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Monday, October 8, 2012

Has the "Era of Old-School" Hit the R1 Anime Industry?

No doubt you've heard of the insanity that Discotek unleashed on anime fans by announcing that they've licensed both the original Cutey Honey TV series from 1973, as well the original Mazinger Z TV series from 1972-1974. Discotek has just been riding a crazy train of awesomeness by continually announcing cool old-school license after old-school license, plus some more recent fare every now & then, but Discotek is not the only company who has been reaching into the well & pulling out old-school anime. With these two new licenses I'm starting to wonder: Has the Region 1/North American anime industry hit a point where the old adage of "Old Anime Doesn't Sell" actually is being proven wrong?

Think about it for a second or two... While Discotek is certainly making their living on old-school, they aren't the only ones. Right Stuf, under their Nozomi label, recently announced that they will be releasing shojo classic The Rose of Versailles next year, no doubt because their previous releases of old-school favorite Dirty Pair has sold well, not to mention license rescues like Gasaraki & Nadesico. Sentai Filmworks dumbfounded many by licensing the Ghost Sweeper Mikami TV series that aired in the early 90s, but it apparently sold well enough to make "Mr. I Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny" David Williams state a couple of times at cons that Sentai was looking into doing the Mikami movie that Manga Entertainment released more than a decade ago (and also state that "old-school does not start at 2009"), not to mention that Sentai will be releasing the last set of Psychic Squad (a.k.a. Zettai Karen Children) next month, which is based on the manga made by Takashi Shiina, creator of GS Mikami. Anime Midstream has been beating the odds for the past three years & surviving solely on occasional releases of Matchless Raijin-Oh. Shout! Factory has listened to Transformers fans & released all three of the Takara/Toei-produced Transformers entries (The Headmasters, Super God Masterforce, & Victory), and recent Amazon & DVD Empire solicitations have revealed that S!F is trying their hands at 70s mech anime Daiku Maryu Gaiking by releasing the 2009-produced trio of compilation movies that William Winckler Productions made for Toei.

And then there's Discotek, who has already given fans all of Fist of the North Star TV, once thought impossible after Manga's original DVD release, proven that Lupin the 3rd can sell by releasing the Episode 0: First Contact special, the original TV series, & have The Secret of Mamo movie (with all four English dubs in tow!) and the Green vs. Red OVA in the works, with more Lupin in the future. And for next year Discotek is giving us the likes of Saint Seiya (Movies 1-4), Captain Harlock TV, Kyattou Ninden Teyandee (alongside the more beloved Samurai Pizza Cats dub adaptation), the previously-mentioned Cutey Honey & Mazinger Z, and a good number of license rescues (as well as some more recent fare, like Love Com & Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo).

Years ago, it was seemingly common knowledge that old-school fare was to be left to the wayside while more recent fare was to be the main focus of licensing. While that school of thought isn't gone exactly and is still the main focus, the past three years or so have seemingly made it known that old-school is not to be forgotten, but rather is to be cherished & celebrated. Companies have now made their existences, for the most part, on old-school and are becoming important fixtures in the anime industry here in North America. I guess the only thing left to say is, "Why?" Why has old-school seemingly become a sustainable business venture nowadays? Well I think there are three main reasons: Cost, Age, & Content.

When I say "cost" I mean a few things. First, ever since the anime industry's bubble burst back in 2006/2007 licensing costs have certainly gone down from their insane highs, and that has likely applied to older anime as well. Also, companies have realized that not every title needs a dub to sell, which lowers costs substantially since dubs easily cost more than any other part of DVD/BD production; FUNimation is, in fact, the only company that still dubs everything new they do, but even they have brought up the notion of doing sub-only releases on rare occasion at cons (most recently a few weeks ago at Anime Weekend Atlanta). Finally, license rescues are a very appealing thing to do, since they usually come with already-done subtitles from the last company that had it and some even have dubs to include, but this obviously only applies to license rescues. Still, the overall fact is that costs have gone down, and that makes something like an old-school anime less risky to do than it used to look.

When I say "age" I mean that a generational shift has happened. While not everyone who was into anime during the bubble days, which started roughly a decade ago at most, is still following the medium those that have weathered the rough post-bubble days, like myself, are now older. They are older fans who now have a larger disposable income than when they were younger, and with age comes understanding. When people are younger they mainly want to focus on what's new & "fresh", but when they get older they realize that what was once "new" to them is now "old", just like the titles of the previous generation; with that realization comes the appreciation & willingness to try older stuff out that they originally didn't want to when they were younger. They can follow the new stuff if it interests them but at the same time they realize that there's a whole other world out there for them check out.

Finally, when I say "content" I mean that the titles we get now aren't exactly the same stuff we got back then. Sure, some things will never change across time, but it's hard to say that most of the new anime we have been getting for the past couple of years is the same exact stuff that was being made thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. I'm not saying what's better or anything like that, but the fact remains that not everyone likes what is being made nowadays. So why force yourself to watch something that you don't enjoy when you can go back to the past and watch something that might fancy your attention more? Some fans are perfectly fine with what's being made, and that's fine... All the more power to them. But, at the same time, there is a void that exists and what was once a relatively small niche that was too risky to take a chance on has now become somewhat larger & less risky to try out. An era of anime fans have gotten older, and with that there is now a "new" (as in old) market to appeal to.

I, for one, am glad to see this upswing in old-school anime licensing. Even as a new fan of anime (i.e. when I was 18-21), I quickly found an appeal in watching older anime and I was more than happy to buy some older anime releases. But when I realized that I wanted to help support the anime industry that exists in the country I call my home I started to feel a little hesitant at buying these out-of-print/OOP releases, because while it let me watch a show in a more legal form it also didn't put any money into the companies that once released these titles; buying those OOP releases were simply helping the people who were selling them. But with license rescues a title gets a second (or, on rare occasion, third) chance at making money, and with licenses like GS Mikami, Mazinger, & Raijin-Oh you actually get a chance to watch these shows with complete subtitles for the very first time. It's become an exciting time for the anime industry here in North America, and I can't wait to find out what might come next.

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