Who Was Cloverway, And What Were They Doing With Anime?

by Justin Sevakis,

Job asked:

What was the purpose of Cloverway Inc, as a licensing entity in the Americas? Why didn't Cloverway got more involved in distributing anime in North America, like in Latin America? Why did Cloverway go out of business, and what year did Cloverway close up shop for good?

Cloverway, Inc. was a distribution company based in Long Beach, California, that was owned by Toei Animation. Most fans know them from the logo at the end of the original English release of Sailor Moon S/SS and some other adapted TV anime, proudly proclaiming that they were “representing the best in Japanese animation.”

When Cloverway was formed back in 1991, the world was a very different place for anime. While movies and OVAs would slowly start to trickle out to the North American home video market over the next decade, this wasn't a good strategy for the long TV series that made up most of the country's output. Most of the Japanese companies were pretty clueless about things like international sales, adaptation and dubbing, and getting their shows on TV worldwide. And without email (or even fax machines), communicating with companies in the West was a pretty daunting prospect.

Some more ambitious anime studios set up offices overseas, but at the time many of those offices were for getting animation work from American studios, not distribution of Japanese productions. Some studios hired local sales people, and attempted to enter the world market themselves, with varying levels of success. But others thought it would be better to hire an intermediary to help guide them through an impenetrable market they didn't know anything about. For several major anime producers, including TMS, Shueisha, Nippon Animation and Tezuka Productions, Cloverway was that company.

Most of what Cloverway did would've been transparent to end consumers. Their main job was to represent the titles to potential broadcasters and TV syndicates in North and South America, and facilitate whatever it took to make a broadcast happen. Occasionally, like in the case of Sailor Moon S and SS, they would also oversee the dubbing and adaptation process. They might also sell home video rights, but that was secondary.

Most of Cloverway's success was in Latin and South America, overseeing production and distribution in Spanish and Brazilian Portugese speaking markets for Dragon Ball Z, Saint Seiya, Gundam Wing, and quite a few others.

Eventually, the market simply outgrew companies like Cloverway. The TV broadcast market became less and less important as internet distribution (legal and otherwise) rose to prominence, and series became too short for most Western broadcasters' tastes. But more importantly, Japanese producers had learned enough about the world market by the early 2000s that they didn't really need middlemen like Cloverway anymore.

Shueisha bought into sister company Shogakukan's new international distribution division ShoPro, and TMS and Toei Animation started managing their own properties from their own Los Angeles offices. Other Japanese producers were able to do business directly from Japan by having their own rights management staff, and having them attend content markets like MIPCOM and TIFFCOM.

With a dwindling customer base and few companies left to represent, Cloverway shut its doors in 2007. However, it's legacy lives on. Not just with the enduring popularity of Sailor Moon, but also Dragon Ball Z and Saint Seiya in central and South America.

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