Why Don't Drama CDs Get Released Outside of Japan?

by Justin Sevakis,

Rachel asked:

Many anime, manga and video game series sometimes get adapted into a audio drama CD, why aren't audio drama CDs released here in North America?

Few people want them, and there's not really a good way of distributing them. There simply isn't a huge interest in audio dramas in the United States—unlike other countries, audio dramas largely seemed to die out in North America with the rise of television in the 60s and 70s. Other countries, including Japan and even the UK, still regularly make radio dramas, but the art form is pretty much dead in North America.

And really, what would you sell? Would you sell an MP3 download (or, god help you, a physical CD) that most fans would have to slavishly follow along, reading a translated script while listening to? It would be like watching a subtitled anime without any actual art or motion or animation. I attempted to subtitle one such drama as a "bonus" item for a VHS fansub I made several decades ago, and even though the drama track was only 14 minutes long, it was DEATHLY dull. Sitting through the video fansub of it (which I accompanied with a screenshot from the anime, AND credits) just wasn't very interesting—it was very slow-moving and had a lot of moments where it was just background music. Surely others aren't that bad, but many of these dramas do move a lot slower than I think Western fans are prepared for.

As proof of how little interest there is in such projects, there have only ever been a small handful of fan-translations of anime drama CDs. Most, like mine, have been haphazardly made into video form by fans, using art from the show to try and illustrate the drama. But when there's no actual motion, no original artwork and literally nothing happening on screen, it's a tough sell.

I've listened to a handful of anime drama CDs, and the vast majority are fanservicey nonsense that don't really add much to the stories. Most are just thinly veiled excuses for the voice actors to regurgitate fan-favorite lines. At best, there might be a cute out-of-character skit or something with the characters. They're mildly amusing, but you're not exactly missing out.

There are exceptions, of course. For example, there was a Perfect Blue drama CD that WAS an episode of the drama-series-within-the-movie "Double Bind" (where, of course, the mystery surrounds a fallen pop-singer-turned-actress named Mima Kirigoe, just in case the movie itself wasn't meta enough for you). There's also the legendary Evangelion "After The End" skit, a comedy taking place immediately following End of Evangelion. I'm sure there are probably plenty of interesting drama CDs out there that English speaking fans have no idea exist. But without the pretty pictures to get people interested, they're just going to lie on the shelves of Japanese CD stores, as impenetrable to otaku as the giant wall of Japanese prose novels.

The only real hope for getting these released stateside is as a bonus feature on a Blu-ray release. It seems like that would be the only format in which that would work. However, if there's a major licensing fee involved (and depending on how famous the voice actors are, there might be), it's doubtful that a publisher would want to spend the money on a bonus feature that would likely sell few additional copies.

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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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