Anime on DVD: Revolution or Revolt?
Let's face it: anime is too expensive. For the serious collector, a subtitled movie can easily run $25-30, and a long-running series can burn a permanent hole in a Mastercard. Laserdiscs for the die-hard, when they are available, can cost a lot more. What's more, videocassettes can be less than a perfect medium. A few viewings degrade the picture, and audio problems get exacerbated (anyone want to comment on the noise on the early prints of Vampire Princess Miyu or Macross 2?) Laser rot and the threat thereof also plagues fans of the LD format. With DVD becoming a major force in the industry, with 1.2 million players being sold to dealers as of December 1998, it's clear that it may be the salvation of the anime industry in America, which could use a boost with the lack of lots of new and exciting titles.
The DVD format offers anime fans certain features that we could only drool about before. The primary one, of course, is the availability of both Japanese and English versions on the same disc. Within moments, a DVD user can switch between Japanese, Japanese with English subtitles, and an English dub. Meanwhile, the video quality of DVD destroys anything VHS has to offer and in almost all cases defeats LD as well. With the capabilities of offering screensavers and special programs to DVD-ROM users, the format offers an incredible amount of extras.
Most anime companies have been reluctantly offering titles on DVD, though their selections have been somewhat esoteric. Others have "convieniently" released discs that only have the English track. For a while, anime on DVD would just be an enhancement to someone's DVD collection, rather than the reason to shell out for a DVD machine. This is changing, though, due to two major influences--the Internet and Bubblegum Crisis.
The Internet has long been considered a curiousity for shopping. However, several retailers such as Reel.com, Buyvideos.com, and Amazon.com have made shopping for audio/video very easy, and they have dropped the prices on DVDs to unbelievable levels. At many online stores, DVD prices are $15-20. This averages about $5-15 less than their competitors at the local shopping center. Most collectors recognize this as less than a standard anime tape. This has boosted the whole DVD industry. The best chance for success for anime on DVD relates to these price cuts, along with the phenomenal success of Bubblegum Crisis on DVD.
Bubblegum Crisis, a popular 80s show delving into a robotic cyberpunk world, would cost a fan between $120-160 dollars to collect the whole thing on videotape, and double that if bought in both subbed and dubbed versions. The DVD collection of the eight episodes? A suggested retail price of $52, with Internet prices going as low as $40. In the first three weeks it was available, the entire print run of Bubblegum Crisis sold out; a second printing was pushed up a full month because of the overwhelming demand for the title. Although some criticized the initial packaging--sent as a CD-ROM game set, not in standard DVD cases--and the lack of the music video programs, the value is simply incredible. From reports, Robert Woodhead (the president of AnimEigo, who released the series in the States) is looking at putting the company's whole library on DVD with this success. It's even been reported that the DVD series has already outsold the tape and LD prints. It may seem farfetched, but anime has never been available at a lower price in the U.S., and it's never looked this good.
The success of Bubblegum Crisis should set a milestone for other anime companies. Will it? Record Of Lodoss Wars is being released in late December 1998, and its popularity rivals that of BGC, though perhaps in slightly different circles. If the Lodoss Wars set--again, a large series that looks to be priced very reasonably--sells well, it should with BGC establish DVD as a primary medium for anime. There are only a few things that stand in the way--and they have everything to do with how we as consumers relate to the companies putting anime on DVD.
Several companies, such as ADVision, have large libraries of titles that have yet to be released on DVD. ADVision has stated publicly that their release of Tekken to DVD will be their first to test the waters...and this is utterly ridiculous. What it really appears like is that anime distributors are trying to see what price the market will bear for their titles, and many are afraid that they will be hurt by "lost" money on major series. Many current issues are $24.95, and that is simply unacceptable for OVA length shows, especially since at $14.95 or below they would move FAST. If a show like Neon Genesis Evangelion is released on DVD at a good packaged price, I imagine it will be flying off the shelves, and I will be one of the first purchasers. We as consumers must tell companies how we feel about their products. Here are my personal guidelines on how to make the most of anime on DVD:
1. Write the companies who release your favorite anime and ask them to release the DVDs as soon as possible--and make sure to sign the DVD petitions at www.animeondvd.com to make your voice heard. Ask your friends who watch anime to write as well. Let them know what you think is a reasonable price for anime.
2. Refuse to buy any anime DVDs that do not include both Japanese and English language versions. I know many people don't pay attention to the original language versions. However, you'll often find a hidden wealth of meaning within the English subtitles. Dubs very rarely contain all the humor, dialogue, and sometimes plots of the originals. Do you want to really understand Akira when it comes out? You'll want subtitles.
3. Remember that DVD doesn't mean all anime will be cheap on the format. At the same time, don't get gouged--do not pay much more for a DVD than you would for a videotape of the same title. Granted, video prices for anime are inflated, but if the VHS tape is $20 and the DVD is $30, either search for a good deal or wait for a price break.
4. When a company releases a really good deal, such as Bubblegum Crisis or Lodoss Wars, support them thoroughly. Buy a copy for yourself and another for a friend who might be interested. Let people know about the offer. Write the company a letter of thanks.
5. On new titles, wait for the DVD--don't buy the tape just because it came out that way first. Write the company that doesn't release DVD with tape and let them know why they won't be seeing your $20 for a while.