A New Age For Perestroika

A New Age for Perestroika
By Drew Sutton
Published in Akihabara Renditions

Last year I opened 2007 with a report I titled “State of Classic Anime in North America”, where I reviewed the news of 2006 and posted an outlook for the future. In retrospect for 2007, the licensing and release issues for classic anime that Akihabara Renditions focuses on were minuscule. The big news; however, was the discussion and growing discontent amongst industry professionals and the consistent decrease of sales and economic shrinkage in North America. Starting in the final months of 2007 with Justin Sevakis’s Open Letter to the Industry, quickly echoed by Chris Beveridge from Anime on DVD and by AnimeNation’s John Oppliger, and responded to by GONZO/GDH's Arthur Smith in Japan, the groundwork was laid for more fan speculation and press releases about disrupted release schedules, cutting back on staffing, and even ADV eliminating their NewTypeUSA publication in favor of a new magazine, PiQ.

In the past several months, the fan communities have been in uproar over re-hashed topics like 'can and does fan subbing hurt the industry', 'can there be responsible fan subbing', and circular questioning such as ‘how can the industry expect to compete with free?’. Indeed digital piracy is a problem within the anime community – to the licensors in North America, to producers in Japan, and even to the fans who do not want the industry to die. This “chicken little fandom” mentality, where everyone is convinced that the sky is falling, may not be as artificially manufactured by arm-chair CEOs as one might think. News since Sevakis's Open Letter hasn't been encouraging. Geneon USA has gone out of business. ADV has experienced financial woes after Sojitz has pulled some of their capital. Illegal video hosting and streaming site, CrunchyRoll, received four million US dollars of venture capital, causing FUNimation and Bandai Entertainment Inc. to balk about illegally hosting content and then be publicly embarrassed by GONZO/GDH when they announced that they were in talks with CrunchyRoll about hosting Tower of Daruga, which is now streaming. Speaking of Bandai Entertainment Inc., the most recent news is that their parent company, Bandai-Namco has decided to fold expensive niche-product subsidiary, Bandai Visual USA, into BEI causing some organizational restructuring. All may not be rosy, but its far from lost.

Sevakis’s article describes the industry he works in and it portrays them as being tied in the whole issue. They can’t undertake more digital distribution options because the Japanese licensors won’t allow them to, or, at least not for more money. GONZO's deal with Crunchy Roll coming to actual fruition is promising news, but it can hardly be considered becoming a new standard business model. What's needed is a concept that is a throw-back to the 1980s. A concept that shook the world equally hard as it was needed by those affected by it. The anime industries need a restructuring – perestroika.

Photobucket There are a host of issues that should be contentious between the legal teams of both the American and Japanese companies when negotiating licenses. American companies are struggling to get any return on investment with their DVDs being as high priced as they are. The Japanese are afraid of reverse importation and due to many production teams counting on approximately 30% of foreign investment (15% is North America alone), creates even higher licensing fees, which the American company has to pass onto its customers. Japan, you may own the rights to the series, but you need to realize that there is global demand for your product – you should compete globally for it. Making use of global distribution through the Internet will reach a wider audience and give fans a much better opportunity to preview series and see where they will vote seriously with their cash. It will also reduce the attractiveness of piracy through fan subbing.

So here is where restructuring begins – Perestroika for the Anime Industry. Japanese companies need to re-evaluate business models: traditional television and home video/DVD sales can still have a place, but ignoring or limiting Internet distribution simply isn’t an option. Likewise, American distributors should be pining for producing the official translations on these online video transfers. Of course, why limit it to just Americans – get French, Spanish, and any other language firms to finance their own versions, coupled with home video rights in their respective lingual territories. These deals can be worked out through an expedited licensing process which reduces the single-point-of-risk associated with licensing a single title after it has been “proven” in Japan. Instead of contract negotiations limiting how American companies release series in their territories, shouldn't the language be modified to allow the content to be release in any and all formats which will generate revenue for all parties involved?

The North American Industries are not without their own need for perestroika. First and foremost, North American distributors need to realize, because it seems many haven’t, that they are in competition with other mainstream media outlets and activities. Seeing anime as special is what makes many of us fans but it does not equate well into getting people to purchase product. Higher price points for what casual fans or the generally curious are more likely to scare people off. Pricing accordingly and making use of more and more rental and broadcast outlets are the keys to getting more sales. Secondly, not only are you in competition with other mass entertainment but you’re in competition with each other. Perhaps the seemingly equal pricing on most products are due to each company spending seemingly equal amount of production costs in bringing those products to market; but pricing outside of the MSRP of $25.99 or $29.99 USD is a lot less common than I would think for companies who compete. It is one thing to know “everyone” in your industry when it is so small but that doesn’t alleviate the fact that business is still business. Finally, intellectual property is arguably only worth as much as the defense put into it. Cease and Desist letters are a start but they shouldn’t be the end result of a legal solution. Without the ability to adapt, more resources should be put forward to defend copyright infringements.

The restructuring of anime industries to compete and cooperate globally is just the beginning. Release schedules for many titles between Japan and North America are getting better and better but the allure of “gotta have it now” presented by fan subbing is yet another factor hurting sales of distributors. Following the theme of perestroika, the anime industries need Gorbachev's second reform to maintain the ability to remain competitive: uskoreniye – acceleration. The business threats that fan subbing represent are free products, distributed without geographical boundaries and with a rapid time frame. Amateurs on different ends of the United States can now collaborate easily to create a fan sub product, with digital files downloaded from people in Japan, in a matter of a week. North American companies can be capable of releasing an identical product, if they were so permitted. Why can't a revenue-generated-by-advertisers, streaming video service be implemented for all titles in a company's library exist? Why not market DVDs to fans who really want DVDs and let individuals see content so they can be aware of whether or not it is worth actually putting money into the equation? The fact that these models aren't being pursued, as a fan who wants the Industry to survive, makes me beat my head against the wall. If I worked for an anime licensor in their negotiations, there wouldn't be a wall – I would have beaten a large hole through it and brain matter would hang, dried like raisins in the sun, from the edges.

If fan subbing is such a threat to the business, then why aren't companies reducing the attractiveness of it by replacing it with their own product? While restructuring is needed to pursue the venture, it also plays into the acceleration of the business. If amateurs can provide the product within a week, if not days or hours after it is available in Japan, then why aren't more North American companies trying to pursue the same avenues? Elimination of piracy is a noble venture and a right of property holders but trying to compete by treating it as an elephant in the room is equally idealistic. And stupid. Legal issues aside, there are market forces which drive piracy, usually from the supplier's price not meeting demand's price plus the want and desire for said product coupled with availability at demand's price point. North American companies, as well as Japanese licensors who are now feeling the pinch of illegal online distribution, should be crushing the competition by making it obsolete or unattractive. If amateurs can do it in their free time, why can't professionals?

Saying “the Japanese won't let us” shouldn't be an excuse anymore – hard negotiations are needed to gain competitive advantage in dim financial times. And that means that the Japanese will have to wake up and realize their business model doesn't work here. The liquidation of Bandai Visual USA is proof of what I said last year concerning their announcement for a business model – Japanese Keiretsu system business practices are designed to fail here. Bandai Visual USA seemed to have the uskoreniye principle going for them; they provided near simultaneous releases for new Bandai Visual products in North America as were released in Japan. The problem was that they tried to play protectionism with their home market, which hasn't evolved much since the boom of the 1980s when home video became big, and American fans refused to support such products. Acceleration is important to maintain competition (or to once again become competitive) but it does little if you're not going to meet your consumer demands, which for BVUSA, would have involved perestroika as well.

Finally, there comes the third and final reform that Gorbachev introduced to the USSR – glasnost. This openness that was highly lauded in the West was meant to provide not only more individual freedom to citizens of the Soviet republics but also a means in which the Soviet government could strengthen itself by improvement. Glasnost for the anime industries doesn't quite have the same methodology though a similar goal. Understandably, North American anime companies have certain secrets, as do all industries, that they cannot divulge to people who are not permitted access to such knowledge. However, if true restructuring is to take place for both the American and Japanese companies and how they do business together, then more openness is needed for why suppliers cannot meet consumer's demands. And from there, pressure can be applied to improve quality and availability of product to meet consumer demands.

But, the need for perestroika, uskoreniye, and glasnost aren't only the problems of Japanese and North American industries. Anime fandom is going to have to undergo some changes of its own. Firstly, anime fandom, if it is going to make demands, needs to support those products that meet those demands. Purchasing for the sake of purchasing sends mixed messages. There needs to be a shift in the fan sub community back to the original goals of fan subbing – getting fan support behind a title to get licensed or getting access to a title because it is the only means possible. Fansubbers should ask themselves every time they think about fan subbing something 'what are the chances of this getting licensed'? If its slim to none, then it might be worth it. If its really high, then why bother? If someone else is subbing a title, why should you too?

This article may be damning for Japanese and North American companies and might look like it is giving anime fans a pass at their responsibilities in the overall relationship. That might be a fair assertion, though it is not the way I see it. The reason that rampant fan subbing of even popular series exists is because companies are clinging to out-dated business models and trying to survive in the world of twenty-first century economics. That is what is damning. Globalization means having to meet global demands for products and the old way of doing business, especially when your consumer base is continually getting younger and younger, simply isn't acceptable anymore. As a fan and as a consumer, the writing is on the wall and plain as day to me. What is still a mystery to me is why it seems I am the only one, or others like me are, able to read it. If a company, Japanese or American, is going to turn a blind eye to the issue and expect business as usual (or to not meet market demands), then they should not expect to succeed. The opposite is true – even if it means that business is not as usual, companies should be working to provide customers what they want, need and desire through competition and market norms of those from which they are trying to solicit business - and they will succeed. A healthy and profitable industry cannot exist right now with American companies playing to the interests of Japanese protectionism, business models reliant on old technology and whining about (and like) spoiled brats. Instead, the companies should be acting in the interests of generating the most revenue (turning as much into profit as possible) as they can and exploiting technology to their own competitive advantage.



Laziness Abounds?

It's odd that one can feel so much stress meeting one's obligations, get them all complete, and still feel behind. That's the convoluted way of saying "I've been busy not updating here." But there's good news coming from all over the place now.

The con season is a tricky thing for Classic Japanese animation - you can have two cons within two weeks of each other on opposite ends of the North American continent and get nothing newsworthy, yet, practically smack dab in the middle, we get a license announcement for 3 "new" titles! From a "new" company, too!

Sakura Con was held in Washington State early in April. Nothing for classics fans. Anime Boston, towards the end of the month, and also nothing. However, brightening my dreary Monday on the 16th, ImaginAsian announced they have reached a deal with TMS and would be broadcasting and releasing on DVD three classic anime titles:

Ie Naki Ko 『家無き子』 under the title Nobody's Boy Remi
Cat's Eye Season 1 『キャッツアイ』
Superdimension Century Orguss TV Series 『超時空世紀オーガス』

From ANN's press release, they will be broadcast in Japanese with subtitles and the DVD releases will also be with Japanese dialoge and English subtitles. Orguss is a little special, the first 17 episodes will be dubbed because there was already an existing dub available. According to Justin Sevakis (who writes ANN's excellent Buried Treasure column), who is also working on these releases from what I gather, the second season of Cat's Eye also has a good chance of being released if these are successful. Broadcasts will begin in early June and the DVD releases will begin in late June and early July. These DVDs have me excited not just because it's more classics coming out here, but the price point is extremely cheap.

The DVD releases will feature 4-7 episodes per disc from the Region 2 Japanese DVDs (so, our quality will be high, but not as high as in Japan) with the first disc plus box retailing at $12.99 USD. Subsequent discs will be priced at $9.99 retail. Or, wait for the boxes which will be around $80 USD. Coming from Bandai Viual USA's pricing scheme I spoke about last post, this is a big jump. Once more, on the production side of the business, the discs will be made to order. This is a cool thing because it eliminates production expenses for making units that are sold to retailers but never make it into the hands of buyers.

However, there are some drawbacks to mention. The discs will only be sold via ImaginAsian's online store, which means we might only see shipping to the US and Canada. Secondly, is packaging. For people who like decorated singles cases (strong opinion to follow), buying into these might be a bit of a sacrifice because it looks like only the box may have art on it. Disc 2 and up will come in Tyvex sleeves to fit into the box with the first disc. Third, and perhaps what the worst may be if this fails, is the mention of "limited time". Classics fans wanting good, cheap classics should probably jump onto this as soon as they're released.

Now, strong opinion time. I'm not big on packaging outside of "physically ruining DVDs". For the art work, I'd rather get desktop wallpapers or posters. Since the shrinking of media and its packaging, and this may be rose-tinted or what not, I think LaserDiscs had the best packaging in terms of art. Mostly because taking up the cover itself is practically a 144 sqaure-inch picture with plenty of room for a good manfacturing transfer. DVD and VHS cases just don't measure up. I understand that 99.99% of all packaging is for marketing purposes, but if I can save a few bucks by forgoing it on my DVDs to devote to other media (the aforementioned posters and such), then my DVDs can be bland.

I'm most excited about Orguss because I'm a fan of those 1980s, sci-fi, Real Robot type of series that were popular then. It's also easier to find more material for research about Orguss for a couple of reasons: it's been released in the US before and it was considered the sequel to Superdimension Fortress Macross ages ago. Even though Cat's Eye was wildly popular in the early and mid 1980s when it aired in Japan, it's not seen a whole lot of exposure elsewhere to my knowledge (I'm only vaguely familar with it myself). Cat's Eye is the story of three sisters who are cafe proprietors by day, art theives by night with a detective hot on their trails who is also the fiancee of one of the sisters. Sounds like some action, intrigue, and romance, which I think can be hard to go wrong. Ie Naki Ko is well-known in Latin America as Remi, based upon a French novel Sans Famille. It seems to be an emotional piece about love and family. Needless to say, I'll be trying to check out these series as much as possible, but I am immediately most excited about Orguss.

In other news, I'm working on getting the main domain up by the end of this month. I've requested some friends who are better at the whole image editing and web design thing to use their skills and most of that work is mostly done. I probably won't be updating much here in that case as I'll be busy with migration and adding more content. I hope that those of you reading Akihabara Renditions will follow when we make the big jump from little blog to little full-out website. Thanks for reading!

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Diversification and Bandwagoning

It seems that after my last post, followed by a busy week, was met again with busy weeks following it. The news; however, has been fairly sparse but deep in detail regardless.

As I mentioned last, I ordered my copy of Top 'o nerae! GunBuster 『トップをねらえ!GunBuster』 produced by Bandai Visual USA from Right Stuff. I did that on either the 3rd-5th of March. Orders for GunBuster must have went well, it took nearly three weeks for my copy to ship, which is the slowest I've had from them. I'm not complaining, I got the box set and had to force myself not to watch it as I had other work that needed attention. I did end up watching it the next day and it was glorious.

The story actually splits in two parts from here. The first part is about Bandai Visual in the news recently concerning many of their releases, which from my last post garnered much praise. In fact, they're going out on a limb in the current North American market with classic, and even more niche, titles like GunBuster, Mobile Police Patlabor 『機動警察パトレバー』, and soon Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise 『王立宇宙軍オネアミセの翼』should be commended and supported. Thy're even releasing more modern titles to rope in contemporary fandom such as Top 'o nerae! 2 DieBuster 『トップをねらえ!2 DieBuster』, Wings of Rean 『リーンの翼』, and a simultaneous Japanese and American release for the OAV Freedom. So, a robust and diverse catalog - where can the problems be? Dubbing and Pricing.

I'm personally not much of a dub fan. If I've heard the dub, I think I can accurately evaluate them and usually comparing directly to the original is the last step I take. When it comes to the Dub-Sub Debate (which is much more a business decision now than a fandom issue), I look at it this way: I like cheeseburgers. When I go with friends, many times I end up getting and enjoying a nice cheeseburger. Sure, on occasion I feel like a pasta dish (and by no means is my pallette limited), but nine times out of ten, I'll prefer something like a cheeseburger. Subs are my cheeseburger. It's what I look for first, it's satisfying to me, and nine times out of ten, what I prefer. However, dubs are still viable for getting a large number of people to buy an anime DVD; Sub-Only just hasn't sold well and is usually reserved for titles which may not find much of an audience. Bandai Visual USA has decided that Sub-Only wasn't just the case for a couple of releases - it's now standard operating procedure [animeondvd.com].

What can they do after alienating a good portion of the market? Let's reach pricing similar to Japan! I was forgiving for GunBuster being two episodes a disc and retailing at $60.00 for the box. I wanted quality (and I got it, but more to come on that later) and it was about the top of my price ran about this level, given the extra booklet, which I'm still not through reading. I also felt that this was a very niche release that only a really small segment was going to jump on (I might have been wrong). However, looking at this release for Freedom and other news circling about, other titles like DieBuster and Rean will not be boxed and individual MSRP is near $40.00 per disc. Sure, we'll probably see about a third or fourth of it knocked off from e-tailers, but will American fans pay near $30.00 per disc not meeting our version of standards? I hear complaints all too often that "anime is expensive", which isn't entirely false; hobbies by definition are supposed to be money pits. But in return, we're used to dual audio tracks, special extras, and episode counts between two and four times (pending on the series) the size per disc than the Japanese counterparts for MSRP of $30. What's more outrageous is that on this podcast from Anime World Order, they discuss Royal Space Force hitting MSRP at $80.00 with no idea what will constitute extras.

So now it seems like I'm going to jump on the bandwagon of bashing Bandai Visual (and BVUSA). Bandwagoning this isn't. I support the Industry, especially when they do a good job. But when they do dumb shit like this, then it's time to chastise them. Bandai Visual may get away with highway robbery prices in Japan, thanks to the Keiretsu System [wikipedia.org], but this won't fly with American consumers at all. If BVUSA wants to stay in business, then either bring your product within what we consider standards and at market price or retain your release structure and drop your prices accordingly. If you're going to offer us what we percieve as half a product, drop your prices to what half of our standards are. As I see it, BVUSA's charging prices to help the protectionism of the Japanese DVD industry. We've heard this argument in the past with Bandai Entertainment and its English-Only Mobile Suit Gundam 『機動戦士ガンダム』 TV DVDs. Producers in Japan want to be guarded from having to compete with American products that have a better price-point. Welcome to the global economy, Bandai Visual and I guess Japan as a whole.

And, speaking of odd ways of doing business, confirmation of a legal dispute between Libre Publishing in Japan and Central Park Media's Be Beautiful line has been confirmed by ANN via MangaNews. As much as we know from the story is that CPM bought a bunch of licenses from a company named Biblos, which publishes yaoi manga in Japan. Biblos went out of business and was selling its properties as a part of bankruptcy, which Libre bought and re-negotiated author-publisher contracts to many titles, a lot of which CPM licensed in the US. Libre posted this warning on the Internet, pleading with fans in Japanese and English to boycott CPM for distributing "illegal" and "unauthorized" translations. CPM is keeping quiet about this, which may be the best thing. However, without seeing the documentation and contracts that CPM had signed with Biblos and what the terms of sale were when Biblos sold titles to Libre, anything from here is speculation and the truth can lie in several directions. Hopefully, they, or even an arbirator can, be brought in and between the two parties sort it all out themselves, rather than have to crawl through American or Japanese court systems with legal counsel.

As I said above, I what started out as news about GunBuster and it's DVD release. I plan on putting out a reveiw of it, but I want it to be more comprehensive than just a review of the DVD. I also mentioned in the previous post that there was some fanboy whining about some music being changed in GunBuster and that I was planning on getting an unaltered copy somehow. I actually found original prints of the OAV on LaserDisc on eBay fairly cheap. I bought them and they were shipped yesterday, so I should have them soon.

Back a couple of years ago, I was struggling with my fandom. I've probably mentioned this before and that's when I became an advocate of classic Japanese animation. One of the articles that helped me along was this editorial: Buying Anime on Laserdisc [j-fan.com]. When finding far too much crap coming out on R1 DVD and in fansub circles, finding a much more affordible outlet to get unaltered copies cheaply from Japan or just get old anime that will never see the light of day here in North America, sparked a new surge in fandom. Thankfully, the used-LD market in Japan was much, much larger, especially in anime circuits than it was in the US, probably all of North America. For the past couple of years, I'd browsed online auctions looking for LD players and discs, just to see what kind of trouble I would be getting myself into. I finally through Craig's List someone wanting to sell a player and a bunch of discs. A couple e-mails, and hour drive, and thirty minutes of breakdown and selecting LDs, I was driving home with a nice, used LD player.

Here's the machine set up for testing:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

From the top, with the Ranma 1/2 SUPER OAV I was testing with. It's an LD I bought nearly immediately after reading the J-Fan editorial.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And the title screen, thankfully proving my LD works!

And for you kids who've never seen an LD -

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

So, I expect over the next few years and hopefully as long as I can remain an anime fan, my collection will be growing in a diversified fashion now including vintage, classic LaserDiscs as well.

But there is one more way I wanted to diversify myself. I've been going to Anime Weekend Atlanta for quite some time, but outside of comic book conventions when I was younger and an odd convention I do contract work for, I've not been to another, strictly anime, convention. Since I was out adventuring for my LD player on 17 March and I would be driving past the Georgia Institute of Technology anyway, I decided to stop by Momo Con. Being run at a Univeristy, I expected a much smaller, fan run feel to the convention. Smaller it was, and there were fans, I'm sure, but "run" is a very subjective term in this case. It seems like a con that was decentralized and just happened. Upon entry, which was free, everyone received a goody bag, which didn't contain a program (though I see now there are maps on the website). Nor were there maps posted indicating where events were. In fact, I found gaming rooms (to my chagrin), a dealer's room (which wasn't great in either selection or pricing), and lunch (because I was starving). Oh, and I was constantly surrounded by cosplayers. To me, not being able to find, well, anime related events at an anime con and constantly surrounded by cosplayers, I felt like this was more a cosplayer's convention in the vein of Akibiyori. I planned on staying for a couple of hours but I could barely manage an hour and a half.

The one good thing about Momo Con was running into an old college friend there and I spoke with him and his girlfriend about hitting up MTAC this (well, April) month. I'll need to call him again soon and see if they're still up for it and I need plan vacation.

On a final note, I hope to be able to do my encompassing GunBuster review next weekend some time. In the meantime, I'm still working on getting the full Akihabara Renditions website up and running, but it looks like it may not be until May. It kind of sucks because I need to get AWA press information submitted. Well, that's it for this edition of AkibaRen. I'll be back as soon as there is more news to report and comment on!

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Running Behind, As Always, It Seems...

Just as I was behind getting the First State of Classic Anime in North America uploaded (well, composed, then uploaded), I've since fallen behind on updating this regularly with the news of the day. Licenses for more contemporary Japanese animation series have been announced and while the news for classics has been respectfully light, there have been some big developments none the less.

Just two days after I predicted a release for Ouritsu Uchuugun Oneamise no Tsubasa『王立宇宙軍オネアミセの翼』 (Wings of Honneamise), on 30 January, at Anime LA, Bandai Visual USA announced they do have plans to release the 1987 film that put GAINAX on the map in Japan and helped bring about modern anime fandom in North America. The Anime LA report at Anime News Network also confirms "compilation films" for both 1988's Top 'o nerae! Gunbuster 『トップをねらえ!ガンブスター』 and it's 2004 sequel Top 'o nerae! 2 DIEBUSTER 『トップをねらえ!ダイブスター』. When describing the release, it seems to describe Diebuster as a similar release to Gunbuster of three DVD at two episodes each. Nothing more has been said of the release, so perhaps as the convention season picks up later in the year we will have mroe details. Weeks before the Gunbuster release here in North America, the report also brought what some fans may see as ill news as well. During one of the training sequences, music had to be altered for undisclosed circumstances (to be exact, best speculation has to do with copyrights). The music was replaced with another track from the soundtrack but immediately fanboy legions were cancelling their orders. All I really have to say about it is that my copy of Gunbuster is in the mail (birthday present) and I'll review it as soon as I can; however, I will be keeping an eye out for an old LD set, the R2 JP DVD, or the R2 UK DVD for a comparison. The report also re-affirms the BVUSA's license of the 2006 ONA Rean no Tsubasa 『リーンの翼』 based upon the manga of the same name by Tomino Yoshiyuki and a part of the Byston Well stories from Sei Senshi Dunbine 『望戦士ダンバイン』 (Aura Battler Dunbine).

And like Laws of Physics, what goes up must come down. We gain Honneamise and we lose a very classic, Matsumoto Leiji work: Waga Seishun no Arcadia 『わが青春のアルカディア』 (My Youth in Arcadia/Arcadia of My Youth). As reported from Anime News Network again, AnimEigo has said that Arcadia is going out of print and will be as such when they run out of current stock. Like with Kimagure Orange Road, if you shop around, you'll still be able to pick up a copy and for dirt cheap. But, I advise you move quickly; I can't imagine the print run being incredibly large even for this awesome a film. I spoke a little about Arcadia back in August of 2005.

On a final note for the news for now, just as in February of 2006 I stated that Japan seems to be returning to older franchises in a production lull that I think has plagued the Japanese industry in the past few years. 2007 seems to be no different and these reproductions seem to be out in full force. Starting within the first quarter or so of this year, the following classic franchises will have new animations released for them (all research courtesey of Anime News Network):
Testujin 28go 『鉄人28号』
Koutetsu Jeeg 『鋼鉄ジーグ』
Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro 『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』
Giant Robo 『ジャイアントロボ』
Juusou Kikou Dancougar Nova 『獣装機攻 ダンクーガ ノヴァ』
And coming later we can expect the following:
Soukou Kihei Votoms 『装甲騎兵ボトムズ』
Unspecified Macross 『マクロス』
Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman 『科学忍者隊ガッチャマン』

It looks like there is a lot to look forward to already. Some series I am already hesitant about how good they might be, especially this Macross in the works and I think that only comes from a history of mixed-review additions to the franchise. Votoms is a little harder for me to comment on because I am not really familiar in deep detail with it (yet). A CGI Gatchaman will be hard to predict because it seems to be a joint venture and I wonder with Japanese gaining more control in contemporary international versions if Tatsunoko will allow one of their flagship franchises to be treated in the same manner as it was with Battle of the Planets or G-Force. With series as old and beloved as Kitaro, Tetsujin, GR, and Jeeg, they are fairly simplistic series with fanbases already devoted to the originals, so they will mostly be icing on the cake and not draw a lot of backlash from many hardcore fans in North America.

No matter though as Akihabara Renditions will continue to monitor the North American and Japanese Industries and bring all of the reports of classic Japanese animation!

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The First State of Classic Anime in North America Report

State of Classical Anime in North America (SCANA), 2006
~A Record of Events in the Region One Market for 2006~
by Drew Sutton, published in Akihabara Renditions on 28 January 2007

Japanese Animation fandom has existed in North America going back to the very late 1970s and has continued to grow, first in waves, but now due to proliferation of the Internet, nearly exponentially. Likewise, Japan is now producing more animation than ever before. However, many fans looking at the newest and hottest titles coming out of Japan and across the wire this very second are finding many of these series not in line with why they fell in love with Japanese animation in the first place. Akihabara Renditions, like they, still remember and support classics. This report exists as the first in an annual report that will look in the year past in terms of the health of the industry, the exposure of classic anime, other notable news events, and what classic anime may hope for in the future.

In 2006, the Anime Licensing Industry in North America, henceforth known as the Industry, appeared to still experiencing growing pains resulting from the bottoming out of 2005. These contractions are normal for an economy and in an industry where profit margins are slim by definition, they are expected to have major impacts. However, while in years past the normal licensing season has ended around the beginning of the fourth annual quarter, many licenses were announced up until the end of the year. Combined with the entrance of a new business entity, Bandai Visual USA (a US branch of the Japanese firm), it appears that the Industry may be headed for a rebound sooner than expected. Likewise, with this new player in the market and a rebound of capital, the licensing trends in North America will be favorable to both fans of modern and classic Japanese animation properties.

Even though the Industry has not met the real number total of the licensing booms between 2002 and 2004, I am sure that time will come. What classic anime fans have to look back on in 2006 and look forward to in 2007 is a large percentage of classic Japanese animation titles expected to be brought here. The first classic license came early in the year, though it felt like an eternity compared to what seemed like the lack of market representation in years past. February brought Media Blasters/Anime Works into the eyes of classic fans by licensing the early nineties sequel Uchuu no Kishi Tekkaman Blade 『宇宙の騎士テッカマンブレード』, coupled with a separate English version, cut and edited as Teknoman. Many fans in North America may remember Teknoman from its Saturday morning syndication but MB/AW has recognized to maximize sales, it should cater to both audiences, thus separate printings, as opposed to putting both versions on the same printing. Modern classic Crayon Shin-chan 『クレヨンしんちゃん』 was announced out of the blue by FUNimation. Initially met with criticism, both of the series itself and its licensor, much of that criticism has fallen by the wayside with a successful special two-week promo airing on Adult Swim. Also in February, CPM released the Soukou Kihei Votoms 『装甲騎兵ボトムズ』 (Amored Trooper Votoms) television series across four box sets. These releases have been widely acclaimed.

Later in April Media Blasters/Anime Works came back with another stunning announcement. Like it did with Tekkaman Blade and Teknoman, MB/AW was releasing the 1980s classic Voltron: Defender of the Universe in its entirety and releasing its Japanese component series Hyaku Juuou Golion 『百獣王ゴライオン』 and Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV 『機甲艦隊ダイラガーXV』 all separately. With releases for Teknoman and Voltron, MB/AW is capitalizing on the fad of re-packaging nostalgia that has brought us DVD sets for shows like The Transformers and Thundercats but also recognizing that a number of fans are also anime fans and are banking on them wanting to see the original Japanese versions of their childhood favorites. Together with this announcement, MB/AW also announced licensing and releasing Yuushaou Gaogaigar 『勇者王ガオガイガー』, which while not a classic in the technical sense, it has gained a large fanbase amongst fans of classic Super Robot Mecha, so I feel that it is warranted a mention.

As the summer convention season picked up and multiple licenses were being announced on a weekly basis, we hoped not to be over looked. And we were right. Summer at Anime Expo in Long Beach, California we saw Bandai Visual USA (not related to Bandai Entertainment) emerge to compete in the North American market and they opened their catalog with four licenses, three of which are classics! The two Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor 『機動警察パトレーバー』 films in addition to GAINAX's 1988 classic OAV, Top 'o nerae Gunbuster 『トップをねらえ!ガンバスター』 were announced, only months after Manga Video announcing that they could not renew the licenses. While many fans were simply glad to have the titles available on DVD, Gunbuster has for ages been the red-headed step-child of their catalog. Manga acquired the title from US Renditions when they went under, produced their own VHS set of it and then shelved it when they moved their library to DVD. Bandai Visual, responding to fan demand for a DVD set is not only printing them but are celebrating the long wait with an extra deluxe box set packed with extras.

With titles like Votoms and Gunbuster considered the long-shots of finally receiving DVD releases and Golion and Dairugger being considered a long-shot for licensing period, what more could fans of classics ask for? What else was in store for the next five months for the end of the fiscal year? Only a month went by and we got our answer. Amidst announcements of other companies losing publishing rights to their titles, AnimEigo had their own share of difficulties, even switching to primarily to publishing Japanese samurai jidaigeki, war, and art-house films because of the increased cost of doing business with animation met with lower returns. However, AnimEigo completely out of left field announced their first licensing acquisition in five years: Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl. AnimEigo immediately pledged a “fashionable box set release” packed with stuff, the series given AnimEigo's otaku-driven translation treatment, releasing boxes first, and reverse pricing on the boxes. Reverse pricing is where the price for the box will drop until ship-date for a number of pre-orders that the company receives. Other series such as Kimagure Orange Road 『きまぐれオレンジロード』 and Choujikuu Yousai Macross 『超時空要塞マクロス』 (Superdimension Fortress Macross) received similar treatments upon their initial releases.

2006 has truly been a great year for the fans of classic Japanese animation.

However, despite a great licensing and release season for classics fans, an unprecedented number of relinquished licenses have been announced this year as well. Immediately to start the year off, which did not bode well for the rest of the year, Manga Video announced a number of titles from their library as relinquished. It was a big hit to their library as well, too with many series being regarded highly and popular, such as Hokuto no Ken 『北斗の拳』, GAINAX's Ouritsu Uchuugun Oneamise no Tsubasa 『王立宇宙軍オネアミセの翼』 (The Wings of Honeamise), and Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor films but it included even more niche titles that hadn't seen much of a DVD release: Top 'o nerae Gunbuster and the Kyoushoku Soukou Guyver 『強殖装甲ガイバー 』 (Bio-booster Armor Guyver) OAV. With the Gunbuster and Patlabor licenses picked up by another company, perhaps notable classics such as Hokuto no Ken and Oneamise will be picked up in the near future for release by other companies as well. Manga Video also later announced more relinquished licenses at Anime Expo. Unlike the announcements earlier in the year, these were smaller OAVs which have historically not been block-buster hits. Angel Cop 『エンジェルコップ』, Devilman 『デビルマン』 OAV, and Choujikuu Seiki Orguss 02 『超時空要塞世紀オーガス02』 OAV (sequel to the 1983 TV series) fell victim this time around. Manga was not the only company to experience catalog cut-backs. AnimEigo announced in June that it could not meet the renewal fees for Kimagure Orange Road TV and that by August the TV series would no longer be printed. By the time this came around, AnimEigo announced three more relinquishments: Kimagure Orange Road OAVs and the first film (the second being a property of ADV and still in print), and the hard Sci-Fi classic Crusher Joe 『クラシャージョー』 film and OAVs.

2006 was also regrettably marked by the passing of two contributors who helped make and shape classic Japanese animation what it is with the projects they worked on. The first is Japanese voice actor Suzuoki Hirotaka who voiced many notable greats in classic anime. His voice is what personified the determined but inexperienced captain of the White Base during the One Year War in Mobile Suit Gundam 『機動戦士ガンダム』 and went on to reprise the role of Bright Noah in every Gundam sequel and remake that was required of him up until the Mobile Suit Z Gundam – A New Translation 『機動戦士Zガンダム - A New Translation』 movie trilogy completed in March of 2006. He was more than just our captain, he was the batty, rich upperclass man Kuno Tatewaki in Takahashi Rumiko's 1989 classic Ranma ½ 『らんま1/2』. These are merely a couple of roles of which he graced, but perhaps the most notable he will be remembered for amongst classic fans. Later in the year we were informed that in November a true pioneer had left us behind. Ishikawa Ken, whom worked with Nagai Go to make Mecha a genre that would endure through the development of Japanese animation. While Nagai is credited with being the father of mecha as its own genre by putting the robot controllers inside the actual robots and making use of them as tools and vehicles, as opposed to Tezuka Osamu's androids and Yokoyama Mitsuteru's remote controlled machines, Ishikawa's work with Nagai on Getter Robo 『ゲッターロボ』 continued the piloting aspect but also introduced the team element, the transformation element, and led to many other robot shows to become a merchandising blitz in the 1970s. Without that blitz of fantastic super robots, we wouldn't have the Gundams, Macrosses, and Evangelions that we have today. Both Suzuoki and Ishikawa will be missed by their respective fandoms and we should acknowledge their contributions to Japanese animation.

Finally, we've seeing where we've been, said our good-byes for 2006 and seen a glimpse of the future for 2007. What more can we expect? We've seen that the Industry is still contracting but it remains strong. Relinquished licenses means new doors have opened that were previously closed and not to mention other titles held in licensing purgatory – licensed by a distributor yet unreleased for one reason or another – should be focuses of the classic fandom when interacting with the Industry. While there are plenty of series that remain unlicensed in North America, perhaps negotiating a 2007 release for something already licensed may be a shorter road that fans should pursue. Amongst inter-fan conversation and advertising, AkibaRen will continue to promote and make aware classic anime. If you would have asked me the status of classic Japanese animation in 2005, one word come to mind would have been 'neglected'. Now, after the close of 2006, 'neglected' is not featured but instead 'strong' has replaced it. Responding to market constrictions and a fickle sales demographic, many in the Industry are looking towards the fans of classics. In 2007, I hope to see a stronger push towards the classics as well as a healthy sales representation amongst classic titles compared to their modern counterparts as the 2006 licenses are released and in turn we'll see more licenses that classic fans can look forward to in the coming years.

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Continuing the motto of “For Beautiful Convention Life”

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Anime Weekend Atlanta celebrated twelve years of “Beautiful Convention Life”. I must say that AWA lives up to this motto very well. AWA continues to grow, being one of the ten largest conventions in the US and largest anime convention in the Southeastern United States. 2006 was the first year that Akihabara Renditions attended as official press but this was my ninth straight year in attendance of this convention as a guest in some form or fashion. After being involved for so many years, one would expect to find the event very stale or that I would be showing up simply to catch up with old friends and club members from my High School Anime Club. That is certainly not the case! While I see many of the same staff year after year, ideas from both old and new members must be floated along with some degree of equality because with the diversity of programming, events, and panels, like a fine wine, gets better with age.

Sure, there are standard events that I attend every year – primarily Japanese Animation Hell (don't let the name fool you – it really has little to do with any actual anime – check out AnimeHell.org for a quick sample) and Totally Lame Anime (which does have a lot to do with anime) and other guests can fine numerous panels devoted to the voice acting and directing crews who are guests of the convention. Other topics discussed revolved around Gothic Lolita fashion, general Cosplay (from sewing to props), getting into the Industry, making your own mark in the online community, fan-fiction writing. Pretty much, if you can think about it and have a question, there's probably a panel on it. If you can think about it and think you're an expert, as I purvey the schedule here on my desk, there is plenty of time left open so you could probably start your own panel.

But what amazes me are the new panels that pop up every year. This year featured a panel I would have never expected and will certainly never forget: Anime 1940 – 1980. The beauty of this panel wasn't just the fact that it was a large panel devoted to the definition of “Classic” but with the content displayed, one could see the evolution of Japanese animation from the grips of wartime propaganda up to the juggernaut of the Bubble Economy. One of the most unforgettable clips I saw during the entirety of 2006 come from 1944's Momotarou – Umi no Shimpei 『桃太郎 海の神兵』. This film was made near the end of 1944 and released later in 1945 as the Pacific War was winding down. As such, it is pure propaganda and looking at it over sixty years later the story and action is completely absurd to us now. In the film, which I believe is a sequel to an earlier propaganda piece, Momoarou joins the Imperial Japanese Navy and then trains local forest animals of the territories that Imperial Japan “liberates” to expel the Gaijin and propel the rest of Asia towards prosperity under the guide of Big Brother Japan. I've said before that the modern anime Zipang 『ジパング』 should be commended for looking at the Pacific War with a “Nationalist” viewpoint compared to anti-war classics like Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies) 『火垂るの墓』 or Barefoot Gen 『はだしのゲン』 – but seeing an actual piece of Japanese War Machine Propaganda puts things into a different perspective; Zipang appears much more neutral. Moving forward from the end of the war and quickly through the theatrical animation of the Occupation and into the development of television anime in the 1960s, we see the birth of definitive genres of Mahou Shoujo and Super Robot Mecha. Older fans or fans of older anime can appreciate this panel to get a glimpse at some of their favorites; newer fans or fans of new anime might also enjoy the panel for a bit of a history and development lesson.

Though, speaking of classics – AWA has plenty of dedicated video rooms and while half of them have mixed schedules, AWA also features a video room dedicated to all sorts of Classic Japanese Animation. From Heidi, Girl of the Alps 『アルプスの少女ハイジ』 to Ginga Hyouryuu Vifam 『銀河漂流バイファム』 and Uchuu Senkan Yamato 『宇宙戦艦ヤマト』 to Cat's Eye 『キャッツ アイ』, numerous other classics spanning numerous genres were played throughout the convention. With many classics fans lamenting that classic anime doesn't get the respect or demand that many of the newer titles do with younger fans, the video staff at AWA has taken care to diversify the programming and make sure that fans aren't left out in the cold, so to speak.

I'm sure this is all old news by now (being January that I am just now getting around to writing this review) but there were a few late news items worthy of mention. First was ADV toying around with digital distribution for the new Kyoushoku Soukou Guyver (Bio-booster Armor Guyver) 『強殖装甲ガイバー』 as well as movements towards issuing boxes with the second volumes of a series to assist in people making blind buys whether they want to spend extra on box sets without having to make the decision on the first volume. As far as title specific title information goes, there were no new classical licenses to announce; however I was able to wrangle some new information about some established ADV titles. Unfortunately the crew there could not confirm nor deny a license of the original Dirty Pair 『ダーテイペアー』 TV series nor have they considered making a move to release the Seisenshi Dunbine 『望戦士ダンバイン』 OAVs. The bright side of the picture is that Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman 『科学忍者隊ガッチャマン』TV DVDs are selling where ADV expected them to be. While not getting confirmation at what sort of sales volumes they have sold, good vague news is better than bad news. The only other Industry panel which I was able to make it to was FUNimation's panel. FUNimation is not a company which really licenses classics typically. Of their entire catalog, there is a small handful of titles in which would meet AkibaRen's criteria of classic – the Dragonball 『ドラゴンボール』 Trilogy, Kodomo no Omocha 『こどものおもちゃ』, and Crayon Shin-chan 『クレヨンしんちゃん』. The good news from this panel was that FUNimation was trying to get their re-worked dub of Shin-chan back onto Adult Swim after break-out popularity last August.

Finding a complaint, or to be a more positive, where the convention could improve, one has to think long and hard about this. One could complain about long elevator wait times; with our lodging on the ninth floor and all of the events on the second and ground floors, elevators become useful tools. But can we really blame the con staff for that? Not really; while the guests dictate the uses of said tools, the con staff doesn't exactly design the infrastructure of the hotels. Some areas were clogged with traffic, as to be expected, but again, can we blame the staff? I don't think we can nor should we. Are the con staff perfect? Absolutely not. There were admittedly screw-ups on behalf of the staff: primarily in regards to planning AWA's Costume Contest. However, they admitted and apologized for it. It shows the true professionalism of the con staff.

In closing, AWA was a great weekend. The con staff was fantastic, the hotel staff were attentive and the programming was excellent. On many Internet forums I see a lot of division within the fanbase. These divisions aren't along lines of genre or series but more along the lines of the Old versus New fans. Older fans generally complain that the classics are neglected. AWA thankfully caters to New and Old fans alike in terms of video programming and panels. For the new fan looking for a bit of history to see what made their favorites what they are and the old fans looking for a bit of nostalgia, AWA provides plenty of programming that won't let you down.



New Year's Message: Chronicles of Laziness

I want to open this posting with best wishes for a happy, albeit very belated, New Year to all of the readers of Akihabara Renditions. Not only am I late in writing up the New Year's post but all of the plans for moving AkibaRen to its own domain (first mentioned here) have been tossed by the way-side for the moment. I have no excuse other than my real life duties "getting in the way" so to speak. I received an unexpected job transfer coupled with the end of the year fiscally, I was working most of the time during the day. Then, of course, there was all of the chaos associated with the holiday season, so when it came down to the wire, the couple of hours it usually takes me to write, organize, and research the average post usually lost to me instead vegging out on a sofa or trying to catch up on some much needed rest. Immediately after New Year's, I was sick and before I knew it school came back - with none of my goals during the break accomplished.

In addition to researching the layout of the new site, I've also wanted to write up the articles I've mentioned at various points in the past. One was a comprehensive history of the Mahou Shoujo genre, as it was Mahou Tsukai Sally 『魔法使いサリー』's 40th Anniversary but the research is incredibly hard to come by, espeically for a topic which I've little personal interest in, save for seeing a few very popular titles. There's also the Con Report for Anime Weekend Atlanta as a part of being accepted as a part of the press team (an experience I would greatly like to repeat). It's been hanging over my head - my notes and convention program sitting on my desk and a note to remind me that I need to get extra pictures from my photographer - that I've just not been able to concentrate on whn I sit down to do it. Finally, the last article I have sitting on my mind is a keynote that I want to make an annual occurance: The State of Clasical Anime in North America. SCANA is a summary of the events of the year and a bit of predictions for the follwoing year. I've not fully developed the idea of how the layout will be or what all will be included (for archival purposes, I'd like to keep AkibaRen updates separate); however, the rough outline of information has been compiled - I've just not gotten around to writing the actual article. Certainly, the Con Reort and SCANA will be completed (and hopfully soon) but I am unsure of the fate of the History of Mahou Shoujo article.

So, that is a review of where AkibaRen stands up to this point. Since there is a delay concerning the migration, I'll be focused still on building up content for the actual migration. I plan on having some of the recurring posts here, such as the Tech Connect postings, become their own feature on the new site. Once migrated, I also hope to maybe solicit some guest articles or editorials to add a bit of flavor to the site. Of course, all of the articles, news-commentary, and straight-up editorials will have direct links to an attached forum. The forum will also have a place for all members to start their own threads, too, of course. All in all, I have a lot of work ahead of me to get the site migrated and keep this blog active in the meantime, all on top of my other "real life" duties. I've got some major re-tooling on the schedule to do but I will be working to get the migration accomplished as soon as possible.

As always, thanks for reading and I hope everyone will have a safe and prosperous New Year.