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Endlessly Searching

by Justin Sevakis,

What happened? The questions dried up again! Once again this week, I was really desperate for questions. Is it because everybody is on spring break?

Anyway, I need your help! Please send me new ones! Preferably ones that I can't possibly know the answers to, like if ____ is getting a second season, or why _____ hasn't gotten re-licensed!

Email me your question. The address is [email protected]. Thanks!

Skyler asks:

Why did CPM license so much hentai? You've mentioned a few times how much hentai you worked on while you were there but I can't imagine it sold that well compared to non-hentai. Was it just cheaper to license?

Actually, it sold just as well (sometimes better) than CPM's mainstream releases. AND it was cheap to license! You have to remember, CPM had a lot of so-so releases, surprisingly few outright bombs, but also quite few giant hits. The biggest hit in the CPM catalog by far was Grave of the Fireflies. Most of our catalog just did pretty good; hits like the Utena movie were just good sellers, not blow-the-doors-off blockbusters.

To give you some idea, the first print run of the Utena movie, which was in a pink case and came with a disc of CPM trailers, was 17,000 units. That was roughly enough to cover all of the retail pre-orders. Meanwhile, our biggest hit in the hentai department was (of course) Nightshift Nurses, namely the first disc that was edited down. That sold roughly 17,000 units after a few months.

It's hard to directly compare the revenue brought in by hentai to the revenue brought in by regular anime. Hentai, as a market, worked entirely differently: while some sold online, Amazon wouldn't carry it, and the vast majority of that inventory ended up going to seedy little independent adult book and video stores. They didn't care how much was on the disc (meaning you could get away with putting a single episode on each volume), and they demanded a HUGE wholesale discount -- over 75% off SRP. Compare that to a three episode mainstream anime would get you a single volume release at normal wholesale prices, and you begin to see the difference.

That said, hentai licenses were FAR cheaper than regular anime licenses, and as the early 2000s led up to the anime bubble, mainstream anime licensing was getting very, very expensive. Hentai was an easy way to make money. Production cost wasn't too different -- hentai still had to be dubbed, subtitled and authored -- but at least we could use the cheaper vendors because the quality of the work didn't seem to affect sales at all.

As I've previously discussed here, the hentai market is pretty dead today. Those adult DVD and book stores that used to dot the country are all but gone, Japan doesn't want to license uncensored hentai to the US out of reverse importation fears, and consumers aren't really all that into paying for porn these days. But boy, what a strange little market that was.

Seth asks:

So I've been slowly buying copies of Maison Ikkoku on DVD, and I've already spent a small fortune just getting the first 4 volumes. Before I complete the collection (another 4 volumes), I wanted to know what the odds are of Viz re-releasing it in the future. I really like the show, but I don't want to spend a lot on it only to find out it gets put out on Bluray for a fraction of the price. I have a similar question about Monster. Siren Visual has it on region 4 DVD in 5 volumes, but I'd rather have a US released version if there is any hope for one. Is there a chance that either of these series will be (re)released here in the US? Or am I better off just buying used/imported discs on shows like these?

I wouldn't hold your breath for a re-release of either one of those shows. Maison Ikkoku was a (ahem) giant dog for Viz, to the point where by the end of the series they were only even bothering with very tiny print runs just to finish the show. Monster was aborted after the first volume due to myriad issues, low sales being among them. To speculate, both series are controlled by extremely powerful, very hands-on manga artists, and so the amount of approvals and hoop jumping required for an American release is probably absolutely insane, and not worth it for the very low sales they're likely to generate.

I'm afraid you're also going to have a very hard time finding later volumes of the Viz release on the used market, since those print runs were very low. Those volumes were scarce nearly immediately after they hit the market. I'm afraid you don't really have a good option for collecting English-translated versions of the Maison Ikkoku anime right now. All I can say is, keep on searching; maybe someday you'll get lucky. But I kind of doubt it.

If you're a big Monster fan, however, I'd say importing that Australian release is probably your best bet. I don't foresee a better option coming in the near future.

John asks:

In the last 10 years though, there seems to be less and less interest in shows that go over 50 episodes, the only one that has been dubbed fully, that came out in the last few years is Fairy Tail. Many shows such as; Reborn!, Hunter x Hunter, Sket Dance, Space Brothers, Gintama, have been left untouched. And shows that were licensed like D. Gray Man and Toriko were cancelled after so many episodes. What caused this?

Long shows are risky shows. There simply aren't very many that can sustain an audience for season after season, to the point where people will keep buying discs until the end of time. Even fans these days tend to only buy things they think there's a chance they'll rewatch someday, and when a show is insanely long, the rewatch chances for most people go down, and down, and down... until buying into the show no longer makes sense. Sure, people might keep watching via streaming, but seriously -- how many fans REALLY made it to the end of Sket Dance?

That's the problem. Back when the more kid-friendly properties could be put on TV, where a show could run forever and slowly bring in new fans throughout its run, people generally don't watch TV shows that way anymore. People now binge-watch, or watch everything from the beginning for their story. The longer a show is, the less likely people will even take a chance on it. So unless it's a HUGE, HUGE hit like Naruto or Bleach, it's just not worth putting it out on discs. By the time you get to volume 12, you'll be selling 100 copies. And it's not like the cost to license or dub that show is going to go down as the series goes on, either.

Now, think about just how many 12 and 13-episode series there are these days. Dozens. Each season. Those are nice little self-contained chunks of anime that can easily be packaged in a single two-disc volume and sold without having to worry too much about drop-offs in sales from one volume to the next. It's easier for everyone: easier to churn out the discs, easier to negotiate for only a handful of episodes, easier to pay the license fee. It's easier to know that the show doesn't start sucking halfway through, easier to know that the fans won't go away, or that some weirdness won't happen in Japan leaving you unable to license the rest of the show.

Of course, there are plenty of downsides to short series. The stories can't be as sprawling and epic and as involving. You don't fall in love as deeply with characters when you're not around them that long. If a show really blows up, like Attack on Titan did, there's a whole lot less content to sell, and a whole lot less upside. But how often does that happen?

Brett asks:

What's the reason behind the different lengths of anime (and manga)? We have these seeming never-ending mega hits like Naruto, Bleach and One Piece along shows that only run one or two seasons. Is one format more desireable for a creator than another? Is it purely based on popularity? How successful (profitable) are these kind of mega-hits in the long run anyway for the original creators -- for example, will the author of Naruto ever have to work again?

Most manga artists would love for their creation to be made into anime, and of course, every one of them that gets the chance wants their show to be successful. (Unless they end up hating it, at least.) Of course, they would love for the anime to go on forever and keep on making them lots of money. Obviously, some artists care more about that than others.

That said, having a big, long-running franchise with lots of toy and video game tie-ins is not a realistic dream for most manga properties. Long running shows require deep pockets, which mean bringing in outside sponsors. That means the show has to be fairly inoffensive, mainstream in appeal (not just for otaku) and in most cases, has to air during normal human waking hours. 9 times out of 10, that means it has to be relatively kid-friendly. That's why long running anime adaptations are predominantly either Shonen Jump-style shows (Naruto, Bleach, Kuroko's Basketball, etc.), or shoujo shows (Pretty Cure, Sailor Moon, etc.). As late night anime has become more and more of a "safe route" to anime production, and the TV networks have become less and less interested in filling its normal schedule with anime, it's becoming more and more rare for long shows to break out of this patten.

The shows that stay on the air are, simply, still on the air because they're HUGELY successful. HUGELY. The ratings might be good, or might be just so-so, but if the sponsors are happy (which usually involves selling toys for the show), they keep paying to make more. The creators get a chunk of everything -- home video sales, merchandise sales, broadcast royalties, overseas licenses. There's a reason Rumiko Takahashi is one of the richest women in Japan. I can't tell you whether they NEED to keep working or not -- I'm not Masashi Kishimoto's financial advisor -- but if they and their publishers want more money, they'll keep at it. They usually do.

Shows that only get a season or two will probably result in a nice payday for the creators, but it's nothing they can retire on. There will be some royalties, a little bit of merchandise perhaps, but nowhere near what a huge franchise could have done. It's a good thing for them, but probably not a life changer.

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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