Q&A: Crunchyroll’s Markus Gerdemann discusses anime

The rise of anime, and how different audiences respond to content

In this interview MediaCat Magazine‘s Editor Mike Piggott spoke to Markus Gerdemann, SVP of Creative Marketing for anime streaming platform, Crunchyroll. They discussed anime’s role in forming and leading popular culture, leadership styles and constant improvement, how different audiences around the world respond to different content, brand collaborations, and finally, Markus gives us his top three favourite anime shows at the moment.

Markus Gerdemann

Hi Markus. So, anime seems to be getting bigger, globally. Perhaps with the internet and rise of various streaming platforms giving people access to stories from different parts of the world and different cultures play a part. Why do you think its growth shows little signs of slowing?

Anime is a dynamic storytelling medium that offers something for every kind of fan. Beyond the beautiful and unique animation style and nuanced storytelling that has captivated global fans, anime encompasses a variety of genres. From action to fantasy, slice of life to horror, from historical fiction to romance; it offers a story and adventure for every kind of fan. The characters are relatable and the worlds within allow for fans to escape — both important aspects when it comes to fans building a deep emotional connection to the material. When Crunchyroll was founded anime, globally, was difficult to access. Now it’s everywhere.

The accessibility of anime has allowed fandom to flourish worldwide, and we’re proud that Crunchyroll offers fans a comprehensive library to stream, but also other ways to be immersed in their favourite works, from theatrical and events to gaming and consumer products. Anime has been a part of popular culture for a long time. If you look at who defines culture, anime is a major point of inspiration for athletes, musicians, designers and other taste makers.

There’s no true ‘mainstream’ anymore — people are defining themselves through subcultures, which is pushing anime more into the spotlight. 

You joined Sony from Netflix just under three years ago. Does Crunchyroll see Netflix as a competitor? What would you say are the different challenges between the businesses, and did you have to adjust your leadership style in any way? 

At Crunchyroll we don’t try to be one thing for everyone, we try to be everything to someone. Hence we are focused on ensuring our platform is the ultimate home for global anime fans. Different companies have different cultures, which can require different leadership styles. I’m constantly aiming to learn, improve and grow, which in Japan is called ‘kaizen‘ (which is also one of Crunchyroll’s values). So I’m always trying to be a better leader by holding onto my core values, which are: ’empower ownership’, ‘take calculated risks’, ‘fail and learn’ and ‘be a good listener’.

You’ve said your goal is to ‘create culture’. How do you go about that in a company like Sony, and how do you know what’s going to resonate culturally with people?

Culture is constantly changing, and I believe in order to become part of it brands need to reinvent themselves, constantly — and do new things that drive conversations and empower fans to become part of something, and to express themselves. Authenticity is key. At Crunchyroll we’re huge anime fans ourselves, we want to honour the medium by putting fans and our stories at the centre of everything we do.

Do certain markets respond differently to different content? Or are there any particular common threads (in terms of what is popular) that you see crop up globally?

Anime has a global audience, but fans around the world do resonate with different genres, and are passionate in their own ways. For example, in India fans resonate with action, adventure, fantasy and romantic comedy genres. French audiences tend to be more receptive to arthouse and experimental anime. An ongoing conversation between fans is whether they watch shows subbed or dubbed. We find that some markets prefer subtitles to be close to the original creative expression, whereas other markets are happy to watch their content dubbed.

In 2022 Crunchyroll did a collaboration with Lady Gaga. You’ve also previously partnered with Megan Thee Stallion, horror manga artist Junji Ito and punk band The Misfits. These all seem quite interesting people to work with. Any plans you can share in terms of any other weird and wonderful people or organisations you’ll be partnering with, this year or next?

As mentioned already, we’re focused on partnering with authentic fans of anime, be it a celebrity, influencer, or another brand that is just as passionate about anime as we are.

In India, we recently partnered with celebrities Tiger Shroff and Rashmika Mandanna, who are passionate anime supporters, and are excited to share their love of the medium with fans across the country. We have a lot in store this year. We’re gearing up to announce some pretty exciting names, ones who will be presenters and pre-show talent at the Crunchyroll Anime Awards in Tokyo, for example. Please stand by for more! 

Are there any other brand collaborations out there that have caught your eye in recent times? For me, I really liked the fact that Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe recently partnered with Dame Maggie Smith. It was unexpected and delightful, and felt like it tackled ageism in an industry obsessed with youth. 

For me personally, a good collaboration is when two brands that may not immediately be placed together but have common values, come together to bring their unique perspectives together to create something new, something they could have not done on their own. New Balance partnered the other day with chef Massimo to promote their ‘made in the UK’ line, which I thought was clever.

Unexpected to begin with, not too overt, but driven by their same understanding of quality and sense of localism and heritage.

What excites you most about next year, in terms of your work at Crunchyroll? What would you like to try to achieve?

Over the last few years we’ve built the foundation for Crunchyroll to be the ultimate go-to platform for all things anime, with the aim to provide our fans the best immediate value. We kicked off many projects that I’m excited to see come to life this year. The next iteration of Anime Awards is only one project to mention. But I’m most excited about this year’s content slate; that we have the honour of bringing to the world. There are a lot of amazing shows we’ve had the privilege to work on, and they’ll hopefully bring a lot of joy to fans.

Finally, Blue Eye Samurai is getting a lot of buzz right now, have you seen it? What are your top three recommendations? 

I have seen Blue Eye Samurai, and I truly enjoyed it. That said, that show is anime inspired and not real anime. My personal favourite right now is Solo Levelling. I also started to rewatch Vinland Saga the other day. Staying within last year’s titles, I’d probably choose Chainsaw Man or BLUELOCK to be in my top three.

Featured image: Crunchyroll / Sony