Ask John: Which Japanese Anime Companies Have Failed in America?
What companies besides Toei have failed in their attempt to enter the North American anime and manga markets?
“Failure” is a rather harsh term, and in the context of this question, it’s rather relative. I may not know of or recall all of the instances of Japanese companies attempting to, and failing to break into direct American distribution, but I can share the examples I do know. And I’ll cite examples of both outright failure, and examples that may not count as abject failure, but weren’t entirely successful.
Many American fans recall that Toei Animation began releasing American anime DVDs in early 2005. By mid summer 2005 Toei had practically canceled its attempt to break into American DVD distribution, although official confirmation of the cancellation of Toei’s DVD line didn’t come until September 2006. But the outright failure of Toei’s DVD distribution was not actually the company’s first failure to break into the American market. Toei Animation actually open an office in Los Angeles in 1978 for the purpose of trying to distribute its theatrical anime in America. However, the American market wasn’t ready for anime, and Toei closed its American office in 1982. Likewise, Tatsunoko Productions and TMS also tried to establish their own American distribution in the late 1970s, and found the American market unreceptive.
Japanese publishing company Nippon Shuppan Hanbai’s American subsidiary, Books Nippan, began selling imported anime merchandise in America in June 1980. For many of America’s earliest anime fans, Books Nippan became the foremost specialty retailer for imported Japanese anime and manga goods. Books Nippan launched its anime licensing and distribution branch, US Renditions, in January 1987. US Renditions was, I believe, the first professional company to release subtitled Japanese animation on American home video. American publisher Digital Manga absorbed Books Nippan in 2001.
In 1986, Japanese publisher Lead Publishing released four English translated Golgo 13 graphic novels in America. Each book contained two select stories, introductory color pages, a dust jacket, and retailed at $6.95. In effect, these books published in America 21 years ago were the forefathers to the Golgo 13 graphic novels which Viz is publishing now which also contain 2 select stories, no color pages, no dust jacket, and retail at $9.95 each. Following the publication of its 4 books in 1986 Lead Publishing never again independently released any further manga translations in America. (The company later did release a pair of promotional Golgo 13 comics and 3 Golgo 13 comic books in association with Viz.) So I don’t consider Lead Publishing’s venture into domestic manga distribution an outright failure. I think the company was simply twenty years ahead of its time.
In 1989 Gainax opened an American company called General Products. The small company tried to sell Japanese anime merchandise in America, and published an English translated manga anthology titled “Mega Comics” in early 1991, shortly before closing permanently.
In fall 1995 and summer 1996 Japanese publisher Kodansha, through an American subsidiary called “Dyna-Search,” published two issues of a comic anthology titled “Manga Surprise!” The issues of Manga Surprise! contained translated Japanese comic stories, along with short comic stories from Asian, European, and American artists. The comics were never well promoted, and are now very obscure.
Also possibly ahead of its time, Japanese manga publisher Gutsoon attempted to bring a Japanese style weekly manga magazine to America in 2002. Raijin Comics lasted for roughly a year publishing its anthology magazine, graphic novel compilations of the stories printed in the magazine, and English translations of the full color re-release of the Fist of the North Star manga. Also in 2002, Shonen Jump Magazine began domestic publishing with a monthly instead of weekly schedule. Shonen Jump concentrated on marketing to a young, mainstream American demographic and succeeded beyond expectations. The weekly, then later bi-weekly, Raijin Comics Magazine aimed for an older and more diverse audience by including political and romance manga stories in addition to action and adventure serials. Possibly coincidentally, Dark Horse Comics’ Super Manga Blast manga anthology magazine, which debuted in 2000 and targeted mature readers as Raijin Comics did, canceled publication in 2005, posing the question of whether the failure of Raijin Comics was due to poor distribution or a high cost, or due to lacking consumer support for mature manga in serial distribution in America.
In 2002 Japanese toy and TV show planning company Plex Design announced plans to publish original Japanese manga in America in cooperation with American publisher Fanboy Entertainment. Fanboy, Plex and creator Tetsuya Aoki released at least two issues of the translated Angel’s Wing manga and a limited edition subtitled Angel’s Wing anime DVD. Then Plex apparently ended its efforts to distribute manga in America.
Japanese anime production studio A.P.P.P. opened an American subsidiary called Super Techno Arts in early 2001, although its first DVD release didn’t come until mid 2003. The company announced tentative plans to distribute Sci-Fi Harry and Robot Carnival on American DVD, and actually promoted its planned domestic release of the adult oriented female ninja action anime OVA series Shadow. But the domestic release of Shadow was canceled and Super Techno Arts has never solicited another product release beyond its initial title, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures. Super Techno Arts is still in business and still distributes the Jojo anime, so Super Techno Arts might not qualify as a complete failure. But the company has certainly not become a significant foothold for A.P.P.P. in America’s anime distribution business.
It may seem as though Japanese companies trying to distribute their own anime and manga products in America have a history of failure, but there have also been successes. Although not a smashing success, Broccoli’s American subsidiary Synch-Point and its Broccoli Books line have been moderately successful in America. Likewise Japanese publisher Toyspress has sustained its very limited English language distribution of the Five Star Stories manga for the past ten years. Bandai Visual has, so far, sustained itself in America through three releases. And the American companies Bandai Entertainment, Geneon, and Viz Media – all subsidiaries of Japanese parent companies – have been successful in America by all accounts.
Thanks to John C. Watson for providing supplemental details.