Friday, August 01, 2008

ShotGunnm to ADVs Bootlegging Days


I'll keep this brief.

ADV released Battle Angel (aka GUNNM) on VHS in 1996, in both English dubbed and subtitled versions.

ADV re-released Battle Angel on DVD in 1999, with English and Japanese audio with optional English and Español subtitles. ADV promptly re-authored the DVD and replaced it with a non-Latin friendly version in 2000.

Those who speak Spanish have said that these subtitles had plenty of spelling errors and truly bizarre grammar. ADV is located in Houston, TX, and I refuse to believe they couldn't find one competent Spanish translator. Still, the issue isn't that the subs were crappy, it's that they were dodgy. See, removing a language track on a DVD costs time and money, so it's not something you usually do unless the copyright holders (in this case, Shueisha/KSS) say "hey, you didn't pay to exploit the Mexican marketplace: your contracts say 'English', so get rid of 'em or we'll sue your ass".

In 2001, the title went out of print entirely, supposedly in relation to James Cameron having bought the rights to make a 3D version of the franchise. The details of what happened are sadly not clear: ADV said at the time that they didn't actually lose the rights to the title, but it's been assumed that Cameron's involvement meant that the title couldn't be released. This didn't stop Viz Media from re-releasing the Battle Angel manga in 2002.

In August 2008, ADV re-released Battle Angel on DVD. Sorta'.

As you guys probably know, ADV has been under... let's say, a lot of stress lately. Their English Netwype magazine was usurped by PiQ, which imploded after just 4 issues. The Anime Network has been scaled back considerably. Their club-support program, ADVocates, is gone. Despite the ADV Manga line still existing, they aren't releasing or printing any new volumes. The big shocker came in January of this year, when ADV removed and ceased distriburing about 30 titles, licensed by their Japanese business partners Sojitz from the ARM coropration. I can tell you with certainty that the basic struggle was over money. ADV wasn't paying Sojitz as they promised, and in retaliation they yanked back all of their titles. ADV was given a second chance, minus the two most lucrative properties, namely Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and Keroro Gunsou/Sgt. Frog.

At AX this year, FUNimation announced that it would be handling all of the Sojitz titles ADV was formerly distributing, minus Gurren Lagann which went to Bandai Entertainment some time before that. ADV further announced that even more titles would be going OOP, including 5cm Per Second, a mere 4 months after they released the title! ADV promised that KIBA, the latest in Japan's never ending onslaught of card-game based tie-in anime would premier from them in the near future, only for that to be a half-truth: the English dub production was handled by Amusement Park Media, a subsidiary of ADV Films, but the title was neither licensed nor is it being distributed by ADV Films.

So a week and change ago, ADV calls up Anime Nation, saying that they're going to re-print Battle Angel in a limited run of somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 discs. John, the ever-knowledgable company jack of all trades, repeats this information on the AN blog. A day later, ADV corrects the statement: they have a limited number of the original DVDs, and are offering them through a select number of anime specific retailers, including Anime Nation, Right Stuf, and Robert's Anime Corner Store. Gincy, right?

Not quite.

First of all, even if ADV had somehow wrestled the title back from James Cameron (which makes no sense... Viz seemingly had no trouble re-releasing the manga that the OVAs and Cameron's future film are based on), most licensing contracts only last between 3 and 7 years. For ADV to have the legal right to sell the title, we'd have to assume that their contracts were renewed circa 2001... right when the title went out of print. What the hell kind of sense does that make?

Second, the DVDs actually being sold still have those illicit Spanish subtitles. Urm... so ADV still has their old contracts, and they've been upgraded to include Spanish this time? Oh... okay, sure. If this is true though, why do the newly printed covers - claiming a 2008 copyright, no less - only list English subtitles?

Finally, if they really did rescue their contract for what is (at this point) a relatively obscure decade-plus anime OVA series, why wouldn't they do a genuine recolicitation to Best Buy and Deep Discount, you know, stores that sell more than a few dozen copies of any given title? Why does ADV keep saying one thing and then take it back officially a week or two later (as has been their MO more or less all year)?

The answer is pretty simple: ADV doesn't have the rights to Battle Angel anymore. No part of this situation leaves them likely to have any legal right to release the title in North America - let alone with Spanish subtitles they never bought the rights to use in the first place. ADV is in the shitter, and they decide that this will be their savior? Please. ADV found a box with a couple hundred returns from the Spanish subtitle debacle, weighed the likelyhood of actually being caughed (and/or sued) if they only hand it to friendly anime focused distributors against how badly they could use some fast cash. ADV has admitted in the past to keeping a hand-full of OOP titles on hand should they get a request for a return for a damaged or faulty disc (it happens), and with Battle Angel, they had PLENTY of leftovers due to the fact that they were never supposed to sell it en Español in the first place. In a sense, any copies kicking around are free money to be made.

No, I don't have any hard proof. How would I? All I do have is a lot of common sense and a rudimentary knowledge of how licensing contracts work thanks to being friends and employees of people who deal with them for a living. Battle Angel simply has a multitude of hallmarks that label it a not-quite-legitimate DVD release, and while I personally don't care if Shueisha/KSS is missing out on the royalties (that'd be rather hypocritical of me, no?) it does amuse me that when these obvious red flags are thrown out on forums like AoD, the whole thing just explodes into stupidity and people blindly assuming that the R1 studio that's been lying to the public and avoiding explanations has just got to be in the right somehow.

There's a rumor going around these days that after ADV pissed Sojitz off to no end, they've come up with a new partner - an American this time - and that what they plan to do is create a new puppet company to transfer all of ADVs licenses to it before they disolve ADV totally. The reasoning is that after the Sojitz debacle, no one in Japan will deal with them, and the fact that ADV's sole premier this summer has been a show for Upper Deck lends some credence to that fact. I'm not saying all this is true, but I am saying that, if a new studio pops up and says it has all of ADVs' old titles, I'm going to write this all off as a masterstroke: even if KSS/Shueisha wanted to sue ADV for selling copies of Battle Angel under the table, how would they if there's no ADV left to sue? For fuck's sake, they already co-produced the final dubbed epiosodes of Welcome to the NHK with Crunchy Roll, and personally I think partnering with a website that makes you pay to watch free fansubs you could steal from usenet (in fullscreen, at least) has already taken a wrecking ball to whatever spotless reputation your company may have had a week before.

And yeah, Gonzo worked with Crunchy Roll. It was a stupid idea then, too.

So, am I a delusional paranoid crazy-pants for suspecting ADV of pulling a DVDAni/Nova Media, or is ADV about to bite the big one and emerge as a new and exciting company that Japan will work with briefly until they realize the management is the same as the studio they told to fuck themselves vigorously with a forked thor?