Thursday, April 05, 2007

Bandai Visual USA: proving I'm NOT the worst!

By all rights, I'm a bootleging, scum-sucking, bottom feeding welt on the ass of the legit anime industry, clinging tenaciously to the buttocks of the industry rather than infecting its' nut-sack like the Triad bootleggers who release 10,000 copies with incomprehensible Chinglish subtitles and 8 episodes badly compressed with watermarks all over the place on a single layer DVD. That's just n0t how I do things. I release a hundred copies - tops - sell them at something of a loss all in all (hardware's not free goddamn it), and release the best quality disc I can. It takes me a year or 10 to finish it... but anyone who's viewed my stuff can see why. There's love in every subtitle that says "fuck you, moron!", and that's something the Triads just can't compete with.

So, what did Japan do? They took my spot as officially best bootlegger. Allow me to explain.

Honneamise, taken from the early Gainax film ROYAL SPACE FORCE: THE WINGS OF HONNEAMISE, is the US label created by the Japanese distribution company, Bandai Visual. Bandai Visual - in turn a separate entity from Bandai Entertainment completely, despite both being owned by Bandai Corporation (weird, huh?) - decided to start distributing some of it's "legendary" properties directly in America. And they started with, arguably, the most amazing US release ever created: PATLABOR THE MOTION PICTURE Parts 1 and 2, OSHII Mamoru's ground-breaking mecha film and it's follow-up.

What was so goddamn cool about the releases? For starters, it was taken from the HD master Japan created a couple years back, and included the newly recorded Japanese 5.1 track from that same release. It also had a brand new English 5.1 dub, using a new cast compared to Manga Entertainment's dub from the early '90's. There was a standard release, with just the movie in a regular DVD case that sold for $30. There was also a version in a sturdy chip-board box, with a double-wide hard backed digipack containing a subtitled extras disc, a 150 or so page "making of the film" book translated completely into English, and most amazingly, a translated storyboard book at around 300 pages. In short, it was an English friendly port of the Japanese DVD, and for $90 retail, it was priced like a R2 DVD all right. But fans shouldn't care. I've never seen Patlabor personally, and if I'm going to own it I want those two amazing box sets to sit on my shelf, looking down their noses at all other so-called Limited Editions with a smug grin. This was Japanese service, and at the Japanese price... but that didn't seem so bad for such an amazing box set.

Their next release was ANNO Hideaki's landmark Gainax series GUNBUSTER: AIM FOR THE TOP! This release was a bit less lackluster, giving the 6 OVA's and most (but not all) of the Japanese special features. More importantly, it was the first US DVD to have totally uncompressed PCM audio... but one of the most important scenes of the first episode - a spoof of the British film Chariots of Fire - was replaced with another piece of music from the show, since Bandai Visual USA was worried that they could get sued for that shit in America. Mind you, they also re-released the Japanese box set (no subtitles and all) in the US and abroad with the controversial music included and no region coding for a limited time, so... were they worried or weren't they? The PCM's awesome-ness was negated totally by the fact that the audio track was edited by nearly 2 minutes, and while the image gallery went missing can be attributed to it being included in the 32 page booklet in the box... the open-matte version of episode 6 is nowhere to be found. The Japanese DVD's included the show on 3 DVDs and a fourth disc for just the features. The R1 box set include the features on the episode discs, and as such there was no room (or so we can assume) for the "production" version of episode 6, which was in widescreen for stylistic reasons. Watch the show to see why... I don't want to give it away. So, for this notably imperfect release - which also had no English dub, but as Gainax lost the dub pre-mix decades ago everyone expected this - a price of $65 seemed reasonable.

Enter Gunbuster's sequel, DIEBUSTER: AIM FOR THE TOP 2! Now, this show is being released on 3 DVD's, with 16 page booklets, and in a super jewel case. Pretty fancy, eh? But, there's no English dub. Now, I'm not one to watch them anyway, but not getting one made just feels... kinda' cheap, and lazy. All the R2 extras, anamorphic transfer and Japanese 5.1 tracks are accounted for. So, what's Bandai Visual USA charging for this release? $40. EACH.

Let's step back for a moment, now. English dubs are considered standard on R1 DVD's. They generally cost about $10,000 per episode to produce. The only DVD's that don't generally include English dubs are some hentai studios (like Japan Anime), and non-anime studios specifically marketing their films to the art crowd scene, such as the Dreamworks releases of Innocence, Millenium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers - all of which (TG aside) had English dubs made for their UK releases anyway. For shows that have a low chance of the dub making a difference in sales - such as the shounen-ai cutefest Loveless released by Media Blasters - these DVD's are generally sold at around $20 per disc, as opposed to the $25-30 expected of a bi-lingual DVD.

Bandai Visual USA is charging you double the expected price of a monolingual US DVD, and a third more than the expected price of a bi-lingual release.

Go Nagai's DEMON PRINCE ENMA similarly had the high price of $40 per volume, though at least you get over 80 minutes of OVA for that $40. Diebuster episodes are barely half an hour each, and BV USA including the extras in the runtime to make the discs appear more stacked than they really are. For shame... I want Enma, and I know at least one person who'd have bought the import DVD's anyway, so maybe this pricing isn't so out of line.

And then, there was GALAXY ANGEL RUNE.

A word about GA in general, and Rune in particular: Galaxy Angel is a moe show. In other words, it's non-stop sweetness and cute for the sake of sweetness and cute. I can watch moe, sure. I even like Cardcaptor Sakura, though that's as much for the occult imagery and utterly random non-stop homosexual crushes than it is for the fact that it's just so goddamn cute. The only moe show I've spent a dime on is Elfen Lied, which in and of itself is anti-moe, wrenching cute clumsy glasses wearing busty office lady heads off within the first 5 minutes. I plan to add Higurashi ~ When They Cry to my anti-moe movement... but that's another issue. So, Galaxy Angel is Sci-Fi in the way that... I dunno', Aqua Teen Hunger Force is a drama about the life of American immigrants. It's really just fluff made to make 40 year old Japanese men smile and hug their pillows shaped like idol singers. And that's fine. I guess. But it's a far more popular concept in Japan than it is here in the states.

Moe, much like sports anime, transforming schoolgirl anime, and cooking anime, just doesn't make any money in the US. Period. The fact that GA's original and first 2 sequels got a release is nothing short of amazing, but the fact that Bandai Entertainment never pursued the rights to Rune proved the market was pretty damned un-wanting. More importantly, even fans of Galaxy Angel say that Rune is basically an unremarkable and useless sequel that doesn't add anything new to the experience. If you're a fan of the show and say it's crap, it has to be wretched. Seriously, I love Urotsukidoji, but that doesn't keep OVA 12 from being a dried up turd on a bad stretch of road. These things do happen.

So, what's Bandai Visual charging for this series, once more with 16 page booklets (though vol. 1, which is "special priced", gets only 8 pages)?

Vol 1 (Episode 1) - $20
Vol 2 (Episode 2-5) $50
Vol 3 (Episode 6-9) $50
Vol 4 (Episode 10-13) $50

That's right. Bandai Visual USA is charging $170 for a crappy sequel to a TV show that nobody wanted in the first place. And I thought I was alone in providing subtitled R2 dumps of anime that nobody wanted...

At least I charge reasonable prices for what I do. Angel Cop, though things could change due to various factors, will almost positively be $30 for all 6 OVA's on 3 DVD's. Bandai Visual would charge 4 times that price. Bandai Visual also already has the rights in Japan to every show they're releasing in the US to begin with, implying that should they have to re-negotiate contracts for a US release (for instance, Gainax owns Gunbuster, BV just distributes it for them) the work and expense was probably minimal. I'm also very, very curious if their R1 releases were simply a dump of the R2 audio and video masters, Gunbuster's edited audio aside of course. Not that there's anything wrong... it just establishes how lazy and cheap BV USA is.

The best part of all this is, having sent them an eMail personally, I get an automatic response noting how not only are English dubs difficult to create in Japan (even though they did it just fine for Patlabor 1 and 2) and the Japanese version is better anyway (point), but that the Japanese pricing model has worked fine for years, and thus it'll work just fine in America, too.

I can't wait for them to realize they haven't sold a single copy of Galaxy Angel Rune and realize they were wrong on that little piece of info.

It gets crazier, too. WINGS OF REAN, a remake of an earlier Tomino experiment, will be 6 OVA's for $120 on 3 DVD's. FREEDOM, KATSUSHIROU "Akira" Otoumo's latest OVA, will be released on DVD/HD DVD combo format discs at $40 per episode. And yes, there are 6 of them. By far, the most outlandish announcement has to be that the very film they named themselves after, THE WINGS OF HONNEAMISE, has been announced only on HD DVD, for a retail price of $80. There may be a standard DVD release as well, or maybe this will also be a combo format disc, but regardless... what the hell are these Japanese madmen thinking? "Anime fans are techno geeks and the XBOX is more popular in America than it is in Japan. Surely all anime fans have the HD DVD add-on!" Despite the fact that most recent sales numbers show that America is buying Blu-Ray 4.1:1 over HD DVD, BV continues to market their High Def materials on Blu-Ray in Japan*, only doing HD DVD's for the American market and then porting the finished releases back to Japan for about $7 more. The only thing more astounding than BV USA's obvious stupidity is their ability to jam their fingers in their ears and sing "Ru ru ru~" to themselves.

*Did I mention that AKIRA, THE GHOST IN THE SHELL and JIN-ROH: THE WOLF BRIGADE are getting box sets containing both the standard R2 DVD and a new High Definition Blu-Ray release for around $90 a piece in Japan? Looks like I'm going to have a reason to pick up a PS3 and an HDTV after all. Goddamn it...

I should also mention that Toei tried releasing some of their titles in the US a year or two ago as well.** They released bi-lingual DVD's with dubtitles, and refused to create an accurate English subtitle script. Between that fact and the titles chosen - AIR MASTER was a good call, SLAM DUNK wasn't - they folded before finishing any of their shows and retreated back to Japan. Mind, these DVD's were reasonably priced and had an English dub. All Toei had to do was focus on more "American Friendly" shows and use the accurate translations they had lying around... yet they never got the hint. If BV USA missed this event completely, their heads are further up their asses than I ever dreamed.

**Toei since licensed BEET THE VANDAL BUSTER and BO-BO BO BO BO-BO BO (Bo^7) to Illumation, a new US studio run by some ex-FUNimation employees. Illumation dubtitled their first several releases too. Friggin' awesome, no? At least Illumation finally got the hint and has announced they'll do a replacement program for the dubtitled DVD's in the near future. Shame that won't keep their encodes from looking like a VCD made in 1995... I guess some FUNimation know-how rubbed off on them after all!

Anyway, why does this piss me off to no end? Simple. I could be the asshole slapping subtitles on GUNBUSTER and DEMON PRINCE ENMA and selling the DVD's at a fraction of the inflated insanity that BV USA is charging, at that. It should be a bootlegger releasing the Japanese DVD with some slapped on English subtitles. BV USA has replaced the Triads, not competent R1 studios, and certainly not me. At least I charge a fair price for a shitty R2 dump, and I wouldn't ditch an extra, I'd add another disc. I'm also not going to edit out a song because I could get sued. Hell, I could get sued for any disc I release anyway.

Anyway, I'm just angry. But it's fun to vent on those who deserve it. BV USA deserves to sell exactly zero copies of anything besides Patlabor, and I honestly think that'll be just what happens. The company is clearly here to dump anything no sensible American licensor will pony up the money for (seriously, something like Gunbuster would probably cost half a million dollars to license and wouldn't sell more than a few thousand copies total), and selling them at far higher than normal prices means that Japanese consumers will be less tempted to buy the US disc, particularly after international shipping had made the price comparable to just picking up the Japanese DVD's used. If I can get their release of Diebuster for $60 total, maybe that'll be a deal. And unfortunately, Demon Prince Enma has a mini-manga written by Go Nagai in the booklet, but these clowns are so incompetent I don't even know if it'll be translated for certain. In short, Bandai Visual USA makes me look like a God, and considering I'm down to releasing 1-2 discs per year... that's a really, really bad sign.

Anyway, back to figuring out my legal rights in crappy situations and playing with filters on Urotsukidoji III: The Movie. I may have found a way to make the whole thing fit on a single-layer DVD without making the quality suffer too badly.

Maybe. We'll see, won't we?

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