2002 - Other Top News Storiesby Christopher Macdonald, Jan 27th 2003
Production I.G Website
It's hard to see the creation of a website by a Japanese studio as one of the top stories of the year, but if we look back at 2002, there it is, something about Production I.G's English website in the news almost every month.
What's special about this website is that it is an English language website run by one of the premier Japanese Anime studios. And from this website, I.G has been making its Anime plans known to the English speaking world. In this way, Production I.G is probably the only Japanese company so active in directly courting English-speaking fans.
The website was the home of the announcement of the new Ghost in the Shell TV series, English language columns by three of I.G's employees, and a popular forum frequently visited by I.G's staff.
Although slowly fading into the woodwork as an Anime licensor, AnimEigo still managed to make more news about DVDs than any other North American Anime producer. Throughout 2001 there was anxious anticipation of AnimEigo's expertly restored Macross DVDs. Having been released in the closing days of 2001, the DVDs became a news topic for the first couple months of the new year.
Unfortunately not all of it was good. An excessive amount of criticism was levied on AnimEigo for their seemingly harmless decision to add in some references that did not detract from the original meaning. Yes, the famous Star Trek references. Although not detracting at all from the original meaning of the script, proponents of perfect authenticity had a point when they complained that adding references that were not originally there diminished the authenticity of the release. But was it worth all the fuss? Apparently AnimEigo didn't think so; they explained their actions, but did not apologize.
Along with AnimEigo's second big DVD release of the year, the Kimagure Orange Road boxed set, came their second controversy. This time they were blasted by fans decrying the removal of opening credits from the middle of the series. This time AnimEigo apologized, replaced the DVDs and even made a set of standards for their future DVD releases.
In the end, fans were pleased, because they had a company that, after making a mistake, took full responsibility for it and apologized without excuses. A few other companies would do well to learn from the example set by AnimEigo.
AnimEigo's piece of the pie may have shrunk, but hopefully they will remain to provide die hard fans with quality R1 DVD releases of the titles that the bigger studios forget about.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
The most anticipated Anime TV series of the year? Possibly. The Japanese TV series to receive the most publicity in America? Definitely. Prior to announcing the series, Production I.G made a point to contact English language Anime press and inform us to be on the watch for a big announcement. They wouldn't tell us what it was, but they told us exactly when it would be announced on their website. Production I.G then made the staff of the series available to websites and magazines alike for interviews.
However, all the publicity and marketing in the world would not have given them the result they achieved had it not been for a simple fact. Stand Alone Complex is the follow-up to one of North American fans' most liked Anime movies, Ghost in the Shell. Fans would have gone wild over this news even if I.G had done nothing to promote it.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was co-produced by Bandai Entertainment, and therefore they had the North American (and in fact worldwide outside of Japan) license to the show, so a long wait wasn't expected before the show would become available (legitimately) to North American fans.
Shortly after, Cartoon Network made an interesting statement, one that would later haunt them. They told us that they would be airing SAC at roughly the same time as its Japanese Premier. This would have been a first for the American Anime industry, but it was not to be. The Japanese premier came and went, and it had not been shown or even scheduled on Cartoon Network. CN reps continued to hint, and even outright state at certain festivals and cons that they would be broadcasting SAC. Finally, in December, CN rep Sean Akins admitted that they were in fact still negotiating for the license to the show. Had they outright lied, or had they assumed that their license was in the bag and that the contract would be signed before fans found out otherwise?
FLCL, Kare Kano and Eva finally released
Originally scheduled to be released in September 2000, fall 2001 and March 2002 respectively, these releases didn't make it to store shelves till Summer 2002, September 2002 and July / September 2002 respectively.
The result where headlines like this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and ….
Released on July 23rd, His and Her Circumstances volume 1 set a new bar for Anime DVD production. Not only was the DVD perhaps the most complicated DVD ever produced, it was well received. Complexity is interesting and all, but satisfied fans are more important.
Jokingly, there were actual bets going on between Synch-Point and TRSI staff about whose DVD would be released first. TRSI's may have been released first, but on its release date of September 3rd, FLCL was only 6 months late. While not the most complex DVD in the world, general fan reaction to FLCL volume 1 was fairly positive.
On July 30th Evangelion: Death and Rebirth was finally released, followed by End of Evangelion on September 24th. End of Evangelion was the only one of these late DVDs to remain marred even after its release. Reportedly 5000 of the 70 000 copies were defective. Not having the best history responding to reports of defective DVDs, Manga was slow to concede that some of the DVDs were defective, but in the end they replaced them and gave clients a free Virus DVD along with the replacement End of Eva DVD. For the most part fans we satisfied, and 70 000 Evangelion fans finally had the conclusion to what has been called the greatest Anime series of all time in their hands.
Anime Expo Tokyo
Early in the year Anime Expo chairman Mike Tatsugawa confirmed rumors that had been circulating since the 2001 convention. Anime Expo was planning to host an Anime Expo outside of the United States. Over the next couple of months the general speculation was that Anime Expo was in fact planning to travel to the home of Anime, Japan, and hold a 2003 convention in Tokyo. At AX 2002 convention goers learned that the speculation was in fact correct and that the SPJA would in fact hold a convention in Tokyo in 2003.
The biggest question was WHY? Obviously the idea would be really cool to North American fans, but to Japanese fans, what big deal would a small American convention be? (Remember, that AX had an ‘impressive’ attendance of 15 000 this year, while the Tokyo Comiket regularly attracts over 300 000 attendees)
ANN was very proud to be the ones to uncover the reasoning behind AX Japan. In short, AX Japan was meant to be a training ground for a Japanese group hoping to host the 2007 World Con.
Digital Manga Split
Ahh, ANN's other big discovery of the year. And my personal favorite since, with a few hints from here and there, I managed to put it all together. Digital Manga was formed in 2001 when Broccoli invested several million dollars in a joint venture with Books Nippan to start up an Anime company (Synch-Point), an Anime store (Omochabox), a major Anime website (Akadot) and expand Nippan's distribution of printed material.
But alas the partnership didn't last. Unhappy with the way Digital Manga was managing its investment, Broccoli decided to step in and take back the two jewels in Digital Manga's crown. Omochabox and Synch-Point came under direct management of Broccoli, with Omocha Box renamed to Gamers Anime.
Full confirmation of the story didn't come for several months, in fact neither Digital Manga, nor Broccoli ever released any announcement about the split. But over the coming months Digital Manga's website was revamped and all mentions of Omocha Box and Synch-Point were removed, Omocha box was renamed to Anime Gamers, Synch-Point's website no longer stated that it was a part of Digital Manga and Broccoli registered a US corporation to manage its holdings.
In the process, Digital Manga's hopes of re-entering (they once owned the now defunct US Renditions) the Anime distribution market were ruined, at least for now.
For years the biggest exposure that North Americans had to Anime was Pokémon. For the most part, core Anime fans weren't big fans of the show, it was after all just a multimedia machine aimed at 3-6 year olds who didn't even know what Anime was. And the last thing that many fans wanted was for Anime to be associated with Pokémon.
2001 was essentially the last year of Pokémon's life, and in 2002 Yu-Gi-Oh! became the new Anime king of the mainstream market. Yu-Gi-Oh! isn't that different from Pokémon at the end of the day, it's still a multi-media marketing machine aimed at young children, but elementary school children this time instead of pre-schoolers. But, being aimed at 6-12 year olds, Yu-Gi-Oh! is just a bit more mature, and a bit less annoying to the rest of us.
However, for the industry, Yu-Gi-Oh! is nothing but good news. With the introduction of Shonen Jump, tens, even hundreds of thousands of Yu-Gi-Oh! fans will be directly introduced to other Manga titles, and from there the Anime spin-offs of these titles. In fact, Yu-Gi-Oh! virtually guarantees the double-digit growth of the Anime market for years to come.
In the closing months of 2001 we learned that there would be an Oscar for best-animated film. Unfortunately Urban Vision's Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Bandai's Jin-Roh failed to qualify for Oscars due to technicalities. But early in 2002 we were given a bit of a respite. Bloodlust was permitted eligibility for the Oscar, unfortunately Jin-Roh, clearly more likely to be nominated, was still out. In February, the nominations were announced, and no Anime had made the cut. Anime fans remained hopeful for the 2003 Oscars though.
Movies like Escaflowne, Metropolis, Millennium Actress and Cowboy Bebop might have a chance… but our biggest hopes were with Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Bandai announced that they would be submitting Escaflowne but when the list of eligible films was announced in December, Escaflowne wasn't on the list… but Spirited Away was! The conclusion of this story however will have to wait until 2003.