Why Hasn't Anyone Licensed Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan?
by Justin Sevakis,
Hey, it's not Friday, is it? Nope, it's our first "Main Feed" Answerman! From now on, we'll be answering questions one at a time, several days a week. It'll be much easier to search Answerman by topic this way, and hopefully the column will be more accessible as a result. Enjoy!
Of all the retro anime out there, the one I'd most like to see licensed is undoubtedly Future Boy Conan, a 26-episode television series from 1978 directed by none other than Hayao Miyazaki. His ties with the show alone would surely make it worth the time and resources to bring over, despite its older vintage. I keep hearing, however, that licensing it could cost a lot more than usual, due to it being based on a novel by Alexander Key. Would Discotek (really, who else would be interested in something like this?) likely have to pay Key's estate an arm and a leg if it wanted the rights to distribute Future Boy Conan?
In his long and illustrious career, Hayao Miyazaki has only ever directed a single TV show, and that TV show is Future Boy Conan (or, if you want to use the official English title, "Conan, the Boy in Future." No? Okay, never mind). Despite its age, the show still looks spectacular, and got a shiny new HD transfer for a Japanese Blu-ray boxed set a couple years back. The story is a very little bit on the slow side by today's standards, but overall still holds up incredibly well.
So, in this era of the West getting releases of all the old, previously unattainable classics, why has this one failed to grace our shores? We have only a few faint clues. I do know that several publishers have contacted NHK, the show's original producer and broadcaster, and inquired about its availability, only to be told flat out that the show is "not available" with no further explanation. Perhaps one of them have dug deeper and tried to find out why, exactly, but if so, I have not heard any other information.
This sort of thing can happen for many reasons, but is most common with very old anime, which was not only planned without any knowledge that it might become an overseas commodity, let alone might take digital form someday. It's quite possible that the original book that the show is based on, The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key, was only optioned for use within Japan. If that is the case, sales outside of Japan would, as you suggest, involve NHK (not a potential US publisher) having to go back and freshly license the book for use worldwide. And if the people in charge of Key's estate don't like Miyazaki's free-wheeling adaptation, they'd be under no obligation to agree to it.
Edit: As several forum members posted, the series has been made available in plenty of countries outside Japan, so I guess that's not it.
This show is also a special case because the director is now the most famous anime creator who has ever lived. Old anime nearly always requires going back and getting a new contract with all of the key production staff, to cover new things like DVDs, Blu-rays, overseas sales and internet streaming. Miyazaki has no current ties to NHK or to the show's producer Nippon Animaiton, and it's quite possible that the man would have to sign off on any overseas deal involving the show. If not, that could be for any number of reasons, including not wanting to cooperate with those companies, not wanting foreigners to see such an old and unpolished work of his, or wanting to renegotiate his contract to something those companies don't consider reasonable.
This is all speculation. We have no idea what's holding back the show from the US. I used to think a show like this would be a slow seller -- it didn't exactly blow up the fansub scene back in the day, either on VHS or via Bittorrent. But then again, Discotek just hit a home run with their Castle of Cagliostro Blu-ray so who knows -- it might do OK. Regardless, it's not going to happen in the foreseeable future. Throw another one on the "licensing hell" pile, and hope that, someday, something might change.
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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