Admittedly, there are occasions where I don’t pay attention to the western anime community at large. Sometimes I’m able to jump on to something that a good portion of the community is cautious or outraged about right away, as seen with what was once Anime Strike, and sometimes something sneaks up on me a week after the mess begins because of a stray tweet from someone catches my attention. In an age where more and more people are becoming concerned about their online privacy and freedom, out comes a supposed non-profit company, Flying Colors Foundation, with adamant support from a very specific member of the community that undeniably has a lot of pull over a specific section of the western — or at least English-speaking — anime community. Despite being a registered company as early as November 16th, 2017, they’ve officially made their first move this month with their so called “2018 Anime Census”, and with it a wall of red flags came. So, this week, let’s talk about the so-called “anime census” from this new company.
Initially launching on March 15th, the Flying Colors Foundation’s 2018 Anime Census was something that the company claimed was going to help the anime industry. The introduction to the survey stating the following:
We believe that, with your help, we can send genuine feedback to the people who create and produce our favorite anime. You have the power to encourage studios, inspire sustainable business practices, and pitch ideas that may become the future of anime.
Putting aside that I had literally never heard of this company before, regardless of who they were this seemed like an incredibly bold claim. From a short (10 to 15 minutes, according to the website) survey you have the godly power to effect an entire industry, apparently. Putting aside my sarcastic awe that a four month old United States based company with close to no followers or known supporters until now had any amount of pull on a foreign entertainment industry, I decided I’d look a little into this and why it caused a negative reaction, even skimming through the survey myself to get a first hand glance at what was being asked.
On March 21st, 2018, anime YouTuber The Anime Man released a video stating that he was working with Flying Colors Foundation and that he’s going to go through the entire survey on video. Throughout the entire video he was adamant that everyone take the survey and be as honest as possible, especially hitting on that point at the beginning of the video, during questions asking about piracy, and at a question I’ll touch on in more detail. What I will say is that while the Flying Colors Foundation and this survey initially looked ever so slightly fishy at worst, The Anime Man’s video acted as a large warning flag that this company was awfully suspicious.
The most suspicious aspect of the video is it’s use of incredibly manipulative language, saying phrases like “this is very very important”, “get involved if you truly care about anime”, and “you will help us get one step closer to changing the future of anime” while offering little to no backup as to how or why these statements should mean anything. The largest pieces of evidence that the video brings up in attempts to pad the Flying Colors Foundation’s reputation was their involvement with a prior large project of his and the claim that several other anime YouTubers are working with the foundation — which isn’t at all baseless seeing as the list of YouTube personalities aiding the company also includes Akidearest, Gigguk, Mother’s Basement, Glass Reflection, and Digibro according to the foundation’s website. Additionally on their website they claim to be made up of industry partners.
The urging to be completely honest around every given corner, constantly clarifying that he’s choosing things applicable to him very truthfully, and mentioning the good this survey can somehow do on every other question leaves the overall video almost looking like propaganda. No questions were answered as to how this survey would somehow better the industry, no reason to take the survey other than because The Anime Man asked you to were given, and once the video ended it only made me want to look into this deeper, specifically because of a certain question the survey asked that was as alarming as alarming can get.
While skimming through the survey myself after watching the promotional video, so many of the questions seemed mundane and mostly innocent until this very sudden personal push. Giving the excuse of “We know people have issues and we want to know how many people have those issues” is a very silly one in my opinion in that it isn’t a very good one. In The Anime Man’s video he simply acknowledges that the question is very personal but then reminds people to be 100% honest with the survey before answering “None of the above” and moving on. This stood out to me more than anything else because of it being one of the main points where he pushed the need for honesty when taking the survey.
With the conclusion of the video making it seem as if the foundation gave him a list of points to hit on, the push for complete honesty on a question about personal health complications on a survey apparently about anime was incredibly concerning. What The Anime Man’s video doesn’t show is that if you answer with anything other than what he answered with you get a follow up question of:
How has anime influenced your struggle against [your answer]?
Where I take issue with this question in particular is that it seems to be pushing a bit of a misconception that really doesn’t need to be pushed at all — that anime is a cure for some health complications. Now, in the past I’ve talked about escapism and how it’s a completely healthy thing to confide into something you just need for a moment, and Non Non Biyori is a show very special to me for that reason, but it should be clear to anyone that in no way is anime a cure for anything. When I watched Non Non Biyori could have done literally anything else to escape reality and get a hold of myself to help me. I could have read books, I could have played games, I could have gone on long walks by myself while listening to music, there is a huge list of things that easily could have resonated with me as much as watching Non Non Biyori did at the time. Anime itself, frankly, has done nothing for any deeply personal issues I’ve faced in life and don’t expect it to ever do anything like that.
Their stance especially seems misguided when one of the organisations the Flying Colors Foundation seems to be aligned with is Anime For Humanity, another non-profit organisation built around using anime and the fan community surrounding it to spread awareness and understanding about mental disorders and help people find real help and treatment by earning their trust through a shared interest. This is another company I didn’t know existed until I did some very surface level digging through what the Flying Colors Foundation had been up to, but even spending just a handful of minutes on Anime For Humanity’s website made it very clear that they don’t believe anime itself is the cure, but instead the medium they’re using to gain people’s trust and lead them to actual help. When the Flying Colors Foundation is seemingly associated with this organisation and asks the question of “How has anime influenced your strugle?” rather than “What helpful connections have you formed through anime?” it seems as if they’re missing the point of one of their informal partners entirely.
This isn’t to say that if the question on health complications were worded better the survey would be acceptable either. As pointed out by socialanigirl on a post on Medium covering this same topic, it’s extremely suspicious that the Flying Colors Foundation is a non-profit organisation claiming to receive donations for funding while having no way to receive funds by donation. Sure, The Anime Man said he wasn’t paid at all for his video, which I honestly find difficult to believe, and the foundation itself made a tweet thread explaining that it is in no way a for-profit company (which, again, I find difficult to believe) but even if that were true, the foundation on their own website state:
All proceeds raised by Flying Colors Foundation, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, will be used to directly support artists, animators, studios, and charitable causes that improve the quality, accessibility, and sustainability of anime.
I might be mistaken, but how exactly do you have proceeds without a form of income? All this company has is a website and a Twitter profile, and neither page leads to any way to donate to them, so where exactly are they getting money they’re claiming is helping the anime industry? Either they’re making none, which seems highly unlikely, or they’re doing the only thing that makes sense with what they provide.
The first project that the Flying Colors Foundation was a part of was also with The Anime Man in which they created a survey that, according to them, recieved over 650,000 submissions. What I find particularly interesting is that during this project, the foundation did accept donations. I did a little bit of deeper digging and before they switched hosts from Squarespace to wherever they’re running it now, they had a button allowing you to donate by adopting an artist for $17; remnants of the old site can still be found with their hyperlinks (though most of them are dead) here. So this begs the question of why aren’t you accepting donations anymore? I tried putting in URLs that might lead me to a donation page just to see if I could hit a one that accidentally wasn’t linked to, I tried searching for them through PayPal’s charity search, and while I didn’t try overly hard, I don’t really think I need to climb a mountain to give a non-profit money, so I had to assume what all signs were pointing towards.
Considering both large projects the Flying Colors Foundation have been surveys, considering that in their own words their team is made up of “data nerds”, and considering that they have no immediately obvious revenue streams, the only logical answer I could come to is that the foundation collected and sold data through their surveys. If this isn’t the case, I’d love an in-depth explanation from someone representing the company as to where they’re getting the money to host their website and support all of the outlets they claim they’re supporting. Until then, all this anime “census” looks like is a prettied up voluntary data collection that they’ll turn around and sell.
From here, my realm of understanding mostly fades. I’d be lying if I said I understood how non-profit companies have to handle funds, so I just have to assume that they’re obeying the law and not profiting off of other people’s data; merely funding their expenditures this way. Regardless, I doubt that anyone is necessarily happy to give away their personal experiences and “100% honesty” to fund a company. This isn’t even going into how their survey is extremely subjective and uncontrolled, meaning it will inevitably yield incredibly poor and practically useless results, or how YouTube personality Canipa was apparently approached by the Flying Colors Foundation and was offered money in return for promotion, but I’d be doing the topic a disservice compared to the amount of effort socialanigirl put forth to investigate the company so I highly suggest reading her Medium post on the topic. Everything about this company screams red flags to me, and with this so-called “census” making the rounds recently, I thought this would be something important to share. Have a great Friday, everyone.
Thank you very much for reading this week’s editorial! It’s been awhile since I’ve done a piece that required a bit of research, but it feels fitting that a topic like this is the next one to get that from me. As per usual, the sources are listed below. If you have anything to add to the topic feel free to leave a comment below and if you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog, why not follow me on Twitter? I hope you all have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next Friday.
Anime Man – Do You Want To Change The Future of Anime?
Flying Colors Foundation – Official Website
Anime For Humanity – Official Website
socialanigirl – Is the Flying Colors Foundation a scam?
Twitter – Flying Colors Foundation tweet thread
Internet Archive – Flying Colors Foundation Official Website (from October 2017)