Anime Boston 2006
State of the Industry

by Mikhail Koulikov,
State of the Industry
ADV Films – David Williams
Funimation – Adam Sheehan
Harmony Gold – Kevin McKeever

With four major, long-running cons (Fanime, Anime North, Animazement and Anime Boston) all now falling on the same Memorial Day weekend, expecting every major anime company in North America to have a representative at each one is, quite simply, unrealistic. For California-based outfits like Bandai, Geneon or Viz, it makes a lot more sense to just make the short trip to Fanime; whereas for ADV and Funimation, flying up to Boston is not particularly different than flying out to San Jose. The bottom line is that, unlike at Anime Expo and Otakon, where the ‘State of the Industry’ panel truly encompasses most of the industry, the Anime Boston version was rather limited, and mostly served to reinforce some of the same points that has already been touched on during the representatives own panels on Friday and Saturday.

All three of the panelists agreed that the industry is growing, and that the “imminent crash” that some people predicted last year was probably over hyped. Ultimately, as Japanese animation enters the mainstream, demand for it keeps growing, and the one defining feature of 2006 is going to be a battle not for eyeballs, but for shelf space. Both big-box stores and smaller specialized retailers are not able to devote aisles and aisles to the sheer quantity of anime that is currently being released, and the winner in this battle is going to be whichever company is most successful at identifying and exploring new ways of delivering anime to viewers.

A related point the panelists brought up was that as anime is becoming more and more of a mass-market product, anime companies will be influenced by business cycles, both within the industry, and within the economy as a whole. As an example, Williams referred to the evolution of the software industry, and especially, to the ups and downs that videogame companies experienced in the early and mid-1980's. He predicted that in the end, some of the anime companies are simply not going to be able to survive such a market downturn, while others will be able to “back off” and draw on cash reserves and the money coming in from existing licenses. In his opinion, some degree of consolidation is going to be imminent. He also argued that, although the current price point for most anime volumes is not going to be sustainable for much longer, anime is still extremely expensive to license and distribute. One of the clearest paths to success for any company will be finding a viable new price point, most likely via cutting distribution or overhead costs.

In response to an audience question, all three agreed that, notwithstanding recent (and not-so-recent) experience, Japanese anime and manga companies will continue trying to cut out the middleman and enter the U.S. market directly; most, if not all, will fail, simply because the North American market operates on completely different rules, and the North American audience is entirely different from the Japanese.

Another audience question asked for the speakers' opinion on high-definition DVD, and what it will mean for anime companies. The answer was that essentially, despite the current hype, HD-DVD and BluRay are not going to have a meaningful market share for at least three to four years. At which point it may be entirely possible that they will trigger a market glut, with DVDs coming out in three different formats. It could be entirely possible that a new and completely different format would emerge, at which point, high-def DVD would become a format reminiscent of laser disc.

Finally, when asked to comment on the future of the several live-action adaptations of anime that are currently in various stages of pre-production, all three panelists agreed that the Transformers movie will greatly affect subsequent adaptations. If the Transformers movie, which is currently slated for release sometime in 2007, meets or exceeds expectations, not only will the other projects, such as Battle Angel Alita, Pet Shop of Horrors, and perhaps even the long-rumored Sailor Moon feature, have a good chance of reaching movie screens, but Hollywood directors will begin to turn to anime and manga for source material in earnest.

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