On Bandai Visual USA and the destruction of the anime middle class!?

Posted On March 1, 2008

Filed under Analysis, koneko-chan
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They made my Koyori cry… How dare they…

On Bandai Visual USA

whitehatazn-48.jpgLast Monday, Bandai Visual USA made headlines on various anime news sites and blogs when their website included information about a region 1 DVD release of the animated television series, sola. Later, they confirmed the rumors making the pickup of the title official and they defined some details on the DVD releases. The first of five volumes will be available June 10th with each volume to be sold for $49.99 and containing 3 episodes each.

So when I first heard this story on Monday, I had to actually refrain from blogging about this initially because I was quite pissed off that they picked up another title I liked. That post would’ve contained alot of expletives deleted which would’ve gone against my mantra of posting relevant thought-provoking articles (allegedly). Now that a few days have passed and I’ve cooled off a bit, I can go back and attempt an objective well-defined blog post… maybe.

For me, money for anime is no longer an issue now that I’ve graduated and started working (with the exception of my student debt). I’ve been building up my anime DVD collection since graduation and while spending this much money on True Tears and now sola will be annoying, the purchases won’t financially disable me. My policy has always been to buy anime that I really like to the point where I want to have in my visual collection (aka readily accessible and visible to guests on my bookshelf). I like some shows such as Erementar Gerad and Maburaho but they aren’t on my radar to pay up to own. I believe it is an obligation for fans to attempt to own the shows they consider personal top-tier shows and not to buy because of this guilt trip to save the flailing anime industry.

Which is part of the reason why I am ok with Bandai Visual’s business model. Those who which to own as collectors still have the opportunity to own. And while the price point will scare away alot of people, but there are the fanboys who have the money to cough up for their series (I am one of them). Sure, they are not going to sell alot, but I don’t think they need to do so if they want to break even. Their business and production structure as a subdivision is so small that it’s not going to take much to get back to the black. If they continue to position themselves towards the hardcore market with such limited production structure, they can be around for awhile.

However, this same business structure is why I hate them. Not because they won’t make money. It is because the anime they license is doomed to be niche. Yes, you can argue that the anime they pick up are already niche to the North American anime market like True Tears (heavy drama) and sola (which isn’t too sure what itself is). But the determination of a niche show should be from the consumers and not the companies themselves. Providing no alternative to the collectors editions (aka $50 for a three episode volume) is an intentional attempt to limit the market. It’s depressing knowing that good shows won’t get the attention they deserve due to a poor business attitude. And streaming the first episodes won’t help this at all.


This kinda reminds me of my days writing graduate papers… Minus wearing the maid outfit of course…

On the destruction of the anime middle class

Something I have always wondered about the anime industry: Why the hell are there still so many anime companies in North America? I don’t like to argue that there should be more consolidation because anime in North America is a niche market. That argument ends up being a cop out when someone fails out (*cough*)Geneon(*cough*). I’m always a believer in the good ol’ free market principles that good companies will find a way to perform in their industry and consolidation is a consequence of their over-performance. And when you think about it that way, North American anime companies may be producing the same product (the R1 anime DVD). but they all have different ways on going about it.

There are two North American anime companies that I just simply hate: Bandai Visual USA and Viz. I hate BVUSA for the reasons stated above. Viz’ business model in recent years has been pandering to the American mainstream and milking the same cash cows until they cough up powdered milk. But when thinking about it a bit further, the two companies seem to be complete opposite sides of the anime business model spectrum. And by themselves, it doesn’t seem much. But in the greater spectrum of the North American anime industry, it’s something to take note along with everyone else.

Below is a line diagram I created (using the magic of powerpoint) which attempts to classify North American anime companies based on the perceived popularity of the they release. On the right (the lower numbers) are the mainstream releases in the North American anime market whereas the left (the higher numbers) are the releases that tend to be niche in this market. I attempted to classify anime companies based on what they tend to release. I resized the boxes to attempt to show the ranges clearly.


It’s interesting how a specialized market can have companies that highly varying business models in terms of the properties they go after and market. But the above doesn’t necessarily represent the current industry since Geneon isn’t there. And if you go as far as to speculate a post-ADV marketplace (while it seems their house is getting back in order), you get something kinda like this:


This has me thinking about how fragile the anime market is in North America. While the Geneon fallout was important on an anime production standpoint, their departure leaves significant hole in the anime licensing spectrum. Imagine if another company goes under or a number of companies tighten their belts with their production and risk licenses, those conditions are ripe to have quite a separation between hardcore fandom and the mainstream. Then maybe we end of the anime middle class? I don’t see it in the immediate future but it’s something to consider.

I’ll end with this random footnote. After classification of companies on the number line above, anime companies and what they release seem to have some correlation to political spectrum analysis. So I decided to take this a further. I found a few of the most common political spectrum diagrams and picked the one that looked the most interesting. I modified that diagram, added another axis for production size and did a bit of approximation. The result I have is below:


This was interesting in many ways. It seems that the modified graph has BVUSA and VIZ on completely different sides once again. What’s more interesting is the two untouched areas. The top are in many ways like active fansub groups (high niche library and high production). The bottom isn’t as explainable. I wouldn’t see why one would pick up mainstream shows and fail to produce. It seems like once you close onto the top using a regular DVD release model, you are bound to get into trouble (aka Geneon).

So what have I learned today? I hate BVUSA and Viz not just because of their business structures. But also because they are anime’s liberal idiotic democrat and conservative money-hungry republican. Ugh… I’m definitely watching way too much CNN for my own good.


10 Responses to “On Bandai Visual USA and the destruction of the anime middle class!?”

  1. Koji Oe

    “each volume to be sold for $49.99 and containing 3 episodes each.”

    Wow, who would pay 50 bucks for something which only has 3 episodes and plus you can just find it for free on the Internet. So ridiculous. I could use that 50 bucks to buy another PVC figure or something.

  2. Anonymous

    “The destruction of the anime middle class”…that almost made me lol as hard as “Touhou is the Israel of 4chan.”

  3. Caitlin

    I’m graduated, working, with student debt, and believe fans should own their favorite shows, but $50 for a 3-episode DVD is pretty ridiculous. Even if it was my favorite series, I can’t see justifying that kind of money when the price may come down in the future (which, for almost all of my DVD collection, it has).

  4. IcyStorm

    I wasn’t even aware that Right Stuf licensed anime.

    The diagrams definitely helped visualize what you’re saying, but how exactly did you determine what anime fit under which number?

  5. koneko-chan

    IcyStorm, I just made educated guesses. For the number lines, I guessed at the ranges which can be ok. For the spectrum diagram, I just made educated guesses at around where each company should be. I could’ve made 2d ranges which would’ve made things more interesting yet more complicated to see. The number lines themselves are a bit hard to read anyway.

  6. Second Anniversary & Anime Roundtable #42: The Movie « The Anime Roundtable Podcast

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  7. quartears

    Interesting, but you seem to be forgetting companies like AnimEigo, Media Blasters, CPM, companies that are still around despite their being dwarfed by the bigger anime companies. Don’t forget the other companies that step in for random anime movies or series like Sony or fledglings like New Galaxy. They’re part of the industry, even though they’re technically not anime companies. New Galaxy is, it’s just new.

    I disagree with pandering only to the hardcore fans of a show. If we want this industry to grow at all we need things with more of a general appeal. Viz, for what I can see does get things that don’t really appeal to main demographic. Manga like Monster and Phoenix don’t really have a big place in the teen filled audience. I suppose they are trying to appeal to a larger male audience with Seinen titles, but I can’t honestly say that releasing anything from Tezuka is a good idea on the basis that people who like Tezuka is a very niche group. I’m sure that there are more young folk like me who will take interest in that, but for every one of me, there are 20 folks into Naruto and Bleach.

  8. CCY

    “And streaming the first episodes won’t help this at all.”

    Out of all the confusing graphs and charts this is the one line that grabbed my attention. I think limited streaming is the way forward, personally, and I can’t see why you say this. Maybe it won’t make sola a household name but people do get interested in seeing free stuff; it defeats blind-buying in a contest hands-down and I think some decent revenue can be generated off ads at the same time.

  9. koneko-chan

    quartears: AnimEigo and CPM have such small production that it is almost negligible. I considered Media Blasters and Right Stuf because they have made considerable attempts to produce enough that an exit by any one of them can affect this.

    My perception has always been that Viz doesn’t take any more chances in terms of their anime license pickups. You can walk down an isle of a Best Buy and anything that has a Viz label is either Naruto, Death Note or Bleach nowadays. It’s not particularly a bad thing since it makes them money. It’s just that as a person who wants to see the variety in stores, Viz just wants to take on the simple guaranteed play instead of varying it up.

    CCY: If the diagrams confused you, then my bad. I had a hard time figuring out how to do the line graphs without making a mess.

    As for the line, maybe I should’ve rephrased it. I meant it towards BVUSA’s seemingly careless approach to things. For BVUSA’s case, do you really think people in North America are gonna buy $50 DVDs for three episodes after seeing only the first episode online? I like the idea of streaming the first few episodes as a means of marketing. Funimation and ADV have similar approaches in place which I think work well. But streaming by itself won’t cut it. It needs to be combined with a legitimate attempt at marketing. It seems like BVUSA is trying to hide the big elephant in the room of high prices with the blanket of a free online episode.

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