Profiling 10 Successful Anime Entrepreneurs

Thursday, September 6, 2007 at 3:17pm by Site Administrator

When anime finally exploded onto the scene in the United States in the late 1990s along with Pikachu and friends, an entirely new pop subculture was formed. Everyone young and old welcomed the TV show and videos and embraced the funny little characters as a revolution in art, design and cinema, at least as we Americans knew it. Since then anime has managed to gain popularity, and even though new shows and stories aren’t as mainstream as Pokemon was, anime has solidly established itself in the American pop culture world, alongside Britney Spears, Finding Nemo, and Spiderman.

Anime entrepreneurs are continuing to make their mark in Japan, Korea, and rest of the Western world. According to Business Week magazine, they are only maximizing a fraction of their potential. Still regarded as a fresh take on traditional Western animation, anime, with the help of its designers, business managers and technology consultants, could one day compete with Hollywood. Critics argue that the bulk of the anime industry is still to disorganized to become a cinematic heavyweight, but we’ve compiled a list of 10 anime entrepreneurs who have overcome challenges like lack of funding or too-small audiences to rise to the top of their game and challenge even the biggest mainstream Hollywood companies.

  1. John Ledford Houston, TX, native John Ledford "is America’s leading licensor and distributor of Japanese animation," according to Forbes magazine. A college dropout, Ledford started his own video game distribution company in 1990. It became so wildly successful that just a few years later he began licensing and distributing anime films. Soon afterward, he founded ADV Films, the company under which he still operates today. Ledford, 38, has now branched into the cable television market developing shows for his diehard fans.
  2. Tatsunori Konno As President of Bandai Visual USA, Inc., Tatsunori Konno heads the American division the Japanese film company Bandai Visual Co., Ltd. By distancing himself, however far, from his parent company, Konno will surely end up being ultimately responsible for the growing successes of anime film in the United States. A distributor for the most "sophisticated" and hardcore anime fans, Konno strives to bring his customers the highest quality DVDs, designs, and experiences. Click here to read about an interview with Konno.
  3. Stu Levy After founding the popular manga novel and guidebook company Tokyopop in 1996, Stu Levy’s profile has reached international audiences. As a guest lecturer at colleges and conventions around the world Levy manages, creates, and publishes the entertainment produced at Tokyopop as well as collaborates with other companies in the anime industry.
  4. Matt Greenfield Matt Greenfield is another influential member of America’s anime business. He is a founding partner and current Vice President of John Ledford’s ADV Films. Helping to start ADV Films in 1992, Greenfield launched the company into the highest levels of American anime consumerism while managing to compete with traditional Hollywood. He also occasionally does voice overs for some films.
  5. Tateo Mataki As CEO for Dentsu, often regarded as one of the largest and most powerful advertising agencies in the entire world, Tateo Mataki is quite involved with the global successes of anime. Mataki began working for Dentsu in 1962, making his way up to different managerial and executive level offices until he reached the position of CEO in 2004. Among a list of other high profile clients in the sports and entertainment industries, Dentsu is also responsible for the advertising and promotion of anime worldwide.
  6. John Oppliger John Oppliger’s professional beginnings were far from the flash and fame of anime. Starting out, he briefly taught English at St. Petersburg College — he is now widely regarded as an expert of anime culture and trivia. As Web master for, Oppliger was made famous by his "Ask John" column, in which he answers fans’ questions about anything anime related.
  7. Satoshi Yamaguchi Yamaguchi’s Yumeta Co. adequately represents the quiet, humble nature behind the origins of anime. Despite its immense popularity, the Yumeta Co. has "no sign on the door. Inside the cramped, nearly windowless building, the company’s 30 or so jeans-clad staffers busily draw by hand" each design, according to "The Anime Biz," article published in Business Week. A direct contrast of Hollywood egoism, Yamaguchi’s anime business recalls a purist’s style, in which all the work centers around the perfection of the trade.
  8. Hayao Miyazaki As one of the leading directors in the Asian culture and perhaps the most prolific and successful director in the anime industry, Haya Miyazaki has come as close as he can get to achieving mainstream popularity. His film "Princess Mononoke," backed by the American company Miramax, became the highest-grossing film EVER in Japan, until two years later when another of his films, "Spirited Away," took over the title. Miyazaki is also co-founder of the prominent Studio Ghibli, which produces anime films.
  9. Mitsuhisa Ishikawa As President of the Production IG Studio, Ishikawa has developed numerous TV shows, films, and video games for anime fans all over the world. Ishikawa started Production IG in 1987 and since then has become known as "one of the forerunners of digital animation techniques," making him one of the leaders in bringing anime into the future.
  10. Osamu Tezuka Osamu Tezuka is warmly considered Japan’s Walt Disney. He revolutionized anime through his design techniques and is responsible for popularizing the unique artform. His most famous stories are Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. Tezuka died in 1989 but is still revered as "the God of Manga."

The ever-growing anime industry may not be the mainstream in the United States yet but it’s certainly hold its own. With ambitious, talented entrepreneurs like the leaders listed above spreading the word through their designs, advertising campaigns, Web sites, and profitable distribution companies, it’s only a matter of time before the quirky animated art is as much a part of our pop culture as it is Japan’s.

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