Ask John: Is Adult Anime Dead in America?

Is less hentai anime being released in the west? It seems like less original hentai anime has been coming out on DVD and most of them have been rereleases and license rescues.

New adult anime certainly is getting scarce here in America, and we can largely look to ourselves for the answer. Since Iowa resident Christopher Handley was arrested for importing “obscene” adult manga in May 2007, the domestic otaku community has worried about the legality and future of erotic Japanese pop art in America. A week ago, Missouri resident Christjan Bee was arrested for possession of “obscene” digital scans and images of child pornography comics on his computer. Bee has plead guilty without making any attempt to defend himself. At this time, however, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) reports that the exact nature and identity of the art that Mr. Bee is being prosecuted for has not been clarified. CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein has stated, “I’m not at all persuaded that the comics Mr. Bee had on his computer weren’t legitimate speech.” So outside observers, at this time, don’t have any confirmation that the imagery Mr. Bee is being persecuted for is manga, anime, or even Japanese related at all. Regardless, these isolated instances of criminal persecution for possession of fictional comic book illustrations of sex have, so far, been only isolated instances. Since 2007 Digital Manga, Inc. has launched its “Project-H” manga imprint to publish translated Japanese erotic comics in America. So while American citizens may have some justifiable reason, varying in degree depending on area of residence, to be cautious about possessing ero-manga that may be easily confused with “obscenity,” adult manga itself doesn’t appear to be under any serious threat here in America.

Adult anime, though, is a different story. Although brand new adult anime continues to be produced and released in Japan – First Love OVA 3 and Unsweet ~ Netorare Ochita Onna-tachi Kurosei Katsuko were just released in Japan days ago, no new adult anime titles have been licensed for American distribution within the past several years. The very few recent licenses and releases, like Critical Mass’ release of The Urotsuki, have been strictly re-releases of titles previously available in America. A pair of causes seem to have virtually killed the adult anime distribution industry here in America, and contrary to popular belief, both of them are domestic in origin. The 2007-2008 implosion of the domestic anime distribution industry appears to have done irreparable damage to the American adult anime distribution scene. Labels including Nutech, Hot Storm, Amorz, Anime-18, Japanime, and Soft Cel have left the adult anime distribution business within the past five years. Critical Mass hasn’t licensed any new-to-America titles in recent years. And the anime industry crash that hit Media Blasters particularly hard has practically squashed the distributor’s Kitty Media sub-label. The 2008 market crash dramatically scaled back domestic anime DVD distribution, resulting in distributors having fewer discs on the market and less money to produce and distribute DVDs. The market crash was partially caused by the larger economic downturn, which caused fewer collectors and enthusiasts to purchase adult anime DVDs. The combined effect was the domestic adult anime DVD industry suddenly having drastically less income and capital. In effect, the industry hasn’t recovered from that sudden, abrupt stoppage.

Piracy has stepped in to fill the gap. A variety of adult anime fan-subbing groups have become active since the 2007 market crash, and the prevalence of unlicensed online adult anime streaming has shot up dramatically. Since the largest audience for adult anime is viewers interested only in transitory gratification, temporary viewing or free, unlicensed versions of adult anime are frequently satisfactory. In effect, digital piracy has literally nearly extinguished the legitimate, licensed production and distribution of adult anime DVDs in America. The fan community, uneager to accept its own culpability for this decline, likes to cite the unsubstantiated rumor that Japanese adult anime licensors are now hesitant or outright unwilling to license their productions for American release. I can’t entirely dismiss the possibility that certain Japanese producers are hesitant to allow American distribution over fears of reverse importation, but I can confirm that since 2008 a particular American distributor (unrelated to AnimeNation) did negotiate an American distribution license with Japanese ero-anime producer Pixy, but the small American distributor was ultimately unable to raise enough working capital and infrastructure to satisfactorily close the deal.

Noticably less contemporary adult anime is being officially released in America. In fact, no contemporary adult anime is being circulated domestically. The most recent Japanese release to reach America may be 2007’s four-episode Makai Tenshi Djibril 2 OVA series. Japanese distributors do seem to be willing to discuss American licensing, but domestic licensors have little room to spare for ultra-niche erotic anime when even mainstream anime is having a tough time finding a paying consumer audience these days.


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