Why Did Anime Companies Start Including "Clean" Openings And Endings?
by Justin Sevakis,
One of the most common special features found on DVD/Blu-ray releases of anime series in the west are opening and ending sequences with the opening and closing credits removed. I'm curious to find out when this trend began and what got it started. Do companies in Japan release DVDs with clean OP/ED scenes, or is this a special feature that's much more prevalent in non-domestic releases?
Believe it or not, the innovation of bundling title-free opening and ending animation sequences as bonus items on DVD releases is one that originated with US fans and publishers.
Back in the 70s and 80s, Japanese producers sold a lot of anime programming to broadcasters and distributors around the world for sale in their own countries. Distributors for TV and home video didn't want to show Japanese text -- the product wasn't being sold as "foreign," but as just another TV show in that country. Since Japan couldn't offer them copies of the original openings and endings without Japanese text all over the place, they usually had to cobble together their own credits sequences from show footage. It was extra work, and never looked as good as the original.
And so, by the late 80s, master film elements or tape copies of openings and endings without credits (also known as "neutral", or "non-telop") were being set aside by most anime producers for use by overseas publishers. This didn't happen all the time. Sometimes, after the optical titles were added, the producers would forget to save the "clean" versions. Other times, such as with OVAs, nobody thought audiences overseas would want the show at all, so nobody saved them.
And that was it. Despite the credits obscuring sometimes-gorgeous animation, clean openings and endings weren't really intended to be enjoyed by the general public as-is, and for years, few home video producers thought to release them like that. (They would, on occasion, make their way onto a Laserdisc as a bonus feature.) They were simply an element that could be offered to international distributors to assist with adaptation for their market.
And then came the DVD era. The early days of DVD were strange, experimental times. Japanese publishers took a pretty conservative approach to the format at first, basically treating it like a more portable LaserDisc. Some major media companies over there considered the limited "interactivity" of DVD, with its menus and chapters, to not be covered by normal home video contracts, but a separate set of rights entirely. And so, for the first few years, Japanese DVDs were pretty bare-bones affairs.
But in the US, it was a different story. DVD was getting hyped like crazy, and publishers were looking for ways to stand out in the market. The idea of a disc having bonus features was a considered a huge selling point, and anyone who made DVDs were doing whatever they could to stuff their discs as full of bonus material as possible. US anime publishers raided their vaults for anything that could be considered a bonus, and often they spent money trying to make new bonus features.
I don't know who the first company was to include clean openings and endings. I suspect it was ADV Films, who, despite being a little bit late to the DVD market, pioneered many of the "best practices" of presenting anime on the format. By engaging directly with enthusiastic fans, on places like AnimeOnDVD.com, IRC chat and other forums, ADV and the other publishers quickly realized that fans really liked having access to the often-spectacular animation from these openings and endings without being obscured by credits.
Although it took years, Japanese publishers finally started including them as well.
Eventually the DVD market matured, and publishers realized that while bonus features were nice to have, they were seldom important enough to make a customer buy a show they wouldn't have otherwise. Western publishers don't care as much about bonus features as they used to (and often, they're not allowed to include stuff that was made for the Japanese release). However, clean openings and endings are almost always available, and so they almost always get included.
So now, when we buy a show that DOESN'T have clean openings and endings included, it seems like something important was missing! But it really wasn't so long ago that we NEVER got those bonus items when we bought anime. Times sure have changed.
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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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