[media-credit name="Bandai Entertainment" align="aligncenter" width="450"][/media-credit]Ever since the news broke that Bandai Entertainment would end it’s home video operations earlier this week, I was struck with a sense of dread.
Not because the industry lost another distributor and licensor of anime, but a sense of dread due to the inevitable sheep bleating that would result from those that would inevitably blame piracy as the sole cause for their exit from the US and now European markets, with the recent news that the UK and French Beez Entertainment subsidiaries will also exit their respective markets next month.
While this is a blow for the US and European markets, I would argue that this is a short-term setback in the long run as Bandai Entertainment was ultimately held back by Namco Bandai in an attempt to preserve the margins set by the home base as long as possible. With the last major singles release being K-On, it seems that was the one that broke the division.
The most common refrain I can remember from the announcement of the K-On license was “I’ll just wait for the boxset”. While the initial release apparently did well enough for them to remain profitable, it did so at the cost of the wider market and instead of being able to react to the development, Namco Bandai just kept making things worse until the ax fell. In a cruel twist of fate, there will be a K-On boxset after all, and it will be the last release from the company next month.
Even though the facts regarding the exit have been presented and dissected, there are still many people that still believe without a shadow of a doubt that this was all due to piracy, with most of the noise coming from voice actors. It doesn’t matter that Bandai Namco hates the fact that we in the West want cheaper releases and collections or that streaming cuts into their own plans, it doesn’t matter that Bandai wasn’t able to satisfy the market’s desires and that no one wants to buy single releases anymore, it’s all piracy’s fault and that’s the only reason they pulled out.
If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s people willfully ignoring the facts presented. No amount of bleating “Support the industry!” will save it from the general shortsightedness of Japanese corporate control that will do everything it can to force dead business models at the cost of stifling market demand and pushing people towards piracy. Piracy did not kill Bandai Entertainment, Japan did by being unreasonable in not allowing the company to follow the trends in the US market in order to remain competitive.
As Gabe Newell said “Piracy is a service problem” and the Japanese are great at providing poor service for fans when it comes to anime with region limited simulcasts that are time delayed or restricted in other ways as well as deliberate restrictions on home video releases to preserve the domestic market such as the Blu-Ray release for Kurokami that excluded the Japanese language track in order to avoid reverse imports.
I don’t normally see eye to eye with anyone at ANN, but Justin Sevakis summed up everyone’s feeling regarding piracy as the sole cause of the exit.
Even people in the industry that should know better than to blindly blame piracy for what happened are harping on about how piracy contributed to Bandai’s exit from the home video market, when the market responded to what it was offered and, surprise, it didn’t sell. If the blame piracy crowd wants to assign blame, it should blame Bandai Namco.
A bit of irony should also be observed as one of the people who made the call for Bandai Entertainment to exit home video was the former head of Bandai Visual USA, Tatsunori Konno.
There’s also a need to look at the numerous forum threads dedicated to faulty discs as a big reason for Bandai’s declining sales along with inconsistent release scheduling, which drove a lot of people away, including myself. How does anyone expect to sell product that ends up being defective or convinces people to buy new releases when they are consistently delayed? If any series sat on the shelf unsold, it wasn’t because of piracy or even lack of marketing, but lack of consistency.
After all is said and done and all of the analysis is driven into the ground, where do we stand? It wouldn’t surprise me if Bandai Namco decides to let Sunrise set up European and North American subsidiaries following in the footsteps of Aniplex in order to sell product directly. Sunrise was already doing the work that Bandai would have been contracted to do since the Tiger & Bunny home video release last year and it’s continuing in that direction with the Japanese release of Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, which includes English subs.
I’m not going to say that the industry is dying or anything of the sort, but it looks like Japan wants to move away from relying on domestic companies in favor of directly controlled outposts (again). It works for Aniplex at the moment, provided Bandai Namco took the lessons learned from its failed attempt with Bandai Visual USA to heart and realizes that the market is stratifying itself even further away from physical releases.
More and more, it seems that the single worldwide release is the preferred model going forward for Japanese companies as it addresses the short-term concerns of reverse importation and significant cost differential between territories, with digital video rentals being preferred for “cheap” versions of releases, but less well off fans will undoubtedly not accept such release models easily.
For what it’s worth, I’m going to buy the K-On boxset if only to bookend the years of Bandai releases I have on my shelf before their quality took a nosedive, starting with Brain Powered. I have no doubt many holdouts will do the same. My biggest question now centers on Bandai’s capability to get their licenses on TV, especially with the availability of cable VOD and the linear Funimation Channel on cable. Code Geass got on Adult Swim, but I’m curious to see where their plans with online streaming take them as they already have a presence on Crunchyroll.
We still have companies licensing anime in the US, but much like Geneon after its shutdown in 2007, losing Bandai feels like losing a pillar of the industry, especially since it was around before the advent of DVDs. It’s going to be hard to replace them, especially as they were ramping up to release Nichijou and more manga as well as Turn A Gundam. I really wanted Nichijou, too. All I can hope for is that someone picks it up.