Interview: Andrew Partridge Talks About Anime Limited

by Andrew Osmond, Dec 14th 2012


Anime Limited's temporary logo
It's official. A new UK anime distribution company is preparing to launch next year, releasing anime on home, cinema and digital formats. Behind it is a familiar figure in UK anime, Andrew Partridge. You may know him from Scotland Loves Anime, or from the anime industry panel at MCM Expo, where he represents Kaze UK. Now he's allowed ANN to grill him on his new venture. It's so new, in fact, that the label doesn't even have a settled name, though the underlying company is called, with says-on-the-tin brevity, Anime Limited.

So, why a new anime company now? “My focus is and always has been on two key things: Cinema and showing people cool things,” Partridge says. “For the last eight years of my life, I've worked in anime and done everything from acquisition to writing DVD jacket text! I want to go back to grass roots and work closely with fans online and at events all over again. As my new company will be smaller, I want to try out new things - different ways of engaging audiences and balancing up the conventional release style with a range of interesting, fun other methods. I hope people will join me on this adventure!”

A big part of Partridge's plans involve bringing more anime to British cinema screens. It's something Partridge has a track-record in, through his organisation of Scotland Loves Anime which brings brand-new films to Glasgow and Edinburgh. “My goal is to develop a theatrical market for Japanese animation over the next five or six years,” says Partridge, “for films aside from Studio Ghibli, which already gets UK distribution. In order to build more than just event screenings, you need to be a small enough company, spending cleverly and moving quickly without too much red tape.”

When it comes to TV anime, Partridge says, there are diametrically opposed approaches. “You either release titles at a super high price point for the smaller collectors market, or you pile 'em high and sell them cheap. There's no real middle ground anymore. My goal is to take a select number of archive and new titles and elevate them to a Criterion-style release. But you can't force people to buy above what they're willing to spend. It's crucial to create a balanced product range and lifespan.”

Both cinema distribution and home distribution are big areas. Let's tackle each in turn…

THE BIG SCREEN

One recent anime film that got a big UK cinema release was Ghibli's Arrietty. At the time, it seemed to have a lot going for it commercially in Britain. It was family friendly, based on a famous British kids' book (The Borrowers) and had a tailor-made British dub. Even so, it didn't do blockbuster business in Blighty.

Arrietty didn't perform terribly,” Partridge points out. “It had over 69,000 cinema admissions, which is hardly a failure by anyone's imagination, though if you compare it to other cinema genres, then it's tough. It costs a lot of money to do a theatrical release on that scale. But it's possible, if you're willing to shoulder the risk and you have a good piece of starting material and a clear target market. It will easily take five or six years of work, but I'm in for the long haul. That's because every year there are one to three anime films that could work, but if you don't move quickly, all momentum is lost. The goal has to be to push good films as far as you can, and build names for as many of their directors as you can.”

There are a range of release styles possible, depending on the title in question. Ninja Scroll, for example, was reissued by Manga Entertainment as a series of one-off event screenings in a wide range of locations. Partridge points out that, for any film, you have to ask two questions; where is your audience and how many attendees could your film attract. And there are knottier issues…

“The calibre of the film is important, but so is timing,” Partridge says. “The minute a fansub is available online, you lose a chunk of your audience who are keen to see the film in the quickest way. I don't believe for one moment that most people watching fansubs are doing it for any other reason than they're keen to watch the hottest works quickly.”

And then there's the sub and dub issue… “The sub-only route is impossible for a family film,” says Partridge. “You would want to have a mix of dub and sub screenings to cater to the cinephile audience and to the family audience. For other films, where the target group is a bit more focused, then sub-only is viable.”

Partridge specifies that he's very willing to team up on theatrical properties. “If there's a project that a company has all the rights for, and they want to team up with us to do the theatrical release, then we're more than happy to do so too. The UK space is too small to get into a bar-fight!”

THE SMALL SCREEN

On the TV side, Partridge mentions releasing both new and old series. Regarding the old ones, which shows are viable, both in that the licence is available and there's still a demand for the show? After all, some anime fans seem only interested in the super new...

Partridge says the bias toward new anime shows is like the bias towards new TV in general. “But there are equally shows of such a good calibre that people will go back to them later. You're not looking at the Galaxy Angels of this world, but you certainly are looking for some of the titles that used to be circulated by ADV or Beez, as well as those that never hit UK soil. If you can make the value proposition interesting, there is always a market. It's just a question if the size of that market validates a release.”

Partridge continues, “The shows I'm looking at mostly are ones where either Blu-Ray is possible now, or the shows were just so good they deserve a second release in something beyond a bog-standard amaray box. (Which isn't to say a budget version shouldn't be available too, I add quickly!) It's about keeping a reality-check in play. Many shows devalue over time, with or without available home video versions. You have to figure out what titles are still worth doing and what formats are the best to get them back out. My personal preferences are projects that are both viable and labours of love on my end. If you don't care about the show, you're going to have a painful time selling it.”

Would these labours of love include less tried-and-tested markets in the UK – for example, more kids' anime? “I think variety is a really important thing and I'm always looking at different projects,” says Partridge. “In the short term, though, they may be a bit tough to do while we get our feet on the ground. Ask me again next year... You never know!”

At this stage, Partridge can't name any of the anime he's handling for the new label. “For film, I have some nice surprises over the next few months. For TV, I have two contracts signed on my desk and a ton more on their way. Instead of reeling off titles now, though, I want to give people time to absorb and give feedback on the ideology of what I'm doing. So we're launching our social media now (see below), and we'll launch our website and start talking content in early January. I'd say the late second quarter of 2013 is likely for the first home releases. There may be some cool stuff before that, but I couldn't possibly comment...”

The new label will have an online presence at:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alltheanime

Twitter: www.twitter.com/alltheanime

Tumblr: http://anime-ltd.tumblr.com


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