Last week, at Anime Boston, Sentai Filmworks’s David Williams made an announcement that made waves through the subculture. Sentai acquired the domestic rights to the Persona 4 anime series. In addition, they’d already signed on the original voice cast for the show! They had done what many thought was nearly impossible for a tiny anime company!
…Except they apparently hadn’t.
A few days later, Anime Vice reported that the voice cast knew nothing of the announcement. Yuri Lowenthal, for example, replied to them that “I don’t know what Sentai’s up to, I’m sorry to say. Yikes [...] I’ve heard back from half a dozen cast members, and none of us have been contacted.” Similarly, Michelle Ann Dunphy told Anime Vice that “To be honest, I don’t think Sentai has spoken with any of us,” she said. “I’d be psyched to come back and play Margaret and Ayane again in the anime, but as of right now? I won’t count my eggs before they’ve hatched.”
Similarly, members of the Sentai staff didn’t seem to understand why the actors had claimed ignorance on the situation. Mike Bailiff confirmed that Williams’s revelation was “”accurate, except for one cast member (Kuma) who is unavailable.” So, with this in mind, we have a dueling narrative that places much doubt on the story of Sentai Filmworks.
If you recall our previous discussions on marketing, you will recall that customers absolutely adore a story. A good story is able to plant an idea-virus into a reader’s mind – a connection that is so powerful that people simply have to talk about it. Stories shape our perception, and they shape how people treat a given property. With Williams’s announcement, a story was told to the various attendees and readers. They were told that they would get a product that would match the expections that were already set: there would be no stable of Texas regulars, no corners cut, and no expense spared to have the original cast return to the booth. Anime fans could sell the show to their gamer friends or acquaintences that enjoyed the game.
By the time Monday rolled around, the story was outed as a lie in the eyes of many. The cast weighed in, the Sentai staff commented, and it became clear that there was a disconnect somewhere. Retractions and corrections were made on sites like Crunchyroll, while blogs like Kotaku put out slightly snarky reports on the matter. What began as a celebratory story, a joyous revelation that had the sneezers eagerly chatting quickly became a source of mockery – a well of disdain for those who got their hopes up, and a hilarious sign of incompetence to the cynics.
The most damaging thing that can happen to a marketer is to be seen as a liar. Liars are untrustworthy, unscrupulous fools in the eyes of a critical public. The stories that they once told become mere memories, and questions begin to arise in the minds of those who listen to him.
“Can we trust him?” “How do we know this story is true?”
Little by little, the trust he had earned begins to be eaten away by the market. And, unfortunately, this trust is incredibly difficult to regain.
At this point, there is time for the story to turn around, and for the promises to come true. However, the longer the confusion exists, the more people will begin to see Sentai’s side as a lie – the actors gave their concrete word on the matter so far, and these have become the newest story in the cycle. It will be curious to see how this turns out, and how the situation is handled in coming months. Will they be able to prove their assertions as a fact and redeem the story, or will this turn into a (potentially) title-sinking gaffe? This is a question that simply won’t have a clear answer until the dust clears.