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2002 - Licencing in Review

by Allen Divers,
2002 proved to be a banner year when it came to the acquisition of Anime licenses. With Anime's continued growth into the North American market, more and more companies competed for some of the top licenses that were out there. Competition proved to be fierce enough that during a few of the panels at major conventions in 2002, one company would say they were actively pursuing a license, and in the next panel a different company would say that actually had that license.

2002 also provided quite a few surprises with some of the smaller companies pulling in some licenses that many felt would go to the big boys. FUNimation shocked everyone when they seemingly snuck in under Pioneer's radar and snapped up the Tenchi Muyo GXP license. As always, the announcements managed to trickle out at the various conventions in the 2002 season, with many high-profile licenses being announced late in the year. One interesting trend that managed to grow in 2002 was the number of licensing announcements that were also co-production type agreements. Many of the big boys announced exclusive licensing with Japanese distributors, as well as announcing deals about providing money to help produce new Anime.


ADV really threw its weight around, managing to acquire over 20 titles. True, many of them were simply options on existing properties, but quite a few of them were also co-production deals. Some of the big titles ADV managed to grab in 2002: Full Metal Panic! from Gonzo, Noir (which was rumored at the beginning of the year thanks to a mis-announcement in 2001), Jing: King of Bandits, Rune Soldier and Kolaida. ADV continues to crank out the most titles possible each month with a healthy concentration on getting their catalog titles out. As the back catalog nears finishing, fans can hope that ADV will be able to bring out many of the titles they licensed much sooner than their standard timeframe. Noir, Full Metal Panic! and Rune Soldier seem to have taken on a high priority for ADV as they will actually appear early in 2003.


In 2002, Bandai picked up quite a few licenses, sticking with many familiar genres. Most surprises from the licenses came not in the form of the licenses, but how quickly Bandai moved to get them released in North America. Following quickly on the heels of the final volume of Love Hina was the Holiday special that, along with the spring special was announced during the summer of 2002. Argent Soma, announced in July is expected to hit the shelves in February 2003. Another big acquisition for Bandai in 2002 was .hack//SIGN. Bandai is going all out with this with a special edition release planned for each of the six volumes, as well as a video game tie-in. Bandai also moved into the production realm by co-producing with Cartoon Network the upcoming Big O 2 series.


CPM's biggest announcement for 2002 blew the socks off of everyone. At Anime Expo, CPM proudly announced plans to release DNA^2. Up to this point, Internet rumors had firmly placed DNA^2 unavailable thanks to the destruction of the original masters. CPM spent the next few months explaining that the rumor was simply that. Other titles announced by CPM include Alien 9, about school girls that chase aliens on their campus and Nekojiro-so, described as Felix the cat on crack.


FUNimation proved in 2002 to be the little company that could. At the beginning of the year, FUNimation announced the acquisition of Fruits Basket. This show, completely out of character for everything else they had done up to this point shocked everyone. Later in the year, just to surprise everyone, FUNimation announced the acquisition of Tenchi Muyo GXP. Everyone felt that GXP was sure to fall into Pioneer's hands, so it was quite a shock to hear otherwise. To end things on a high note, FUNimation also picked up One Piece. With its large collection of episodes, this series should fit in nicely as a replacement series for Dragon Ball (Original, Z and GT) as it winds down in production.

Media Blasters

Media Blasters kept busy in 2002 with announcements of éX-Driver, Cosmowarrior Zero and Sadamitsu. Add to that quite a few other series announced throughout the year which will keep Media Blasters happily chugging along.


TOKYOPOP continued to tease everyone with its Initial D license and managed to keep busy picking up nearly all the Manga titles they could get their hands on. While they announced quite a few Anime titles through the year, it felt like TOKYOPOP was busier picking up Manga titles. Anime announcements for 2002 included Brigadoon and the Marmalade Boy movie.


Proving to be small in words, big in action, Pioneer teased many an audience with its trailer tapes at conventions. Pioneer picked up quite a few licenses in 2002 and already early in 2003 many of these are seeing their releases. Picking up quite a few recent titles like Mahoromatic and Chobits, Pioneer even delved a bit into the past by picking up the Lupin III TV series. Pioneer also picked up the latest Patlabor movie, announcing its acquisition an hour after Manga had just announced they were pursuing that license.


Manga is a company that continues to amaze everyone. 2002 seemed to be a year of recovery for them after quite a few bad releases with some major licenses. Early in 2002, Manga announced popular titles such as Read or Die and Kaidohmaru. Unfortunately, expectations on the quality of these releases are low, and 2003 has already seen quite a bit of conflicting information coming from Manga on how these titles will be released.

While Viz's big concentration for 2002 was the release of Inu-Yasha and the publication of Shonen Jump, they still managed to sneak in a few decent licenses for the year. Project ARMS, Trouble Chocolate and Hamtaro managed to get a bit of attention, especially with how quickly they made it to market. Viz also managed to snag a few Manga titles, with most going to help boost the marketability of Shonen Jump.

Urban Vision

2002 proved to be a quiet year for Urban Vision. With the success of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, UV decided to become more involved with the production of new Anime. Their big focus for 2002 was the Ninja Scroll TV series set to debut in 2003.

Disney/DreamWorks and Columbia/Tristar

Disney, DreamWorks and Columbia/Tristar made a huge impact in the Anime world in 2002 by picking up 3 of the biggest Anime movies from Japan. Many of course hoped that these 3 would help elevate the world of Anime to the mass market, but as of yet, Spirited Away, Millennium Actress and Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door have yet to go beyond a limited release. All 3 are expected to be released on DVD in 2003.

Things moved quite steadily in 2002 as many companies picked up a lot of very recent material from Japan. 2002 also proved to be the year of changing views in many companies. Where it was always expected that companies such as Pioneer and Bandai would be investing in new series, companies such as ADV and Urban Vision also showed their willingness to get in the production game. With the changes in the Japanese market, expect this trend of partnerships and direct production to continue into 2003.

2002 showed just how competitive the licensing game can be. With new series appearing all the time in Japan, 2003 will prove to be just as competitive. In 2003, expect more series to become hot properties as magazines such as RGA (Raijin Comics' news insert) and New-type USA continue to bring more up-to-date news to North America. With fans getting more direct exposure to the newest series, the companies here will have to be even more aggressive to beat their competition to those licenses.

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