Breaking out the Mecha

With AnimeExpo occurring at this very moment, I expected the weekend panels to yield some classic licenses and was a little worried about more classic licenses being lost or not renewed.

The first initial reports that came out of ANN all concerned newer series. This was naturally expected. The largest con in North America (and I actually think AX is still the largest outside of Japan) and to see it fly by with no Industry news would be unheard of. While checking forums, though, Anime on DVD has announced one certifiable classic, in addition to two other licesences, as well as a continuation in a classic franchise. Bandai Visual (different from Bandai Entertainment, who do the Gundam franchise in the US) had been planning on releasing the two Mobile Police Patlabor films previously held by Manga Entertainment, which is pretty good news that within a quick amount of time two relinquished licenses were immediately picked up. Now Bandai Visual, across their IRC channel, according to Anime On DVD, has announced the license of another relinquished classic from Manga's library: Aim for the Top Gunbuster. This is GAINAX's classic 1988 mecha OAV,in case there is confusion with its sequel, Aim for the Top Gunbuster 2, which, because of the rarity of the first OAV, gets shortened just to Gunbuster among fansub circles.

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Gunbuster has had a tumultuous release pattern in the US. Bandai Visual is the third license holder of the series since initially being released by US Renditions from 1990-91. In 1995, US Renditions declared bankruptcy and sold off its assets, including its IP assets/licenses. The Gunbuster license, as well as a few other titles previously released by US Renditions, were bought up by a newcomer to the marketplace - Manga Entertainment. Manga re-released the OAV on VHS under their name in 1996. When the next generation format of DVD was decided, Manga announced plans to move its library to the format and when mecha fans asked about it being transferred over, it was always described as "being on the list", but no definite plans could be elaborated upon. With Manga's loss of the license in March of this year, the only outstanding copies that could be found in the US market - after much serious scouring and digging - were their VHS copies from 1996, which was certainly easier to find than someone disbanding a collection with an old US Renditions copy in it. All seemed lost for GAINAX and mecha fans who wanted a Region 1 copy. Region 2 copies in Japan were made for sale in 2004 and there is also a Region 2 PAL version called Gunbuster Renewal (which has been circulating on the net as a "fansub" as well) that people were trying to get a hold of. Bandai Visual's announcement is a welcomed one and I cannot wait to see this released on DVD.

Bandai Visual's other announcement, again reported by Anime on DVD as being indicated over an IRC channel was Sunrise's foray into the ONA format has licensed Rean no Tsubasa (Wings of Rean). I've already discussed my desire to see Rean and I think that this title, if marketed right, can do well in the US. It is based in a franchise of classic mecha anime but still retains much of the flashy animation that will hopefully attract new viewers.

So far, Bandai Visual's four licenses are all a part of the "mecha" genre, which I think is a good base to go after. Not only am I personally a fan of mecha, Mecha is one of the two unique genres founded in the Japanese animation medium (the other being Mahou Shoujo/ Magical Girl). What started out as a sci-fi sub-catagory has gone on to be its own genre with defining characteristics and whose defining characteristics are recognizable for most non-anime fans. With good releases of strong titles within this fanbase (which I am fairly sure is pretty sizable), Bandai Visual can spin some nice profits early on and hopefully not pigeonhole themselves as being referenced as "the mecha licensor"; while it may limit market potential, it's not as bad as having the reputation for being a bad licensor.

Kudos again to Bandai Visual for scooping up some old licenses and showing that faith in classic anime still remains in parts of the Industry.

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