The upcoming Lost Judgment could be the last in the Judgment series whose future is uncertain thanks to talent rights. That’s according to Nikkan Taishu, which reports that those on the side of developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and the talent agency Johnny & Associates, also known as Johnny’s, are “unable to reach an agreement regarding the platforms to sell the game.”
Johnny’s is the talent agency which star Takuya Kimura is signed to. Kimura plays series protagonist Takayuki Yagami, and his involvement in the game is largely considered to be a major casting coup as Kimura is a bonafide star and one of the agency’s most famous faces. Johnny’s is a powerful, controlling and conservative agency, so licensing Kimura’s likeness and voice is a big deal.
The issue it appears is publisher Sega’s desire to release Judgment and Lost Judgment to PC via Windows 10 and Steam. Its listings for both storefronts have since been removed. Nikkan Taishu suggests that because Johnny’s “has strict control over the [likeness] rights of its talent, and the use of their image online is still limited to a few,” it may be closed to the idea of releasing the games to PC.
While it’s all fine and dandy for Kimura’s likeness to appear on console platforms like PlayStation and Xbox, releasing Judgment and Lost Judgment on an open platform like the PC could impact Johnny’s control over that likeness. Imagine a nightmare situation where a character model of Kimura is extracted and used in ways that do not meet their approval.
To give this some perspective, it should be noted that the strictness of Johnny’s as an agency goes as far as its view on Internet and social media. The agency denies the use of photos of its talents from press conferences to be published online, and did not open a YouTube channel until just a couple years ago. Simply put, Johnny’s hates any aspect of their talent’s appearance being outside of their control.
Nikkan Taishu maintains that Sega considers the PC to be vital to their plans for Judgment, and as such is considering going as far as just canceling the series outright. That seems like an extreme decision to make, but understandable if it means divesting themselves of an IP that could continue to be problematic in matters of rights.
Of course this is mostly speculation on Nikkan Taishu’s part. The Judgment series future may be uncertain, but there remains a possibility, however unlikely, that Sega and Johnny’s could come to an agreement. Sega could also retool Judgment to feature a new protagonist and star, as it did with Yakuza. It’s better than letting a budding franchise wither before it has a chance to bloom.