The Garden of Whiners

Anime fans whine a lot; that is nothing special since most fans whine as a part of their necessary inclination towards obsession to peculiarity. But I understand this whine even out of  the context of fandom. It is the popularist whine.

I think this post from Sub sums up basically what I think is apropos of the whiners on Aniplex of America’s Garden of Sinner local-sales package. For those not in the know, basically Aniplex’s Garden of Sinner, a series of 7 films and a bonus OAV episode, is hitting Blu-Ray for the first time in a deluxe box that comes with the entire thing, some bonus features, and a LD-size artbook. The thing goes for about 60,000 yen in Japan, but savvy shoppers and importers can have it for about $430 USD, give or take whatever the exchange rates are by the time the box set ships the first Tuesday of February 2010 (and shipping). I say importers and savvy shoppers because the Japanese box set comes with English subtitles, and is not region-encoded (like most Japanese Blu-Rays).  Aniplex of America, then, announces that they will be importing an English-language version of that 60,000 yen box for sale exclusively at RightStuf and the Bandai Entertainment USA store. It even comes with a smallish discount and an additional booklet (with a unique cover) that contains translation for the big LD-size artbook. Discount, I said, because they are selling it at $400.

The real problem is in how Aniplex of America handled this announcement; it should have either approached it via some more narrow venue by soliciting the import fan community directly (maybe they don’t have an in) or otherwise try to mitigate the issue that the average retard will probably balk at the $400 price tag. The generic-sounding PR doesn’t help, despite it is carefully written to make the distinction between what Aniplex is doing and what licensing for a domestic market reads like. It’s almost meme-like on twitter when people reacted to it. Simply put, the majority of media consumers just do not pay that kind of price, American or Japanese. It is a collector’s item. But somehow people actually get offended when people price items above and beyond their willingness to spend. I guess it doesn’t matter why, since it’s not like it doesn’t happens on a regular basis in Japan, that it is not a license announcement, that it is not exclusive, or that they can still pirate it anyways, or what have you–it will automatically get detractors once things like that pop into their radar.

I should backtrack. To put it in other words, when you make something very desirable and make it also very expensive, it will naturally draw out the ugly in some. It’s the vices of luxury, in a nutshell. So when you make an elite product (and I think the Rakkyo box qualifies) and put an equally elitist price on it, it will draw that populist ire. It’s a bit of that sour grape thing, it’s a bit of plain envy. It’s dumb and worse of all, counterproductive and bad for everyone when people whine on it as a gut reaction and not based on reason.

In some sense, American consumerism almost treats our media as a right, rather than a privilege. And maybe it is better that way. But I’m not a fan of crap metaphors about rights and privileges; I’m more about actual rights and actual privileges–anime is neither since I last checked. So I’m just going to say that you should just make a choice:

  1. Come up with the dough. $400 is not ridiculous; I mean a particular whiner I know owns an iPad, and if you can enjoy that kind of luxury and cries on this one in this economy then you’re just a cheapskate.
  2. Give up on it. The idea is nobody is going to buy it, and that is true considering people like myself is nobody. Or I should say, comparatively very few people will be able to shell out, let alone willing to shell out four Benjamins just for some Blu-Ray Discs. Avatar 3D isn’t even that expensive. And like Avatar 3D, eventually you can buy it for cheap too. Rakkyo is not guaranteed to be licensed in America, but if it is like any top-selling BD title, odds are you can find it in Mandarake for 40% of the total cost a year or two later. Or in Book-off another 2 years later for even less. And if you get lucky someone might still license it for US release, at US price points.
  3. Find yourself a magical sister. It may works.

As long as you shut up about it for #1 and #2, you’re in good shape.

Homework: the ever cheapening of anime begins at home. Before even moe attacked, anime was an expensive hobby on its way to worthless-ville. Honestly I think it is good that it no longer is an expensive hobby per se; but it was never meant to be the sort of business that can survive on one single mode, a single business method, a single stratification of the market. Just because a bunch of kids that grew up on Pokemon are old enough now to have real jobs and real income doesn’t mean they will buy whatever that comes next after Pokemon. The genre, the medium, the art form, the business, or whatever, is simply too diverse. In order to capitalize on every anime that can sell, you will have to capitalize on “everyone.” Which is why Funimation goes both high and low, both Shuffle and DBZ, both Strike Witches and One Piece.

But the increased price-accessibility of anime brings no real long term benefit in some sense; anime production is still insular and for the most part the west and international monies play very little role in its direction as a marketable property. For example, just because DBZ sells a lot in the west doesn’t mean Japan is not aiming for its Number One market, and that domestic market of theirs still holds the rudder. To that extent, localization houses are pushed between a rock and a hard place, and somehow the only way forward is to either not license something at all and select only what works within the licensee’s mode of operation, or take small risks on otaku properties that are actually not the same tried and true JUMP formula refined to a tee. Because you will need to have already licensed DBZ to pay for those. And because now you’re just playing safe and not taking any risk.

Well, it’s like what they say, if you know the market you can diversify your risks, put your eggs in the combination of baskets that will guarantee long term growth, and if your plans work out, also short-term profit. I think in some sense there are conclaves of the US anime fan base in which make their purchasing decision based on a set of branded values; that they are basically the creation of hard work from US distributors and licensees (or of fansub distros and bittorrent sites). When we being to experiment with other modes of distribution and monetization we will hear more whiners with their whining. I suppose it is just the job of the market leader to turn a negative into a positive.

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