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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