Sunday, January 8, 2012
Bandai Entertainment: What Happened, and What It Means For The Industry
If you are an anime fan, there's no doubt you've heard all the commotion about Bandai Entertainment, the subsidiary of Namco Bandai in the US. As of 01/02/2012, the company announced it will stop offering new DVDs, Blu Ray discs, and manga after February. Many releases are now being cancelled altogether, including Turn A Gundam, Gosick, and mangas for titles such as Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, and Tales of the Abyss. This is a major blow to both the anime industry in the US and the Eurpoean markets, but what caused it in the first place, and can businesses learn anything from this experience?
For now we'll start with the "why." You may be expecting something along of lines of "blah blah internet, blah blah piracy," but nothing could be further from the truth in this case. Namco Bandai Holdings made it no secret that they hated how its Western audiences wanted cheaper box-sets for their anime releases instead of expensive two-episodes-per-volume sets like they produce in Japan. Japan's Strategic Business Unit (SBU) were the ones that ultimately made the decision to pull the plug on their operations in the US, instead of trying to cater to the market demands. It appears that the single-volume release of the anime "K-On" was what ultimately called this decision. The release did well enough for the company to still profit from it, but looked bad on the scale of the market as a whole.
So, depressingly enough, this whole thing was caused simply due to the Japanese market refusing to change their business model and meet the demands of the Western market. It also doesn't help that the industry hasn't been the same since around five years ago when sales began to plummet. I used to lose count of all of the anime shows we got on TV through Toonami, Adult Swim, and other places. Now I can hand-count them and still have fingers left over.
The worst part about all of this is that there is simply nothing we can really do about it from our side, except put up with it and hope other companies will continue to help Bandai distribute some of their titles. I was collecting the Blu Rays for Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn, and was very unhappy to find out we wouldn't be getting volumes 5 and 6 in the states when they came out. Because the Blu Rays are being put out by Sunrise, the Blu Rays released in Japan will still contain the English dub and Japanese with English Sub options on them, as well as be region free (unlike the standard DVDs in Japan which are region 2 and only contain the Japanese version). While I do feel happy I'll still be able to collect the whole series (which is more than fans of some other series will be able to do), it is going to be a much more costly process than I was hoping, as the series is already expensive as it is, reaching over $50 per volume, while only containing about an hour's worth of footage. I would never normally spend such a large amount on such a release, but I have felt that Unicorn was worth it from the beginning. I suppose my feelings on that will be put to the test as these remaining two volumes arrive in the coming months.
The real question now is whether or not other companies will try to help Bandai release their titles. Ken Iyadomi of Bandai America stated in an interview that not only will they keep putting out all of their current releases until the licenses expire, but that they will also work with other group companies by "handling licensing and sub-licensing for digital, tv and merchandise for group company properties."
You can read the full interview here: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/bandai_downsizing_ken_iyadomi_interview
So, what do we take from all of this?
- Bandai will no longer release DVDs or Manga as of February
- Instead of trying to cater to the Western market, Japan completely pulled the plug altogether.
- Many DVD and Manga projects have been cancelled
- However, they will still hold on to the licenses they own and keep releasing those titles until they expire.
- Due to February being the close off date, we are still getting a few releases before that, such as the second half of Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 and the K-On Box set.
- This is a major blow to the American industry, and there is not much we can do to change it, since this was a decision on Japan's end.
- Piracy is NOT to cause for this situation
- All we can do is hope other companies try to pick up these titles or help Bandai release them.
And on that note, let's all hope for the best, anime fans. I'd expect Gundam to get picked up at the very least, but there are many more obscure titles that I'm worried about. I'd also very much prefer stream sites and digital downloads NOT become the norm for anime. It can always be an option, but I know too many fans who prefer physical copies as I do, who would never let things go in that direction. Once again, let's just meditate on this and keep going strong.