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2004 Year in Review
Stories to Watch in 2005

by Jonathan Mays,

The "Big Three" crush the competition

Last October in Cannes, France, three of the largest anime distributors in North America announced a partnership that may force the rest of the industry into a corner.

ADV Films, FUNimation Productions, and Geneon Entertainment issued a statement that the three companies are embarking on "a joint venture that will focus on developing high quality entertainment series primarily targeted to children and young adults, where the team can best maximize their respective resources, talent and expertise."

If their assertion that the three companies control 70% of the US home video market for anime is true, this partnership could spell trouble for Bandai, Central Park Media, and Media Blasters. Companies that were on nearly equal footing just a few months ago are now on the outside of the first major move to consolidate the anime industry.

But while some executives may be shaking in their boots, the picture is considerably brighter for anime fans. Pooling resources allows the three companies to market anime like never before, and if their partnership grows to include licensing, we may see them take more risks with elusive big-ticket shows like Naruto. Among the most interesting possibilities is a true "wide release" for an anime film in North America.

Live-action gets a shot

Live-action Japanese film and television is the final frontier for the anime industry. While Japan is riding a wave of nostalgia by adapting anime into live-action films (Casshern, Gigantor, Cutie Honey), North American licensors have been hesitant to bring them west. But there are signs that 2005 will mark a new dawn for live-action anime in America.

The Right Stuf International is testing the waters in March with their release of Boogiepop and Others, a strange and rather hokey spin on the animated thriller. If they are successful, expect other anime companies to experiment with live-action. In particular, ADV's live-action Evangelion movie may finally move beyond the conceptual art stage. And even if Boogiepop flops, live-action fans will still find hope in a quite unlikely place.

Hollywood is gearing up for the occasion by nabbing live-action licenses at every turn. DreamWorks will release Casshern in 2005, though this could be either the original film or an American remake. Whether Twentieth Century Fox is working on a Dragon Ball film depends on whom and when you ask. The Sci Fi Channel announced preliminary plans for a Witch Hunter Robin series last January. James Cameron finally seems serious about his Battle Angel Alita project. And rumors of live-action Akira, Lupin III, and Speed Racer adaptations refuse to fade away.

All of this ripens the anime market for its first live-action Asian television series. Only Media Blasters has confirmed their interest, but nobody has publicly denied their interest in live-action. Comments on specific titles are even harder to find, but Great Teacher Onizuka, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Hotman, and Winter Sonata are probably the most likely to appear stateside in '05. What happens from there is anybody's guess.

Digital Manga steps up to the plate

Few companies have been operating in the anime industry's shadows as well as Digital Manga. Just two years ago, DMI looked dead in the water after one of their investors, Broccoli International, took back its anime licensing (Synch-Point) and retail (OmochaBox, now Anime Gamers!) divisions. DMI's purchase of AnimeNewsService.com failed to bolster the company's established Japanese pop culture coverage through Akadot.com, and their perpetually-delayed English edition of Newtype magazine eventually moved under ADV's control.

But DMI quietly righted the ship. In July 2002, they helped DreamWorks negotiate a deal for their first anime film, Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress. Over the following 18 months, DMI worked with Dark Horse to release a number of popular manga titles, including Trigun, Hellsing, and Berserk.

In recent months, DMI has attracted more attention with their first solo manga releases: Worst and Ikebukuro West Gate Park. DMI has also found salvation in gay manga; several of DMI's yaoi titles placed in the top 20 graphic novels sold through Amazon.com in November 2004, including Desire, which ranked #2 overall. With new distribution deals through Diamond and Penguin, DMI is poised to knock heavyweights like Viz and TOKYOPOP from the manga podium in 2005.

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