The Recession is Over, and You Should Thank the Fangirls Part 1

The Recession is Over, and You Should Thank the Fangirls

by David Taranto

Part I: How We Got Here

Sailor_Moon_Crystal2014 has been an immensely landmark year for the North American anime industry, particularly as of May 16th, when Viz announced the streaming and home video rights to Sailor Moon.  To get a better glimpse of how and why this is a big deal, we need to take a look at where we were a decade ago.

The History

1979 – Star Blazers aired in North America.

1981 – Pioneer (later Geneon) was founded.

1985 – Robotech aired in North America.

1986 – Viz LLC (later Viz Communications, now Viz Media) was founded.

1988 – Animeigo was founded.

1990 – Central Park Media was founded.

1991 – Manga Entertainment was founded.

1992 – A.D. Vision (ADV Films, Sentai Filmworks/Section23 Films/Maiden Japan) was founded.

1994 – FUNimation was founded.

1995 – Sailor Moon aired in North America.

1997 – Toonami began.

1998 – Bandai Entertainment, Media Blasters were founded.

2000 – Cardcaptors aired. (Yes, Cardcaptors. Don’t worry, I’m getting there!)

2001 – Adult Swim began.

The Salad Days

This began (or continued) the Golden Age of anime in North America. It was 2002. Kids who saw Sailor Moon when they were six had become teenagers. Kids who saw Sailor Moon when they were ten were now seniors in high school. Teenagers? They were about to finish college and start earning real income. The Robotech kids (from the first time around) were already there, hooked on the medium.

Suncoast had a bountiful anime section. Remember Suncoast? I do. I remember dropping $30 per DVD (the new-fangled technology) for three episodes. I remember saving up my paper route money to pay $120 for a 4-disc, 27-episode series box set (Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight. Remember this—it’ll be important later.) and thinking it seemed about right.

For those in the know (aka: “with the Internet”) the Cardcaptor Sakura DVDs on the shelf next to the Cardcaptors ones were different. Special. Such people may have also known this from their high school or college anime clubs, where their friends might have had this “Internet.”

Those who remembered Sailor Moon were able to relive the show through the DVD boxsets published by ADV and Pioneer. They were expensive, but a little nostalgia can be very persuasive.

The First Signs of Trouble

2004 – ADV lost the license to Sailor Moon/R. Broadband internet subscriptions equaled dial-up. Toonami changed its format from weekdays to Saturday afternoons. On the bright side, Otakon had its 10th anniversary.

2005 – Geneon’s license to Sailor Moon S/Super S expired.

2006 – Geneon (formerly Pioneer) lost the license to Cardcaptor Sakura.

2007 – Geneon USA shut down.

In 2006, I also graduated with my associate’s degree and continued on to pursue my bachelor’s degree at another school. Sometime during that year, I remember sitting in my dorm room on the phone with RightStuf because some DVDs I ordered were out of stock, and they would probably never be stocked again because the licenses had expired.

I’d lent out one of my Chronicles of the Heroic Knight discs to a friend at a previous college I’d attended. They disappeared with it, and beyond that, one of my family members (who shall remain nameless!) scratched another of the discs. An ill fate for the first anime I owned that I hadn’t seen on TV first. I hoped to replace it, but alas, RightStuf informed me it was too late. The series was never that popular, from my viewpoint, so it wasn’t too shocking to see Central Park Media allow its license to lapse.

Thankfully, the Revolutionary Girl Utena I’d ordered was still in stock, but that license wouldn’t be too far behind. More on that later.

Princess Nine was the straw that broke my back when it came to deciding to collect good (and even mediocre) older anime and cling to them for fear they’d disappear. I purchased the series incredibly cheap from a resale shop and thought it wasn’t terrible. I was trying to whittle down my collection, though, so I turned around and sold it back for pennies after I was done. It saved space, and it meant my collection was better overall.

The next week, ADV announced that they lost the license.

For some reason, this changed everything. I went back to the store, knowing that the price of the series would skyrocket before long, but I wanted it back in my collection. It wasn’t that bad! I mean, my mom even liked it! Alas, it was already gone. I tried searching online, but as I feared, the volumes selling for $4 the week before were going for $20 or more.

Princess Nine was gone. Record of Lodoss War was gone. Sailor Moon was gone. Cardcaptor Sakura was gone. And this was only the beginning.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad, You Take Them Both and There You Have…The “Great Recession”

It’s been a rough five or six years for most people in the US and other countries. Whatever bubble burst this time, it was bad. Unemployment shot upward, bank accounts emptied, and budgets tightened. Disposable income was largely not there, relegated to purchases that corresponded with any tax refund you might have gotten, or to the holidays you save for. Less spending meant less income for companies, less money to distribute to employees, and the necessity of going for what they could best speculate were “sure things.”

Wikipedia tells me that “official” recession for the United States hit in Q3 2008 and ended in Q2 2009. Interestingly, September 20, 2008 marked the end of Toonami, and on April 27, 2009, Central Park Media was the first of the larger anime licensors to go down. They had been burning on the fumes of their properties for years with no new licenses worth speaking of, and they already lost their license to the Slayers franchise to FUNimation two years previously.

In the fall of 2009, ADV dissolved, leaving a plethora of companies in their wake to continue their work.

The outlook was pretty grim. What followed was a mix of news that showed the industry was on fumes, lurching forward and screeching to a halt in fits and spurts:

2010 – Aniplex of America made a splash by licensing Read or Die and R.O.D. -the TV-. Nozomi Entertainment announced it had rescued the Utena license, making the series available in the North American market once again.

2011 – Manga publisher Tokyopop ceased publishing operations.

2012 – Bandai Entertainment stopped distributing content. They already failed to succeed in marketing using a Japanese-style pricing structure in 2007.

All throughout this period, older lapsed licenses from failed companies were rescued by the stalwarts of FUNimation, Viz, and Nozomi as well as the new upstarts Aniplex of America and Discotek. Titles from the 2000s like Code Geass, Paradise Kiss, Disgaea, and Samurai Champloo were safe. Utena was back. Slayers was preserved.  The Old Guard of anime was mostly accounted for.

Most of them, that is, except for Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura.

To be continued in Part 2: The Magical Girls.

All dates and data taken from Wikipedia.