This past week, I attended Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, my first time going since 2010. Catching up with my old licensees from my Capcom days as well as helping my current clients navigate the world of anime licensing made for an energizing(and exciting!) experience.

Back home in Berkeley, I have five quick takeaways from Licensing Expo 2024:

  1. Licensing Relationships Transcend Time
  2. Anime Licensing Is Bigger Than Ever (SORT OF)
  3. Game Licensing Happens at Licensing Expo
  4. A Hot Anime IP Is Only the Start
  5. Licensing Is Fun!


Walking the halls of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, I frequently encountered people I hadn’t seen in years. Reconnecting with former licensees from my time at Capcom and elsewhere, we resumed conversations as if no time had passed. And some of these reconnections look like they are even going to lead to new business opportunities, which is really exciting! Truly, the relationships you build in licensing are enduring.


I often write about anime being “bigger than ever” (because it is!), so it’s no surprise that anime licensing would be bigger than ever, too. However, there is a caveat I’ve heard from multiple licensees: physical retail, especially specialty retail, has generally retreated to evergreen anime brands to mitigate risk in a post-pandemic market correction. That’s not to say that the “new big show” can’t do some damage at retail, but it does mean the barrier is even higher. Meanwhile, online channels (Amazon and D2C alike) are getting more and more interesting, especially for premium SKUs.


Historically, there were not many game licensing discussions at Licensing Expo. Part of this was I believe the calendar: GDC was in March and E3 (RIP) was in June, so Licensing Expo as a third leg in that timeframe was superfluous. But part of this was also the rise of brands outside your traditional Hollywood content alongside the rise of publishers outside your traditional console players. Previously, the only guaranteed anime gaming hits were Japanese console fighting games, making licensing primarily about extending rights to include regions outside Japan for their US subsidiaries. But now, with more IPs viable for gaming and more companies viable as developers and publishers, we finally have a two-sided marketplace for anime and gaming.


There were a lot of anime licensors at Licensing Expo this year. There were so many that the conference became a viable venue for business discussions about anime beyond gaming and merchandise licensing, including title marketing, publicity, content distribution, and more. This got me thinking about which anime licensors have successful licensing programs and which do not. In general, I see licensing success as a function of the consumer and industry popularity of a property relative to internal resources. A hot property is just the beginning; it’s only one part of a successful program. Tremendous opportunities for people who can unlock value.


Since becoming a full-time anime consultant in January, I’ve been involved in nearly every aspect of the anime value chain through various clients and deals of different shapes and sizes. Some of these include licensing, and getting back in deep has been a true pleasure. It’s fitting that licensing is where I started my career (see How Learning the Supporting Functions at Capcom Helped Me Become a Licensing Dealmaker), and it’s also where I’m now having a blast.