Anime, the Next Generation


#GoIrish #Aztecs #SDGulls #Raiders #THFC #RipCity
Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA
From Wired

It wasn't that long ago that finding Japanese animation in the United States was quite a challenge.

You'd have to check the back corner of your local comic book store, where you'd find half a dozen 30-minute videos for $40 each. And the only anime on television was a heavily edited version of the shojo (young girls') show Sailor Moon.

Times have changed. As of this month, there are more than 3,100 anime DVD titles on shelves. By title, they account for nearly 7 percent of all DVDs. In 2005 alone, 473 anime DVDs have been released from 20 different publishers.

Anime also continues to make inroads on the airwaves, both network and cable. Kids' programs like One Piece and Shaman King are some of the most popular on Fox's after-school toon lineup. And more grown-up fare like InuYasha fills out Cartoon Network's highly rated, late-night Adult Swim programming block.

"Things have never been better for anime fans in America," said John Ledford, president of Houston-based ADV Films, which published 189 anime DVDs last year. "No matter what channel you look at -- retail, broadcast or theatrical -- more anime is available in more outlets than ever before."

Amid all these new releases, the industry is searching for the next Dragon Ball. The over-the-top martial arts action series exploded into a worldwide phenomenon whose television ratings made even mainstream media stand up and take notice. The series has never disappeared off the Lycos 50 list of top internet searches since the feature's inception six years ago.

One possible successor to the throne caught the eye of Lycos 50 two weeks ago. It's another martial-arts comedy, called Naruto, that premieres Sept. 10 on Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block. The site noted that the popularity of the series in web searches has risen dramatically as the release date draws near.

What is it about Naruto?

"Naruto, the main character, is a ninja who is host to a powerful demon," said Nick Civitello, a fan of the show who lives in Connecticut. "The people in his village have come to think of him as the demon that he houses. In spite of it all, Naruto wants to prove everyone wrong.

"He represents resolution and hope. Eventually, everyone starts looking to him for strength and guidance. At the time I discovered Naruto, I was deeply depressed. Watching it just made me happy."

The show promises to attract viewers who grew up with Dragon Ball but now find its kid-oriented content a bit tiresome. "Naruto takes everything that was great about Dragon Ball and cuts out all the crap," said Civitello.

Other series expected to pull in high ratings on Adult Swim this fall include Fullmetal Alchemist and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The latter -- a dramatic series long adored by hard-core anime fans -- has been a hit on DVD for some time, but is only now heading to TV.

It all sounds rosy enough, and in many ways it is. But as the industry expands and becomes a bigger and bigger market for Japan's most successful cultural export, problems have started to spring up.

For starters, as more U.S. distributors compete for the hottest titles, the costs to license the series from their Japanese creators are increasing. And fans are paying the price -- anime DVDs are some of the most expensive on the market, at an average price of $26 each.

"They're paying way too much," said Chris Tibbey of trade publication DVD Release Report. "License holders are asking for way too much money for magical-girl type shows that only the hard-core fan base cares about."

This could cause the number of available titles to contract, said Tibbey, whose publication tracks DVD release data across all genres. "A-list titles like Fullmetal Alchemist, titles that have TV or theatrical exposure, are doing really well. But they may start being more selective.

"There's way too much supply and not enough demand. Publishers overshot their estimates and had way too many returns. Target just started scaling back their anime section, and I don't blame them. They got burned," said Tibbey.

And there's an even bigger problem. Run a Google search for "Naruto," and the top hits won't be Toonami. You'll get sites like NarutoFan that serve up the latest episodes of the show, recorded straight from Japanese TV.

Within days, fans subtitle the shows on their own and release them over peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent.

One answer to both of these problems, said ADV spokesman Chris Oarr, is to invest upfront in new anime shows rather than waiting around until a series hits it big in Japan. "ADV has been an equity partner and a co-producer of anime series for over 10 years. It's now commonplace to see us in the credits for shows like Samurai Gun."

Oarr also believes that sewing up U.S. rights early on helps prevent piracy. "They know that we will go after people who are ripping us off. You can't find a single torrent of Samurai Gun out there."

And once Naruto hits U.S. TVs and DVD racks this fall, "fansub" sites like NarutoFan may find their days numbered.

End of story