​What killed the American anime industry?

Greetings, loyal readers of me reading other people's mail! I had a weird occurrence the other day — I finally got a letter that I couldn't deliver. I have no idea how this is the first time that this has come up, it being the post-apocalypse and all, but there it was. The letter had a return address on it, so I knew immediately what I had to do — burn it. New postal rule: No backsies. You lick your stamp, you take your chances. I've got shit to do.


Come What Anime

Chad F.:

I was looking over some of my old anime DVDs and reminiscing and started wondering what happened to anime? Anime used to be HUGE. It used to be on TV after school. We used to gets like ten DVDs released every week, and nowadays we're lucky to get a box set or two every Tuesday.

I know you used to work at Anime Insider back then, so I figured maybe you could tell me what happened? Why doesn't anime sell like it used to?

Oh, boy. You have no idea how long I've waited for this question (in "Postal Apocalypse," I've answered it in other formats before). But I love talking about it because I was there; I watched the anime industry go from this massive, thriving, city-sized blob monster screaming "Kaneda!" over and over again, to the complete destruction of Neo-Tokyo, as it were.

Let's start in the late '90s, early '00s. Anime is huge, in video stores and on TV. Shows like Dragonball Z, Pokémon, and Gundam Wing have toys in toy stores, more than a dozen anime DVDs are released every week, there's are many U.S. anime companies, and they're all riding high, releasing basically the last 20 years of Japan's finest anime TV shows, movies, and OVAs at their leisure. But there's not an infinite supply of great anime; just like any entertainment medium, there are good shows, mediocre shows, and crap — lots and lots of crap. For the first several years of the American anime boom, U.S. licensors got to pick cream of the crop, and what they sold sold well. But eventually the well ran dry, and the only good shows became the 2-3 new ones that appeared each season — but at this point the U.S. anime industry was still a machine that had 5-10 releases a week. What to do?

Well, the smart thing to do would have been to admit you no longer have the same quality or quantity of product, and scale back your business and your projected sales accordingly. But U.S. companies were making a lot of money and didn't really want to stop, and Japanese anime companies — who the U.S. companies had to pay for each anime license — were also making lots of money, and they especially didn't want to stop earning these massive piles of effectively free money, reality be damned.

So here's how it broke down: Based on the inflated sales of the early boom, Japanese companies demanded the same high price for an inferior product — for a not-necessarily real example, demanding to be paid the same for the RahXephon license as they did for Evangelion. RahXephon isn't bad, but it had no chance in hell of coming close to matching Evangelion in sales. Now repeat that with pretty much every single anime series released after 2005 or so. The Japanese, wanting to match their initial revenues, overcharged for pretty much everything, and the U.S. companies, both out of wishful thinking and because Japan had a complete monopoly on the source (where else was the U.S. going to buy anime?) paid them. And the U.S. companies lost and lost and lost money until basically two U.S. anime companies survived — Funimation and Viz.

There are other aspects to it. For instance, Bandai and Geneon — owned by Japanese parent companies of the same names — were treated as, to use the financial term, "bitches." Bandai Japan and Geneon Japan made anime, and not only forced their U.S. counterparts to license them, but to pay massive amounts of money for them, as if they were bidding on it no matter how shitty or inappropriate for the U.S audience they were. Basically, the Japanese companies sucked their American versions dry until they had to close. This is why Geneon released so many terrible, terrible series over its last few years that never had a chance of selling anything in America (Strawberry Eggs, anyone?) — because Geneon Japan forced them to. Same with Bandai Entertainment — I guarantee you they didn't want to try to release junk like Angel Links, Dan-doh, or Junkers Come Here.

And the Japanese companies could fuck with them in other ways, too. I've mentioned before how Bandai Japan forced Bandai Enterainment to pay a shit-ton of money to Cartoon Network to have them air the original Mobile Suit Gundam, because someone in the Japanese office thought he could recreate the entire Gundam franchise from start to finish in America by airing a 22-year-old anime on TV in 2001. I promise you, the guys at Bandai Enetrtainment knew this was a bad idea, but they had no real choice in the matter.

Anyways, back to it: Titles were already selling poorly when U.S. anime fans started realizing that pretty much every other TV series was getting released in reasonably priced DVD box sets, while anime releases came one at a time, with four episodes max, for $30-40 each. These prices were insane, even back in the "good" times, but once anime companies started charging the same thing for the crappy titles, anime fans kept their wallets closed and many of them went online to download the shows illegally. This only exacerbated the problem, obviously.

Nowadays, the U.S. anime market has balanced out. The Japanese know they can no longer charge an arm and a leg for every title, because then there will be no U.S. licensors left. Funimation and Viz are still the leaders, but there are some smaller companies with sensible game plans who can release titles but not destroy themselves — or if they do, it's by their own mistakes, not because the entire market is artificially overinflated. If you miss those days, I'm sorry, but I assure you this modern scenario was completely inevitable. The only reason that so many companies destroyed themselves while getting to this point is because of greed and self-delusion, on both sides of sides of the Pacific.


​What killed the American anime industry?

Hobbit Hobbling

Aidan R.:

I know the answer to my question is probably a simple: "Never ever because the world is a cruel place," but do you think they will ever release a version of these hobbit movies where they've cut out all the boring bullshit until it's the length of a single movie?

I know we still have one more hobbit movie left, but (based on what's gone down so far) I'm pretty sure we could edit that one down to, like, a half an hour, which I think could set us at a running time of 3 hours max?

Do you think Peter Jackson knows that we all want a shorter version? Someone has to have told him, right?

Let me put it this way: I don't think the odds are terrible. It's not even close to a sure thing, but once Peter Jackson makes the trilogy, it's not like he's in charge of home video releases, which are all about raking in as much cash as possible. If someone at New Line thinks there's a market for a The Hobbit: The Abridged Version, they'll make one and sell it, albeit way after the Extended Editions come out, and the box set, and maybe after the An Unexpected Journey: 10-Year Anniversary Hobbit Box Set Special Edition. It's all a matter of someone at New Line learning there's a market for this.

This may actually come from Peter Jackson himself, because he definitely knows that there's a market for an abridged version that sticks to the actual novel, even if it's only because noted Tolkien fan Christopher Lee told him (I'd like to think that upon hearing Jackson was extending The Hobbit to three movies, Lee called him and said," Um, Peter? What the fuck are you doing?" You know, in the classy way Christopher Lee would have said it).

The question, then, is how much Jackson has convinced himself that his three-movie version is somehow integral to The Hobbit. He must have done it at least a bit to agree to make three movies in the first place, or turn the insanely bloated movies into Extended Editions like he did for Lord of the Rings. But surely he doesn't think his artistic vision supersedes Tolkien's, and he won't turn down the chance to make everybody some more money by releasing a strict, by-the-book Hobbit 3-to-4-hour movie.

And, one year after New Line sells The Hobbit: The Abridged Version, they'll sell Lord of the Rings: The Abridged Version, in hopes that someone out there wants those too, and they can wring a little bit more cash from these things. They will be wrong about this, but at least we'll have a reasonably sized and paced Hobbit movie for our troubles.


​What killed the American anime industry?

Spider-Man No More

Shawn:

Dear Postman,

So I took your advice to another writer and watched The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes on Netflix. AMAZING. I Love that cartoon. After I had binged watch all that was available, I started having withdrawals. I picked the Ultimate Spiderman, and it worked: I watched the show, was slightly entertained, got bored with it pretty quickly, and voila, withdrawals cured! But there is something that irritates me about the Ultimate Spiderman. I can understand why a writer would want to place all of Spidey's foes under the umbrella of OsCorp (makes it nice and tidy, as well as some great inner-conflict), however, I just cannot buy that Osborn is obsessing over Spider-Man so he can create a super soldier. Seriously? An army of spider-men? Who would they fight? Flies and Mosquitos? Don't get me wrong, I love spidey and I think he is ideally suited to be a solo crime fighter in the dark alleys of Manhattan. But what good would it be to have an army of soldiers who can stick to walls and have spidey-sense? I guess it would be better than having regular soldiers, but in a world of Captain America, Ironman, and Hulk, I can think of a few super soldiers who would make for a more impressive combat team. Am I just being short sighted here? Would an army of spider-men really be all that great?

Well, the goal of the Super-Soldier Serum isn't more Spider-Men, it's more Captain Americas. Apparently, Dr. Erskine took zero notes at any point when he created the Super-Soldier Serum, because no one seems to have the slightest idea of how Erskine made it. Pretty much every accidental super-power people in the Marvel U. have received since then has been retconned at one point or another to be someone's attempt to recreate the original Super-Soldier Serum. Bruce Banner was trying to do it with gamma radiation. The Sentry got his powers from some crazy version of the serum. Man-Thing was working on one when he got turned into Swamp Thing. Wolverine and the entire Weapon X program was an attempt to create soldiers as effective as Cap through different means. And Norman Osbourn was trying pretty much anything to figure out the serum, including irradiating spiders, because why the fuck not.

But to answer your question about an army of Spider-Men — that would actually be pretty effective. First of all, check out Dan Slott's "Spider-Island" saga, where the Jackal gives everyone on Manhattan Spider-Man's powers and see how insane things get. Then remember, Spider-Man has superhuman reflexes, strength, wall-crawling, the ability to precognitively avoid danger, and more. Even if you didn't arm them with webshooters or guns, they could take out regular armies of much larger size. They'd be even better as ninjas.

Also, Norman Osborn is crazy as fuck. Don't worry too much about his plans making sense.


​What killed the American anime industry?

Dirty Joke

Mr.Black:

Ok, so to break the combo of "Who, s/he?" questions, let's get back to the sex in superheroes comics.

Recently I replayed the great Batman - Arkham City game in which there's an easter egg hint, which (SPOILER!) shows Harley Quinn could be pregnant with her Puddin', The Joker.

And that got me thinking; If they were in a relationship for some time now (take any universe you want, even in Rockstar game's universe there has passed some time from them hooking up till that winter in B - AC.), and, the relationship was (more or less clearly) consumed, how come she's pregnant only now. How do you communicate to the Prince of Crime and Chaos where and when he can and can't come, and/or that he has to put special rubber on his willy during happy-kissy time? Or is everything on her shoulders and the anti-baby pills? But then the question, what went wrong, did she subconsciously forgot to take them, and why?

Also, while we're at it, how did she survive all this time? Joker's maniacal and predictable as April weather, what's so special with her that kept him from just throwing her into a car cruncher just for a quick laugh? Her prowess in bed? But what exactly then? Or did Joker just feel the need for an appropriate sidekick, just to (badly) copy Batman, but is he capable of such emotional feats at all?

Those are the smoldering questions of our age, and only one man in the post-apocalypse can answer them!

Feel free to edit out all the grammatical errors, I'm not a native speaker and it's getting late as I write this. Thanks for great column!

First of all, let me announce this to Mr. Black and anyone who may be thinking of writing in from foreign lands: NEVER, EVER APOLOGIZE FOR GRAMMATICAL ERRORS IF ENGLISH IS NOT YOUR FIRST LANGUAGE. At least not to me, because as one who's been reading any of my articles knows, the chances of you having less grammatical errors than I do are not insubstantial. And I don't have the excuse that I spent the time or brain power to learn a second language, so, again, DON'T APOLOGIZE.

But thank you for including a filthy sex question, so I didn't have to print one of the flood of Lady Doctor Who responses. Let's break it down.

I'm not sure we can assume the Joker and Harley have sex on anything approaching a regular basis. The Joker, for all his issues, doesn't seem to be a sexual person (thank god), although he has plenty of romantic issues (albeit more for Batman than Harley). And if Batman: The Animated Series is any indication — and of course it should be — Harley is more than willing to bed the Clown Prince of Crime, but he's not interested. So really, it's that the Joker and Harley actually had sex that's the unusual part here, and one that's only occurred in the Batman games.

As for Joker and Harley having sex… eesh. Even I don't want to think too hard about this, and I get paid to. Suffice it to say, I'm pretty sure Harley doesn't give suggestions, let alone orders, but given her craving for the Joker's approval, I also imagine she's okay with that — especially if I'm right in guessing that sex is a pretty rare occasion that happens on the very few times the Joker feels human enough to actually be interested in boinking. As for birth control, I doubt the Joker cares or even thinks about. Harley can do what she likes, and if the Joker doesn't like it, he can just kill her and/or the baby later. So I'm guessing getting pregnant, if not a "happy accident," was completely under Harley's purview.

As for how Harley has managed to survive by the Joker's side all these years, well, it's complicated, but hardly a mystery. Harley Quinn is a rare kindred spirit to the Joker, but not one who would steal the spotlight. Harley gets the Joker's "jokes," as it were, and having one constantly approving audience member following him around must be gratifying to his immense vanity. She's also a willing accomplice who makes his "jokes" easier to "tell" as well. Importantly, the Joker can pretty much do anything to Harley and she'll come back to him — he can leave her to harass Batman while he escapes, he can emotionally abuse her, he can even try to kill her, and she'll always be his.

But the other side of this is that Harley is also good at surviving the Joker, because you're exactly right when you say he may randomly decide to murder her once in a while. He definitely has, and Harley has only escaped within an inch of the tassels she used to wear on her jester's hat. Frankly, it's a miracle that Harley's managed to stay alive so far. I'm sure the day is coming when the Joker murders her… for a while, at least.


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!