Robert Napton’s ANNCast

I don’t know if it’s the best ANNCast, but it’s one of the better ones, partly because it clocks in at a massive 2.5 hours, goes over Napton’s involvement with the comic boom during the early 90s with Image (he worked for them as a writer), some anecdotes from Nippon Books and US Rendition, and it’s basically the final salute/farewell to Bandai Entertainment USA. This podcast is also great partly because it namedropped “Anime Expo 2007″ and “Yutaka Yamamoto.” And partly unlike most ANNCasts, it talks a lot about Turn-A Gundam. It’s all over the place. But ultimate I think it’s great, because I think Napton has a narrative going on. And you might know how I like narratives.

The people who have better things to do than to listen to a 150-min podcast can get a detail list over at AODVD/FP thanks to WTK. But I’d like to drop my own spin and do  my own distortions like a crappy dubstep remix. I think all the talk about manga and Napton’s career is actually quite fascinating, but it’s kind of off topic so I hope you’d just go listen to it to get the most out of it.

What’s probably more important is that Napton posted an errata of sorts in the ANN forum which ends with a paragraph that extended the main problem as raised by Quarkboy. Let me reconstruct it here so you understand what I mean.

First, from Napton’s POV, throughout the podcast, the reason why Bandai Entertainment USA closed was because Japan decided to restructure. Bandai Entertainment USA was trucking along, doing the “right things” and making themselves as a sustainable business. The rug was pulled out from under them, as the saying goes. It’s probably good to understand, also, that after the Namco merger, Bandai was really more a collection of independent units/businesses that operated with a lot of independence. As a unit, Bandai Entertainment USA was doing fine however. (For example, as repeated elsewhere, K-ON was doing well.)

It seemed that the Namco-Bandai mothership wanted to come up with an unified international strategy, which is described below. I quote:

I’ve heard things here in Japan from within Bandai “corporate” as to the reasoning for the shutting of Bandai Entertainment…

The reason why it seems so senseless is because Robert is only considering the situation in the US market, as if Bandai in Japan made the decision in a vacuum. The decision to shutdown Bandai Ent. was part of an overall restructuring that affected all parts of Bandai Group’s audio visual units, within and outside of Japan.
The new overall philosophy is that Bandai should make physical products in Japan, and sell them overseas.
You remember how you said it was so silly for Bandai Ent. to have to pay Japan (bandai visual or sunrise) to license the shows? It seemed silly to them too, especially when the market had shrunk so much. Why should Bandai have a licensing and sales unit in the US but not everywhere else in the world, for example?
Their new strategy is to treat videogram sales more like gundam kits, and export Japanese made products to the world. For broadcast and internet license to local companies, and for sales export your Japanese products.
In this new strategy it didn’t make sense to keep a sub company like Bandai Entertainment around. In fact having it license things in the US just made it harder to control a global marketing strategy from HQ. Bandai Group wants to treat the global market as much as possible as a single entity.

A couple days later Napton actually posted some errata to the podcast (you can read it here) but I want to highlight the below:

As for the future, after reading some of the comments, I’d like to make the analogy that President Obama was re-elected because his campaign did a better job on the GROUND in the battleground states. More people knocking on more doors. The R1 US anime market cannot be salvaged without a dedicated ground effort, which cannot be accomplished by manufacturing discs in Japan with subs and dubs and importing them long distance with no one here speaking on their behalf. Aniplex is succeeding at the moment because they have a US based group heading up their North American effort. I would hope in some form or fashion, Bandai Japan realizes that this is the best strategy for the US market because I believe it’s the only way to really accomplish the goal of selling more DVD and Blu-ray product in the R1 market, which is the understandable goal of any company.

I’m inclined to agree with Bob. This is basically how I feel about that Daisuki thing, if you recall. The internet is wondrous. Having Japanese releases with subs is excellent. But it does not address of the value that Bandai Entertainment USA had in terms of a “footprint” of anime in North America. Maybe that footprint is changing, the market is adjusting. Sure. Stuff gets left on the table. What is a footprint anyway? The people, the con presence, the PR, the store they had, the line of manga, all of that has some kind of value. The question is what value is it? What and how should corporate value it? How should consumers value it?

Is this why K-ON’s marketing falls into a pit once the license switches hands? All of this is non-trivial, important stuff that the average consumer kind of misses. In this “American fans party, don’t pay” atmosphere of narratives, I like Napton’s “Star Blazer mountain” narrative because ultimately the middlemen are the true critical failure point. It’s just now we’re dressing it in greater clarity. It’s reasonable to expect unreasonable fans to go crazy on Turn-A Gundam at a panel, even if that is a bad thing. That’s what is suppose to happen. It’s not reasonable to expect fans to reason with you on the causes why Japanese licensors are disconnected with the US market realities, even if that is a good thing. Because that is the whole point to the localization business.

But I think this is not a story about good and bad, people or business decisions. This is a story about how things are changing. Here we have Napton, a guy who got into anime because of Star Blazer. Now we have people like EJ, who … what does he even like? I mean it in a “is this guy just a dude workin’ or is he like, a fan?” kind of way. Napton namedropped a bunch of the new guards of marketing. He even namedropped some Japanese guys who get it, like LOL Henry Goto. Well, good for them. I just hope all these baton hand-offs resolve with fewer stranded licenses and laid-off employees. It’s the least that could be done.

Kiraboshi!

Instead of a billion post-scripts, I just want to highlight other notable points of the podcast. I mean, that’s why this is worth listening to. I’m not really a podcast guy but there are some quality ANNCasts after all, such as this one.

According to Napton, they sold out of FLAG at A-kon. Why? Is it because of some autographing tie-in? That’s my best guess. FLAG underperformed, which is no great secret, but somehow it sold well in Texas and nowhere else. Wonder why?

He mentioned Anime Expo 2007. I think some of my fellow seiwota chasers agree that it was a tragedy of a con. Napton didn’t go into details, but I’ve heard enough from everyone else to figure out what was going on… You should too. I think you get the best “heat” if you actually go to AX and interview some of the people in line for autographs. It’s things like this that bonds Marketing Directors with congoers.

Yamakan got a name drop. His statements that rattled the 2ch-types got referenced to. And yeah, spot on bros. And the Endless Eight dub idea sounded neat–Napton said there was an internal idea about having different people dub E8 and have role switches, but it didn’t work out so the idea didn’t go.

His point about the Bebop dub and how those actors connected with R1 anime’s humble beginnings made a lot of sense. As someone who doesn’t track dub actors directly but is invariably always just one degree removed from that scene, it’s a pretty fascinating look.

There were a fair bit of discussion regarding Bandai Visual. It seems that where it failed isn’t the idea but in the execution. While the strength of the titles as an issue was obvious from the get go, the whole distribution aspect is something you wouldn’t know until probably a good bit after the fact. I wonder how Loy got roped into that in the first place.

What’s equally enlightening is the “changing of the Bandai Entertainment” image. I guess I never really saw it that way, partly because anime itself has changed in a similar way, so it was more like out of the growth of the licensing more titles? I don’t know. It always licensed shows like, say, FLAG, anyway.  There was always the Gundam series of the day. Bones shows. I think maybe when Bones started doing weird things, maybe then? I can understand why Napton namedropped Soul Eater. That did feel like a Bandai title. Heck, Full Metal Alchemist (both series) felt like a Bandai Entertainment title. I guess you can see how it goes. Maybe the better question to ask is, are they changing the image in part due to the licensing pressure as a result of having too narrow of a focus in a field that isn’t widening? I suppose Lucky Star was like, the one turning point for them.

In some sense, this podcast isn’t as “enlightening” on a factual level. I thought it was more like a canvassing of an era (90s and 00s) from someone who was both in it and as an observer. But there are some pretty interesting stuff, especially if you followed this sort of news throughout that period.


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