Answerman
High On Life

by Justin Sevakis, Aug 9th 2014

It's been a pretty bland week. Once I got out of jury duty, it was pretty much business as usual. So, with nothing interesting to report, let's get right down to some questions.


Peter asks:

With the new DBZ movie hitting theaters this week, I felt it was a good time to ask this. How do companies decide which cities these movies will play in? I've been fortunate enough that my city, Windsor, Ontario, has gotten screenings of all the movies so far, but I'm not sure why. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about Windsor, and even among my fellow Canadians it's mostly known as just "that city across from Detroit." Why pick there and not somewhere else? Also, should I be at all worried low ticket sales or other factors might prevent me from enjoying anime on the big screen in the future?

Independently released films are distributed to movie theaters based on a few factors. The biggest one is, what theaters can they book? There isn't a pre-planned "network" of theaters that independently released movie theaters run in -- that is decided on a screen-by-scree basis by the owners of the theaters. For every theater, the distributor has to approach them, tell them about the movie, probably send them a trailer and some marketing materials, and the theater owner has to decide whether it's right for them. Negotiating with theaters is a tough job, so most companies that don't do it on a regular basis hire a film booker -- either an individual or a company with the connections that knows how the game is played -- to handle it for them.

When it comes to bigger chains like AMC or Regal, the theater owners will decide if the film is a good fit for a specific location based on a) how many auditoriums are being taken up by big Hollywood blockbusters on a given weekend, b) the socioeconomic and ethnic makeup of a specific location -- WASPy areas in the Midwest are less likely to support "foreign" content than larger cities with a more diverse, and frankly, Asian population. Like the smaller Mom 'n' Pop theaters, they'll also take into account how well anime bookings have done in the past, although the personal interest level of that theater's staff is not a factor, since the big chains don't do much grass-roots advertising.

One major stipulation of booking a film in a theater is that, especially with independently released films, the theater will insist on the distributor committing a dollar amount to local advertising. That used to mean running ads in the local newspapers, but now internet buzz and marketing is a bigger factor. There's also a lot of outdoor advertising that happens, like on bus shelters, or signage at the mall.

Ultimately, rather than trying to tempt theater owners with a film that they might be lukewarm on, a distributor might instead "four-wall" their film, which is the term for just renting the auditorium outright. The distributor will then get the entire ticket price for the film, but if only a few people show up, they lose the investment. The cost of doing this can really add up, which is why many distributors will only four-wall a movie for one or two nights -- usually weeknights, which are slower movie-going nights, and are therefore cheaper.

How well an anime title does SIGNIFICANTLY plays into a theater's decisions to book more of them, so by all means -- turn out to support anime in theaters if you want that to continue.


Matthew asks:

If an anime company licenses an anime but chooses not to dub it, is there ever a chance that it might get dubbed in the distant future? When Fate/Zero first came out, I was certain that it wouldn't get dubbed after Aniplex started selling import copies, but I was pleasantly surprised when they did decide to actually dub it. What I am asking is, if an undubbed anime is licensed and brought over here to the US, are the chances of it ever getting a dub after its release at all decent, and if so also what are the factors that could influence an undubbed show getting a dub later on in its life?

Companies going back to shows that got subtitle-only releases and dubbing them is a pretty rare thing, but it does happen. NIS America just did it with Toradora!. Bandai Entertainment did it with Gurren Lagann, although it was the plan from the beginning to release the show subtitled-only at first, just to get it out on shelves -- the title was delayed a year due to the license being pulled from the flailing corpse of ADV Films, and the heat was beginning to fade from the franchise. Sentai Filmworks did it with a handful of their early titles. There are a few others.

There's only one reason for a company to go back and dub something they've already released subtitled: the realization that the show played to a broader audience than they originally thought, and by not having a dubbed version they are missing out on sales. These sales might not be on DVD/Blu-ray necessarily: it could be that Netflix is only interested in a show if it's dubbed, and they really need that one show to make a compelling package deal. It could be that it's a show that's doing unexpectedly well, and is thought to be a better contender for XBox Live or iTunes than originally thought. Basically, it's a do-over.

This doesn't happen very often, because it's not very often that an anime distributor doesn't go into a release primed to milk it for all it's worth. Anime fans have such varying tastes and platform preferences that the distributors have gotten used to spreading it to as many places as possible in as many forms as possible. Since most anime are also simulcast now, they also have some idea of how popular a given show is. They're not caught by surprise very often, and weird circumstances in which they have to release a show subtitled-only at first (such as Aniplex selling imported Japanese Blu-rays before a dub is ready) are very few and far between.

Dubbing a show is a very expensive prospect, so you can bet the companies only do it when they're pretty darn sure they'll make their investment back.


Branko asks:

In the past, you mentioned Japan has more of rental based culture for home videos than a buyer one, which is why most anime DVDs are so expensive and target a small, hardcore niche of collectors. As such, I wondered what effect, if any, Netflix would have on the anime industry if/when it moves into that territory? I imagine anime would be a significant part of its roster of content to be competitive with local video streaming sites like Niconico.

I think you may be misunderstanding something that I wrote earlier. It's true that the insanely pricing in Japan is based on an older business model that did rely a lot more on rental shops, and physical rental shops are much, much more prevalent than they are here to this day. But most anime sales are direct-to-consumer these days. Rental is still more of a factor for hentai and for children's shows, but for the quarterly late-night TV anime that Japan produces so much of, rental isn't much of a thing. There's just too much of it for those stores to stock.

I don't see a company like Netflix making huge inroads into Japan anytime soon. Hulu tried their hands at the Japanese market, and ended up closing shop about a year ago with their tail between their legs: the Japanese entertainment industry is just too weird, too corrupt, and too Byzantine for anyone used to working with Western companies to be able to navigate successfully. They were never able to get any of the mainstream domestic shows that are required to have a successful video platform in any country.

On the off chance that someone does manage to get a service like this off the ground, I still don't think it would change the anime market all that much. The DVDs on which the anime industry depends aren't being sold to people who just want to watch the shows, they're being sold to hardcore collectors. Japanese fans have always been able to just see their favorite shows on TV, or DVR them, so having one more avenue for that won't really affect DVD sales much, even for older shows. Just as the American hardcore collectors still want their discs, the Japanese fans do too. It's a much bigger deal for them to show their support, and have a physical object to prove that they're big fans. That won't change because they can stream their favorite shows.


Charles asks:

I recently got into the work of Satoru Akahori through Saber Marionette, when I went to look on Amazon Japan and Yahoo Auctions Japan, I found that there were no DVD releases of the TV series of Maze: The Mega-Burst Space in Japan, yet there was in the US. This has left me really confused as to how an anime can be on DVD in the states, but not in it's home country. Not a huge deal if you don't know, but are there any other times that this happens with anime? Why do they occur?

I'm happy that you like Satoru Akahori, the undispited master of work-a-day, middle-of-the-road, late-90s comedy anime. He had highlights (Bakuen Campus Guardress), lowlights (Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals) and please-make-my-pain-end-lights (Cyberteam in Akihabara). Personally, I don't think most of his catalog has aged very well, though I enjoyed some of it back in the day. Of his very sizable resumé, I'd put Maze somewhere in the middle. Inspired by The Wizard of Oz (or so he's said in interviews), it's a mildly fun trifle, but exceedingly dated, and thoroughly generic mind candy under even the best of circumstances.

There's a lot of Maze, and its release history is a checkered one. Originally a 13-volume series of light novels that ran from 1993-1998, and then a 6-volume manga series, the franchise first got animated in as a 2-part OAV back in 1996. The next year, there was a 25-episode TV series, which was later re-animated for home video to have more nudity. (There are rumors of a 26th episode that was only released on home video, but I can't find any evidence of this.) Both of those were released by Central Park Media back in the day, though they got stuck with the broadcast version of the TV show.

Then in 1998 there was a short, 42-minute movie, but after it tanked in theaters and also didn't attract much of an audience for its TV broadcast, the production committee pretty much declared the franchise 'dead' and never bothered releasing it on video. A novelization of the movie, which was apparently already written, was also never released. DVD wasn't much of a thing until after this happened, so they never went back to reissue it.

Central Park Media's release didn't happen until 2000, which was already the DVD era, and so it got a release in the US. There are quite a few titles like this, which got re-released in the US because the publisher could do it, but were already completely forgotten in Japan, including many of the old and marginal 80s OAVs that were released in the early days of the anime boom. Shows like The Humanoid, M.D. Geist, Crimson Wolf, 8 Man After, Battle Angel, and many others were never re-release in Japan after the DVD era started. Due to the way many of them were mastered, they look pretty rough, and would probably require some amount of remastering to look acceptable today.

It is, however, pretty rare for that to happen with a TV series. Anyone else know of another one that was released here on DVD, but not there? Let me know in the comments!


And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.


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