Ask John: Is the Economy Affecting Niche Anime Licensing?
Do you think the poor economy in the states will affect which anime titles will get licensed? I kinda see a trend in which only the super popular, or the Naruto-esque or Bleach-esque anime titles will get picked up for licenses, which is fine and dandy. But as a fan of niche anime with smaller fanbases, like Dennou Coil, Minami-ke, and more recently Kannagi to site some examples, I just don’t see any companies in the states risking the money to license smaller anime titles. I hope I’m wrong as North America has been deprived of some of the best anime series (or movies) the last couple of years.
I’m regretful to clarify, for American anime fans that don’t closely observe the trends in the American anime industry, that domestic licensing decisions have already largely turned away from niche anime titles. As far back as last October AD Vision CEO John Ledford told ICv2, “Fans just aren’t buying DVDs like they used to… That’s why right now the best business to be in are the hits…” Likewise, last month Bandai Entertainment President Ken Iyadomi said that his company will continue to license “strong titles,” but would likely reduce the total number of its licenses. With domestic anime sales plummeting and domestic anime companies laying off employees in order to sustain viable operation, it’s neither financially sound or even fiscally possible for American distributors to aggressively distribute anime titles with limited market potential, regardless of their quality.
In addition to titles like Dennou Coil, Minami-ke, and Kannagi, other exceptional anime lacking in major mainstream audience potential including Hakaba Kitaro, Shigofumi, Mnemosyme, Kaiba, RD Sennou Chousashitsu, Nodame Cantabile, Sayonara Zetsubo-sensei, Shion no Ou, Candy Boy, and the Kara no Kyoukai movie series aren’t getting licensed and released in America, despite being titles that would be strong potential licenses in a stronger economy and distribution environment. However, all hope is not lost. Domestic distributors including Media Blasters – with Doujin Work, AnimEigo – with Yawara, and Nozomi – with Emma and Aria, do continue to localize some admirable niche market titles. FUNimation has likewise admirably supplemented its catalog of breakthrough mainstream hits like Afro Samurai and Witchblade with excellent niche titles including Oh! Edo Rocket, Baccano!, and Shigurui. Bandai Entertainment has also made some effort to offer consumers off-the-beaten-path titles like Rocket Girls and CLAMP Campus Detectives.
While the TV Tokyo network has publicly stated its goals to distribute its “strongest media content” online internationally, most notably via its distribution agreement with Crunchyroll, a number of niche titles, of varying quality, have also reached American viewers through online exclusive distribution. Especially considering the state of the American anime consumer market, online exclusive distribution has probably granted titles like Moegaku 5, Eve no Jikan, Catblue Dynamite, Captain Harlock, and Galaxy Express 999 American exposure that wouldn’t otherwise wouldn’t have happened. The principal of domestic anime distribution has always been simple, and it’s more evident now than ever before. If American viewers and consumers don’t support anime – legitimately support anime – there won’t be anime to support. I’m as well aware as anyone that tough economic times make consumer sacrifices and compromises necessary, but anime fans that care about anime and the anime distribution industry, should carefully prioritize the weight of the care in relation to other entertainment expenditures. We are definitely seeing a decrease in American licensing and distribution of niche audience anime, and the only way to reverse that trend is to send a clear signal to distributors that licensing and distributing outstanding anime is a wise decision.