Thursday, 22 March 2012

Please, let me buy your products!

Anime companies of this world. This is an open letter to you.

You are making it impossible for me to give you money.

I don't mean that it is impossible for me to want to give you money; I have absolutely no complaints with the quality of anime being produced in Japan, nor of the subset of that which is picked up for overseas distribution. Anime is wonderful, and I love it very much.

I have plenty of money, and can pay in any currency, across any national border. I can speak to other fans about anime instantly over the Internet whether they are in Japan, the US or Australia, and read news articles originally written in every country where anime is watched. There have never been more ways to experience anime than there are today.

So won't you please help me continue to be able to buy anime?

Anime Fandom

In the UK, buyers of anime on DVD or Blu-ray fall largely into one of two groups.

In the first group are the established collectors. They know how much anime used to cost, and how much it costs overseas, and they're used to having to import when something isn't available in their region. This kind of collector probably spends more on anime on a monthly basis, on average, than the second type will spend in a year. There are also many members of this group who are not able to afford all of the anime they want to buy, so they save up for premium releases carefully. For them, quality is especially important, as they value the money they spend on their hobby and don't want to waste it on something substandard. They can often be found poring over technical reviews or posting on forums to ask about the quality of local releases, so they can make sure they spend their hard-earned money on the best version.

This is the category I come under, and it is for this kind of fan that I speak.

The second type of collector is usually younger and typically has less disposable income. This type of fan greatly outnumbers the former and can be found in large quantities at social anime events. They want to buy their favourite shows on DVD or Blu-ray, but don't want to pay much for them. Manga UK has pushed the industry in this country to exclusively target this type of fan, driving down the price of DVDs here until you can expect to purchase a single cour of a series for between £3 and £10. Movies are often available for less than £3 including shipping. Even relatively new titles are discounted aggressively to encourage this type of buyer:

At first glance, this trend is wonderful for customers; however it also introduces a few problems. Firstly, these prices are not sustainable for anything other than series which sell in large quantities. To ensure they make their money back, Manga UK can only distribute series which they think will be smash hits, which means waiting to see how the overseas versions sell before committing and dropping unsuccessful releases before they are finished. Secondly, they have trained customers into waiting for low prices before purchasing, which has also forced Manga UK's competitors to set lower pricing, devaluing the products everyone else is trying to sell too. Anime is cheaper here than it ever has been before, and yet you will frequently still find people complaining online that £15, £10 or £8 is too much for a complete series.

And thirdly, these budget-priced releases are extremely cheap, barebones sets with measurably lower quality than even their American equivalents. They are not attractive to the older, more selective type of fan who will know what they should be getting. The distributors provide no alternative; they are not able to provide a product for that demographic. The only company in the UK which experimented with premium releases in recent years has left the market.

Fortunately, the fans whose needs are not being addressed by the local anime companies have always had another option. They could buy authorised versions from overseas when there is no UK edition, or when the local version is of poor quality. The shipping fees and expensive importation tax laws have always made this more difficult than just buying locally, but fans who are passionate about a series have traditionally taken on these burdens without a complaint. We have achieved a natural equilibrium where the UK companies cater for one particular type of fan, and those whose needs aren't addressed fend for themselves.

We're paying for our anime from a legitimate distributor, and leaving the local industry's options open if they choose to try to court us with better releases in future. It shouldn't be any more of a problem than importing a book or a figurine, especially when the versions are so different to one another that it encourages choice. Curiously though, the anime industry does regard it as a problem and have been taking increasingly draconian steps to make it as difficult as possible for us to legally import their products.

It is genuinely difficult to buy anime sometimes, purely because of corporate politics which mean nothing to me as a hobbyist.

Aniplex USA

The incident which drove me to create this complaint was very recent. The powerful anime company Aniplex recently set up a US-based company, Aniplex USA, whose purpose was to create localised versions of popular titles and sell them to American fans in their own language. Aniplex USA's releases have been very successful, and they have built a reputation as a high quality, fan-orientated distributor.

Aniplex USA distribute their titles primarily through one online store, Right Stuf Inc. I have purchased almost every Aniplex USA title to date without a problem through Right Stuf. Even though it's expensive to import into the UK, and Aniplex USA's premium product prices attract expensive customs penalties with every delivery, I've been satisfied with the arrangement and looked forward to each new Aniplex USA announcement.

This is no longer the case.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the recent release of Puella Magi Madoka Magica volume one, which I purchased as a special edition for $74.98 plus international shipping fees plus customs penalties, I was expecting to purchase the next two volumes in the same way. Part of the appeal of collecting a limited edition series is, of course, to end up with a matching set. However, between the release date of volume one and volume two, someone has made a very poor decision. Visiting the Right Stuf product page for any Aniplex USA title now shows a warning message in bold:

In other words, the people who paid all of that money for four episodes of one of the biggest anime series in the last few years are being deliberately prevented from purchasing the rest. No announcements were made and no negotiation is possible. Aniplex USA simply no longer wish to allow the sale of any of their products to foreign customers.

Please note that no UK version of Puella Magi Madoka Magica exists, and even if one does in the future, it's unlikely to come in the same limited edition format, with soundtracks and bonus items. A similar situation exists in Germany and fans are equally incensed.

The same thing has happened to people who were collecting Blue Exorcist, another Aniplex USA title. Overnight, they have been barred from being able to purchase the final two volumes of this four volume series. Aniplex USA's entire catalogue of localised releases can no longer be shipped outside the US and Canada.

Just to be clear, I will end up purchasing the Aniplex USA version of the latter halves of both of these series. All that has been achieved is that I will not be purchasing them through the official channels, and money that would have been spent on other anime titles or merchandise will instead line the pockets of whichever lucky American citizen I find to order the titles on my behalf. I will not be forced to buy a local version from a local company I strongly dislike.

The most sinister thing about this incident is that it could become commonplace to block sales to other countries entirely. The larger distributors sell through a large number of stores, so finding one to purchase from is less challenging, but the smaller distributors can easily end up in a position where they successfully block exports entirely. Foreign sales make up a significant portion of revenue for niche titles, and niche titles are increasingly unlikely to ever make it to those foreign English-speaking shores any other way. In the UK in particular, it's very rare to have an anime released without an English dub accompanying it - only series which have very good sales potential will be given that chance - so titles which aren't dubbed for their US DVDs are exceptionally unlikely to see a UK edition.

Having thought about the situation, there seem to be five parties involved in the Aniplex USA mess who could share some responsibility for their treatment of UK fans.

Aniplex USA. Although blaming them would be simple and they were certainly responsible for actually demanding that Right Stuf apply the new restrictions, it will make Aniplex USA's sales figures look worse now they have lost foreign customers, and it's unlikely they want to turn our money down. I'm extremely disappointed in their actions, but there's probably not much they can do unless there's a crippling drop in revenue after abandoning us which can be used as leverage. It is also possible that Aniplex USA actually held the global English-language rights for all of their titles and have taken this action to make it easier to sublicense overseas in a misguided attempt to squeeze more money out of other English-speaking regions then they'd make selling direct. If that's the case, it is my dearest hope that their hard work ends in spectacular failure.

Aniplex Japan. Without a doubt, Aniplex's main Japanese arm is responsible for the underlying problem. Their unfairly restrictive contracts and their promises to licensors are most likely the reason that paying fans have been put in this unpleasant position, whether their instructions were carried out directly or by their US subsidiary.

Manga UK. The UK's main anime distributor expressed some interest in Puella Magi Madoka Magica in the past, though nothing has been formally announced yet. They also recently announced Blue Exorcist and will be making some more announcements at an event very soon. While nothing can be proven, the timing has led to some UK fans putting two and two together. Manga UK has a notorious reputation and it will be a real shame if UK fans are being prevented from getting the best release for these titles due to pressure on the licensors from our own local distributor. If Manga UK didn't request this restriction perhaps they could let the licensor know, as part of the negotiation process, that it is making them look extremely bad.

Madman Entertainment. The Australian company which holds the rights to Puella Magi Madoka Magica (to be released starting in April). Madman's planned release is very aggressively priced and comes with a different limited edition strategy to Aniplex USA's version, so there shouldn't be much danger of Australian fans importing from elsewhere. Still, as with Manga UK, the only reasonable motive for Aniplex USA's actions is to court distributors in rival English-speaking regions at the expense of their customers. It's a definite possibility that Madman were the ones who applied pressure.

Right Stuf. While it's very unlikely that Right Stuf themselves decided to do this, the fact that they are in a relatively powerful position as Aniplex USA's main distributor and they agreed to make a special rule to prevent fans from purchasing anime is worrying. I understand that they would want to keep their relationship with Aniplex USA pleasant, especially as they are a licensor themselves, but it doesn't prevent me from being very disappointed in them for having compromised their position. I had previously regarded Right Stuf as an independent retailer I could depend upon. As a long term supporter, I am also concerned for the future impact this may have on titles released through Right Stuf's own Nozomi anime label.

Not one of those five parties has chosen to stand up for UK fans, and if confronted each party can blame a different one and wash their hands of the situation, which leaves us with an invisible enemy to confront ourselves and no easy way to protest. American forum posters, upon seeing our frustration at issues such as this, generally advise that we should tackle the issue by setting up more anime companies here - but the UK market is tiny. Being able to fend for ourselves and buy our anime elsewhere is critical to being able to see most productions at all.

We deal with shipping costs, fluctuating exchange rates and import taxes every time we import. It's a nuisance, but it's always a small price to pay to be able to enjoy something special.

As far as I can tell, in the short term my best course of action is to avoid buying any releases whatsoever from the smaller English-speaking regions, and to continue to import from the US through third parties. The continued existence of these arbitrary regional borders is therefore actively dissuading me from supporting UK anime releases. All that the existence of these local UK companies has achieved here is to tempt Aniplex Japan into ordering these restrictions - or so it appears from where I stand.

I will also regrettably have to stop shopping at Right Stuf and switch my allegiance to less reputable exporters, who will bend the rules to get me the anime I want to pay for. Since I'll be spending more on the purchasing process from now on, I'll be purchasing fewer titles, but I'd rather do that than rely on the UK distributors alone. For the occasional premium import titles such as the high profile Fate/Zero, where the Japanese version also has English-language subtitles, I will switch to purchasing directly from Japan. It's no more expensive, and cuts Aniplex USA out of the transaction entirely.

Boycotting Aniplex Japan outright is not an option. I love anime, and letting them hurt me doesn't make enough of a point to anyone to be worth it. I have to just accept that however I choose to buy a series in future, Aniplex Japan will get a cut somewhere.

And I will express my frustration in words.

Contract lawyers do not care what fans want

The blame for all absurd licensing rules is always placed squarely at the feet of the Japanese licensors and their excessively restrictive contracts. It's the perfect defence because the UK fans will never be able to take the matter up with the Japanese companies company themselves, and it preys on our natural xenophobia. It's comforting to have a common enemy we can blame for all of our problems.

It's also silly.

Anime companies: if you're signing contracts which require unfair restrictions, which your customers will dislike, simply don't sign the contracts! The Japanese rights holders benefit from our version being inadequate to discourage Japanese fans from choosing cheaper foreign discs, and of course they will make requests, but it seems that our local companies always comply without proper consideration. I don't understand why a UK release might have locked subtitles and other intentional restrictions when an otherwise identical US product does not; are their distributors simply that much better at negotiating on behalf of anime fans than our local companies? The role of local distributors in the first place is to provide a product better suited to their market, so their unwillingness to negotiate on our behalf is a source of great disappointment.

And Japanese companies, if you're going to force the overseas version to be of inferior quality in order to protect sales of the more expensive Japanese version, which is completely understandable, please could you encourage us to import from you as well? It's plain that no matter how good your licensing deals with our local distributors are, you can make more money from foreigners importing than you do from them purchasing the local versions when they cost so little:

Paprika on DVD. UK version (top), Japanese version (centre) and Japanese special edition (bottom).

Even if the UK version is selling for a 100% profit, which is impossible, the potential profit margins on the Japanese and UK versions are worlds apart. To use the same example as above, since it's unthinkable that Manga UK will release Puella Magi Madoka Magica in this country at the same price level as the US version ($224.94), you're going to make more money from individual fans buying the US version than from a cheap release through Manga UK. And they'll get a better product, to boot, making them more likely to collect Aniplex releases in future. Everyone wins by allowing the hardened minority to keep importing.

If local anime companies want to win the importers back and get them buying domestic releases, all that is required is for them to understand what this demographic is looking for and then provide it. If they can't do that much, they lose nothing by letting this minority spend their money overseas instead. As long as the fans of cheap, low quality releases keep buying Manga UK's DVDs, they're happy too.

So what are the importers looking for from domestic releases? Local companies need to announce title acquisitions before fans have preordered them elsewhere, and produce products of the same quality as the imported versions to encourage fans to have faith in their local market and support it. Expecting us to purchase a local edition of a foreign product just because it was physically produced in our country does not make sense from a buyer's perspective. Especially if that local version is inferior to other editions.

For large titles (e.g. Shounen Jump anime), global distribution through cheaper local companies is extremely valuable so that the products can be pushed into lucrative sales channels and promoted. For specialist titles designed to appeal to unusual demographics and fastidious collectors, it's just an annoyance, often leading to low sales in each region due to spreading the market for the product too thinly across the anglosphere. UK distributors should stop licensing collector-orientated titles entirely unless they can provide something of value over the versions which already exist. It is fundamentally nonsensical to press thousands of discs here which exactly replicate discs already in existence overseas, with different logos on them. Especially if they don't sell.


We use the same Internet as the Americans, and we talk to them. They post screenshots, reviews, videos and information about what they are getting, in the same language we speak here. When a title is licensed for US release, we know about it, and when it is deliberately withheld from people in the UK, we know about that too.

We know exactly what we are missing out on.

Years ago, the entertainment industry could easily restrict individual releases to selected regions and it would be very difficult for fans to learn about what they were being blocked from, let alone to access it. Trips overseas were a treat, allowing us to glimpse treasures we'd never so much as heard of previously. Now, it only takes a quick Internet search to learn that we are being excluded.

In most entertainment industries, missing out on a product in one region is only a minor inconvenience. I can buy books, manga, American comics, audio CDs and most DVDs online for delivery right to my door, in a multitude of languages and from any country in the world.

But I can't do that with television. The Internet has given anime licensors the power to reach out across national borders and monetise their work in brand new markets, no longer restricted by the limitations of broadcast television. Why then, have what once were technological barriers changed into political barriers instead?

One high profile example of a failure to embrace the paying international community comes from Gundam AGE. It was reported that the series would be streaming overseas with subtitles in a variety of languages (including English). However, when I went to watch the stream just after the time it was due to air, I found that it was region locked so customers in countries such as the US and UK could not watch. No legal alternative was ever provided to fans in these regions. Gundam AGE simply does not exist for us.

I would probably enjoy Gundam AGE. I have purchased every single Gundam series which received an English-subtitled home video release somewhere in the world. But I'm not tempted to buy the expensive Japanese import edition of Gundam AGE blind when it has such mixed reviews and seems to be aimed at a much younger demographic than the one to which I belong. Perhaps if the stream had been made available worldwide, I'd be importing the Blu-ray release from Japan now instead of spending my money on other titles. This isn't an isolated case. There's nowhere I can legally watch Another, Brave 10 or One Piece in this country, yet Americans have access to all three. We can buy the untranslated Japanese releases as extremely expensive imports (a situation exacerbated by the current exchange rates between our currencies), but even then, in order to buy something as expensive as that we need companies to sell it to us. With a series based on an existing game or English-translated manga, I might be confident purchasing with absolutely no information about the project, but anime companies don't seem to want a potential customer overseas to know about Another, Brave 10 or One Piece. Those hundreds of pounds are therefore staying in my bank rather than going into the anime industry.

Compare this with Tiger & Bunny, a series which streamed to UK customers through Anime On Demand close to its Japanese release. It was an original anime project, and nobody knew at first how much of a success it would eventually become. I watched Tiger & Bunny on Anime On Demand, and then I bought the limited edition Blu-rays directly from Japan as each volume was released. The production company even took the trouble to include subtitles with the release, which is neither expected nor necessary, and I was extremely pleased with the high quality, beautiful product that they made. I paid for it twice over, with my Anime On Demand subscription and the physical discs, and I am proud to own all of Tiger & Bunny. It was worth every single penny spent.

I would like to see more effort being put into giving UK fans access to the same content that other English-speaking anime fans can stream. At the very least, I'd like us to be treated the same as the US. There is no use decrying drops in revenue but then cutting the UK fanbase off from access to the titles most of the Internet is excitedly talking about in our language, forcing us to live in a bizarre time warp where all of our upcoming releases are already old news in all of the online discussion communities. When the US had no access to streaming in the past, we were all in the same boat, but we now have a ridiculous situation where titles are readily available for streaming, in our language, but we aren't allowed to see them. We're grouped with Europe (despite being the only licensing region within Europe which uses English), and naturally most of the fractured anime industry across Europe has absolutely no interest in providing anime for us: why should they, when the UK is such a tiny market with a mess of unique, old-fashioned legal restrictions stifling progress?

If the problem is that UK rights are being bundled with other geographically close but linguistically distant regions such as mainland Europe, I would be grateful if licensors could consider revising their strategy and spend just a little time adjusting their future contracts. Streaming is naturally limited by language; someone who only speaks English gains little from an anime being streamed in Japanese with Spanish subtitles after all! And that's only if they allow us to view their version in the first place - wretchedly, even those of us who have studied other European languages usually find themselves barred from the European streaming portals as well by geographical IP lockouts. No matter how much money we have, or how well we educate ourselves to gain fluency in more languages, all we can see are dead ends.

Limiting anime licensing by arbitrary geographic borders as well doesn't seem to make any sense to anyone but optimistic financial forecasters in Japanese boardrooms. If an anime company in mainland Europe specifically wants to purchase UK distribution rights and use them, that's great, but if they don't, please stop giving those rights to them and blocking the companies who do provide for us from having access.

As a long term solution, if one region licenses a show, and English subtitles are produced for it, why not let all English speakers, wherever they are currently living, have access to it, even if no third party has bid for the streaming rights? I'm not asking that this be done for free - by all means, restrict it to paying customers on supported platforms. Crunchyroll, Anime On Demand and all have subscription services which can be used to lock content away in order to monetise it, and they are already in a position to support English-speaking users.

Or you can do it through one of the Japanese portals and control it directly. Nico Nico Douga, Rakuten Showtime and dozens of similar sites would be suitable. At the moment, most Japanese entertainment sites completely block overseas access, even from native Japanese speakers who have the means and language skills to pay usage fees.

I would support an arrangement where the untranslated stream was available to overseas customers through Japanese sites if no local companies agreed to stream it with a translation, in order to support native speakers overseas and potential customers who don't mind watching in Japanese. There is even a very promising platform available now for foreign users to take control of the localisation work themselves for less popular series, without breaking any laws.

Giving customers worldwide legal access to broadcasts of work made for television has a number of advantages. It provides a way for new fans to discover a series without having to purchase a home video version for something they have never seen, and encourages the most passionate fans to purchase the home video version from Japan if it isn't licensed overseas. The Japanese media market already rewards fans for purchasing promptly with special promotions and gifts packed into the first pressings of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. It's leaving money on the table if you don't also encourage foreign fans to participate in this process.

The Blu-ray Problem

One thing which is making the UK anime market increasingly uncompetitive on a global level is that Blu-ray is being embraced swiftly overseas, especially in Japan. Anime fans here, therefore, are forced to buy lower quality DVD versions of products which are available on Blu-ray elsewhere in the world, causing a rift in an already-tiny marketplace. As high definition video streams are common nowadays, we are in a strange position where the physical DVD release has a lower video resolution than the version people already saw on streaming platforms. This has tempted a lot of previously loyal British fans to start importing anime from other regions, even in cases when the UK edition is otherwise problem-free.

According to Manga UK, the reason that they are struggling with switching to Blu-ray is exacerbated by a few problems unique to our market. They have explained that minimum order quantities for Blu-ray production are relatively high whereas customer uptake is relatively low. As a result, they have been forced to cancel a number of series on Blu-ray partway through release as they cannot afford to continue, which has worsened the problem severely as buyers stung by the cancellations became more cautious about ordering in future. If things are this bad for the largest UK anime distributor, smaller companies such as MVM and other foreign film specialists will be struggling as well. The only anime company in this country with a realistic Blu-ray strategy is Kazé, and that's because they produce their UK discs as a side project as part of their work for the French market. This means we will only get Blu-rays when Kazé has Blu-ray rights for both territories, but it's a step in the right direction.

Fans have made a number of suggestions to try to find a solution for Manga UK, including authoring a single disc for the whole English-speaking market worldwide which is then distributed in each region by the respective local companies. This would solve the problem of unrealistic minimum order requirements as the larger US market would be able to share the burden. The distributors seem incapable of making the necessary negotiations to produce multi-region Blu-ray discs in this way, unfortunately, but even if that's the case, sharing the burden with the other English-speaking regions in the same Blu-ray zone should also help. The UK companies already have a long history of sharing materials for their DVD releases with their Australian counterparts, after all.

However, it seems that there is a bigger problem; due to a quirk of the law, all UK Blu-ray discs require that the BBFC logo is present on the actual disc. It's not as simple as asking the American or Australian companies to allocate a few discs for the UK for Manga UK to put on shop shelves in UK packaging. The foreign companies would actually have to halt production of their own releases partway until Manga UK could get the necessary BBFC certification for each title and cover the disc in UK-specific ratings symbols. I can see why nobody would want to do that, especially as it doesn't add any value in the larger regions but damages their time to market. The legal restrictions mean that even when a region-free, English-translated version is made available for overseas distribution by a foreign studio (as could potentially have been the case with Aniplex USA's special export sets), the local companies have to turn them down outright because there exists no legal way for a UK company to help UK customers purchase the product.

Where will UK fans who want Blu-ray go in the meantime? They will have no choice but to import for themselves, and ignore the condemnation from both Manga UK and fellow UK fans, who often turn to blaming importers for the fact they can't buy anime on Blu-ray here.

What else can be done?

If the UK law which makes the BBFC certification logo mandatory is the problem, surely a number of independent productions are in a similar position in this country. The laws in this country will never change unless people in this country make those in power aware that they are a problem. In this case, local trade is being demonstrably damaged by a law which has very little practical benefit (printing the BBFC information on the product packaging would surely suffice).

If companies such as Manga UK want to sell Blu-ray to us without the production difficulties they've described, they're going to have to help change the situation here, so that they can build up their market again and transition to the new format affordably.

Fortunately, we're in a digital age and communication has never been better. There is a government website already set up which could help. An awareness campaign presented by the industry could lead to changes all on its own, but now if the UK industry can find 100,000 people to sign a well written official petition to the government about the situation, it will be eligible for government debate.

While 100,000 signatures seems like an impossible goal at first glance, Manga UK alone have over 11,000 followers on their Twitter account at this moment in time (as well as countless people like the writers of the blog, who read their updates without signing up). If each of those fans participate and spread awareness of the problem, and if someone like Manga UK were joined in the campaign by other independent UK film distribution houses, 100,000 signatures wouldn't be out of their reach at all. It's free for a person to sign and gives all customers more choice as well as helping local businesses; all that it needs is for someone with an interest in bettering the industry to give it a try.

It is my personal opinion that there are several more inefficient aspects of the UK entertainment industry which could also use revision at the same time; for example, the requirement that series which will go on to sell fewer than 100 copies nationally still need to pay to have mandatory BBFC ratings at such a high price, stifling their profitability for small companies before the first disc is even sold. A passionate campaign, set up by someone with direct knowledge of the unique challenges involved, could also incorporate these elements and truly revitalise the UK production chain.

In the meantime, it remains much easier for these local companies to complain on Twitter than it is for them to try to improve their market. And so I continue to import.


Taking a broad view, in the overwhelming majority of cases UK customers are only given the chance to buy a small selection of things which are already available in English elsewhere and can be freely imported.

If the UK industry ceased to exist overnight, the global anime fan community would lose very little; only fans who absolutely refuse to import would be affected as they wouldn't be able to buy anime in physical shops any more. Yet those shops are swiftly disappearing from the high street themselves.

Companies need to make it easier for UK fans to put their money back into the industry they love, not harder. Restricting the ways we can pay for and receive anime just to line the pockets of some local middlemen who provide no additional services (and, in the case of Manga UK, actively insult their customers and business partners on a public forum on a regular basis) is not helping the anime industry. The UK fan receives nothing of value in return for their additional patience and expense: DVDs with faults on their overseas releases don't have them corrected for the UK release, discs frequently have mistimed audio and other glitches not present on the releases by more experienced companies overseas, and benefits such as physical extras and limited editions are stripped from the UK versions entirely. The market that the UK companies such as Manga UK are creating is one which doesn't value the anime they buy, quibbling over pricing while rewarding poor quality releases with major technical glitches. It alienates hardcore collectors in an era when hardcore collectors are rapidly becoming the only people left who still purchase their entertainment on disc.


Thank you for reading this. After all is said and done, for a UK fan who wants to get the series they want in the best quality that exists, the only recourse remains to import it from overseas.

I would like to confirm that I am merely a concerned buyer, and everything I have said is my own opinion and conjecture. I do not work for any of the companies I have mentioned and I do not speak for them, unless it has been made clear that something is a direct quote from a company representative.

I dearly hope that the world will change and allow me to spend my money on this wonderful hobby again soon. All it will take is a few powerful people to realise there is a problem. If you are reading this and know a way for me to contact people with that power, please get in touch.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Good business sense is allowing your customers to buy from you.

I am taking up a kind offer from the master of this Blog whose issues with recent events in the anime world align with my own. I share a great many of their concerns with the state of the anime industry in the United Kingdom, but for reasons which will become apparent below have an even larger stake in the recent developments regarding Aniplex; thus I shall focus my post on this, more urgent issue.

I am a long time anime fan, originally from the United Kingdom and presently an expatriate on account of my employment. A few years ago I moved to a small country which cannot sustain its own anime (or indeed any sort of film distribution) industry. The only source of DVDs in the country is through import from France or Germany which, with western titles, is not a problem as they usually ship with English language audio and French/German subtitles so I can listen to the dialog in a tongue I understand. However anime recorded with Japanese audio and subtitled in French/German is unintelligible to me and I have no options for obtaining it locally produced.

Shortly after moving I found that UK shops could not handle delivering to me because of the inconvenience of the postal links to my new country making the cost not worth the effort for them. After a spectacular failure in delivery of a limited edition computer game when the courier simply returned the item to the shop, declining to complete the delivery, I realised that purchasing from my original "home country" was no longer a viable source of media either.

Fortunately America, with its better postal structure owing to it having a larger area inside its own borders, had no problem with delivering to me and I have been happily importing anime that I could understand these past few years while my "home region" steadfastly ignored me as a market.

I was overjoyed when Aniplex started releasing premium quality products for us and bought almost everything they released. I was an anime fan back in the days before the headlong rush to the bottom the current industry has embraced, and thus am far more pleased with my collection of "singles" series in their lavish artboxes with a wide selection of bonus material than I am with the current thinpack, bare minimum releases enforced by the ridiculously low price point that customers currently demand. The deluxe Kara no Kyokai box in particular was a pleasure, as I had thought the days of truly sumptuous artistic boxes were long gone. Having its box facing outwards on my shelves is a delight even when I am not enjoying the content of the discs.

The recent moves by AniplexUSA have left me in a very bad position. I have already purchased a large portion of their titles like Fate/Zero, Blue Exorcist and Madoka Magica and, under their embargo, will be unable to purchase the rest. Should I wish to see the end of these series, Aniplex seem to be saying that I should look towards my own domestic industry, which does not exist, or the industry in my "home country", which will not ship to me. Even were I still able to access the market of the United Kingdom, the domestic industry there is in such bad shape I cannot imagine that we would ever see anything as elegant as the Fate/Zero Part 2 BluRay box. We would be more likely to get the entire series crammed on 4 DVDs - or, worst case scenario, half the series released on BluRay and then promptly cancelled, forcing us to re-purchase the same content on DVD to maintain consistency across the series - but that is a subject which has already been addressed in another post on this site, and I do not see the benefit of rehashing the failures of Manga Entertainment over and above that. Aniplex as an Intellectual Property License Holding entity are telling me, a dedicated fan with a very large disposable income dedicated solely to my hobby of Japanese animation, that they would like me to stop purchasing anything from them. A decision which seems remarkably ill advised given the current declining state of the anime industry (as pertains to licensed income in regions other than Japan) in the face of competition from other, more mass market visual entertainment.

I believe that Aniplex, in enforcing their regional segregation, is trying to fight their licensees' battles for them. There shouldn't be an issue of cross importation if every region's licensee produces a superlative product. I pay a quite ludicrous overhead in postage and import taxes to purchase my anime from America, so I would be more than happy to cut my costs down to the price of a local region's off-the-shelf purchase, but only if the local release A) exists and B) is of comparable quality to the offering from other countries. If you allow customers to make their own decisions, they will reward the property owner with a purchase through one of the licensees. Aniplex as a whole will make a profit, and forcing your licensees to compete on quality will only improve the presentation of each individual offering, or allow natural selection to take its course as those who cannot compete die out. Propping up lazy licensees devalues the image of your product as a whole, as customers are exposed to your creative output through the distorted lens of sloppy reproduction processes.

To paraphrase the parlance of the modern generation, "Stop resisting, and take my money."