Hey guys! First and foremost, Happy New Year to you and yours! I hope you all had a safe New Years and I hope I can continue to count on your support here!
I wish my first post for 2012 was happier news, and, in fact, I had originally planned on posting about a new review-style that I was going to employ for the blog, but recent news kinda takes priority…especially news of this magnitude. As you probably already know, the anime community was recently thrown into a frenzy with the news that Bandai Entertainment USA, a major provider of anime in the US, recently announced that they would no longer release new series on DVD or Blu-Ray. Naturally, this caused many a heated discussion on what exactly this news means to the industry, how it affects anime fans, and more importantly, who’s to blame for it? I decided to reach out to my small network of friends and acquaintances and conduct interviews to answer my questions.
The first person I reached out to is a fellow blogger, and a guy I’ve known for a short time on another forum, Christian Anime Alliance. You can check out his blog, “Black Mage Shooter” at http://www.blkmage.net/. You can also follow him on Twitter at @blkmage.
Cajun Samurai: Good afternoon good sir! Would you mind terribly introducing yourself to our readers? Granted I know we talked prior to this but still…
Cajun Samurai: Cool. How long have you been in the anime game?
Blkmage: I’ve occasionally watched some and read some manga since I was a kid, but I’ve gotten really into it maybe four or five years ago.
Cajun Samurai: Ah, okay. So, let’s get down to the meat and potatoes of the matter…or tofu and potatoes if you’re a vegan…
Cajun Samurai: In one sentence, please explain what’s happening to Bandai Entertainment.
Blkmage: Bandai Entertainment is going to stop releasing new titles.
Cajun Samurai: Okay. And by new titles that means anything that was scheduled to come in the US through them, right?
Blkmage: Right, so anything they’d planned is shuttered, but anything they’ve already been releasing, they’ll keep producing. So for now, you’ll still be able to get stuff like “Haruhi”, it won’t suddenly disappear.
Cajun Samurai: Ah. Okay. So anything that they already had the license to, they’ll continue to release, but outside of that, nothing new will come from Bandai Entertainment in the form of DVD or Blu-Ray releases?
Blkmage: Well, this is where the complication is, because they’re only stopping distribution of new titles, but they’ll still have the licenses to all of the stuff they planned on releasing.What they’re planning on doing is getting other people to do distribution on physical media, while they focus on licensing and digital distribution and merchandising and other stuff.
Cajun Samurai: Okay. So pretty much, Japan gives a title to Bandai, Bandai licenses it out to Company A, which makes the distributions…
Blkmage: Well, when Geneon or ADV stopped, they basically died and didn’t have anything else to do with their licenses, because back then, there wasn’t much else you could do. So those licenses disappeared into the ether. But today, there’s digital streaming. It wasn’t popular at first, but we’re starting to see a lot more Japanese companies who are willing to split disc and streaming rights. There are a number of shows recently that get streamed on Crunchyroll but get a physical release elsewhere. And since physical media costs money to manufacture and ship, I suspect that Bandai figured it could save a ton by focusing on other stuff. Both Aniplex and Sentai are examples of licensers who do physical releases but have shows that are streamed on multiple streaming sites.
Cajun Samurai: Okay. It seems confusing, but I think it’s making sense. So, how do you see this affecting companies in the US that produce dubbed anime like “Bang! Zoom! Entertainment”? I heard on some forums that because of this, “Bang! Zoom!” may stop dubbing anime.
Blkmage: I’m not that familiar with how dubbing fits into the whole picture but in the short run, I’d say that there’s nothing to be worried about yet, since they’re not really dying per se. In terms of overall industry health in the long-term though, it might be worrying, since it’s not a good sign when someone decides to call it quits.
Cajun Samurai: I see now. I mentioned dubbing because on Facebook, there are quite a few voice actors like Richard Epcar and Chris Ayres who think that this turn of events is a direct result of anime pirating.
Blkmage: They do that a lot, but I’m of the view that pirating is symptomatic of problems in the underlying market. What’s interesting is that in ANN’s interview with Iyadomi, he doesn’t mention pirating at all Iyadomi is Bandai’s CEO.
Cajun Samurai: I’ll provide a link to that interview, and I read a bit of it and to my memory, I don’t recall them mentioning printing either. Why then would they take that stance?
Blkmage: What he cites as the reason for all of this is very interesting, especially if you’re familiar with pricing in North America vs. Japan. The thing that he says that made me laugh a bit was when he said that “people tended only to buy sets with very reasonable prices”. The thing is that North American prices are that, they’re reasonable Japanese prices are maybe five or six times what we’re used to.
Cajun Samurai: Yeah. I remember seeing that one time… The price for one volume converted to US money was like double!
Blkmage: The thing is that the Japanese weren’t pleased that they couldn’t make us pay those same prices.
Cajun Samurai: So, one could look at this like Bandai USA is trying to protect consumers?
Blkmage: Well, Bandai USA is a branch of Bandai, so it’s more like the Japanese deciding that it isn’t worth it to continue in this direction and to try something else. If Bandai USA wanted to charge those prices, they could, but they probably realize that they wouldn’t be able to push that many units. After all, Aniplex is going that route.
Cajun Samurai: Okay. Last question: with everything going as its going right now: where do you see the future of anime in the US?
Blkmage: Well, let’s see, I think that digital distribution is going to help in terms of getting people to watch shows before buying them while still providing some kind of revenue for US companies and I think that companies like Funimation are going to continue to do their thing. But, and this is mentioned in that interview, there’s a growing trend for Japanese releases to include English subs, at least for the Blu-ray releases. I think that the Japanese are catching on to the fact that there’s a chunk of people who are willing to import Japanese releases at Japanese prices. Aniplex’s experiment with “Kara no Kyoukai” is one indicator. I think this is going to lead to a growing number of titles that’ll sidestep licensing and simply rely on foreign fans to import those BDs. Something else that I think might happen, at least with smaller distributors is more premium pricing with more goods, something like Aniplex’s “Madoka Limited Edition” release or one of the NIS releases.
Cajun Samurai: So you think that die-hard fans will cut out the middle man and go to the source, even if its more expensive?
Blkmage: Yes, like I said, the big experiment was with “Kara no Kyoukai”, which is a series of seven movies. The asking price was over $400, Aniplex set aside about 600-700 of the Japanese copies for importation and they sold out. They’re doing something similar for the first half of “Fate/zero”. And I think this should make us reassess how we price things and what we think makes us buy anime. And I think this might be an indication of why or how piracy affects the industry here; because you have a $400 set of movies that no one should have been able to watch legally selling several hundred copies.
Cajun Samurai: So, if the trial run goes well…
Blkmage: Oh, it did go well, this was last February. And another branch of Bandai is doing something similar with Gundam Unicorn. I think this is a small counterpoint to people who say that things aren’t cheap enough or that people pirate things just because they don’t want to pay. And I think Japanese companies are also noticing that they can charge their ridiculous prices and if they keep even a fraction of their current customer base, they’re still good. So actually, there are a number of ways that the industry can go, but I think the main thing that the industry has to figure out is how to get people to buy things. If they think that if piracy stops everyone will just go and buy anime, I think they’re really mistaken.
Cajun Samurai: Indeed. Any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?
Blkmage: Hmmm, I guess, maybe when we talk about the anime industry and piracy in North America, I’ve noticed that we tend to talk about it in isolation. I think it’d be beneficial to take a look at not just how the Japanese anime industry (which is extremely important in how it affects the North American one) but also to consider other foreign anime markets to look at what does and doesn’t work and why.
Cajun Samurai: Well, thank you so much for all your help and for taking out time to break down the whole Bandai situation.
Blkmage: I hope I was able to help.
Once again, you can check out Blkmage’s blog, “Black Mage Shooter” at http://www.blkmage.net/. It’s a very good and informative read. You can also follow him on Twitter at @blkmage. Next up, a view from a familiar face on “The Cajun Samurai” who has a helluva lot to say!