Brave Mew World
by Justin Sevakis,
It's graduation season! Congratulations to everyone who's checking out of their school for a last time. It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it? When I graduated college, the following fall, all I wanted to do was get a lawn chair and get up at 6am to sit out by the nearest school bus stop and point and laugh at all the kids getting on the bus.
Then I remembered that I was living in New York City that that might be a good way to get knifed.
I just saw that Anohana is leaving Crunchyroll at the end of the month. Assuming this is because Aniplex will no longer license it to them (at least at an agreeable price)… why? Sure, it means the NIS disc will be the only way to see the show, but who'll know to buy it without seeing it? At some point, are streaming rights going to start expiring left and right, prompting a “watch it while you can” mindset?
When anime gets put up for streaming, nobody ever said it would be up there forever. Most licensing agreements are "at will." and automatically renew until a licensor decides to take it down. And indeed, leaving it up there doesn't always make the best business sense.
Having a show be "always free, forever" has a point of diminishing returns. Sooner or later, interest in the show drops, the viewers stop coming, and revenue from ads or whatever becomes smaller and smaller. With the Blu-ray still available, they can't mothball the show entirely, but if they did, and then waited a few years, they could sell a lot more units by making the show a big, splashy re-release.
Since that isn't the case here, all we can do is speculate as to why Aniplex didn't choose to keep Anohana on Crunchyroll. I do have an educated guess, however. The series is still up on Hulu, and Hulu pays far more in ad revenue, whereas Crunchyroll tends to pay most of their money up-front as a licensing fee. Now that interest in the show has cooled, it may make more business sense to drive anime fans to Hulu, since the payout for a less-popular show will be better there.
[EDIT: Oh, as a couple of readers pointed out, it's expiring off of Hulu within a day of it coming of Crunchyroll. Nevermind that theory, then. Thanks, guys.]
Why have 4Kids made such an impact? I've been into anime since 2002, and it's amazing how, over 10 years later, people will STILL bring them up in videos about One Piece and Tokyo Mew Mew. I mean, sure, it was funny back in the day to imagine how terribly localised some anime would be under the 4kids banner, but why do people still go on about them, considering 4Kids have gone bankrupt (I heard) and been relegated to a mere memory?
There's not much logical reason for fans to keep the 4Kids hatorade flowing. The 4Kids version of One Piece is now a distant memory -- many younger fans would never even have seen it -- and Funimation's unmolested version began its release over 7 years ago. Tokyo Mew Mew (cum Mew Mew Power) was cut short at 26 episodes, and also aired a decade ago. 4Kids went bankrupt back in 2011, and once they emerged from bankruptcy a few years later, they re-incorporated themselves as 4Licensing, and have stayed well away from both the anime and children's entertainment worlds. In fact, their current line of business involves sports licensing and impact protection technology for sporting goods.
But that doesn't much matter. Having an unofficial "bad guy" gives anime fans a rallying point, and, I suppose, something to do in an era when virtually everything a reasonable fan could ask for is being given to them. Brand new anime is being streamed day-and-date, uncut and in HD, with subtitles, and sometimes a dub follows not long after. DVDs and Blu-rays follow long-established "best practices" that keep quality fairly high and please all but the most picky consumers. The few times that they don't are almost always unintended, or the fault of the licensor. The distribution companies that handle 99% of anime releases in the US and elsewhere in the West bend over backwards for fans, answering emails personally, appearing at conventions, and interacting via social media. It may not seem like it sometimes, but the level of customer support in the anime world is head and shoulders above nearly every other part of the entertainment world. While a handful of fans might have vitriol for one or two of these companies over their pricing or other small nit-pick, truth be known, there are very few outright villains to rally against.
4Kids represented the last gasp of the "bad old days" of anime licensing, when things had to be hacked-and-slashed, neutered and "Americanized" for western audiences. Its CEO, Al Kahn, was a grouchy old man that almost seemed like a cartoon villain: I saw him speak once, and the man loudly dismissed anime and its fans when it became clear he could no longer do much business in that industry. The fact that he later bought criminal stockbroker Bernie Madoff's gaudy old Manhattan apartment just made him that much more compelling of a bad guy.
But that era is basically over. American don't need to be fooled into watching anime on children's TV, they willingly find it themselves. They don't need it to be cleaned up and sanitized, and there are no companies that are doing that on a consistent basis, anyway. The few attempts there have been in the last few years to Americanize an anime have mostly been flops, and predominantly have been shows that otaku wouldn't care about anyway. Fans don't need to keep the hate alive for 4Kids and their ilk. But if one needs to fight for something in the anime world, they make a harmless enough scapegoat, I suppose.
Back in October, Sentai announced plans to release Tribe Cool Crew -- a goofy dance anime I've developed a fondness for -- on home video. I'd love to collect the series on Blu-ray or DVD, but I'm starting to worry I'll never get the chance. As far as I can tell, it hasn't streamed too well on Crunchyroll, and I don't see many people talk about it on forums. From the start, it seemed like an odd title for Sentai to pick up, being a kids show and all. Should I be concerned about its purported physical release? Do licencors often backpedal on home media announcements due to weak streaming numbers or similar reasons?
It's happened a few times in the past, where American publishers will license a show, announce it, and then change their minds and cancel the license, often "selling" the rights back to the licensor at a loss. It's only happened a few times that I'm aware of, and all of them by Media Blasters when they were going through some financially trying times. Of these, Bakuman. even got a release of the first volume before the company backtracked. But scenarios like this are exceedingly rare.
To my knowledge, Sentai has never officially gone back on a license after it was announced. That said, I do have to wonder sometimes. Sentai's announced-but-not-scheduled-for-disc backlog is quite extensive -- it would take them upwards of three years to release everything they've announced, at their current rate. As they're still licensing new shows, I have to wonder if some of these shows will ever see the light of day on home video. I suppose we'll find out.
Excluding stuffs like retirement, real-life scandals, etc, is there such thing as a “career-killing performance” for anime industry personas (voice actors/actresses, directors, and while we're on it, anime studio as well) like what often befalls their live-action counterparts?
The anime industry is a small world, and just like any other industry, once you have a reputation for screwing up, it's unlikely you'll be hired to do that job again. In fact, anime history is littered with people whose filmographies stop abruptly after a particularly disastrous show.
This is particularly easy to notice in the anime that came out of the 80s OAV boom: new, young, completely untested directors would get to try making an anime, and almost certainly screw it up royally, and never be heard from again. But the list of those put into "anime jail" is not limited to the obscure. None other than Studio Ghibli's Isao Takahata spent years unable to make a feature film after the disastrous release of his insanely over-budget and over-schedule Adventures of Horus: Prince of the Sun. Between 1968 and 1981, he only directed the two short Panda! Go Panda! movies, and he had to move to a different studio to even do that.
However, how the anime industry privately reacts to a disastrous production is spoken about within the industry in hushed whispers. Just because there's a giant, years-long gap in a director's career, preceded by a show that didn't do very well, doesn't necessarily mean they've gotten a lousy reputation. For example, Tsuneo Kobayashi had an amazing run that included Emma: A Victorian Romance, Twelve Kingdoms, Midori Days and the Glass no Kamen OVA, but that run came to a major halt in 2009 with Kurokami, which bombed hard. He didn't direct again until last year's The Last: Naurto the Movie. That doesn't mean he was in anime jail. If he actually had a bad reputation, I somehow doubt he'd be handed the keys to Pierrot's most important franchise.
That's anime directors. Other roles are a little less dramatic, as they don't live and die quite so closely with the anime series itself. But if you consistently blow your deadlines, turn in sub-par work, or are difficult to work with, you do get a reputation, and don't get hired onto new shows, unless you are somehow SO talented (or connected) that you can compensate for that. That's true for pretty much everyone in the entertainment business. It's pretty rare that someone actually IS that talented, no matter what they may think of themselves. The flaky and the sloppy do not last long in a business this competitive.
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 real, strange stories from the anime business, Tales of the Industry.
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