Macross One, Fans Zero
by Justin Sevakis,
I wish I had all the answers, but sometimes I just don't. There are things in this business that are so messed up, so complex and entangled, that nobody will give me a straight answer, and all I can do is piece together what I have of a puzzle, fully cognizant that the pieces I'm missing could change the entire picture. But I get asked a good question, and I feel compelled to answer, so here goes.
With all the talk for years (if not decades) regarding Harmony Gold, Macross and the reasons why we aren't getting the likes of 7, Zero or Frontier, my questions are how did Macross Plus (and, to a much, much lesser extent, Macross II) manage to end up in Manga Entertainment's catalog, and why weren't there any major legal dust-ups between Manga Entertainment and Harmony Gold regarding this?
That's actually a really good question! I have no idea, and have occasionally wondered that, myself. So, to answer your question, I had to dig deep. And by "dig deep," I mean send an email to two people I've known for years. Back breaking work, writing this column.
First, the idea that Harmony Gold is standing in the way of Stateside releases of Macross-related shows is one that has been floating around for years, and originated from a few cagey responses from industry professionals at anime conventions. I wanted some confirmation that Harmony Gold had Macross-related trademarks, and whether they were willing to work with anime companies that might want to release Macross-related shows that Harmony Gold had no financial stake in. I sent an e-mail to Kevin McKeever at Harmony Gold, who was good enough to forward my question onto their legal department. Here's their response:
The original Macross television series was the result of a monumental collaborative effort involving several companies of creative individuals. We at Harmony Gold appreciate all the hard work these combined talents put forth to make Macross possible. As the legal rights/co-copyright/trademark holder for Macross outside of Japan, Harmony Gold's door is always open to any anime company who wishes to have their product reach a global audience through our world-class distribution partners.
In other words, yes they own the trademark. And the implication here is definitely that they'd be open to using those trademarks ONLY if they're the ones that get to distribute the show. So, how did LA Hero and their successor company Manga Entertainment manage to get both Macross II and Macross Plus out on store shelves without getting Harmony Gold all over their case?
I... don't know. I tried to find out. Ken Iyadomi used to run LA Hero (which licensed both properties before being purchased by Manga Entertainment), and then worked for Manga during their release. I reached out to him, but he declined to comment, stating only that the rights situation for the entire Macross world was "crazy." He's doubtlessly referring to not just Harmony Gold, but all the legal nuttiness involving Studio Nue and Tatsunoko in Japan, which culminated in a lawsuit some years back. In short, even without Harmony Gold in the way, Japan probably doesn't even have it together legally to license a Macross show overseas.
So what have we learned? Not much, I'm afraid: just that nobody touches Macross anything without involving the Robotech people, and that whatever wormhole in space and time that once allowed LA Hero to license those two OAVs back in the 90s has long since closed, leaving us forevermore Macross-less.
Since you have been in the business for a long time could you provide some insight on why Funimation and Sentai pretty much rescued every title that Bandai Entertainment had the rights to except for all the different Gundam series and Eureka Seven. I found it especially odd that Funimation didn't rescue Eureka Seven specifically considering they have the license and are about to release the sequel series Eureka Seven AO.
This is an easy one. It might look like Funimation and Sentai Filmworks were going shopping for old Bandai properties, and while that's true, every old Bandai title that was announced at Otakon had one other important distinction: the show is made and produced by Sunrise.
No Wolf's Rain? No Eureka Seven? Those aren't Sunrise shows, they're Bones shows, and the licensor for both is Bandai Visual! That doesn't mean the remaining anime companies aren't after those rights, it just means that they aren't a part of this particular big stack of contracts, and haven't been announced yet.
But that still leaves a few other omissions, including one giant robot-shaped hole. I've been told over the years that Gundam is Sunrise's biggest property, and they have to take a lot of care with both who gets it and how it's treated (read: micromanage everything about releasing it). As for what's going on, exactly, we've asked before recently and Sunrise won't say. To make an educated guess, they probably don't want to break up the different series between different publishers, and they're likely going to try and find another opportunity to go big with it, sometime, some place. Even if that means they're waiting quite a while.
Of course, that's assuming that Funimation and Sentai and the like even wanted Gundam. It could be that Sunrise is asking too much money for their most popular franchise (that was, unfortunately, never all that big here, save Gundam Wing). While any publisher would love to print reissues of Gundam Wing, the idea of having to put out shows like Zeta Gundam, Gundam G, Victory Gundam and others probably doesn't excite them so much. Doesn't mean we won't get some more Gundam eventually, but personally I'm not holding my breath.
Obviously there are the English dubs we enjoy (or love to hate depending on what camp you're in) here in the US from reputable companies like Viz, Funimation, Sentai, and whoever else is still left in the game, but on the flip side there are other English dubs that seem to only be released in places like the Phillipines on Animax Asia. A lot of times these are different dubs from the ones we get here like their own dub of Rurouni Kenshin which was called Samurai X over there or their dub of Cardcaptor Sakura which actually featured all 70 episodes and a different voice cast. What's more, they have dubs of things that were only released sub only here or not released at all like Gakuen Alice and Nodame Cantabile. So now on to the question. Why is it that separate English dubs are comissioned for English speaking territories like the Phillipines, and why is it that when they dub something for their territory that doesn't have a dub in the US, their version of the dub is never sold here?
English dubs produced for Southeast Asia, especially the Animax Asia TV network, are something of a holy grail for obscure dub hunters. Lots of shows that have never seen a Stateside release, including some very long TV series, have had complete English dubs produced! A few have been streamed online, but most languish in complete obscurity.
Why is that? In some cases, the quality of the dub isn't that great. Animax Asia dubs their shows very quickly and cheaply, often using talent and audio studios in and around Singapore and Malaysia. English speaking actors, especially ones that don't speak with a thick accent, are in short supply. Years back, when Geneon and Bandai Entertainment were trying to cut costs, they hired Singaporean company Odex to produce the dub for a few of their lesser properties, like Karin, Dan Doh!! and Fantastic Children. The quality was so heinous that they abandoned the studio after a few outings.
But not all dubs that appear on Animax Asia are bad. What little I've seen of the Card Captor Sakura dub sounded pretty decent to me. Crackle.com hosts several Sony Pictures Television-produced dubs, including Nodame Cantabile and Humanoid Monster Bem. I haven't watched Humanoid Monster Bem, but Nodame Cantabile sports a Los Angeles-based voice cast, and is a decent, if not exemplary dub. The site also hosts the Animax dub of Rurouni Kenshin TV which, despite sharing some casting choices with the Media Blasters dub, is, in fact, pretty crappy.
Besides that, Animax Asia is sort of unique in that they operate largely on their own and don't have much contact with the rest of the anime publishing world. Southeast Asia is the only real English speaking territory in Asia, usually have different contacts with Japanese licensors, and little contact with Western publishers. Often, the American publishers have no idea their dubs even exist. But when they do produce good work (and they do, occasionally) it is a shame that those dub tracks aren't made available here in the West. Maybe someday a publisher will do the necessary footwork and try to include one on their release.
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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