Monthly Archives: February 2008

Retail Valentine

I lack the bravado and skill to do this kind of self-insert, so I’ll just rant on some more about retailing. Saint Valentine’s day is a retail holiday after all in Japan.

I’ve been actually writing a long piece about the business end of this anime business. Or the non-business end, whatever. Where rubber meets the road. Where society pays out to creators for their copyrighted expressions. Where you and I pay in to get our fix. But the more I read my own writing the less I want to publish it at all, says this creator.

I think Shizuki’s written a good shakedown in the ongoing conversation about not just curry but also how we value DVDs and how we are asked to value them. It’s not about blame or who’s got the better way to do things or what, but merely a challenge to you and I; a dare to spend money. It’s a no-brainer why that the anime industry suffered when the retail industry did; Suncoast folding was a huge deal since it is a primary retail customer of our staple region 1 importers. It’s not a big surprise that online stores like AN and RightStuf stepped into licensing because both have ran relatively successful retail operations in this market. We (as fans and as an industry) all have to grow–some vertically.

To be more precise Shizuki’s discussion reminded me of the Tenchi Muyo OAV box that Pioneer put out in the early days of the DVD switchover. I remembered when Pioneer was dumping its LD catalog and going all DVD. Was DVD to be an premium format? It didn’t turn out that way. Today we have people watching (crappily produced) DVDs on their $75 portable DVD player with a craptastic 5″ LCD screen, mono sound out of a set of $5 headphones. It just doesn’t compare to the home theater system few people first had back in ’98 with their $1000 DVD/LD combo player. That’s what DVDs are as a format now and back then, respectively. Like newspaper and cell phones, we junk the old ones we had since yesterday or two years ago, simply because they are worth slightly above nothing today.

And this does have something to do with the curse of collectors, too. Aside from your personal satisfaction and peace of mind of ownership of some…random anime in its limited edition format, on the whole there is very little market value for used anime DVDs. I suppose people do trade them in at game stores or used media stores for some petty cash/credit, but we’re talking about a large depreciation of value. Or rather, what value we see for used anime DVDs (say, on eBay) is derived purely out of people’s personal valuation for those items, and not so much a fair market valuation based on consistent supply and demand. Or am I wrong?

As the global media industry grapple and come around to embrace the fact that we no longer treating music and movies as albums and DVDs, but as music and movie and as a part of our popular culture and life, we are left to deal with the business end of it. How do we make it work? Media companies can no longer peddle that same bicycle, try as they might. Or maybe they can upgrade their bicycle into hi-def, or over the internet. Or peddle something else all together different like the new wave of internet music and video sites. I don’t know.

To me, this is the real nail-in-the-coffin. It’s not about fansubbing, but it’s about how people value disposable entertainment media. If people valued it, even fansub “pirates” would buy them simply because they are worth the money (presuming they can afford it in the first place). This intangible value is what’s missing. It is what all those collector’s edition trinkets are trying to pump up. It’s what limited edition, limited print runs are trying to make. It is about being able to pay a good amount of cash and get something really cool, versus paying very little to get very little (that we can live without). The former bargain just doesn’t quite exist anymore, so we’re all going for the latter.

Collector’s Curse

Shamelessly stoen from the guy who draws Mahotsukainitaisetsunakoto

Back when the X-Files was a cult hit, one of my family member was pretty smitten with it. There was a lot of fan things to be done, and different organizations catered to the fans of this then-growing, popular franchise. Merchandising, specifically, was all over the place.

That got me thinking later on: how does merchandising fit in the mindset of a fan? It’s definitely something people use to show off to others. But showing off is something people of all segment and all cross sections do. After all, there’s nothing wrong with showing off something that is genuinely praise-worthy. Perhaps a live-recorded Momoi alarm clock is one of those, when you requested it from her to say something to get that blood sugar up in the AM. Perhaps it’s your straight-A student-child that you want to show off. Or maybe it’s some battle scar and the long story behind it.

Looking at the collector complex from this angle is getting just half the story, however. There are some collectors who do so out of compulsion and not out of love. It’s not to say they do not love the shows they are collecting, but they do it mainly out of the curse that has been set up before us. A limited edition of some popular show many people like, included with the DVDs are a bunch of pretty but also pretty useless trinket (in the sense that once you use them, the value of the collection depreciates).

Perhaps it’s out of value, then? Do we have any “collectors” who do not value the special stuff they are buying, but merely buy them because they want to have/use the extra stuff? I think it would be a very small number.

WTB: One Stop Shop for All Things Anime

Okay, so licensing companies might cry and fans might whine, but it is where the retailers are that rubber meets the road. All that talk about internet distribution offers a glimpse of another world, another way to do business; but that’s not today. At least when it comes to anime anyways.

My question to you is: who and where do you go to get your fix? When you’re buying DVDs in the US, they are abundant and cheap. Places like DeepDiscount consistently provide margin-killing prices for a wide selection of videos on discs. I pretty much go there for anything that I’m not in a hurry for. Well, maybe between that and Netflix.

The licensee RightStuf operates their own store, and often they also provide good prices. Granted it’s not often and their normal prices are not exactly exciting, RightStuf is a candidate to an one-stop shop. I wonder how much money they make off a copy of Piano… That said, I use RightStuf only because it is cheap, and because they have the selection for some of the less popular wares that catch my eye. I suppose the only notable thing about this Iowa-based retail operation is that they almost hired Lawson for something. For better or worse.

There’s also this other licensee, AnimeNation. They are also one of the earliest entries into the US regional market to provide both imported and locally licensed goods. While they don’t do the same kind of margin-killing sales, they do offer a much wider selection with more imported goods. Maybe ‘wider’ is not so accurate of a description as more, different kind of stuff go through their inventory than RightStuf, which tend to stick to some relatively exclusive goods that are hard to find elsewhere. Yet, for an import junkie like me, the fact that RightStuf doesn’t sell imported CDs means they’ll only get a couple hundred dollars (at best) of my sales each year. AN plays the import game very conservatively so I rarely buy from them, at any rate. I don’t blame them–it’s not easy and I’m not sure if a FL-based company can pull it off.

Fair enough. The only “real” one-stop shop for anime, as an importer, is Amazon Japan. And I do spend way too much money on them (when I have said money to spend). They even have a complete figure store, but I guess they’re too high profile to sell that stuff as exports. What the hell, right? I mean, ok, blocking exports of video games make some sense (not much more, but at least they are controlled much more tightly by a handful of licensors), but why figures? They part with CDs and DVDs without a care, so I don’t see the problem. Maybe a customs issue? Anybody knows?

There are a few other near one-stop shops. Animaxis, if you can put up with how annoying they are and how much more things are marked up, is a potential option. Akadot retail and Broccoli’s AnimeGamers (currently are also good options online, but neither is that cheap and their selection is spotty at best. They are good places to go to get some exclusives, though.

That brings me to the final potential of an one-stop shop: Kinokuniya. Now I’m not sure what you can buy from them over the internet, but their local stores are chock full of imported CDs and DVDs. And of course books and manga and artbooks and random trinkets. Kinokuniya’s selection is not great, but it isn’t stale. They get the new stuff, the popular stuff on the shelf. I can go in on a Friday and expect to see the new singles that came out that week displayed there. The markup is notable, unfortunately. Now the American Kinokuniya stock tons of the region 1 anime and manga, and it has transformed into something more like a B&N or Borders. But when it comes to the somewhat more hardcore fanboy stuff, there’s traces of it to be found.

Admittedly, my simple survey skips a lot of nuances. If you want to buy anime porn, well, don’t ask me where to find them. Certain some goods like doujinshi and specialty imports like bishoujo games and indie fan CDs and the like require a specialty outlet. A lot of the figures you can buy (and almost all the ones I buy) also require a specialty outlet. There’s stuff like Y!JA and other special order stores. Still, that is not to mention only AnimeNation, out of the stores I listed, deal in used goods. There’s a healthy division of labor to avoid competition?

And of course I must’ve missed some stores out there, too. Anyone care to add?

Chasing Zefiris; Please! Yuti

“Is that Suppi-kun or are you just glad to see me?”

About as epic as the Gurren Lagann version IMO

So this guy has been reading the TokyoPop novels. I’ve been reading some too recently and the 4th installment of the translated light novel series from Ichiro Sakaki (and Mugodan doing the drawings) needs to come out already. I read somewhere the release date is actually the 31st of January but I couldn’t find it anywhere online the day after.

At any rate, it is a totally different kind of read than what I’ve been reading. It’s like, lol. I mean it’s not even lol like crappy Magic: The Gathering novels or stories about Thrall and LORELOL. This is Ichiro Sakaki putting forward a really darn good fantasy setting with a fairly rich story about Driving Miss Pacifica. Albeit heavy-handed at times and sort of melodramatic to a point, I’m not sure I can sift through its popular brand of justice cleanly with what’s in the psyche of the Japanese fantasy reader. There’s a crossover between the two, I suppose.

Which is to say, it’s been a long, long time since I cracked open a fiction novel.

It was a Suddenly Raquel moment, to be sure. It’s a fluffy read. Nonetheless that did not stop the rather tranquil expression I carried while plowing through the short novels in a couple hours.

What would really be a Suddenly Raquel moment is they canceled book #4 like a ninja and we had to go find this out ourselves! Grr.

So. Onto the more serious topic: licensing limbo. The thing about ADV is not really worrysome, much like how I don’t worry about Geneon’s non-distribution of DVDs. The one fact remains: there’s money to be made. The question is how to make that money. As fans, we just want to be able to watch it, to own it, to enjoy it.

We want to avoid what has happened to the licensing quagmire that is Macross. It’s just cruel to show us how good something is and then to butcher it and yank it away. And it punishes no one except those who are actually paying the buck. I hope with all these corporate back-end maneuvering we don’t orphan anything.

Horo Is Not Laputa

Yes, Horo really does mean something bad in Finnish. The term is a slang for slut, really, and is used as slang in insult.

At least so says the Finnish people I saw online.

It makes you wonder what other terms are out there which makes jibberish sense in one language but totally BAD in another. Maybe CLAMP and Ichiro Sakaki had the right idea and named their characters after known variables with corporate marketing that has done their homework…sometimes. And I say sometimes, hopefully as you know, with the allusion to the Chevy Nova. It does make a nice name for a fiery villain I guess.

Google, by the way, suggested an alternative. If you read about this unknown Balkan band they come up with an alternative etymology.