Order In, and Received

Despite my need to restrict animé purchases for the next few months, as mentioned here, I broke down last week and ordered Haibane Renmei and a Witchblade DVD (to qualify for super-saver shipping), because Steven pointed out that it was probably now or never.

Well, that was Friday, and yesterday, it arrived, thanks to Robert’s usual efficiency. I haven’t cracked the box open yet though, because I’m still recovering from my illness; in fact, I slept from 7 pm last night to 6 am this morning. That’s very abnormal for me.

Anyway, you can see why I freaked over ADV’s troubles; that would give me a second studio I’d need to snag things from while they were available. At least, with Geneon, most of it, I wasn’t interested in. Of his recommended list:

Green = have all released
Blue = have all I want
Red = might want
Gray = don’t care.
Black = Wasted my money.

Ah! My Goddess: The Movie
Card Captor Sakura (all titles)
Haibane Renmei!!!
Hanaukyo Maid Team: La Verite
Serial Experiments Lain
Someday’s Dreamers
Sugar: A Little Snow Fairy (TV & summer special)
Vandread and Vandread: The Second Stage

Then of the rest:

Maybe, for some people:
Ai Yori Aoshi
Battle Athletes OVA
Bottle Fairy
El Hazard – The Magnificent World (OVA)
Hand Maid May
Shakugan no Shana
Strawberry Marshmallow
Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki
The Adventures of Mini-Goddess

Not Recommended:
Battle Athletes Victory
Daphne in the Brilliant Blue
El Hazard (anything except the first OVA)
Gate Keepers
Girls Bravo
Ikki Tousen
R.O.D The TV
Sakura Wars: The Movie
Sol Bianca: The Legacy
Tenjho Tenge

Additionally, I think Steven missed a couple of series:
Black Lagoon
Black Lagoon 2nd Barrage (canceled)
Ah! My Goddess (first season)

Notice something? There’s only four reds actually produced now that I’ve got Haibane, and frankly, only BL 2nd Barrage (which was canceled) is above a vague “maybe.” (Yes AMG: The Movie is red, even though the series is black; I’m being generous there. It tells a story; the series just about doesn’t.) There are five greens or blues, although HR is in that group, so it should be four, for now. There’s no less than five series that I purchased all or part of, and consider that money wasted. Until HR is watched and graded, over 50% of the Geneon titles I purchased represent wasted time and money. (For the record, only Shana was previously acquired as a fansub.)

Folks, pleasing your customer less than half the time is not a recipie for staying in business. And that isn’t merely “failure to please” it’s “actively displeased at wasting my money on their product.” This may be support for Steven’s speculation here:

In comments, Toren asks why the R1 anime market is in trouble. Obviously there is no single reason why, but one of the big reasons is that it is a victim of its own success. In the late 1990’s, there were only a few houses doing R1 releases, and they didn’t have very much capacity. So they had to pick and choose which titles to license and release and they largely picked the best ones from Japan.

But now the industry is bigger. Or at least it was as of about 2006. Lots of houses, multiple production pipelines in some of the bigger ones. Far more titles being released, and that means they’re dipping further down into the Japanese bucket. Greater release volume means lower average product quality.

Oh, the technical quality has never been better. But I mean the entertainment value: the “I’m really glad I watched that” value. It’s pretty much a statistical necessity: as a larger percentage of new Japanese titles get licensed and released in R1, a greater percentage of stinkers come through.

Which means that old time buyers like me find that a greater percentage of their purchases are disappointing, and new buyers who pick titles at random are more like to get something lousy, which dissuades them from trying again. Thus the same paradox: too much product is driving customers away, leading to lower total sales.

And then there’s the total mail-in on the subbed translation of Haruhi Suzumiya. One of the most eagerly awaited series of the last five years, and it was crapped on with a hugely sub-par effort. Granted, Geneon wasn’t responsible. No, it’s Bandai’s fault, they of the $40 one-episode DVD for Shigofumi and True Tears.

This takes cluelessness unprecedented levels, and I can only imagine the size (and expense) of the cluebat about to be administered to Bandai. Let’s look at this another way:

Number of American series I’ve bought on DVD: 0
Number of animé series I’ve bought on DVD: not certain, about 155 DVD’s total.

Now consider:
House, Season One: $41.99, running time 972 minutes. 4.32 cents per minute.
Black Lagoon, Vol 1: $26.99, running time 100 minutes 26.99 cents per minute.

It’s over six times as expensive to purchase a slightly discounted animé DVD per minute of entertainment. If True Tears or Shigofumi have running times of 25 minutes, their cost is $1.60 per minute for that $40 DVD. (Edit: My figures were off. It’s $40 for a six 2-episode DVDs, and $30 for a one-episode. That makes it $270 for the full series, @325 minutes, for 83.1 cents/min, about half of what I stated.)

Not. Going. To. Happen.

Now I know that subbing and dubbing adds $7-10k per episode, and this has to be made up from a smaller volume of sales — so the prices are going to be higher than for a domestic series. But even at the relative price point of 27 cents/min, Geneon, ADV, Bandai, et. al. cannot afford to import “dogs” even if we are willing to pay a premium for our hobby. At nearly 40 20 times the going rate for an American series, fansubs be damned: Bandai isn’t giving value for the consumer’s money, and they will go out of business if that’s their plan.

In fact, I worry that it is their plan — to self-justify retreating from the R1 market. This makes me wonder if ADV’s problem isn’t money, it’s that they’re trying to keep their Japanese partners from committing suicide through stupidity, and getting hammered for it. I don’t think that’s the case; it’s not the Japanese way to treat a business partner. But there’s obviously a fundamental disconnect between Japanese management views and R1 market conditions.

While I’ve gotten sidetracked by Bandai’s insanity, the gist of my argument is that I’m agreeing with Steven, but extending the argument a step further. Because of the additional expense and smaller market, we will never see animé DVD’s as cheap as domestic series. That is naturally going to result in choosier customers and higher piracy, which means that the import companies have to be careful; they have to pick the most marketable products to bring us. Not necessarily the best, unfortunately, but definitely the most profitable to them.

I was a lot more optimistic earlier this month, that the Japanese media companies might be open to radically revamping their business model to increase their sales (and stem the bleeding to fansubbers), but the rocky times for ADV and Bandai’s announcments have me concerned that Japanese management is only pretending to listen to their R1 import partners. Worse, they might have decided R1 is no longer a viable income source. In the latter case, we’re headed for some very rocky times indeed, before (or indeed, if) there is a recovery.

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