Answerman
Why Does It Take So Long For Anime Movies To Come Out On Video?

by Justin Sevakis,

Robert asks:

With Your Name finally released in US & Canada theaters this has led to a disagree with my friend and I. He strongly believes that it will release physically here by fall at the latest. I told him with Reverse Importation being a big problem in Japan that we won't get it til well after its Japanese release, which would put it somewhere in 2018 when we finally get it. What is the general timeline for a film to go from Japanese theaters, to physical release in Japan? How long does it take to release in the US if the film is already licensed by a company like Funimation and Your Name, for example?

Japanese producers will almost never allow an international home video release of any anime before the domestic Japanese one, particularly if it's a newer show. And if you're waiting for a US or UK release of an anime feature, that wait can seem particularly ENDLESS.

How long of a gap there is between a theatrical release and a Japanese home video release is, frankly, all over the place, but it's generally far longer than we're used to in the States. The Wind Rises had an 11 month gap between its theatrical and DVD release. Miss Hokusai (Sarusuberi) only took 6 1/2 months. A Silent Voice comes out in a little over a month from the date of this article, which would be a gap of roughly 8 months since its theatrical release. Meanwhile, One Piece Film Gold came out on DVD only five months after its theatrical run.

In the US, the standard "window" of time where a movie is only available in theaters and not yet on video and other pay platforms (i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Xfinity On Demand) is only 90 days, and there's significant industry pressure currently to shorten that window to as little as a few weeks. (The movie studios are currently battling theater owners about that very issue.) If you're used to that sort of time frame between seeing a movie in a theater and adding it to your collection, a gap of a year or more can seem simply maddening.

Why is it this way? Japanese media companies move slowly. Piracy is very minimal, so there's no great rush to get content out to consumers. Japan is often one of the last countries to see releases of American films (Moana, Moonlight and Passengers are currently in theaters). Anime in particular is often released in a "roadshow" format, in which the film will spend months crawling from city to city, traveling almost like a touring band. This greatly prolongs the theatrical release. If a film is successful, it will stay in theaters for months and months. Your Name. is still in theaters in Japan -- EIGHT MONTHS after its initial release.

Yes, it's true that Japanese producers are worried about Japanese consumers buying overseas versions of movies for cheap, and they REALLY don't want anybody doing that if the film is still in theaters there. But moreover, Japanese fans are the "domestic market" -- the bread and butter of the industry and the hometown audience. Japanese fans take great pride in their country making such great animated works, and shell out huge amounts of money to support them. Producers want to make sure they aren't insulted by getting a film months after fans around the world did: it would feel like a hometown sports team selling exclusive merchandise in another city.

Once a licensor green-lights a DVD/Blu-ray release in another territory, the distributor then has to gather all of the materials, produce (or spruce up) whatever dub or subtitle tracks are already made or produce new ones, negotiate for whatever extra features the licensor can give them, and author and manufacture discs. That adds at least four more months of waiting -- probably more.

So, yes, anime features do take a lot of time to make it out on DVD and Blu-ray. If you're jonesing for a shiny disc of Your Name. I'm afraid you're in for quite a wait.


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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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