UK Anime Fandom: A Review

OK, well maybe not exactly a review but I do have a few things to say based on observations over the past year or so.

There are some attitudes within the UK fandom that seriously piss me off. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, which is exactly why I rant about stuff on here, but some people just seem incapable of looking outside of their particular pet peeve and just want things to work the way they want them to work. Yet they’ll state their ways as being sure-fire things with no risk to balance out the rewards. Which always seems a little short-sighted to me.

The UK fandom has preferences just as varied as our American and Australian counterparts; we’re just a damned sight smaller. And, yes, that sometimes means that what we really want (in my case, everything on Blu-ray) just isn’t viable.
Yes, I loudly lament that fact and, yes, I try to think of ways to try and fix this. But trying to state that things are as simple as making a different business decision and it being a guaranteed instant success? I, for one, am not that stupid. (Nearly, but not quite…)

One of the recent fandom explosions is based around a blog post that Jerome Mazandarani put out and linked from the official twitter feed. It also builds on things he’d said before, regarding some of the contractual obligations that the Japanese licensors have them work under.
And, suddenly, people are up in arms saying that Jerome’s just blaming the license holders for difficulties based around Manga’s preferred business model.

It’s not that I completely agree with all of Manga’s decisions, but here’s where I have a few issues with the current mob opinion.

Obligations

Firstly, a lot of what Jerome says with regards to what they’re allowed to do and when make a lot of sense. They tally with the way Manga and the other companies have had to release things in recent years. They also tally with things that the other distributors (in and out of the UK) have been saying for a while.

Granted, you have to do a lot of reading between the lines to get the same story out of other companies. But it all carries the same basic shape. It just seems that Jerome is the only person with the balls to say it in public.

I will say that as much as I respect honesty, information and even bluntness compared to corporate secrecy, I do accept that this doesn’t always go over well with standard business practices.
Then again, what I think about standard business practices is fairly blunt anyway.

Also, in my case, I loathe secrecy and favour as much information as I can get hold of. So when two companies have similar problems and one of them is brutally honest about the business realities, I actually respect that. Hell, I can actually tolerate and accept annoying decisions if I understand why they were made – even if I don’t actually agree with the reasons.

Delays

The release order, as a general rule, will go Japan, America, Australia, UK. The order can vary a bit, except that Japan will naturally always be first, but this is the order things tend to be. And each release has a tendency to have a few months between them. You then add in the fairly common scenario where any English-language release doesn’t even start until the Japanese home release is finished. And as they tend to release things in multiple smaller chunks, this tends to add a significant perceived delay.

One of the obligations often referred to is the required window before they’re allowed to release in the UK. Manga (and other distributors) obviously want to ride the hype, ride interest from people having seen legal simulcasts and get their product out on shelves before people get bored and just grab a torrent.

This is where the fandom opinion begins to really get on my nerves, and where the commentators start to weaken their own otherwise sound arguments.

The “sell bare minimum releases for cheap” argument has merit. I agree with other fans that quite a lot of us would be fine paying a bit more for a more polished product. Saying that maybe publicly criticising the people you license from isn’t a great idea is also a valid point. As I said before, I personally find it refreshing. But people who don’t like this approach have valid reasons for doing so.
And then there’s always someone who says “And if they’d just get their releases out faster” at which point I realise that these people just have an axe to grind against Jerome and aren’t going to let little things like facts get in their way.

Fine, you don’t have to like someone complaining at restraints. Fine, you can blame some of the issues on a company’s own business model. But if they say that their hands are tied when it comes to how early they can release shows and you respond with “Stop complaining and release shows earlier” then you just come across as wilfully ignorant.

Mouthing off at your business partners is one thing. But purposefully breaking street-date would be a sure way of ensuring that there would be no future product to put out on the shelves.

Varied

The other main issue is that the fan base is very varied. You cannot please everybody; you can just cater to your chosen audience with your chosen business model. And inevitably, every fan will have some shows that they think were picked up by the wrong company simply because their type of show was picked up by someone that is not their type of distributor.

Here’s where tensions are running high, though. Manga tend to take the mass-market approach. Well, in as much as Anime can be classed as mass-market. They release affordable sets and tend to work down to a price point.  This is great for the more casual fan, or for people like me who have a lot of interests but somewhat limited funds. They don’t have many collector editions in fancy boxes or tins. Personally, I prefer this approach as I just like to be able to get the damned discs out of the damned case. But for some people, a release in a standard case is a total dealbreaker. Heck, for some people, choice of artwork of the exact placement of logos on the box can lead them to favour an imported release over a UK one, even if the actual disc is functionally identical.

Yes, the main variation we have in our fandom is that it’s not a simple case of “Collectors” versus “Casuals”. It is more that although all Collectors are Dedicated Fans, not all Dedicated Fans are Collectors.

You then get MVM, who tend towards slightly more niche releases at the expense of being less likely to release a Blu-ray. And you also get Anime Limited, who are primarily collector-oriented. And with the latter about to release their first non-classic series, it’s going to be interesting to see how their “Collector Box First, Cheaper Set After” works for recent shows.

I have a fair few Anime Limited releases, with some more to come courtesy of Kickstarters. They are very nice but damned if I’d want “fiddly box” editions for my entire collection. But there are some fans who’d love “high quality art box” editions for everything they bought.
(And I am purposefully using two very different descriptions here to refer to exactly the same type of box. Different people can, and do, see the same thing in very different ways.)

Similarly, I have a fair few MVM releases. And they do seem to maybe put a little more visible effort into their marketing push, likely because of their smaller catalogue. But they are also more likely to go DVD-only for some titles.

Manga may not be perfect but, for me personally, their tactic of getting a lot out (much of it being on Blu-ray) at a cheap-ish price in a simple box suits me down to the ground, simply because I don’t have the funds to buy as much as I do if it’s all collector boxes. But if I enjoy a show, or a genre, I want to have a physical copy of it. So I can watch when the internet’s down, in nice sharp quality with subtitles that aren’t crap.

Small Market

In an ideal world, every company would be able to release every series in their catalogue in both DVD and Blu-ray formats, as well as being able to offer standard and collector editions of the higher profile shows. Sadly, the UK market simply can’t handle that. So sometimes it is a case of releasing a slimmed-down version to get it out at all. Yes, they could just go for the collector-only release but would that really be any better?
Personally, I say no. I would (grudgingly) pay over the odds for the shows I really wanted but I’d be buying a whole lot less shows on impulse. Which would be a shame as they are some real gems (not available on streaming services) that I only picked up because the series set was fairly cheap.

Bringing it back to Jerome’s rants, it is clear that the UK distributors are basically stuck between the fans and the rights-holders. And of course he’s going to get annoyed when he feels like he’s being forced to agree to terms that means he can’t offer what he knows a significant chunk of his customer base really wants. All companies are often left fielding the same questions from irritated anime fans. And Manga, professional or not, are the only company who openly agree with things being “a major ball ache”.

And, in this day and age, delaying a physical release too far after initial broadcast is just a really dumb idea that has to die.

UK Market

The unfortunate, and simple, fact is that we aren’t the US market; we’re a lot smaller. The more casual side of anime fandom makes up a significant chunk of potential sales. And when you pay the licensors a minimum guarantee and have to fund a set minimum print run (and have to deal with the BBFC’s non-optional per-minute classification checks) you really can’t afford to alienate the more casual buyers.

The US, Canada and even Australia has the advantage of having a larger overall market so that the more dedicated fans are a significant number in themselves. Also the overall market size means they can work better on volume. Oh, and Anime seems to be a whole lot more successful on TV in those countries. Somehow, the execs and the audience over here just don’t take to it as well. Which also means that they can’t satisfy and/or stir interest from the casual audience anywhere near as much over here.

With a larger market size, maybe they would be able to manage standard-plus-limited edition dual-releases more often. That way they’d be able to satisfy all sides of the market a lot easier. The way things are, though, it’s often a bare-bones release or a super-shiny one. And although you’re not likely to get the casual audience to pick up a pricey collector edition, there is still a significant shank of the dedicated fandom who would avoid a collector release owing to price.

Going Forward

Do things need to change? Definitely! Eventually the more casual fans, and some of the space-limited dedicated fans, are going to go near-exclusively to digital anime. Maybe via streams, maybe via paid downloads. But eventually physical releases will be collector-only, and the distributors will have to adjust accordingly.

However, that time is not here yet. And if every company operated on the collector-only high-price route too soon, it would potentially kill the anime industry here in the UK. People just seem wilfully oblivious to that fact, though. It’s not the answer they want, so they’ll just pretend that it’s “wrong”. And I get enough of that crap working in IT Support.

And the other thing is that attitudes have to change on all sides. Manga’s strategy probably does have a limited lifespan and they will have to change eventually. But Jerome is right, too. Something has to give from the Japanese licensors’ side as well. And the customers also have to do a bit of meeting halfway. Sometimes you just have to deal with a higher price. Or a lack of art box. (Or a lack of simple Amaray Case). Sometimes you have to buy what’s out now in a hope that future releases will be closer to what you want. We currently have a UK anime industry. It would be bad if it fell apart. And although it could do a lot to improve, improvement requires customers and profits.

We have our own part to play.

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