Why Don't Anime Musicals Get US Releases?

by Justin Sevakis,

Bunny asked:

Sailor Moon's new musical cast were guests at a state anime convention, but I don't see it getting much further than that. We only have fansubs as a source, but I'd like to support it legally. I was wondering what would it take to also have stage musicals licensed for home release? I would really be happy to see if some of these productions available to overseas fans like myself.

It's true that the various anime stage musicals have Western fans. What nobody seems to be able to answer is, how many? And beyond that, how passionate about these musicals are they... in terms of willingness to spend money?

It's really hard to answer those questions. From what I can tell, the Western fanbase for these musicals seems to be very small, based on the number of people I see talking about them, the amount they pop up in conversation on Twitter and on social media and on piracy sites, and all the other usual ways we tend to measure popularity among otaku in the west. Part of that is due to the fact that they're videotaped stage musicals from another country, and low-budget ones at that.

But it's so hard for an anime nerd to just stumble onto stage musicals that it's hard to even say that Western fans have given them a fair shake. We cover them as news items occasionally here on ANN, but for your average mid-range anime fan, who checks out new stuff on Crunchyroll and Funimation but doesn't marinate in news coverage, it's quite possible to live an entire otaku lifestyle without knowing they even exist. And even if they did, they're not all that easy to find if you don't already know where to look.

Since nobody has yet tried (that I know of) to license a video of a stage musical, we don't know what potential minefields await. It's quite possible that some aspect of production (the actors' talent releases, the music composers' agreements, etc.) were not written to cover business done outside of Japan or Asia. The video versions of anime stage musicals are not REALLY intended to be stand-alone product. The play itself is the product, and the various media being sold from it (DVDs, Blu-rays, CD soundtracks, photo albums, etc.) are meant to be souvenirs for fans who saw the plays.

But as the plays themselves aren't in English and are being staged in Japan, they don't have any actual value to the English speaking world. The video versions, however, just might. Once subtitled, potential fans can give it a shot and see how they like it. A few have been fansubbed, but that hasn't yet brought the category much attention, and it's hard to say whether that's because not enough people care, or because nobody's looking for them.

Honestly, your best bet at getting these musicals available in video form in North America (or other English-speaking places) is Crunchyroll. Crunchyroll has proven repeatedly that they're willing to take a chance on something new, and willing to trudge through some amount of Japan's trademark bureaucracy to do so. The site is well-trafficked enough by otaku that if anyone is able to drive traffic to it, it's them. Nobody knows if there's a fanbase for this stuff in the West yet, but if there's potential there, it's going to take some effort to bear fruit.

But I recommend you bug Crunchyroll if this is something you want to see.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's 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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