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Interview: Kazuyoshi Fukuba, Executive Director of Pony Canyon

by Zac Bertschy,

PONYCAN USA is the newly-minted US distribution arm of Pony Canyon, which has been in the Japanese media business since 1966. PONYCAN USA follows the example set by Aniplex of America, in that the company is releasing select titles themselves direct to consumer, rather than going through an American distributor like Funimation or Sentai Filmworks. PONYCAN USA's first two releases, the first volumes of Denki-Gai and Yuki Yuna Is a Hero, release on April 10th of this year. We had a chance to ask a few questions of Kazuyoshi Fukuda, Pony Canyon's executive director.

ANN: Tell us how PONYCAN USA came about. Why did you decide to get into R1 anime distribution now?

KAZUYOSHI FUKUBA: We began investigating the possibility of opening a North American branch around one year ago, but in the past, we've done exhibits and observations at anime conventions as well. The business of Japanese animation [in North America] declined once ten years ago, but we felt as if in the past few years the business has revitalized with a focus on streaming. Not just streaming, but things like figures and other merchandising are also gaining attention. We thought that we wanted to deliver the anime contents that we are making directly to the North American customers. That's the concept we decided on.

What about the market in the US was attractive to you?

The fact that there are fans [in America] that love Japanese animation just as much as- or possibly even more than- Japanese fans.

Did you take any cues from the existing players in the US Market, like Funimation or Aniplex of America?

We did actually get advice from Aniplex of America, and we exchanged information with the managers of Japan's Aniplex. I definitely think that was one of the triggers.

How did you select these two shows - Denki-Gai and Yuki Yuna - for your first releases? What about those shows stood out to you?

Denki-Gai is a comedy drama taking place at a manga store in Japan's Akihabara district. Akihabara can be called the heart of Japan's subculture sphere, so we thought that a look at the life of young people there would be interesting to North American fans, and that this is the work's special feature.

Yuki Yuna is an original story that develops through the symbolic icon of "magical girl," and we thought that the feeling of the world and the personalities of the characters were very prominent.

The MSRP on your releases - and the listed store price - are both much higher than normal US releases, such as those from Funimation. Aniplex of America took this route and there is a lot of fan complaining about the high price. Are you aware of those complaints? What would you say to fans who say your prices are too high?

We would like to bring high-quality animation that was produced in Japan to North American fans while keeping the quality intact as much as possible. We are having the Japanese production producer supervise the production of the American releases. This is quality that can be achieved because we are Pony Canyon. In addition, another beauty of our releases is the video, music, and other bonuses. For our release of Denki-Gai, the same music CD that came bundled with the Japanese release will be included, and customers that pre-ordered before February 28 will receive a key frame that was actually used in the anime as a present. These key frames are actually one-of-a-kind, and have a very high value.

Yuki Yuna will also come with a CD, and users who pre-order early will receive a reproduction of a key frame. This is a premium item that can only be obtained by a small number of fans, even in Japan, so I can assure fans that purchase our releases that they will be satisfied.

What sort of consumer are you reaching for with PONYCAN USA titles?

We want to gather fans who love the animation we produce. Of course we want people to appreciate the high-quality animation, but we also want them to love the story and characters. We want to deliver our works to fans who want to visit places that were settings in our anime, like Denki-Gai's Akihabara and Yuki Yuna's Shikoku region.

You're producing a dub for Yuki Yuna. Can you share with us who is producing that dub?

We asked Bang Zoom! Entertainment [to handle dubbing.] Bang Zoom! has handled the dubbing for many of the anime titles that our company has participated in producing, so we are expecting them to give even more charm to our works.

What sort of qualities does a show have to have in order for you to consider dubbing it into English?

The reason for English dubbing is to erase the stress of reading subtitles and to focus on the video. The quality of a work that is worth this is one that is rich with very high quality animation. In addition, it must have an entertainment value that crosses just throwing words around.

Moving forward, what kind of titles will PONYCAN USA look to release here in the US? Are there specific genres you're looking at?

From the beginning, Pony Canyon has been a company that produces animation without being particular about genre, so Ponycan USA will also produce titles without focusing on specific genres. Up until now, Pony Canyon has never produced a robot anime, so someday we'd love to release a robot anime in America.


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