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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Not-So-Rise & Absolute-Fail of Illumitoon Entertainment: Can Anything Be Salvaged?

Readers of this blog might remember me mentioning the name Illumitoon Entertainment a few times already, but something interesting happened to me today in relation to this company. After listening to some music from B't X Neo, which I will review one day, I was reminded that the license was still owned by Illumitoon, who at the beginning of this year changed the copyright listing on their website to 2011, indicating that they were indeed still alive. But today I went to their website for laughs and noticed that in place of the usual black background and pretty rough layout was a message that said this: "This Account Has Been Suspended". It's interesting to see this, as it means that there is a high chance that Illumitoon didn't pay to keep their site up and running, and that hopefully means that the company is either dead or very near to death.

Now normally the death of an anime company should be mourned, but in Illumitoon's case there is nothing to mourn. The company formed back in 2006 and was the brainchild of Barry Watson and others who helped create FUNimation back in the 90s. Illumitoon's goal was the be similar to that of 4Kids, where they would license anime that they would then get aired on television here in North America, but with the major difference being that Illumitoon was also going to offer uncut, dual-audio DVDs for the anime they licensed; it was an attempt to serve both markets. Overall that sounded like a fair idea: The mainstream audience get to watch these shows on TV while the core anime audience gets to own the shows uncut on DVD. Illumitoon also went big and hard with their license choices: Beet the Vandel Buster, which was made up of the original 52-episode TV series from 2004-2005 as well as the 25-episode Excellion sequel series from 2005-2006; B't X, which was made up of the 25-episode TV series from 1996 as well as the 14-episode Neo OVA sequel from 1997-1998; the 51-episode Get Ride! AM Driver TV series from 2004-2005; and finally the 76-episode Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo anime from 2003-2005 (which also aired on Cartoon Network's Toonami block from 2005-2007). Most new companies tend to start small with either a number of shorter series (i.e. OVAs or 12/13-episode TV series) or simply one larger title, but Illumitoon's shortest series had a total of 39 episodes (B't X) and the longest went for 77 episodes (Beet the Vandel Buster)!

If anything, that should have been the first indicator that the company was destined to fall. 2006 was the year that the anime bubble burst in North America and the industry went through a lot of big bumps and falls until about 2009, and here was Illumitoon coming in with four fairly long titles as their debut. Bobobo was already airing on TV and was aimed to be their biggest seller, but unfortunately none of the other three titles made it to TV. Still, Illumitoon decided to continue and keep their promise of delivering dual-audio DVDs, and then the bigger problem showed itself. The first release from Illumitoon was Beet the Vandel Buster Volume 1 in early 2007, and boy was it a horribly-done DVD release. The video encoding was bad, the opening and ending themes were cut out and replaced with original tracks (though the original sequences were viewable as extras... Which had even worse video encoding than the episodes themselves!).

The menus were also atrocious, there was word of some copies simply not working, and instead of traditional subtitles for the Japanese audio there were instead "dubtitles" (a.k.a using the English dub script as the subtitles, which never works that well), closed-captioned ones at that! It was a horrific DVD release that shouldn't have been seen in 2000, let alone 2007. While I only listened to a little of the dub I don't think it could have been horrible, considering that Illumitoon used a lot of the same people FUNimation used and still use to this day. Following that was Bobobo Volume 1, which not only had all of the same problems as Beet but added one more. Bobobo uses a lot of pop-culture references and visual gags, and in the Japanese audio a lot of it might have to be explained, not to mention the potential subbing of on-screen signs and gags that were important. Illumitoon had nothing of the sort, which made watching it in the original Japanese almost impossible to enjoy. B't X Volume 1 was the third release and wasn't any better.

To their credit, though, Illumitoon did start up a service where disappointed buyers could send in their DVDs and receive a fixed DVD that had proper subtitles, though whether the video encoding was fixed is unknown and Bobobo still had no supplementary subtitles. Apparently reprints of these DVDs also had the fixes, but fans were angered once again when they saw that their replacement copies were actually burn-on-demand DVD-Rs rather than properly-pressed discs. Illumitoon delayed the release of Beet Volume 2 while Bobobo Volume 2 came out with no delays, though this was before or during the replacement program so this release also had the same problems as the original three releases. Illumitoon would get one more release, B't X Volume 2, out before their distributor, Westlake Entertainment, dropped them. This left Illumitoon unable to release anything, and in October of 2007 Right Stuf announced that all future releases from Illumitoon would be discontinued.

This is the only shame in the end, since B't X Volume 2 actually wasn't a bad release, as the video encoding looked good, the original theme songs were kept intact for the Japanese audio (and the dub's ending theme was simply an instrumental version of the Japanese ending theme!), and there were actual subtitles instead of "dubtitles". Still, I call this a case of "Too Little, Too Late" and one good release wasn't going to help Illumitoon anyway. In just one year Illumitoon was in the same position as Central Park Media and Urban Vision, with nothing new coming out and no one talking. Hell, AM Driver never even got a DVD release at all!

Illumitoon would appear in the news one more time after the discontinuations. In 2008, they teamed up with The Anime Network and put B't X and the unreleased AM Driver on the channel's Video-On-Demand service. This allowed anime fans to watch beyond the two DVDs released for B't X and it allowed AM Driver to be made available in some form in North America. But even here Illumitoon screwed something up, as it was quickly shown that only the first 14 episodes of each show were made available on the service. At Otakon 2008 I asked Matt Greenfield about this during the ADV panel, and he replied that TAN was simply airing whatever Illumitoon had dubbed of these two shows... Yeah, Illumitoon never even finished the dubs they started! The funny yet annoying thing is that AM Driver has only gotten one episode fansubbed in the past, and via bootleg DVDs you can watch up to Episode 13, leaving Illumitoon's dub one episode beyond what most people would feasibly be able to watch with some sort of English translation. These two sets of 14 episodes would rotate in and out of TAN's VOD service until 2009, when they stopped appearing. This marks the last time Illumitoon had any involvement in the anime industry.

Since the TAN team up Illumitoon hasn't done or said anything, aside from updating the copyright listing on their website every year until this recent suspension. Hell, even though Corporation Wiki has a listing for Illumitoon that was last updated this past March, the telephone number it lists for the company isn't even in service anymore. When the website for the company has been suspended and the telephone number isn't in service, one naturally starts to think that the company isn't alive anymore. If that's the case then I say we need a mass license rescue here! Though your mileage can wildly vary with Bobobo, Illumitoon's licenses are all very solid titles. Beet the Vandel Buster is a cool throwback to a simpler time of shonen action and would definitely appeal to fans of DBZ (especially since the mangaka duo who created Beet were giant fans of DBZ and have a similar look), Get Ride! AM Driver is a cool mix of power suits and alien fighting that hits a surprising twist in its first 13 episodes, and I've already covered how good B't X is. There is no reason why these shows shouldn't be given an actual chance to shine, and it would be truly a shame to see them ignored due to Illumitoon's incompetence.
I say we should start contacting companies and make them know that there are still people who want to see these shows given proper releases! Try out whoever you want: Sentai Filmworks (B't X and AM Driver are probably still titles they have interest in), Media Blasters, Discotek Media, Bandai Entertainment... Hell, maybe even FUNimation might be interested in one of them. You never know until you try.


  1. Hey very well done article! I stumbled across it in my research on Illumitoon and thankfully you had already done everything! Nice job and I learned a lot! :)

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  3. Awesome! I agree, we should contact companies to show we care! Plus, I really want to meet the English voice actors for B't X (Eric Vale, Chuck Huber, Stephanie Young, etc.) not only to show them my knowledge, (I think they did a decent job in B't X.) but also to show that people care about B't X's North American release. (BTW, the Japanese op and ed theme songs were intact for Japanese audio on the B't X volume 1 copy I own.)