I remember rushing to the mailbox. “Has the rest of Utena arrived yet?” It was only until then I have seen the first few episodes out on DVD. The following Black Rose saga had not been released on DVD in the US. It took a while for the rest of the saga to finally be complete. After ordering some chili fries from Steve’s, I popped in the first tape. “Allright, let’s find out what’s the deal with Akio!” and proceeded to marathon through the rest of Utena. It took some time to get through the series, but I was able to enjoy it. Of course, this was the time when the only licensed Utena was the movie and student council arc.
I realize that some people had it better than others. I just had a conversation with a friend the other day who talked about mailing non-perishable Asian food from San Francisco to her comrades in Colorado because they did not have a Ranch 99 super store. Luckily, I lived in an area that had Japanese video stores. I went down to the Torrance Mitsuwa to get the rest of Sailor Moon S before it was ever dubbed for North American audiences. I had Hitoshi Doi’s summaries on standby to follow along. Finding your favorite anime was almost like a quest – you had to know the right people and the right fan distributors.
The best distributors would take some time getting subbing done and make sure the quality was off the laser disc. They would have cultural notes – the most detailed was Techno Girls’ subs of “Brother Dear Brother.” It was a great way to learn about Japanese nuances and mannerisms while enjoying a good story. Even fans from this generation of tape collectors remember when fansubs were done out of love and care. Of course, there were horrendous fansub translators, but the best you could do was participate in a newsgroup or a fan group to know who was the best.
While this was technically piracy, subbers encouraged fans to get the official licensed version of the series once it was released in their home country. Subbers never really charged for anything, but the cost of the VHS tapes and shipping. No one was making a profit, but it was a very popular practice in the 90s before torrenting. Subbers would continue to stop tape trading of said series. This is where consumers feel torn – support the fansubs because they were made with care for the fans or support a not as perfect transition from American companies because it supports the industry. It’s no surprise that I know people that watch their fansubs, but buy the official release to support the series.
It’s really easy to grab anime now. Netflix , Hulu, and Crunchyroll have streaming available and premium membership gets your more. Personally, I have a Netflix account and I have been able to catch up on a couple of series that I have been remotely curious about. Realistically, I cannot buy everything I watch, but I buy premium DVD boxsets of series I really enjoy. However, boxsets of popular series have been overpriced. I’m not talking $25 per tape with four dubbed episodes, but the more controversial Madoka and Fate Zero release price points. While the aforementioned comes with swag, the theory is that American fans will pay Japanese prices. I beg to differ.
As of today, the anime industry is in a weird limbo state. The beginning of 2012 has brought on bad news for distribution companies. The demographic of anime fans are younger. It’s heartless and elitist to say, “Get a job. Anime is a privilege, not a right!” Entertainment of all sorts should be enjoyed, especially in this depressing economy. It is not that this era of fandom is spoiled, we have options, but why is there this entitlement culture attached to it? I don’t really have any explanation for what brought on this entitlement culture, but I definitely see a shift in demographics for anime – younger with limited money to burn – this demographic has been fairly consistent for the past several years.
I understand “try before you buy,” but there are plenty of options to support the industry whether it’s watching official streams on Hulu or On Demand programming. There’s not one factor that’s killing the industry, but multiple. It’s not just the torrenting. It’s complicated and the debate can go on for hours and hours to what’s really leading to the downfall of the industry. I highly encourage anyone to attend a panel at a con that talks about this issue. There are numerous factors – licensing price point, the almighty yen, etc. It’s a very engaging conversation if done with the right set of panelists.
There’s a lot of debate on the downfall of the anime industry in the US and in Japan. Not to mention, there are series that may not see the light of licensing in the US. For example, I would love to own a premium boxset of the original Sailor Moon series uncut. While I am sure that the re-release is inevitable, what I have been doing is buying official Sailor Moon merchandise. Ancillary products also support the anime industry. Unfortunately, series like Heart Catch Pretty Cure are unlikely to be picked up by a Funimation or an Aniplex. While I do admit to torrenting all of Heart Catch Pretty Cure, the show sells a ton of merchandise that goes back to the creative team of the magical girl show. So, if you see a petite Asian girl running around the dealers hall looking for everything Pretty Cure, that’s me. Send your Marine Tacts this way and you can have my wallet!