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What Ever Happened to Manga Entertainment? (PART TWO: UK Edition)

by Justin Sevakis,
In Monday's installment, I wrote in detail about how Manga Entertainment had fallen far from their place of dominance in the late VHS era, when they had such titles as Ninja Scroll, Macross Plus, Ghost in the Shell and Perfect Blue. The history was factually accurate, but predictably, when talking about what the brand has been up to these days, there were a few things I omitted.

As I mentioned, in the US the label is now basically a digital aggregator for their own back library, along with titles sub-licensed from Right Stuf and a few other smaller publishers. In addition to putting those shows up on Hulu, iTunes, Netflix and their own (kind of broken) site, I neglected to mention that they also have a social media guy who also make a lot of otaku-themed YouTube videos and viral Twitter content. The main force at Starz who cared for the brand was a guy named Kevin Carney,their Executive Brand Director. I've since been informed that Kevin is still there, but has been busy doing other things, and the company hasn't licensed any new anime themselves since the DVD bubble popped back in 2007 or so.

But in the UK, where the Manga Entertainment brand was very active until recently, a lot has happened that was not previously public knowledge. I knew some of the story, but not all of it -- and since it was still confidential I couldn't include any of it. After Monday's post went up, Animatsu Ltd. CEO Jerome Mazandarani got in touch, and decided it was time to go public. I spoke with him at length over Skype and talked about his history with Manga UK, and where things are now.

Jerome's background with Manga Entertainment goes back to 2005, shortly after Starz Entertainment bought Anchor Bay. Up until that point the brand had been essentially dormant: the Manga UK office was closed and its catalog and trademarks were taken over by Anchor Bay UK, which later came under Starz ownership. However, the Anchor Bay/Manga UK office operated entirely independently from the American mothership. They had their own management, their own acquisition budget, and their own deals. Jerome was brought in (and, in a land where nobody knew anything about anime, was immediately recognized as an expert), and started making deals.

Over the last decade, Manga UK made distribution deals with Viz and sister company Kaze, and had working relationships with Toei Animation and TV Tokyo. However, one thing frustrated Jerome again and again: as digital distribution became a more and more significant part of an anime release, Starz insisted on managing any digital rights through their New York City office. This meant that Manga UK would get the rights to something, then have to give the online rights to Starz' New York office, who would then immediately turn around and sell those rights to iTunes UK and Netflix UK. Disconnected from both the licensing and the UK fan base, it was very difficult for the New York office to know what those shows were worth.

After years of frustration, Jerome and his marketing guru Andrew Hewson left to start Animatsu, with the intent of finally being in the anime business without having to answer to a large, mostly-disconnected parent company. They licensed quite a few new shows and foraged a relationship with Sentai Filmworks (who often ended up with all English-speaking territory rights to shows, and needed to sub-license to publishers outside of the US).

Still, he hadn't burned his bridges with his old employer, and it's a good thing he didn't. In February, only a few months after the founding of Animatsu, Jerome got a call from his old boss, Colin Lomax, managing director of Anchor Bay/Manga UK. He had some big news: Colin had reached a deal with Starz to buy the entire UK business and take it independent. The new company could no longer be called Anchor Bay (it's now called Platform Entertainment), but they'd have exclusive rights to all Manga Entertainment branding and show catalog within the United Kingdom and Ireland. Starz would no longer own the operation, and would have no claim on anything they did.

And so, the two companies started working together and becoming one again. Animatsu needed a distributor, and Manga UK was an ideal one. Manga UK, having lost Jerome, didn't have much new anime in the pipeline, and without Andrew they had no one to market them. So Animatsu started licensing and marketing on behalf of Manga UK. While they're still separate companies on paper, the two now share office space and are in the process of merging operations. Right now they're in growth mode, working on a bunch of new and renewing licenses, and beefing up their marketing team to four people. They're also working on the theatrical release of the new Dragon Ball Z movie, which is currently set to run at 50 theaters across the UK.

Moving forward, Jerome intends to release most shows as Manga Entertainment, but keep the Animatsu brand alive as a special division for things that aren't simple UK license deals. He has plans for development, and hopes to get into co-productions, global rights management and cooperative deals with anime producers. The end goal, as anime becomes more and more of a global, digital streaming market is to make new shows that have appeal beyond just core anime fans.

"The niche is not enough to maintain a streaming platform," Jerome says. "The valuation of a [streaming platform] is based on how many subscribers they'll have, and there's a ceiling we can't go beyond if we only act as a portal for purely Japanese content." Many previous US/Japan co-productions, he says, are examples of times where the Japanese crew just wasn't all that into it, and the end result suffered. He sees a future where in order to grow beyond core anime fans, Japanese and Western companies will have to come together to find stories that production teams in both countries can be excited about.

So that's where Manga UK is today. Coming out of a turbulent and odd stretch of its history, but hopefully swinging towards a much more active future. The US division should be so lucky.

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.

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