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2004 Year in Review
Theatrical Anime

by Sean Broestl,
As has become standard practice for the anime industry, 2004 had its fair share of attempts at pushing anime movies in theaters. As is also standard, no one is going to look back on 2004 and say it was the year anime films tore up the box office charts.

That's not to say it was without some interesting movement. No movies have yet topped the cash raked in by the first two Pokémon movies, though Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Movie managed to displace Pokémon 3's third place spot.

The big name title for 2004 in a lot of fans' minds was the theatrical release of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. The movie, directed by Mamoru Oshii and gleaned from Masamune Shirow's popular Ghost in the Shell manga had expectations running high. Running with a subtitled print only, Innocence ended up doing surprisingly well. The movie pulled in $1 million in box office sales and played in 55 theaters, displacing Cowboy Bebop's 9th place spot for sales and number of theaters.

Viz put the first Inuyasha movie in theaters too: Inuyasha: Affections Touching Across Time. Despite the show's popularity on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block, Inuyasha did not get a large-scale theater run. Rather, Viz opted to do free screenings of the movie in Baltimore, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, and Toronto.

Gundam F91 was announced for a theatrical release late in 2004. F91 made a limited theater run as part of Gundam's 25th anniversary celebration. One at The ImaginAsian in New York City, and a second at the Metreon Festival of Anime in San Francisco. Gundam fans outside these two cities have missed their chance to see the film on the big screen, but the DVD is already available.

Though first out of the gate for 2004, the one bringing up the rear is Columbia Tristar's theatrical release of Tokyo Godfathers. Satoshi Kon's third movie to appear in US theaters, it didn't do fantastically in the box office, but it did beat out his previous two movies, grossing $129,000.

The quest to make live-action versions of anime continued in 2004. Just before the end of the year, details from interviews with James Cameron finally revealed some of the plans he has for the rights to the property. Look for the first movie in 2007. It'll be a mix of CG and live-action. On the other hand, news about the big-budget live-action Evangelion movie has been practically nonexistent. One of the Director's Cut Eva DVDs contained some production sketches and an interview with Weta Workshop about the movie. No hard details have been heard since then, and that was in January.

Also from the ADV camp, the was the announcement of the formation of a dedicated theatrical division. So far, this division has mostly been releasing Korean live-action films to a limited number of theaters. There are some animated films coming from ADV's new branch in 2005, however; Look for My Beautiful Girl Mari and A Tree of Palme in early 2005.

Japan had a fairly successful year for anime films. Howl's Moving Castle, the latest Hayao Miyazaki film, already made $100 million before the end of 2004. The movie has broken a box office records in Japan, with the most successful movie opening in the country's history. Howl's Moving Castle actually made more in its first two weeks than Spirited Away did. Other big movies were a new Pocket Monsters movie with $34 million in sales, Detective Conan with $22 million. Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy did respectably enough, pulling in $8 million dollars and spending five weeks in the top 10. Steamboy and Howl's Moving Castle will make their way to North America in 2005.

There is still a striking disparity between how anime films do in Japan compared to North America. For example, Ghost in the Shell 2 did seven times as well in Japan as it did in theaters in North America. Anime films enjoy multiple weeks on the top 10 lists in Japan, while an anime movie is lucky to see a month in theatres here, never mind that even on a bad weekend, rarely is anime in the top 10 for box office sales.

2004 didn't end up being a very exciting year for anime films in North America. No real chart toppers, but if Ghost in the Shell 2 is any indication, we may see anime movies reaching more and more theaters. 2005 is shaping up to be much more exciting than '04 was, so keep watching those theater listings for the next anime movie near you.

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