MY VIEW ON THE STATE OF THE ANIME MARKET...I haven't said much lately about recent headlines and industry interviews more or less confirming what I've thought all along about the domestic anime industry: that it's the "Disco Stu Fallacy" to believe the popularity of anime would keep on growing at the same rate, and, sooner or later, the domestic market would hit the saturation point where pretty much all of the people who would be into anime if they were properly exposed to it would have been exposed to it in one form or another (besides the kiddy merchandising franchise stuff like Pokémon), and the market would either "plateau", diminish a bit as the trend followers who were into anime as a bandwagon thing move on to something else but the fandom would still be relatively-speaking a lot larger than it was at the beginning of the wave, or crash completely.
And, sure enough, the market is saturated, with some companies growing faster than the actual fanbase, flooding the shelves with too many titles for too few fans, and many of those titles are mediocre knockoffs of much better anime or are titles that only appeal to certain sub-niches of fans and don't sell well enough to cover the initial licensing costs and the overhead costs of dubbing, replication, distribution, and advertising, and now comes the inevitable "correction" as the industry scales itself back down to the actual size of the market. I'm someone who always took the middle of the road view that, although it is very fanboyish to want anime to stay "underground" (when anime hasn't even been "underground" for almost a decade now) as too many fans ruins the specialness of it all, anime will always be niche in the American market, as, if there was that much of a demand for "mature" animation beyond a very limited spectrum of primetime and late-night comedy shows, the American studios would respond to that audience with more than a couple of experiments a decade, all of which, like Titan A.E. and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, turn out to be expensive debacles, and, as such, I am not panicking about the future of anime in the North American market, as the audience that does exist for it isn't going anywhere, and, while I don't think anything will ever break through to the wider mainstream audience, either on the small screen or the big screen, there are shows coming up that will sustain the niche, like Naruto for the teens going through Dragonball Z withdrawl and Samurai Champloo, for the Pierre Bernard-types of the world who enjoyed Cowboy Bebop on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim (from what Jesse Betteridge shows me, I might actually enjoy Samurai Champloo more than Cowboy Bebop, as Bebop was largely a fun show, but the last couple of episodes are real downers, but Champloo stays upbeat throughout).
I *am* getting a little annoyed by some of the apocalyptic asshattery I am seeing on some anime forums where the "ANIME IS TAKING OVER, BOOYAH!" types who thought that we were only a year or two away from anime series being as popular on primetime television as Friends and anime films making as much money at the box office as Shrek 2, now that anime fandom has hit the "glass ceiling", seem to be predicting the end of anime fandom as we know it because the companies who tried to grow too big for their britches are now scaling back a bit. Look, I'm not saying your enthusiasm for anime was bad, but if you have an unrealistic view of the size of the potential market, of course you're going to be disappointed when you read articles that indicate that the wider mainstream audience just isn't there. Domestic anime distributors scaling back (and, probably, sooner or later, merging with each other) is a sign of a correction, not an implosion, which I don't think is about to happen. The companies still want to provide as wide a variety of titles as they can, but they aren't charity cases so they can't continue selling the sorts of shows that simply don't sell well enough to justify the overhead.
In short, I think the anime and manga bubble is deflating a bit, but I don't think it's going to burst completely.
On a tangent, the Kamikazecon anime convention was held over the weekend, where you could see J-pop singer Kumi Koda as well as "Jan" Scott Frazier, a western guy who is one of the few foreigners to make a name for himself in the industry (and he has a fancy new "vagina", just like Mr. Garrison). There were also studio representatives, some FUNimation guy that AnimeNewsNetwork.com wouldn't name, who says that 98% of the old Pioneer Tenchi Muyo dub cast will return for the dub for the third OVA series (as a subtitle fan, I'm mostly indifferent, but I'm hoping this means that there will never be any more bitching about it in the ANN forum), and ADV Films representatives Matt Greenfield and David Williams. Here's a few quotes from the ANN article:
"Greenfield talked about the future of ADV, specifically a new section of the ADV website which will offer "web exclusives," DVDs which will be sold online through ADV only, and will not be available through retail stores. "Web exclusive" items will be sold at a lower price, although there were no numbers mentioned. Greenfield explained that the current saturation of the market, along with the upcoming introduction of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, were in the process of bottlenecking the selection of titles that are able to be carried by retail stores, due to limited anime shelf-space. Titles slated for web exclusive sale include Princess Tutu, Pettite Princess Yucie, and Wedding Peach."
I'm kind of "meh" on this idea; when Bandai Entertainment first broke into the American anime market in 1998, they initially tried selling web-only through their AnimeVillage.com site, and that experiment was a profound failure for many different reasons, as people didn't want to pay "full price" for VHS when DVD was already beginning to take over in the anime market, and the cost of shipping was ridiculous, and those of us in Canada had to pay taxes and the cross-border "handling" fee to the postman (and they wouldn't ship to Quebec initially as they were under the delusion that packaging for all videos and DVDs sold in and to the province has to be bilingual, even stuff ordered from somewhere outside the province) and the vast majority of people would rather buy locally from a brick-and-mortar retailer or an online retailer like DeepDiscountDVD.com with discount prices and more reasonable shipping rates. Long story short, they quickly abandoned that experiment, and became one of the bigger successes in the domestic anime industry.
And I'm a big fan of the series Super Gals!, which is my favourite anime series from the past decade or so (no joke), but which ADV only ever licensed the first 26 episodes of as the other 26 episodes mysteriously have never been put on DVD, even in Japan. Should ADV ever be allowed to put the other half of Super Gals on DVD, and I hear it sold well enough for them to make an attempt to license the other 26 episodes (so I'm not faulting them for that), as most of the series that seem to be going website only are shoujo, I'm a bit fearful that Super Gals will also not be available in stores and, taking the exchange rate, shipping, taxes, and the border fee into account, I'll end up having to pay over $50 Canadian a volume for the show, like what we paid for anime in the bad old days. Plus, I don't have a credit card, so I'll have to send in money orders, which is another $5 right there. I'm hoping that, even if ADV doesn't sell certain shows through normal brick-and-mortar stores, at least we'll be able to order them through Canadian online retailers like DVD Box Office, so we at least don't have to pay the international shipping rates and border fees.
"Greenfield then went on to talk about The Anime Network, ADV's 24 hour network. He described video-on-demand as "the future," and that ADV's main focus was on the VOD version of TAN. The linear channel was introduced primarily because cable providers indicated that TAN had a better chance of being picked up if there was a linear channel to compliment the VOD portion. Greenfield cites carrier's limited bandwidth as the major reason TAN is not more widely available. He went on to announce that there were some new ways to deliver programming, that did not involve "paying 39.99 a month to watch," that TAN would be on the forefront of."
That's a very interesting admission about the linear version of The Anime Network, that they're downplaying it as something they created mainly to help convince digital cable and satellite carriers to carry the Video on Demand service. I don't know that much about the exact economics of Video-on-Demand, but, I suspect the overhead of running a VoD service is but a fraction of running a linear cable network as you don't have to fill a 24/7 schedule and the cable operators don't have to devote a whole linear channel space they could use for something less niche. I also suspect, as I said before, that ADV is bleeding money out the wahoo on the linear version of the network, and, if they're now treating it as something that is a lot less important than the VoD service, I'd almost be willing to bet money on the linear TAN being dead by the end of the year, possibly even in the next couple of months.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not fearful for the future of anime on American cable, but I think success lies with Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, and, to a lesser degree, and not with a full-fledged anime channel, as, by getting more anime shown on existing cable networks, the domestic distributors don't need to worry about the expensive overhead of running a cable channel, and they aren't splitting the audience with the people who like to watch the Fox reruns and the Adult Swim originals who would take chances on anime if it were shown on the same channel, but who wouldn't likely change the channel to an anime channel, even if they had the option.
"As expected, a large portion of questions revolved around the live-action version of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Greenfield confirmed that the project was very much alive, and they were currently in the process of finding a director. While naming no names, Greenfield did confirm that interest has been shown by several major directors, including one who has won an Oscar. He also mentioned that the probable location of the shoot would be New Zealand, the same country where WETA, the studio slated to create special effects for Evangelion, is located. When asked how soon the movie would be finished, Greenfield indicated it would be at least a year, most likely 3 or 4."
Ah, yes, the same non-news on the live-action Neon Genesis Evangelion film (lovingly nicknamed "LAEM", as in "live-action Evangelion movie) they've been repeating for a year, though they're strongly hinting that it's Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson that they're approaching. When they say he's expressing "interest", it's vague and could mean anything, from "Ooh, let's start of this immediately after I finish shooting the King Kong remake" to a more neutral "Hmm, could be interesting; show me the script when you have it ready". Anyway, I maintain my total skepticism that this thing will ever be made, as it's been almost two years since they initially announced it at Cannes and still no studio seems to be interested in funding it, as I think they rightfully believe that it would be too expensive a film for too niche a fanbase.
The one way I could see live-action Eva working is if they ditched WETA, got a less well-known special effects house, reduced the projected budget significantly, and proposed shooting it "on the cheap" in Vancouver. Then Lion's Gate Films might be interested.
By the way, since I said "Evangelion" and "skeptic", might as well link to the only chapter in my aborted attempt to write something meaningful about the series, on the long-defunct AnimeShowcase.com, preserved in perpetuity at the Internet Archive.