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What Happened With Anime Sols?

by Justin Sevakis,

Sam J. asks:

My question is the following (though whether it's an appropriate question for this column, I'll have to let you judge): What happened to Anime Sols? Did it have to happen? What lessons are people taking from it?

Anime Sols had an orderly shut down after three years in business, just over a year ago, on May 1, 2015. The rights to the shows they offered are back with their respective licensors. For those who don't know or don't remember, Anime Sols was a startup anime publisher that, with the cooperation of several anime studios (Pierrot, Tezuka Productions, Tatsunoko) would stream classic, underappreciated anime with subtitles, and then attempt to crowdfund a subtitled DVD release. It did all of this via its own home-grown website, without relying on any well-known channels for fundraising or streaming video.

By Anime Sols founder Sam Pinansky's own admission (on an episode of ANNCast), the company was created to solve a problem -- a lack of distribution for classic anime series -- that was no longer a problem by the time they launched. By that time, companies like Sentai Filmworks' Maiden Japan label, Right Stuf, and Discotek had all more than filled the void, they'd inundated us with re-releases of classics that most fans never thought would see a release Stateside. And as they'd licensed them the old fashioned way, they didn't have much trouble getting them out quickly. Anime Sols, meanwhile, was stuck trying to sell anime companies on an untested crowdfunding method, which took a lot of explaining and coaxing.

And it wasn't a business model that really worked out of the box. By avoiding existing crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, and avoiding established streaming sites like Crunchyroll and Hulu, it was very difficult for fans who weren't paying strict attention to ANN to discover Anime Sols, the largely unknown shows they were offering, or their crowdfunding campaigns. It's quite normal for a startup to discover that its plans need adjusting after they launch, but the site's operators felt that they couldn't change course without upsetting the companies that had contributed to it. And so the site's traffic languished, and the project went entirely undiscovered by most anime fans. While a few series were successfully funded (usually barely, almost always in a nail-biting down-to-the-last-possible-second fashion), quite a few more did not make it.

Frankly, I had a lot of problems with the end result. I got behind one of the initial three shows that the site offered, the 1991 drama series Dear Brother. Of the three sets, the final two took well over a year to ship out to backers -- a lead time that might've been somewhat justifiable had there been extensive new extra features or new translations to be made, but the discs themselves were entirely bare-bones and had only the most rudimentary menus. The translations were also streamed online months beforehand, so not much additional work had to be done on subtitles. I was not happy that the company was holding onto my money for all that time and not shipping product. When I challenged their Twitter account directly, they explained that the licensors themselves were on the hook for some of the labor and backer rewards. But no news or estimated schedules were communicated to the backers, and behind-the-scenes supply issues shouldn't be their concern anyway. I felt then, and still feel now, that these discs could've easily been designed and authored from scratch in a day, and replicated in a couple of weeks.

Once I got the final product, I had mixed feelings about it. The subtitles were fine. While the video quality was good, the design of the packaging and menus were not up to standards. They were the sort of thing that a graphic design neophyte could cobble together in Photoshop and InDesign in under an hour. Obvious things like an indication of what set the discs belonged to were missing -- so once you had all three sets, there was no easy way to tell what order the discs went in. (You had three disc 1's and three disc 2's with no way of telling which was which.) The final product was simply not of a quality I would expect in a professionally made video release.

I was sold on Dear Brother, a show I adored from my 90s VHS fansub days, and I'm happy that I finally got the whole show, but I wasn't planning to support any other projects. I love scrappy attempts at serving anime fans that are motivated out of love and passion, but this one just didn't make it. Anime Sols may have started with the dream of getting more popular classic shows, but the ones it had, ultimately, were mostly just nowhere near popular enough to justify a release. And when it came time to (literally) deliver the goods, they were simply not very effective.

For those who managed to get in on Anime Sols while it lasted, the service left us with mostly-OK discs for Dear Brother, Magical Angel Creamy Mami, and the first 25 episodes of the 2004 Black Jack TV series. Unfortunately its campaigns for Aoi Blink, Tekkaman, both Yatterman 1977 and 2008 series, Hurricane Polymar, Ninja Robot Tobikage, a collection of Osamu Tezuka TV specials and Magical Idol Pastel Yumi were not successful, and although they were mostly subtitled, they cannot currently be streamed anywhere.

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. Please note that he does not take question submissions via Twitter.

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