According to a report from Japanese showbusiness website Nikkan Taishu, Yakuza‘s burgeoning spinoff franchise Judgment is canceled following the highly-anticipated release of Lost Judgment this September. Neither the developer, Rya Ga Gotaku Studio, nor global publisher Sega Corporation wished to sunset the adventures of lawyer-detective Takayuki Yagami so swiftly, but the substantial star power of Yagami’s voice actor Takuya Kimura may soon be Judgment‘s downfall.
First things first: this is not a case of an actor getting too big for their britches and wishing to move on. Takuya Kimura is, in fact, by all accounts quite happy with his role as the voice and appearance inspiration for Takayuki Yagami. Nikkan Taishu‘s trusted source makes this clear. The culprit, then, is not one of Japan’s most famous faces but rather the stubbornly outdated machinations of his talent agency, Johnny’s.
Johnny’s, more formally known as Johnny & Associates, is closing in on its 60th anniversary as a talent agency specializing in rising male talent across Japan. Takuya Kimura, who got his start through Johnny’s at the age of 15 and starred in the hit boy band SMAP from 1988 until its dissolution in 2016. One would hope that such a storied agency would make reasonably progressive moves as Japanese society has evolved. Frankly, it is Johnny & Associates’ refusal to get with the times that is shattering the Judgment series’ potential longevity.
The fateful clash has been between Johnny’s and Sega Corporation. Sega, riding high off of its (somehow) unexpected success on the PC sales front with recent ports such as Persona 4 Golden, has dutifully decided to double down on its Steam-based investments in the future. Is there any reason to interpret Persona 4 Golden‘s flashy cash as a reason for Judgment to be canceled? Ordinarily, no! By all accounts, this should be good news.
Johnny’s, however, has a very… interesting interpretation of the matter. The 59-year-old agency is truly beginning to show its age. Its executives continue to regard the internet as a lawless domain filled not with the potential for growth but with a slew of occupational hazards instead. To be sure, navigating the murky rights distribution currents of the net can be a hassle, but most music production companies have figured that all out and embraced the World Wide Web. A 2018 article by Music Times illustrates the backward nature of Johnny’s well — the company avoided creating a YouTube channel until that March.
Johnny’s is all about controlling its assets. And those assets are human beings. Actors who work for the company cannot even run their own social media accounts. To Johnny’s, the PC platform is too open, too wide, too uncontrollable.
Despite tense negotiations between Sega and Kimura’s controllers, it appears efforts have been fruitless on both sides of the table. Sega needs its lucrative video games to make the jump to PC. “Judgment coming to Steam” reads like a headline worth celebrating. Johnny’s isn’t having it. Does “Judgment is Canceled” truly have a better ring to it? Not to beat a dead horse here, but Johnny makes an exception to Takuya Kimura by allowing the superstar to be public about the fact that he has a wife and children. Let that sink in.
Ordinarily, I would have prefaced this article with the usual “take this with a grain of salt” disclaimer. I daresay this is a low-sodium scoop. As of this moment, two months before the release of Lost Judgment, Judgment is canceled. Could negotiations theoretically open back up at some point, prompting the promising young franchise to continue? Certainly. Would Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio continue pumping out Yakuza spinoffs to replace Judgment if necessary? I think they would, yeah.
Is today’s news a bummer? Absolutely.