were depicted in 2D form in this anime.
The characters in the anime are subsequently distributed for easy use by third parties, mainly in the form of a development kit depicted in this official explanatory leaflet. It consists of the raw files of the characters to be used for designs and stickers of authorization.
“We are making it much easier when you would otherwise need to go through the tough and dry process of negotiating for the character rights,” explained Hubenthal.
For the anime enthusiast, especially the high-on-collecting breed, the official Usagi-chan stickers are marketed as tools that automatically “convert” any item they possess into official goods. Not bad for those who want some bragging rights using the bunny-themed cast or simply to use them for decoration, while at the same time, perpetuating the Usagi-chan brand as well as the city.
“If you want to make money, we have also made it easier,” he affirmed.
Those who want to sell the now made-official goods can do so, at the cost of purchasing and pasting 1 sticker for every 2000 yen worth of goods sold. To this end, the sticker acts as a “royalty pass” of which purchase returns circle 5% of the revenue, comparable to current royalty rates, back to Harrappa.
The straightforward T&C look simple enough, so much so that they have already been used rather extensively in the region. One entire convenience store has been completely outfitted with the character, and the Usagi-chan brand has a tie-in stamp rally challenge, a trail across the city for participants to learn more about the city that features the Usagi-chan property prominently.
On compelling reason for such the process is the dominant age demographic of the business owners in the Urawa city.
“Some of the shop owners are quite old and do not know much about the character business,” he pointed out. Thus, even if there are already characters or anime properties in the area that they can potentially tap on, they might not understand the concept sufficiently to tap on them if they are too complicated.
The designers have also used their designs for original goods from the producer has been released, such as apparel and keyholders, as shown in this catalogue from the official site.
All in all, the core team involves 5 people but as with any other animation project, other aspects of the production and promotion will rope in other much more staff from other companies. Usagi-chan is produced in conjunction with 2 studios, 1 music producers, and a few agencies that liaise with the voice actors who bring the Usagi-chan characters to life.
Source: Urawa no Usagi Chan Official Site, AFA SG 2015 Official Site, xdanthemanx