2005 Year in Review
Anime

by Theron Martin, Jan 11th 2006
Throughout most of 2005 American anime fans continued to ride on the massive wave of licenses which occurred over the previous two years, but as 2005 comes to an end that wave may be fading. Increasing licensing fees, combined with an overall stagnating DVD market, have curtailed the explosive growth of the past few years and may well result in a significant decline in titles available in 2006. Oh, fans can be sure that most of the top-name, high-profile properties will still get licensed; it's almost unthinkable that Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid won't get picked up given the popularity of the previous two series, for instance. Lesser-known mainstream titles, niche titles other than hentai, and old titles that have been skipped over for years are likely to take a hit, however. Would Kekko Kamen and Weather Report Girl, two risqué OVA series dating back to the early '90s, ever see the light of day in America were the option to pick them up coming up now? It seems unlikely.

ADV stirred up one of the most noteworthy batches of dub controversy in 2005 by declaring that Ghost Stories, a series aimed at younger viewers which focuses on common tales of well-known (in Japan) ghosts in schools, had been rewritten in its English dub to be more of a comedy. Their justification was that the original writing was so mediocre that they decided to have a bit of fun with the production. Reactions in the fan community have varied widely; some have lauded the effort for turning the series into a very funny (and often very off-color) parody of itself, while those of a more purist bent have decried ADV for not respecting the artistic integrity of the show (even though a faithful sub version is also present). Some have even accused ADV of regressing on the years-long trend of becoming more faithful in the dubbing of anime and see it as a sign of things to come. ADV has also since given no indication of any plans to repeat the stunt, and their new recent dubs of some classic anime titles have been very faithful and respectful. Whatever one might think about what has been done here, though, it's undeniable that this gimmick will probably result in much greater sales for the series than it would have otherwise had.

Trends

Rereleases have not been unusual for American anime companies in recent years, but 2005 has seen the biggest boom yet. It seems like every series of any significance is getting some form of rerelease within a year of its completion, whether it's in boxed sets, thinpacks, Signature Series reprints, Platinum Editions, redubs, or whatever. There have also been instances of companies picking up titles for rerelease that were originally licensed by other companies, as FUNimation has done with Slayers. The newest format is the double-volume rerelease, where two volumes of an original release are packaged together for the same price as a single volume (or cheaper). Though ADV was the only company using this gimmick for most of the year (Bandai has had double-volume releases, but they cost more than a regular release), FUNimation has apparently caught on to the idea's potential, as it began releasing both Kiddy Grade and Tenchi Muyo GXP in double-volume rereleases in late November. Companies have also gradually started rereleasing popular past titles into the new UMD format, and doing the same with new titles may not be far off.

The healthiness of this intense influx of rereleases is a matter for debate. Unless some form of redubbing, restoration, or relicensing is involved, rereleases are very economical for companies to make since they already have the licensing fees and other up-front production costs out of the way, so a rerelease that sells even in mediocre numbers at a reduced price will still generate a high profit rate per unit. The reduced prices also make them attractive to fans who are patient or who get into a series well after its initial release, so they would seem to be a win-win situation for companies and fans alike. Concerns have been raised in some quarters, though, that the likelihood that a title will eventually get cheaply rereleased may discourage fans from purchasing first-run copies of the series, which could be calamitous for an American anime importer since returns from first-run sales are primarily what pay for licensing fees and other major up-front costs. I do not foresee this becoming a major problem, since the impatience and must-be-on-the-cutting-edge factors will still pull many diehard anime fans out to buy their favorite anime titles on or shortly after their initial releases. It's not unreasonable that it could eventually have at least some impact on title licensing, however.

The year's other distinct trend is the growth of options for fans wishing to gain greater access to anime on TV. Traditional options like Cartoon Network, Encore Action channel, and G4/Tech TV's Anime Unleashed programming block are still available, and other channels, including IFC, have announced plans to air limited amounts of anime in the near future. Some lucky souls also have cable systems which carry ADV's linear Anime Network channel and/or IATV, a new channel which carries substantial anime programming amongst its all-Asian titles (some of which aren't otherwise available in the U.S.). Cable companies and other American anime companies have been busy developing other all-anime channels and/or Asian-focused channels with significant anime programming blocks, but none of these have progressed beyond the planning stages as of the time of this writing. The biggest developments on this front have been Anime Network's decision to air a limited amount of subtitled anime and the growth of On Demand programming available to digital cable and satellite customers. ADV and Adult Swim have had options available via On Demand for some time now, and Anime Selects has more recently gotten into the game with a catalog of CPM titles. Other companies are said to be researching the idea of offering On Demand programming, while ADV is said to be restructuring its On Demand set-up to push some of it into the pay-per-view realm. Only time will tell how successful that venture is going to be.

One attempt at making a new trend in 2005 which did not survive was ADV's plan to market its hot, very graphic series Gantz as monthly two-episode releases offered at a reduced price, a practice which would have put it more in line with the original Japanese DVD releases. After releasing the first season in this format, ADV announced that they'd be switching back to the more typical bimonthly 3-to-5-episode format currently used for most non-hentai series for the second season of Gantz. Another trend which ADV began this year that does seem to have become solidly-entrenched is their practice of putting “Next Volume” previews on their DVD releases which are set to play automatically after the end of the last episode. The number of companies and titles offering humorous alternate dialogue outtakes among their extras has also substantially increased, continuing a trend that began in 2004.

One of the late developments in 2005 which could have a significant impact on anime fandom in the upcoming year is the advent of American anime importers making anime trailers – and in some cases even entire episodes – available online for viewing or downloading. It seems like a logical next step in advertising given that the anime fan community is more computer-savvy, on average, than most fan groups, but one also has to wonder if it isn't at least partly a response to recent fansub controversies.

Major Licenses and Releases

The year's biggest developments on the licensing front have undoubtedly been 4Kids' acquisition of the massively-popular (in Japan) family-oriented pirate show One Piece and Viz/ShoPro Entertainment's acquisition of fan-favorite Naruto, both of which began airing on Cartoon Network in the fall. Nearly as big a story in the fan community has been the strong negative reaction to the English dub and localization of One Piece, with many fans lamenting that 4Kids has butchered the title in its efforts to make it more accessible to a wider audience. Contrarily, Naruto's English dub has received a far more positive (or at least less negative) reception outside of fanatical Naruto fan circles due to its better dub quality and minimal editing. Many have looked to Naruto as the potential “gateway” title of the mid-2000s, following the tradition set down by Robotech, Akira, Dragon Ball Z, and Cowboy Bebop in earlier eras, and its success so far on CN seems to suggest that it might fill that role quite capably.

Among other popular titles, the first season of the Ah! My Goddess TV series not only got snapped up quickly by Media Blasters but practically set a speed record for turn-around time, as its first volume was released in the States a mere seven months after the episodes on it aired on Japanese TV. Genshiken, which became a hot property in fan circles because of its loving portrayal of fandom, was also picked up and later released by Media Blasters. Not to be outdone, Geneon licensed and began the release of Gankutsuou, Gonzo Studio's much-lauded, heavily-stylized reimagining of the classic novel Count of Monte Cristo, which apparently inspired other companies to dig up and release older anime versions of other classic Western novels like The Little Prince and Moby Dick. ADV went down the historical route by producing and releasing the first faithful dub of Gatchaman and producing a new and faithful dub of Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which just missed coming out by the end of 2005. ADV also did the same with a few older titles, such as Sakura Diaries, which now has an accurate and faithful dub for its unedited version. Other old standbys which have not previously been available on DVD, such as OVA volumes and later TV episodes of Urusei Yatsura, also finally made it into the American market.

2005 was a significant year for anime movies in America, with several much-anticipated projects making their way across the Pacific. The early part of the year saw the debuts of the new CG version of Masamune Shirow's Appleseed, Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy, and A Tree of Palme, while Miyazaki's newest, Howl's Moving Castle, found its way over here later in the spring; all saw at least limited theatrical releases. The summer saw Place Promised in Our Earlier Days, the first full-length project by Makoto Shinkai (who made waves in 2002 with his beloved short Voices of a Distant Star), while at the end of summer the third Inuyasha movie, Sword of an Honorable Ruler, made its appearance. Older Miyazaki films also finally became available on DVD earlier this year, with the classic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind seeing its first DVD release and Porco Rosso seeing its first official American release, both thanks to Disney. Another notable early '90s anime movie, Pom Poko, also made its first American appearance, in addition to a handful of series-recap movies.

2005 also saw the release of several prominent previously-licensed series, among them the much-anticipated Samurai Champloo and the second seasons of Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Hot, ultraviolent series Gantz and Elfen Lied also saw their debuts, as did the popular Madlax, Tenjho Tenge, Planetes, Gunslinger Girl, and Fullmetal Panic? Fumoffu series, just to name a few. The long-awaited third Tenchi Muyo! OVA series also debuted in the summer (although there is yet to be any word on when the second volume might arrive). There's also Princess Tutu, the very different magical girl series whose first volume appeared in January but, due to various production problems, did not see a second volume until November.

And of course there's IGPX, the anime series made specifically for Cartoon Network, which debuted in November. Hollywood talent (Haley Joel Osment, Lance Henriksen, and Michelle Rodriguez being the most prominent) joined traditional BANG ZOOM! vocal talent on the dub, making it an even bigger event. It isn't the first time CN has commissioned an anime title (Big O 2, anyone?), and given the sharp production values it hopefully it won't be the last.

In Conclusion

Does 2005 count as a banner year for anime in America? Cartoon Network certainly made some bold moves in what it would show (and how unedited it would show it) and cable TV options for viewing anime are better than ever and getting better still. Several long-awaited licenses and releases also finally came about and more anime movies than ever before have seen at least limited theatrical releases. Suggestions that the American anime industry may not be so healthy, and that increased licensing costs and other factors may decrease the variety of titles available in the future, have struck a sour note, however, as have increasing conflicts between companies and fansubbers.

Overall it's been a good year for anime in America but not a great one. Here's looking forward to another good year in 2006.

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