Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Anime Industry Then and Now Section 3: The Anime Boom Era Part 4: The Company Wars

Earlier in my articles I stated where each company was at the very beginning of the Anime Boom. Well, Pokemon being a commercial success, Toonami opening up to prospects of more shows, and the birth of DVDs gave companies a HUGE push to get anime out there exposed in as many mediums as possible.

It was here that Funimation transitioned from an American company that simply own Dragonball to a full-fledged anime company. Their first post-DBZ acquisition being the sci-fi series, Blue Gender. Now I gotta say that there was nothing remarkable about this series except that it had the things anime was stereotyped as. In other words, Tits & Action, and Gore. I seriously think Funi licensed this series just to tell anime fans “Hey, look, we CAN release something completely graphic and not flinch!” and anime fans responded positively. Following this was the much more sedate Fruits Baskets but with each new acquisition Funi continued to hire more voice actors and put more thought into their production of their series. To most fans it almost seemed that Funi has a split personality disorder when it comes to everything else they were getting and specifically Dragon Ball Z as we are just NOW getting a properly translated dub through Dragon Ball Kai.

Viz was shifting their own priorities around this time. But I can’t mention Viz without mentioning Tokyopop. It was because Tokyopop pushed releasing very popular manga series in (gasp) Japanese order format and titled it their %100 Authentic Manga line. The longest series being the infamous Great Teacher Onizuka manga, along with that you had a handful of CLAMP titles (okay, pretty much EVERYTHING sans X and what was not out at the time), Fruits Baskets, Kare Kano, Marmalade Boy, the list goes on and on. This was met with much success and forced the other leaders in the manga industry (Viz and Dark Horse) to rethink their release strategy and of course eventually both companies followed suit (weird irony here, which are the ones they are still thriving with a good number of titles in present day?). Viz focused much of their attention on their manga line but the few anime titles they did have they made sure had a strong presence in the media, I’ve already stated Naruto on Toonami which helmed Viz’s focus on Shonen Jump specific titles but I’ll go into the other series later on.

Bandai found its own footing with the release of Cowboy Bebop and the support of Cartoon Network for the majority of their Gundam titles.

Cartoon Network made its own dramatic change, it was around this time that they created “Adult Swim” which started of as a spin-off programming block aimed at specifically college aged to adult audience. This not only revolutionized more mature anime airing in the US but also gave an avenue for American cartoons to thrive *coughfamilyguycough*. At the premiere of their channel on the anime end they aired Cowboy Bebop, airing on September 2, 2001. Note the date. Yeah… unfortunately, because of the 9/11 attacks (which were a true tragedy, and I would like to state I’m not trying to diminish the effect that had on the United States as well as the world) Cowboy Bebop’s initial airing had to have certain episodes removed but eventually the series in its entirety was allowed to air mostly uncut.
Over the years both Toonami and Adult Swim continued to push the envelope in their programming. Adult Swim became the home of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach, Inuyasha, and far too many series to name (Wiki it people!).

ADV, OTOH, continued to do their own thing (which would eventually lead to their downfall). Running fresh off of the success of Evangelion they continued to license popular show after popular show. Now I have to be honest here, upon seeing where they ended up as a result, I can say that for every 2 or 3 good shows that the company came out with there was always 11 “fluff” shows that made me think the company was one of the worst offenders of “over saturating” the market. Still, much like Funimation, their dubs continued to evolve (and similar to Funi dubbed in TEXAS where apparently has become a dubbing Mecca of sorts) and helped make them a maintain a strong presence during the anime boom.

Geneon, suffered a similar problem, it simply could be chalked up as they tried to make too many niche titles viable series for the American market. I give them props though, since they acquired the rights to Chobits, Samurai Champloo, and R.O.D the TV which were all pretty popular at the time.

It was also around this time that 4Kids became the anti-thesis to all the companies I listed above. Their success with Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh led them down a dark path where they believed that ALL anime can and should be butchered to fit American broadcast standards. Unlike CN, which walked a thin line 4Kids jumped into the deep end of the crazy pool to make their point. This ultimately culminated into getting the rights to One Piece. Now, to be honest, I specifically only have issue with how 4kids handled One Piece. The adaptation of Pokemon was well done. Yu-gi-oh was a little dumbed down but was still an entertaining show. Sonic X suffered from just being a mediocre show in general (the Japanese version only excelled at certain points). I wish the English version of Shaman King got a proper DVD release, and I LOVE how the handled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But One Piece was an embarrassment to anything that had aired on TV before it. The editing standards that were put into the show (I.e. hammer gun) were just ridiculous and it doesn’t help that 4kids seemed to have no clue how progressively violent the series would get later on despite its cartoony appearance (then again, how many American cartoon companies make this mistake).

However, this was the big deal with the company wars, everybody trying to get their product out and promoted as much as possible. Of course, quite a few of these companies would suffer the backlash of doing this but I will get into that in the later part of my article series.

1 comment:

  1. FUNimation won me over because of their use of honorifics in the subtitles for all their licenses. Too bad that's no longer true as the person now in charge of that isn't an "otaku." *_*

    After seeing the horrible job Viz did to some products, I refused to buy from them for a long time. Fortunately, they are slowly coming around (at least with manga).

    TokyoPop gets credit for taking a cost cutting idea (not flipping the manga) and turning into a money making venture. Unfortunately, Stu lost his focus on stupid stuff and TP has suffered for it (IMO).

    Back in 2002 and 2003, I watched Adult Swim a fair amount. However, the format for anime is such that it gets VERY boring quickly. Once you've marathoned the episodes they are airing for a series, having them in near endless reruns is not the way to do things IMO.

    ADV wouldn't go full otaku on subtitles (just retained the "chan" honorific) but they did license some decent stuff. Unfortunately, they also licensed crap and did a lot of bad marketing to make some titles seem to be what they were not in order to get cheap sales (Those Who Hunt Elves springs to mind). The Internet insured they couldn't continue to do that and without those "cheap" sales, ADV hurt.

    Pioneer/Geneon -- Proof that the Japanese still don't truly understand the U.S. market. Well, that may be an over simplification but while they had some good licenses, they couldn't keep with the times as I see it. Now, Geneon Universal (in Japan) holds many big property rights (the Tenchi titles that Pioneer co-produced as an example) and that's unfortunate.

    As for 4Kids, again, the power of the Internet means that companies can't get away with what they used to do.