American Anime

ADV’s Mutineer’s Moon project (adapted from the David Weber novels) isn’t dead yet.

This is from an interview of ADV’s John Ledford, which can be read here:

ANN: Right now ADV’s picking up a lot, but, right before the market went to hell, ADV had also expanded a lot, possibly at the absolute worst time.

JL: Yes, expansion right before one of your biggest customers falls through the hole (Musicland/Suncoast).

ANN: So a couple of departments were …

JL: Hiatused.

ANN: Hiatused. Now that ADV’s really moving forward, what are we going to see from those departments? (Manga, Merchandise, ADV Pro, etc…)

JL: ADV Pro has been re-activated, so the projects it had under its wing, specifically Mutineer’s Moon, are still proceeding.

I didn’t see how it could be left in the trash bin, as it was apparently about 75-80% complete, but honestly, I expected it to end up being sold off to some other company and developed by a whole new team. I wasn’t aware ADV was “moving forward” again. I figured they were slowly strangling on their effort to run The Animé Network. (As an aside, would I be correct in assuming that ADV is the only serious importer that is not owned by or closely associated with one of the Big Five Four media companies?)

I have been waiting for years to see this series, and I hope it is really and truly on the way again. The fact that the website is still fubared does not give me great hope however. Sounds like to me they’re just stirring the ashes and calling it progress.

Update: Should have looked at the interview before asking stupid questions.

This was preceded by the Sojitz deal, where Sojitz Corporation invested in A.D. Vision. How much does Sojitz have to do with ADV’s rebound?

Sojitz is one of the big key factors. Having done the deal with Sojitz has really enabled the company to move a lot faster than we could ever have done with a non-Japanese partner. The typical American investor would not be nearly as good as having a neutral Japanese party. There were some publishing companies, some other animation studios, [and] general people that were interested in investing in ADV on the Japan side, but I felt that the trading companies were the best overall because they’re like Switzerland; they’re very neutral.

Eeeeenteresting. This definately puts a different slant on things; now they’ll have the money to do what they need to do, as well as better contacts on the Japanese side.

Update 2: VERY facinating interview. Check this out:

Do you think we’re going to actually see same day-and-date regularly, or is that just unreasonable?

I’m going to choose my words really carefully here, so don’t read too much into this and don’t misinterpret this. Because of the proliferation of online illegal file transfers and downloads and whatnot (a lot of the content broadcast in Japan is subtitled and propagated over the internet within 24 hours), license fees are dropping for the Japanese, which means production quality and production budget will be affected in the long term. Because the Japanese companies generally look to the Americas for 20 to 40 percent of their budget, if that budget is not there anymore, they can’t sustain quality and scope of production. So in order to fix or help or kind of mend the problem, some of the companies we’ve talked to are discussing releasing the Japanese version on TV with an American near simultaneous broadcast, in English, subtitled or dubbed. But only broadcast. And that’s all I’m going to say.

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9 Responses to American Anime

  1. Mob says:

    Oh wow. That last part is VERY interesting. For the record, I would pay a premium for a cable channel or VOD section filled with near-simultaneous broadcast shows.

    Also, I expect this will change the American licensing strategy a great deal. I would imagine American companies use fansub popularity of a series as a large part (and Japanese popularity as a somewhat smaller, but still sizable, part) of their licensing decisions. Having both of those inputs eliminated during the licensing discussions will be world-changing.

    I wonder if broadcast licensing will become separated from DVD licensing in the future.

    Hopefully, at the very least, it would speed up DVD releases stateside.

    I’m going to go read the whole thing now. Thanks for the tip.

  2. AvatarADV says:

    Should probably say ex_ADV here, heh. ;p

    The real problem with this strategy is that it’s functionally difficult to translate a show if you don’t know how it ends. Before you get started (or, at least, before you sign off on anything), you need to know more or less everything the show’s going to present you character-wise, plot-wise, etc. If one of the characters is going to turn out to be the other sex, it’s -really really- important to know that going in, for example. This means that the Japanese writers have to talk with the US translation staff even before the show goes into production, to keep both sides on the same page.

    The other problem is that, traditionally, the Japanese production is done to a just-in-time schedule. Each week’s animation is completed only a little before it’s actually due to air. But you can’t do that if you have to translate it and then dub it – that requires real, physical time, and because the US cares about animation details like mouth flaps vis-a-vis the dub, it’s not something that can be done until the animation is complete. You’d have to complete each episode at LEAST a couple of weeks early in order to sync the broadcast, and that’s assuming everything goes exactly to plan; in reality it’d be better to be at least two months ahead, if not to just do the whole damn show before any of it airs. This would be a big change in how the Japanese production companies operate. Sure, the US side is a big part of the budget, especially on shows where they’re co-producing instead of just translating, but is it big enough to throw that much leverage into it? I don’t really think it is.

    Mob, keep in mind that a lot of the time, licensing arrangments have been made before any episode of the show airs, or at least they’re in negotiation. And more and more often now, we’re seeing the Japanese companies want to hold on to the reins and just use the US translation companies as one more contractor, so to speak. In many ways this is bad – nobody can screw up an anime’s release like the Japanese, man – but there you go.

  3. Ubu Roi says:

    Hm. That last part doesn’t seem to bode well for ADV in the long run. Having a Japanese partner may be as much for survival in the face of that, as anything else.

  4. AvatarADV says:

    Right? Though in the long run, it’s unclear what’s going to happen.

    The track record of Japanese companies entering the US market directly has been, well… pretty damned poor lately. Pioneer opened up their US division way back in the day, early enough that I can’t really speak to their teething problems or lack of same (though it was a much different market in those days, huh?) Same for Viz. Bandai had some real stumbles. Synch Point flatlined. Toei made more or less every possible mistake and hasn’t straightened out yet.

    Theoretically the companies build up institutional knowledge and get better at dealing with the US market as time goes on. That certainly happened at BEI USA… but it doesn’t seem to have helped Bandai the parent company any, as they opened up Bandai Visual USA to do more or less -the exact same thing as their other US arm-, except badly. ;p

    Fact is, the US companies’ experience in dealing with the US market has plenty of value, so the smarter Japanese companies will hook up with those US companies and let them do their thing – micromanagement from Japan is not very likely to improve sales or the quality of a release. And there are other companies in the market that aren’t anime companies, strictly speaking, but that do a lot of the production work for other companies – Bang Zoom, Ocean, for example. So if the other US companies (ADV, Media Blasters) turn into a kind of hybrid clearing-house, well, that’s just a different way of structuring the contracts, trading possible market success for definite hire-work profits…

  5. Andrew F. says:

    Actually, I don’t believe any US anime companies are owned by Big Four companies. Let’s see…

    ADV is, as you mentioned, independent.

    Bandai Entertainment and Bandai Visual USA are obviously subsidiaries of Bandai Co. Ltd., nominally the world’s third-largest toy company.

    FUNimation was acquired by Navarre Corporation a year or two ago. Navarre is big enough to be traded on the NYSE, but not huge.

    Pioneer became Geneon when the electronics giant sold off its media division to advertising powerhouse Dentsu a few years back.

    Manga is a subsidiary of Starz Media. Again, big but not huge.

    Media Blasters is an independent company IIRC, but I can’t double-check because their abominable Flash website isn’t working for me.

    Right Stuf is independent.

    Viz is co-owned by Japanese publishing behemoths Shueisha and Shogakukan.

    I think that covers all the big anime companies; all the others are small (AN Entertainment), bankrupt (Central Park Media), or not anime-centric (Tokyopop). So while much of the American industry is controlled by media giants, they’re Japanese media giants, not Western ones.

  6. Ubu Roi says:

    Yeah, but how many of them are part of Sony/BMG when you go digging? That’s what I’m getting at. If you look at the companies putting out music, TV, and movies (and most of the magazines) in the U.S., there’s the Big Four, and then there’s everyone else. It might be 3-5 layers deep, but you’d be shocked to discover just how few people actually own/control our media.

    Which my point wasn’t conspiricy theories, it was that ADV didn’t have the deep pockets to sustain/grow a major cable network (especially if animé on American cable gets “balkanized” by studio) if they had to bid for cable broadcast and DVD rights, and then try to add original programming on top of that, plus publish manga.

  7. AvatarADV says:

    Er… actually none of the US anime companies are connected with US entertainment companies. The independents were all more or less little startups that grew, and the Japanese-affiliated companies are more or less as Andrew F describes.

    Not enough profit in the business to attract that class of shark…

    Can’t really comment on the cable network stuff – gotta love NDAs. ;p

  8. Ubu Roi says:

    What about the Japanese companies, though? If we poke back through enough layers, how many of them are part of the Sony/BMG group? (Probably less than I thought at first.)

    Looking back, I may have overestimated the amount of consolidation across the entertainment industry, or rather, the reach of such into niche markets. I had assumed that, of the anime companies active in the US, ADV was the only one fully independant of one of the big entertainment cartels. Thus ADV would be trying to compete with its cable network as a very small David among some very big Goliaths. This would (in my thinking) suck up all the money available for licensing new series (for DVD’s) in order to keep the network in enough material.

    And indeed, after a good run, it seemed I was finding myself uninterested in most of their product, which just reinforced that idea. I’m thinking “B-grade quality, but in quantity” and “having to fight another animé network for market access and material to broadcast” and “collapse of the manga market and Sun Coast” added up to “death spiral” and “I’m not going to see Mutineer’s Moon for five or six more years.”

    However, that may just be me and my tastes misleading me. I’m not an industry expert, by any means. As for you AvatarExADV, well the NDA is a bit of an issue regarding commentary on that, isn’t it? :-)

    Anyway, if they’ve partnered with Solitz, they’ve found an infusion of cash and expertiese on the Japanese side that may make all the difference. I just wish Comcast would get off their butts and make an animé channel available in Houston.

  9. Andrew F. says:

    While you may have been mistaken about who owns who, your main point is a solid one. ADV doesn’t have the privileged relationship with Japanese licensors that Bandai, Geneon, and Viz have, and they have to fight to make up for it, hence the Sojitz deal. Other companies have dealt with this in different ways–Funimation and Manga can rely on deep-pocketed corporate parents to bankroll expensive new licenses, Media Blasters maintains a diverse portfolio of non-anime properties, and Right Stuf has their thriving retail operation. Companies which fail to compensate face stagnation or bankruptcy (I’m looking at you, Central Park Media).

    Food for thought next time you hear a big license announcement and think, “How the hell are they paying for that?”

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