Anime Village: What Are They Thinking?by Justin Sevakis,
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!?
For those that don't know, the Anime Village program was announced formally at Anime Expo last summer, and was to be the anime web site to end all, with exclusive videos (including Vision of Escaflowne, Gundam, Saber Marionette J, and CLAMP School Detectives), unbeatable deals, and a great community.
Now, let's revisit those promises and see what they became. We'll start with the smaller ones...
Promised: State-of-the-art,innovative, on-line Anime games, complete with competitions and maybe even prizes!
Delivered: Lame "jigsaw puzzle" Java applets that happen to have a timer in the corner, a high score board, and no prizes.
Now, unless the Bandai people are totally oblivious to the new technologies that have been developed and been embraced on the internet over the last three or four years, they would see that these cheesy little games are the pinnacle of mediocrity. With an interface that makes the jigsaw puzzle program that comes with the Mac OS look like Final Fantasy VII to a person who's been playing Zork their entire lives, these games pale in comparison to even other Java applets, like Comedy Central's "Cartman," a pac-man clone featuring the character from South Park. But wait... it gets better.
Promised: Colorful real-time discussions on chat rooms. The perfect gathering place for fans!
Delivered: Well, there are four chat rooms, but no one ever uses them.
Now, in all fairness, this one is not really their fault. While they haven't exactly provided fertile ground on which to build any conversations (there are four chat rooms named after their four video series), nothing can really be done about no one chatting.
Promised: Exclusive interviews, articles from the industry's leading magazines, and village news, making up an information source that "will be the envy of all!"
Delivered: A few lame reprinted articles from Animerica, Protoculture Addicts, and Animeco.
You know something's wrong when a magazine like Animerica is one of the "industry leaders", but at least it's something. But "an information source that will be the envy of all"?? No overhype there...
Promised: Unbeatable deals on videos... Since they can cut out the middleman by not selling through traditional retail channels, they can deliver more episodes per tape for less money than anyone else!
Delivered: A.D. Vision pricing. (The industry's second-highest priced distribution company.)
This is what agitated the most people. They aren't the cheapest; not by a long-shot. They're not the most expensive either, and at $24.99 SRP for three episode, they rank among A.D. Vision's best-priced releases. That's not what was promised, though. The original idea seemed to be selling the tapes at a price roughly comparable to fansub distributors. When many of A.D. Vision's releases can be had at a discount elsewhere, any remaining benefits fly out the window. (When confronted on this, Anime Village reps simply make excuses.)
What's worse, the shipping and handling charges are outrageous: one tape adds at least six dollars to your bill.
Promised: Ordering begins September 1!
Delivered: Ordering postponed until the 15th, which was announced after nothing happened for two days following the start date. During this time, those in the message bases were asking what was going on, and not getting answers.
Promised: An attentive staff that listens to consumer feedback and acts on it!
Delivered: A feedback message board. Staff that comes on once every few days and makes excuses.
This is probably the one that has made Anime Village the biggest laughing stock... The staff that is supposed to go into the forum, take note of suggestions and generally be attentive and courteous are instead obnoxious, impatient, and lethargic. One newbie who sees to be obsessed with starting and feeding flame wars isn't removed or in any way penalized for routinely bombarding AV staff as well as customers with profanities (without the softening effect of punctuation).
What started off as a good idea has turned into a PR nightmare. One "VO" or "Village Officer," known only to the public as "Marlon," routinely finger-points when customers complain about prices, and offers up such excuses as "how expensive the site is... for free".
The truth is, there is NOTHING special at this web site besides the exclusive videos. Chat rooms are easily outdone on... well... any other online place to hook up, be it IRC, other anime "community" web sites, AOL and Compuserve, or any place else. There is no additional useful information on the site except for information on their services. The message boards see very little action. The prices are far beyond what was promised.
With all of these broken promises, is it any wonder that fans are starting to lose faith in Bandai's latest effort? Thanks to their lack of restraint in generating hype, they have created a PR nightmare. One hopes they can figure out what's going on and pull their heads out of their collective butts and start remembering what customer service means. As it is now, their heads are so far up there, they could play the kazoo through their esophagus.
(Update 12/15/2002: Article appeared on ANN most likely between September 1st and September 30th, 1998. The exact date is currently unknown, however. -C)