Why Do Some Classic Anime Never Get Re-Released?

by Justin Sevakis,

archivisth asks:

Why have some shows, often of quite decent quality, never been reissued on modern digital media, like DVD, when all sorts of other stuff has? Some examples include OVAs like Oz, Sanctuary, Hi-Speed Jecy and Tomoe ga Yuku; and movies like 1992's Hashire Melos and the Maze movie. None of those were ever released on DVD, and Maze was never released on home video at all! I can understand when clunkers are "left behind," but the shows mentioned are all pretty decent. Is each a special case? Or is there a common thread to the industry's decision making about DVD reissues?

Many things can prevent an older show or video from being reissued. The biggest reason is that the intellectual property rights behind the show are making such a release impossible. In the 80s and 90s, the right to make a manga or novel into an anime and then exploit that anime was one that often came with a time limit -- those rights expire. As a result, many anime from the 80s can no longer be issued without going back and re-negotiating with the original creator (gensakusha).

Other times, music used in those shows were not cleared indefinitely, and would have to be re-negotiated. If the music was by a very well-known or popular artist, those rights could be prohibitively expensive.

The 80s and 90s were a long time ago. Production companies have closed, people have died, and rights have changed hands. It can be extremely difficult to go back through all of the paperwork and make sure that the original creator, the director, the head writer, the actors, the musicians, and everyone on the production committee has signed off on the proper rights through the present day, because the current owner of the show may not even have access to all of those contracts. And even if they did, they are likely to find new issues that need clearing -- online streaming rights, for example -- that would require tracking down that person and getting them to sign off, no matter how old, angry, curmudgeonly, infirm or deluded they may have become.

That's a lot of hoops to jump through. American entertainment contracts for talent and music have pretty much always covered "all means of production, broadcast or transmission, whether currently existing or to be invented," been in effect "in perpetuity", and are usually effective "throughout the known universe", but many Japanese anime producers in the past were simply not that business savvy. Additionally, American businesses will occasionally decide that it's a lot easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, and just do things that they consider to be low-risk (i.e. re-using a dub that was produced by a now-defunct company). Japanese companies generally don't work like that.

And so, for old shows, it's really only worth trudging through those contracts if the show is really really valuable, or important to the company in some way. Many, many OVAs were produced as ephemeral, throw-away products -- as marketing for existing manga series, or as a tie-in to sell toys. As such, they're not big sellers, they're not considered all that important to anyone that made them, and whatever company owns the rights might not even remember that they're a thing. Most of the shows you named were not exactly epoch-making hits. Maze, in particular, did okay as a TV series, but the movie was a big enough bomb that the producers decided to walk away from the franchise entirely.

One notable exception that you brought up, however, is Hi-Speed Jecy, a 12-episode OVA series that was actually a pretty decent sized hit. Featuring character designs by Haruhiko Mikimoto, the series was recently named by Fred Patten as a planned US release for Streamline Pictures, one that never materialized due to adopted parent company Orion Pictures putting the freeze on spending money acquiring new titles. The show was partially owned by its animation company Pierrot, but it's missing entirely from their website, which makes me think that it's one of those expired titles. Its video masters were also really terrible looking even by 1989 standards, so it could really use a remaster too.

Then, you occasionally get cases like The Sensualist, a gorgeous OVA whose two producers had a falling out and now will refuse to do anything with the show, as it would mean making money for the other one. Petty stuff like that happens all the time. You really never know.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

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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