Ima, kore ga hoshiin da! - The Best Stuff in Life is Free

by Allen Divers,

To truly know if you want something now, you usually have to have some exposure to the product. Without realizing it, many of you are probably followers of a "try before you buy" philosophy. Simply stated, before laying down the cash for the first DVD in a new Anime series, you want to know something about the series.

Often, the choice is made simple: the new item is created by a familiar set of creators whose previous work you enjoyed. As such, you'll probably buy it sight unseen, and more than likely enjoy it. Of course, for items that aren't immediately recognizable, you'll try to decide based on the flashy packaging and graphics on the front, as well as the summary on the back. If that doesn't grab your attention, you may hit the books, checking out the latest reviews on a web site or trade rag hoping the author writes well enough to give you a good idea whether or not you would like that series.

Of course, there are times when the best solution is simply the "try before you buy" idea. The problem is, there aren't too many places willing to let you "borrow" the item just to see if you like it. And depending on your location, renting the item may simply be out of the question. So what's a devoted Anime fan supposed to do? You can always go the route of forming an Anime club and signing up with a few companies that offer free screenings to such organizations.

"What?" you shout in surprise and excitement. Do companies actually send out free screeners of brand new series that are just hitting the shelves at the local video store? Yes, Virginia, there are a few companies that actually have established support teams to supply Anime clubs with their latest lines of stuff. Some companies are even pushing the envelope by providing screeners of series that haven't even hit their street dates yet. Ah, what more could the poor Anime fan want, than getting a preview of a series they would surely want to add to their collection.

It all seems too good to be true; surely there must be a catch? Well, yes, there are a few catches, and don't call me Shirley! First, to gain support from an Anime company, the club in question must really exist. Companies are usually looking for organizations with a high member count as well as those working within existing entities such as schools and local libraries. You can check my previous column on forming a club, to get an idea of what it takes to meet this first point. The second catch is companies often send out surveys to be completed by the club. Hoping to get an idea of how well particular products are doing, they use these surveys to help them plan out future marketing campaigns. Most companies put a few catches to encourage the return of the surveys by placing time limits on when they should be returned. While a bit tedious to take care of handing out the surveys, collecting them and then mailing them back in, the surveys benefit everyone by giving the company a good idea of what the fans are looking for.

Just to be clear, almost every company has rules governing the screening of their releases. Some even will provide screeners based on the sizes of the event and the expected crowd. As of right now though, there are only 2 companies with organized club support teams. This time around, I'm going to look at the 2 companies and what they offer. Next time, I'll let you in on the contact information for the rest of the companies with screening policies.

Bandai Entertainment – Anime Addict Program

Bandai has decided to hit fan support big with the creation of the Anime Addict program. Begun at the end of last year, the program is supporting small and large Anime clubs with a variety of perks featuring the latest Bandai titles. Every 4 to 6 weeks, Bandai sends out a goodie box with 2 – 3 DVDs featuring the latest and greatest series from Bandai. In the last few boxes, Bandai has begun pushing towards getting titles that haven't even hit the streets yet. As a recent press release from Bandai pointed out, the latest box sent to clubs contained Please! Teacher and Geneshaft, 2 titles slated for release in May.

Bandai goes one step further than simply providing some of their hot series to attract new members to club meetings. Usually in each box, club members can expect to find promo flyers for upcoming releases as well as a variety of giveaways that clubs can raffle off. To help even more, Bandai will be highlighting various organizations in future press releases. It really boils down to Bandai going out of their way to help a club build new interest and membership for the clubs that are a part of the program. For clubs, being involved in this program is a sure way to get free advertising that helps to draw in new members!

FUNimation – Operation Anime

Actually a program that dates to early 2002, FUNimation's Operation Anime has taken on new life after being reorganized. Following in a similar vein as Bandai's program, clubs can sign up on FUNimation's support site and see a list of DVD titles available for screening. The main difference here is it's up to the Club representative to request the titles available for screening. After requesting the title, Operation Anime sends the club a screener for their library, some coupons and a survey to be returned. The coupons allow club members to purchase the DVD they just watched at a discounted price on FUNimation's Z-Store. The survey, much like Bandai's, gauges the reaction of the club members to the screening and provides FUNimation with concentrated feedback.

With FUNimation's revised program just starting out, the title selection is actually based around some of FUNimation's established titles. For March and April, clubs can screen; Blue Gender vol. 1, Fruit's Basket vol. 1 and/or Yu Yu Hakusho: Rescue Yukina. While the titles have already been released, it gives exposure to these series that some Anime fans haven't had the chance to screen yet. In the future, expect FUNimation to do what they can to get advanced screeners out there, but clubs can rely on FUNimation offering up their most recent fare.

Anime clubs have been around for a long time, and companies have always gone out of their way to support them and the events the clubs plan. It really goes to show how serious companies are taking these organizations when 2 of the bigger companies create special programs to support clubs. If these 2 programs prove to be successful, you can expect to see more companies follow suit.

With companies helping Anime clubs to grow in membership, fans gain more opportunities to try out a larger variety of Anime. While we can't always afford our favorite hobby, we can at least pick and choose more wisely thanks to a larger amount of exposure to titles!

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