Japanese Government's Cool Japan Fund Invests $30M in U.S. Anime Distributor Sentai

Initial D Preview Cover-  Shuichi Shigeno Comixology - Publicity-P 2019
Courtesy of Shuichi Shigeno/Comixology

The distributor established a fund for the victims of the Kyoto Animation arson.

The Japanese government's Cool Japan Fund has invested $30 million in U.S. anime distributor Sentai as part of its strategy to expand the global market for Japanese content.

The fund, which has been criticized for its choice of projects and results, will make a stock investment in Sentai Holdings, which runs Sentai Filmworks, HIDIVE and Anime Network.

"We are extremely proud of the work we've done at Sentai to bring great anime storytelling, experiences, characters and collectibles to fans around the world for more than a decade," said Sentai Filmworks CEO John Ledford, adding that the investment will allow the company to expand.

Sentai runs the HIDIVE streaming platform, the Anime Network cable service, sells premium anime box-sets, releases features theatrically, supplies merchandise and sub-licenses content internationally.

Sentai Filmworks established a GoFundMe campaign hours after news broke of the Kyoto Animation (KyoAni) arson; it has raised more than $2.2 million since.

It has distributed KyoAni productions in the U.S., including the popular K-On! series, as well as content from numerous other studios, including the street-racing Initial D anime, the original manga of which was recently added to Amazon Platforms.

The Cool Japan Fund investment aims to "increase the overall presence of Japanese anime in the North American market and help expand the scope of associated/exported merchandising," according to a statement from the two parties, which added, "This will be done by Cool Japan Fund's two-pronged approach to not only sell streaming platform rights via niche-market copyright acquisition, but also to bolster the marketplace by fostering relationships with and making important investments in overseas partners."

The Cool Japan Fund is a public-private venture, though the government has provided 80 percent of its hundreds of millions of dollars in capital. The fund, like a number of similar entities established by the government, has been criticized for a lack of oversight, pursuing the personal projects of senior management and poor returns.

The fund invested around $40 million (?4.4 billion) in Wakuwaku Japan, a TV channel to broadcast Japanese programs in Asia, in a joint venture with satellite broadcaster Sky Perfect JSAT. The venture has lost tens of millions of dollars and was described by business daily the Nikkei as a pet project of Kazunobu Iijima, who is both chairman of the Cool Japan Fund and an outside director at Sky Perfect JSAT.

Other projects invested in by the fund, which have ranged from department stores in Asia to Japanese tea cafes in America, have delivered similarly poor results. The billions of dollars in taxpayers' money that have been invested across a large number of funds have produced poor returns.

The All Nippon Entertainment Works (ANEW), a company launched in 2011 by a government-backed fund to license Japanese content for Hollywood remakes, was sold to a venture capital fund in 2017 at a loss estimated to be north of $60 million.