Way back in the early days of Akihabara Renditions, I started a thematic piece I called the “State Of Classic Anime in North America”. As my own personal fandom tastes shifted from the shiny and new titles, I started digging deeper into the “classics” and time periods of Japanese animation that most interested me. But since I did a bunch of arm chair industry analysis, I figured an annual round up of titles and their releases was good consistent content that I could work on. Which leads us to the first, and until recently only, State of Classic Anime in North America. Now, I think it’s time for this to make a comeback and be featured in a Free Talk segment.
Why only one of these reports? Well, if you note the publication date is January, 2007 and recapping the fiscal year of 2006. It was later in 2007 that the bubble burst in the North American anime market with a sharp contraction in the industry and several publishers going out of business or more carefully choosing licenses. This was tied to private credit markets, and other factors, tightening up in the early stages of the financial crisis of the Great Recession of 2008. In short, hardly anyone was licensing anime, let alone 1970s to 1990s vintage anime, so there was little need for a report as the whole industry was changing.
In the subsequent years, our podcast covered titles from a review perspective and less from a news perspective and though the economy improved, I never opted to come back to the reports. However, in 2018, mostly as a result of a barrage of announcements at Otakon 2018 in the summer, I thought it would be a good idea to come back to for Akihabara Renditions.
The Catalyst: Otakon 2018
Up to the bubble bursting in the North American anime industry and then the greater financial crisis, licensing anime at all slowed and many shows that weren’t performing financially had their license lapse. Even prior to the burst, licensing older anime was a risky proposition. But in the wake of the bubble bursting, a branch of Eastern Star Media, called Discotek emerged and slowly started releasing older Japanese cartoons. As the economy recovered, they continued to build a catalog based on “license rescues” – new licenses and re-releases of anime previously released by other publishers – like Marmalade Boy, the Galaxy Express 999 films, Flame of Recca and GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka to name a few, and classics that hadn’t been released before, such as Horus: Prince of the Sun, Dallos, Miss Machiko and Super Beast Machine God Dancouga.
Summer convention season is usually where most of the license announcements for the coming year, given that the two largest anime conventions – Anime Expo and Otakon – are about a month apart. Anime Expo came and went, with some licensing fanfare but Discotek started announcing big titles with a vengeance at Otakon. One after another, Twitter flared up with people attending their announcements for a bunch of classic anime that immediately got my attention:
- Area 88
- Giant Robo: The Animation + Ginrei Specials
- Psycho Armor Govarion
- Space Warriors Baldios
- Voltes V
- Six God Combination God Mars
- Kimagure Orange Road
- Galaxy Express 999 TV (on Blu-Ray)
Only a few of these are re-releases, such as Area 88 and Giant Robo (both DVD), KOR and GE999 TV are Blu-Ray releases, where they were previously released on DVD. Of the others, none have had an official home video release in North America and only God Mars was available streaming. It was at that time that I noted, it’s probably time to bring the report back.
Internet Streaming Media Service companies are the ways most under-30s view their media and an increasing number of over-30s are joining them. Here is a rundown of where classic anime was streaming in 2018.
Amazon started 2018 off by killing off it’s subscription-only, add-on service, Anime Strike, and rolling its library into standard Prime Video offerings. Prime Video’s anime offerings are a mix of newer and older titles, few titles are unique to it. It makes sense if one already has an Amazon Prime subscription, like Netflix, but if a specific title is an additional rental or purchase fee, one might be better off checking another service. There is a lot of classic fare found on Prime Video – Supderdimension Fortress Macross, Superdimension Calvary Southern Cross, Genesis Climber Mospeada, My Youth In Arcadia, Robot Carnival and Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer but one title that jumped out at me as a complete surprise was Magical Princess Minky Momo. I was completely unaware there was an official release at all, which probably plays into how much I look on Amazon Prime for anime and other fans are watching their anime on Amazon Prime.
Crunchyroll continues to be the elephant in the room – the most noted streaming media service associated with Japanese animation. Even though they offer more than just anime, they tend to stick close to it with catalogs of Asian (Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese) drama and original programming related to anime and manga. While noted for its simulcasts – simultaneous broadcasts – of contemporary Japanese animation, as a platform, Crunchyroll has become many fans’ first-stop when looking for an anime streaming, regardless of age or vintage. Working with many other publishers, and partnering with VRV (a multi-service bundling product), Crunchyroll has one of the most verbose catalogs of most streaming platforms, even given their niche compared to larger players like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
Netflix continues to cater to consumers as a one-stop shop for household entertainment and a powerhouse studio creating both films and series. In addition to all of its other offerings, it has a decent anime catalog. Most anime titles unique to Netflix; however, are their co-productions and don’t seem to feature many classics in their library. Some titles they do offer are Horus – Prince of the Sun, Ninja Hattori-kun, and soon Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Section 23 (and others like Maiden Japan and Sentai Filmworks) partnered with a streaming service called HIDIVE which prominently features their titles. HIDIVE is a subscription-only (7-day trial) service but it offered lots of content that was otherwise hard to come by or previously unlicensed in North America. Titles like Aura Battler Dunbine, Combat Mecha Xabungle, Space Runaway Ideon and Legend of Galactic Heroes were all prominently featured as selling points. Near the end of 2018, HIDIVE announced that it was going into partnership on VRV (with Crunchyroll) that will be making HIDIVE more widely available, particularly its dub offerings.
FUNimation has a streaming service, FUNimationNow that streams and simulcasts many of its properties. A previous agreement with Crunchyroll for the shared service VRV, had their dubbed content featured prominently but by the end of 2018, they had left the service. Classic titles by FUNimation, such as Record of Lodoss War among others, come from re-licensing titles that had lapsed from other companies.
Hulu also offers anime among it’s wide variety, similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime. While Hulu’s long had anime content present, its current catalog feels smaller, it appears to consist of a lot of Viz titles, so for a Ranma 1/2 or Sailor Moon fix, dubbed and subbed versions are available there. It is a subscription-only service with no free tier, however.
While there is no permanency to streaming media – licenses come and go, titles rotate on and off of services, home video is still has a place for fans who want to have a copy of media to re-watch and reference. Most offerings now are moving to high-definition, Blu-Ray and even DVD, while standard-definition is phasing out.
In addition to the flurry of stuff announced at Otakon above, Discotek also snuck in a license announcement for Madhouse’s 1987 film Twilight of the Cockroaches (coincidentally the same week we did our review) on DVD. A DVD release of this film is unique to the North American market is unique – no such release was made in Japan. For a film that seemed to be everywhere in the early 1990s ,thanks to Streamline Pictures pushing it heavily, it was a very surprising announcement, even from a company known for surprising announcements.
FUNimation was one of the premier companies of the early 2000s thanks to their releases of Dragonball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist and other very popular titles, they weathered the storm of the Great Recession well. While never a company that focused on classics until then but as other companies left the market, they began picking up and re-releasing other classic titles. Most of FUNimation’s 2018 news revolved around ending a streaming partnership with Crunchyroll in favor of their own streaming platform (and an early 2019 deal with Hulu), it continues to be a major player in North America.
Maiden Japan/Section23/Sentai Filmworks
Prior to the Great Recession, AD Vision (or simply ADV), was a powerhouse licensing company in the North American market. It did not, however, weather it very well and through a series of restructuring, brought us multiple new labels, including Maiden Japan Section 23 and Sentai Filmworks. Most of their library can be found on the HIDIVE streaming platform but home video releases are published under each label.
Nozomi Entertainment/Right Stuff
Nozomi Entertainment, the distributor associated with retailer RightStuf, has made itself a solid player in the North American market working with other publishers to distribute titles. One of their biggest partnership is for various parts of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise but also noted for their Rose of Versailles release, particularly at a time when “old anime don’t sell” and Berubara was noted for complications from it’s author, Ikeda Riyoko.
Perennial 90s publisher AnimEigo continues on it’s course of re-licensing titles it is well known for and running crowdfunding for BluRay publishing. It’s last new license, Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl in 2008, wound up being ill-timed. The Great Recession killed any momentum for a the release of a then-nineteen-year-old series, that was previously not well known, whose complete release relied of good sales of the first box set. Their latest BluRay releases have been well received.
Another 90s staple, Viz Media, seems to primarily focus on it’s manga ventures but will occasionally participate in the release of an anime series that ties into their manga line. They try to keep their manga releases contemporary but that doesn’t mean that they don’t dip into the classics well, particularly titles with proven track records like Pretty
Soldier Guardian Sailor Moon or Ranma 1/2. Their big manga news in 2018 is a re-release (and new translation) of Takahashi Rumiko’s breakout classic Urusei Yatsura and hopefully this means a possible BluRay release in North America in the near future.
The State, 2018
Compared to the previous State of Classic Anime in North America prior to the Great Recession, availability of official releases for classic anime in North America is good. Even in the lead up to the recession, older (not contemporary) anime was always considered a “hard-sell” to consumers and fans for a variety of reasons. However, through 2018, it seems that while more anime is available more quickly than even 10 years ago, Japanese animation from the 1960s through the 2000s are continuing to be made available today, whether streaming or on home video. While AnimEigo used to be a standard-bearer of older anime, that mantle seems to have been passed to Discotek now.
Even if Discotek is seen as the “old anime” company, we are seeing a number of publishers offering a diverse portfolio of titles and not just chasing the “what’s hot this instant” dragon as the North American industry was in the mid-2000s. Various companies are licensing titles from the 1970s to the 1990s for the first time, or re-releasing them again giving fans of these older series – new and old alike – a great way to express their fandom.
The North American industry, knowing anime fans tend to skew young, has now fully embraced Internet streaming media with a variety of platforms. While these streams make it incredibly easy to bring fans the newest titles straight from Japan (and they are great at that), many older titles are appearing on multiple platforms. Hopefully with good curation algorithms, the fans checking out new shonen series like My Hero Academia will also get some older shonen series tossed in their recommendations and they can discover a classic show that they otherwise would not have.
2018’s inspiring performance leaves a lot of hope for 2019. There’s always a list of older anime we’d like to see finally get a legit license and release and up until now, that list is always been tempered with “realistic expectations”. 2018, and even 2017, to an extent are showing that what was “realistic” long ago that is no longer the case. So here’s to hoping to see some more surprises available on streaming and home video in the coming year!