Otakon 2012
Sentai Filmworks Industry Panel

by Gia Manry,

Sentai Filmworks' David Williams opened the company's Otakon 2012 panel on Sunday morning at 10:45 a.m. After joking with the audience for a few minutes, he introduced himself as someone who has been in the anime industry for 20 years. He revealed that this is the first Sentai Filmworks panel at Otakon— "Hopefully the first of many to come."

First up comes a new title announcement: Kids on the Slope. After showing a clean version of the series' opening sequence, Williams invited up Masao Maruyama to talk about the show. Speaking through a translator, Maruyama introduced himself as the founder of Mappa, the studio which created Kids on the Slope. He then introduced Yuuka Nanri, the voice actress who played Itsuko in the anime series. He apologized that he couldn't stay longer but showed off a poster autographed by Kids on the Slope and Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe, which he and Nanri also signed. The poster will be in the convention charity auction.

Next Williams went through July and August Sentai Filmworks releases, such as Mahoro-Matic, The World God Only Knows season 2, and the much-anticipated Persona 4 due on September 18th, and Children who Chase Lost Voices in November. Finally, Williams announced two new items: Grave of the Fireflies remastered, due in November, and the acquisition of Nakaimo.

Moving into the Q&A session, Williams revealed that the company is trying to get on as many digital outlets as possible.

Audience: I would like it if Sentai would be more active on Facebook and Twitter...

Williams: And there's not very much on our website right now, either...so if you all know someone in the web industry who wants to work on an anime site, let me know.

Audience: Are there plans in place to release the second Mardock Scramble movie?

Williams: There ARE plans! When we got the first movie we got the director's cut, but with the second one we asked if we could get the director's cut first, so we don't have to ask you to buy both of them.

Audience: Regarding your upcoming release of Un-Go, will that include episode zero?

Williams: I don't know on that particular title, but if you pop by the booth and ask Janice she will be able to answer that for you.

Audience: The thing that's particularly distinct about Kids on the Slope for me is the music...are there any plans to get voice actors to do the songs for Kids on the Slope or a soundtrack?

Williams: There's nothing I can confirm or deny on that at this time. With some titles we got to be able to put the CD in there, and we like to be able to do things like that, but sometimes it's not very easy because of the licensing, it might be owned by another company. In some cases we can do that and in some cases we can't.

Audience: A question about Modern Magic Made Simple, are you making that available?

Williams: It's available right now in the dealer's room!

Audience: Has there been any information on season 2 of Highschool of the Dead?

Williams: I wish there was but they still haven't made it yet and we're waiting, we tell them every day to get on it and make some more.

Audience: Has Sentai been looking into the K-On! movie?

Williams: I can neither confirm nor deny that. We do look at everything that comes out, and K-On! is a very popular title. I'd love to get a hold of the first season myself but Bandai is still releasing that. We look at everything.

Audience: What is involved in the licensing process?

Williams: That's really an involved question, it depends greatly. There are titles that when I was at ADV we looked at licensing when we started the t company in 1992 and it was ten years before we could get the title. There are some where you go in and start negotiating and that day you've got the title. It fluctuates. Right now the big thing is simulcasts, and everyone is looking to grab titles. That's why quite often you'll hear an announcement about a title, like Kids on the Slope, which has been simulcasting, and we won't have the Blu-rays out until next year. Because of the streaming titles are getting snapped up. You'll hear most announcements now at the start of the new Japanese season, because we've got to get the announcements out. There's a real rush to get the titles when they're new; older titles you can spend a little more time on.

That gives me an opportunity to answer this question: "Why does it take so long for us to get the Blu-ray after it airs?" First they have to air the whole show, and then what the Japanese do is go back to the show and touch up the video, add scenes, remove censoring that was put on for television, and then release it in Japan. Their release schedule is very different from ours, they're going to release a few episodes on a disc every month. We have to wait for them to finish before we can release ours, especially because ours are complete sets. When they're done they get us those masters and then we can do our work. That's generally why you see a large gap between streaming and physical media.

Audience: What's your relationship with Crunchyroll?

Williams: They give us money and we give them shows. A lot of the shows that are streaming go through Crunchyroll because they want to go through those shows.

Audience: What about simulcasts? Some shows air there before Anime Network.

Williams: Yeah, that's a case-by-case basis. Crunchyroll might ask for a month exclusive before it can go up on other networks, but they're one of multiple outlets we can license stuff to.

Audience: Funimation takes a while to get their anime out, like Princess Jellyfish just came out after two years whereas No. 6 is coming out one year after it came out. Is there a secret?

Williams: If there is we're not telling anyone else! But we're a very small company right now and we can't sit on a title. When you license a title you pay a bunch of money up-front and we need to get that money back as soon as possible...you want to get it out while it's still out there and interesting.

Audience: The Persona 4 collection 1 is in September? What about collection 2- will it have the "true ending" episode?

Williams: I don't know what I can say on that, but I can say that collection 1 episode 1, there's an on-air version and a director's cut version, and it will have both of those with the on-air version as an extra on the disc.

Audience: I know traditionally sports titles have had trouble selling here, how is Eyeshield 21 doing? Would you be interested in getting more of that?

Williams: That's an interesting title because my daughter LOVES that show, and she hates football. She cannot stand football...but she says "I love this show. The thing that I hate is that this show has taught me more about football than I ever wanted to know." It's doing okay. It's not a big seller for us, honestly, I'd like to see it do more and it has not been one of our best sellers. So we're looking at that.

Audience: FandomPost.com is asking about seasons 1-3 of Familiar of Zero?

Williams: Trust them to ask that question!...Familiar of Zero, yes, we do have season 4, and as for seasons 1, 2, and 3, I can neither confirm nor deny.

Audience: Can you say for the Grave of the Fireflies whether it'll have the new or old extras?

Williams: I'm not sure what's going to be on there at the moment. When I get back into the office later in the month, at that point I'll probably know. I do know that we have new remastered video so I'm really looking forward to seeing that one on Blu-ray.

Audience: Do you have any plans to re-release any sub-only titles with dubs? Is there a title you'd really like to see get a dub?

Williams: At the moment we don't have anything in the plans for that, we have done a few under special occasions, but we don't have any plans at the moment for any of them. Personally I'd like to dub them all, I really would. Is there any one in particular I'd like to see dubbed? I hear a lot of people ask for To Love-Ru, and another one is Special A. But I'd like to dub them all.

Audience: How do you decide what series you're going to dub or sub?

Williams: Basically it boils down to, there are a lot of shows out there that are going to sell really well that we know are going to sell really well. Kids on the Slope is one, Highschool of the Dead was one, so we knew we could recoup that investment. There are a lot of titles out there that we know the fans would really like that, but that there aren't very many of them....We decided to do sub-only releases and that has done well for us. But that's what it boils down to, will it do well enough to support a dub? Occasionally we get surprised. We look at the streaming numbers, that's one of the factors we use these days...

Audience: Have you ever been surprised by how a sub-only release went and thought you should go back and dub that?

Williams: That happened with Clannad but not so much the sales as there were other English-speaking countries that wanted to release it and wanted a dub for it, so we were able to go back and do the dub because we could spread out the cost. There's the case of Princess Resurrection and I thought we should do a dub for it at first, but it sold well enough that we went back and there's now a dub for that one out there. That's one case where we've done that. Most cases though, it was like with Clannad where we could spread it out with other countries.

Audience: How do you deal with streaming in other countries?

Williams: It depends on the rights that you purchase with the Japanese. In some cases you'll get all English-speaking countries, in others you'll get North America and Canada only, so it depends on the rights you get. Generally for us if we get a show and we have, say, Australian or U.K. rights or whatever, we'll work with a company there to handle that for us.

Audience: Do you guys ever plan to release anything as a Blu-ray/DVD combo back? And why no OVAs when you buy seasons on iTunes?

Williams: iTunes, that I don't know, you'd actually have to ask that to [Anime Network] Digital, they would know that. DVD and Blu-ray combo packs, we've looked at it, but it doesn't really seem to work out financially because Blu-ray is really expensive to press right now, especially in our niche market...the marketplace for physical DVDs and whatnot has really changed a lot over the years. Blu-ray is really expensive to produce, DVD is really cheap, so I have to decide how I do it. Do I press some extra Blu-rays and put them in with the DVDs, press some extra DVDs and put them in with the Blu-ray, and who is going to buy that? Are they going to want to pay the extra cost of that? Then I look at, well, what about the Blu-ray person who already got Blu-ray and doesn't really want the DVD there? The only market it seems to fill is someone who has both DVD and Blu-ray and they may have Blu-ray downstairs and DVD upstairs and want to be able to watch it in both. I can't really find a way to make it work right now. Plus since we're doing complete collections, there's more discs in the packs...are you going to use stackers for all that?

Audience: No stackers!

Williams: Yeah, at the moment I don't know how we could make that work.

Audience: I've heard rumors that Sentai is stretching itself too thin and licensing too much?

Williams: That has been brought up at many a panel! We are being very careful at Sentai. We saw what happened in the past at other companies and we are trying to be very careful with what we do and how we do it. We're very small, there's hardly anyone at Sentai. When I worked at ADV, ADV had everything. Their recording studios, translators, production editors and equipments, they did everything. Sentai is just the company, there's hardly anything because we contract everything out. We know pretty much what the production capacity is for the people we're working with, we know how much we can afford to license, and we see how sales are going. We factor all that in and we're not going to let ourselves get stretched too thin, [Audience applauds.] ...The real thing is that we've gotten more and more into streaming which is why it looks like we're licensing so much. The company HAS grown since it started in...2007, I think? I was in ADV until 2008 and 2010 is when I actually started working with Sentai...so we understand that concern very well and I think we're doing a good job of avoiding that. So don't be too worried about it, just enjoy your anime.

Audience: Are there going to be any limited edition releases?

Williams: There aren't any limited edition releases planned at the moment. We've kicked around the idea of doing some of those but we don't have anything in the works at the moment. That is something we might do for some shows...another thing I've considered is taking a lot of shows that are of a similar storyline or genre or something, particularly with older titles, I'm an old school fan and I'm a big fan of the old titles, I think there are a lot of great stories out there even if the animation doesn't hold up...and doing a collection of that. But I don't have anything I can talk about now.

Audience: So do you view streaming as sort of testing the waters?

Williams: We really don't right now. We do use it to determine interest for doing a dub, so it does play a factor there, and I'll tell you that doing a dub means doing a Blu-ray because we don't see any interest in sub-only Blu-ray. So we do use it to decide about a dub. But in most cases you've already licensed all the rights to the show, you've got to license it before you start streaming it. We're not going to not release a show because the stream was so bad, because that would be a title that was so bad that we expected it to be a low-selling release that would be sub-only. So I don't see us ever licensing a title and then not releasing it. Well...haha, got to watch what you say, don't you ? There is one title that we licensed and it wasn't streaming, so it wasn't that exact situation, but sales on it were really poor and we're still trying to figure out how to do the rest of the series. There are going to be people who want to see Glass Mask but it just hasn't sold well enough. I'm kicking around on how we could get the rest of it and license it and release it in a way that we could make some money off of it, but that's the only situation we've run across so far, is that title.

Audience: What has the best-seller been so far for Sentai?

Williams: Top sellers so far and I expect it to change, so far Highschool of the Dead is the top seller, and Angel Beats and Demon King Daimao. If you include ALL the incarnations of Clannad that'd be up there. The best seller at the convention has been The World God Only Knows and Fate/Zero.

Audience: Do you run into problems with the Japanese wanting to prevent a Blu-ray release due to reverse importation concerns?

Williams: With Blu-ray not having any region lockouts, that is a concern for the Japanese, they are concerned about Blu-rays being re-imported into Japan, because they're so much cheaper. They do want to protect their market over there. So far we have hit some instances where it's kind of a pain, there are some Blu-rays that we weren't able to release day-and-date with DVD. But it is a concern for the Japanese over there. I don't know what the best solution is for that. I don't like to delay the releases over here, I like to get them out as quickly as we can. So I don't know what the real solution for the issue is going to be, but it has become a problem.

Audience: Any chance of getting later seasons of Gintama?

Williams: One of the things we did with the movie, and since it was a one-shot we would dub it, we would see how sales were and how adding a dub to the series would affect Gintama sales, and how much interest there might be. That's what we're looking at right now.

Audience: Thank you for picking up Hell Girl..I've heard rumors of a season 4. Have seasons 2 and 3 done well enough that you'd be interested in that?

Williams: Hell Girl has done very well for us...if there was more Hell Girl we'd be interested, yes.

Audience: You mentioned Angel Beats is doing well...does Sentai consider looking at other works by P.A. Works?

Williams: Like I said earlier, we look at EVERYTHING. We really do. Quite often we look at shows before they've even started production because Japan is looking for that license fee to help with production costs, particularly at the start of the new seasons. We're already looking at the stuff for fall season and we look ate everything.

Audience: Considering the changes in the physical media market you mentioned earlier...I know you can't go over exact numbers for licensing costs, but can you give an example of how that's changed?

Williams: It started out with ADV, and we'd ask to license a show and Japan would ask "Why?" In the heyday it got to the bit where we want to license a show, "Well okay, you license a show like a TV show...you pay X amount per episode."...."Wow, we can actually license shows out there, cool." When ADV licensed Evangelion, all the other anime companies said we paid way too much money for that show and we'd never make it back. And then in 2004, 2005, it got to the point where it was like "God, I wish I could license a show as cheap as Eva!" You would pay as much for that show as you would for a small house. It got ridiculously high. It's come down now. The Japanese realize the same as the U.S. industry did, the ridiculous raising and bidding up of the prices for the shows was harmful for the industry.

Audience: Is that the dead zone in the mid-2000s?

Williams: Well, there are a lot of reasons, but yeah, the licensing fees were ridiculous, we couldn't make the money back, it wasn't a healthy situation for the industry. Now we don't do that bidding. You put in your offer, you MIGHT get the opportunity to make one counter, but there's no bidding and they're much more realistic in their expectations. So it's come back down to a more reasonable amount.

Audience: Do DVD sales just cover costs or what?

Williams: DVD is still king. DVD is where you make most of your money. Streaming is growing but it has not reached a point yet where it can support the costs of a title. You're still dependent on the sale of DVDs. Blu-ray is growing but DVD still outsells it. Highschool of the Dead was the first time I saw a Blu-ray outselling a DVD but now it's caught up. DVD is still king and the bread and butter of the industry.

Audience: There are three ways to buy physical media...which is the most important to the industry now?

Williams: Retail outlets, specialty market stores, and mass market stores like Best Buy and F.Y.E. In the heyday of anime, Best Buy was king. Whatever they said, you did. They were the most important outlet for anime at the time. They have died off since then, as has most of the mass market retail. What is growing is online: Amazon, Right Stuf, Anime Nation, all of these online places are growing and thriving right now...and specialty shops, we're starting to see a resurgence in specialty shops. When the mass market was growing you were selling in comic book stores, then mass market stepped in and the specialty stores couldn't compete with them. With mass market dying back off, fans are looking for other places. I'm seeing a lot of the specialty stores starting to grow and pick it back up again. So the two most important are online and the specialty stores.

Williams moved into giving away prizes to the audience.

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