Doctor Who 2014: Why I like It (so far)

So, the latest episode of Doctor Who (Dark Water) has aired and opinions are predictably mixed. Some love it, some hate it. Whatever people’s opinions, though, it tends to be based around how they feel about the series so far.

I enjoyed it.

Now, before people think this is purely down to my curious enjoyment of taking the opposite viewpoint, let’s reflect a bit on my previously stated opinions about Doctor Who and TV in general.

I have had issues with the past couple of years of Doctor Who, as have many. I always took a different issue with it than a lot of people did. Many people didn’t like Steven Moffat’s style of storytelling. I, however, found it was the main thing keeping me from abandoning the show altogether. It was the trappings of contemporary western TV storytelling that I disliked, and the over-reliance of seemingly completely standalone episodes that plagued series seven.

This year, though, Doctor Who has felt like it has hit a lot more of the things that I enjoy in fiction and not been quite as bound by the usual TV “crap” that usually turns me away from otherwise good shows. I didn’t like every episode (Robot of Sherwood, I’m looking at you) but overall I’ve found levels of enjoyment and consistency that have just been missing from the previous complete series.

Trust me, the 7-9 period of a Saturday evening is much too useful to me to keep watching a show if i wasn’t genuinely enjoying it. And this year really has kept me from jumping ship. We’ve had a different take on the Doctor, a diffetent dynamic with the existing companion, and a look (through Clara) of why the Doctor is the way he is.

It has hit the “through line” and “character progression” beats that I haven’t seen in enough of in non-Japanese TV in several years. not that it hasn’t been there, but I’ve been put off too much to want to look for it anymore. But after this year, I have found that Western TV narrative can be just as engaging. I might even have to start watching TV for non-DW shows and finally catch up on my DVD/BD backlog of other series.

I know that many people have disliked the series, and for some it was put them off the show entirely. For me, though, this year (in addition to the 50th Anniversary Specials) is exactly what I needed to not lose interest in the show completely.

Now it just hangs on how the finale finishes up.

UK Anime and Release Delays

I was listening to the latest MangaUK Official podcast and I wanted to comment on Anime Limited‘s Andrew Partridge’s points on how the “release lag” is seen these days. He was meCALENDARntioning some of the (negative) feedback he’s been receiving over the Kill la Kill release strategy, explaining that we’re actually getting it significantly earlier than we usually get Anime TV shows.

In the case of Kill la Kill I’m not sure that it’s just the lack of initial half or full-season boxsets that some people struggle with, more that there’s no non-collector edition straight away. And, for me personally, my main issue with the breakup of the series is that it’s a three-part release of a show that really feels like it has two distinct halves.
On the one hand, it’s nice that they didn’t have to do the four-part split that Sword Art Online got. On the other hand, even though each SAO story arc got split in two, one arc finishes at the end of set 2 and the second arc picks up neatly at set 3. In Kill la Kill, episodes 1-12 and episodes 13-25 just seem like too natural and logical a split not to go with.

On the timing between broadcast/simulcast and UK home release, I think this is where industry realities and entertainment fandom realities can unfortunately diverge quite widely. The usual 17 month delay, although common, is just too long. As was mentioned in the podcast, the hype dies down. Home release announcements are for things people finished watching a year or more previously. And this is indicative of two different issues that stack up to a big problem.

Firstly, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, “To watch is to want”. If I enjoy something and find it has rewatch value, I am ready to buy it there and then. Western, Asian, animated, live action, anything. And this is all the more pronounced when it is something that benefits from multiple watches. I was ready to buy Inception the moment I left the cinema, and the several-months wait was difficult. And that was only about half a year.
Granted, shows being on Crunchyroll, Netflix, etc on demand is a good thing. But after streaming it the first (second, third…) time, I’m ready for something that doesn’t buffer, stutter, change bandwidth suddenly or glitch all to hell when I try to seek. (Streaming REALLY struggles with trying to rewatch or skip sections)

The other problem I think happens is that here in the UK people are already mightily sick of the lag it takes things reaching our shores. Yes, movies and TV shows tend to lag a lot less than they used to but people are basically fed up of non- simultaneous releases. And it’s not just Anime where people will import to get something earlier. (My GF is a huuuuge Supernatural fan. She buys the US BDs because WB don’t region lock them)
So having the US -> Aus -> UK lag doesn’t sit well with anyone who hates the lag in other things. We can’t switch off a pet peeve just because of something being a different medium or form a different market. People who strongly dislike a three-to-six month wait for a western TV show or movie to get a home release aren’t going to suddenly be OK with it just because it’s anime.

Put those two thing together and you get teh Kill la Kill situation. Where people were ready to buy it in April, have to wait all the way to november (initially December) and then have to buy a split release that only has a Collector Version so far. So people who just want the discs and are ready to re-marathon the series are completely out of luck. At best, they’ll have to collect over multiple months. And that’s just if they have the cash (and space) for the collector’s edition. Otherwise, it’s another year. And even then, it may still be split into multiple parts.

I don’t even know if there’s an easy answer for this. Non-Japanese releases don’t even get considered, as far as I know, until after a run is completely out in Japan. Then there’s the licensing negotiations, the dubbing, the OK-ing of materials. Even if there was no delay between the US and UK editions, these are still necessary steps before a home release can happen. They also aren’t things i can see the Japanese companies being in a hurry to change, either. From a fandom perspective, though, it is only going to get worse. Simulcasting means an increased amount of legal viewers catching shows as they first air in Japan. And the UK expectation of a same-year home release isn’t likely to go away any time soon, either.

Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Get a Straight Answer out of any Official Party

The tale of the third Evangelion Rebuild movie coming to the UK (or any English-speaking territory) is a woeful one at this point in time. It has been prompting outbursts from the fandEvaom for a bloody long time so far and, as of this week, also starting to get outbursts from more official channels.

This Wednesday, just before my last blog post, Jerome (Manga Entertainment UK’s Director Of Marketing And Acquisitions) was expressing a little bit of frustration at the latest official delay over Twitter, starting a thread of parody titles for the third movie. (The title of this post was my response)
And, yes, that was what got me to pull the trigger on actually releasing the last post.

The thing is, though, I completely understand where his frustration is coming from.

The Japanese theatrical release of Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo came out in November 2012. During 2013, one of the most frequent questions I saw on Manga UK’s Twitter and Facebook feeds was when Evangelion 3.33 was getting a UK home release. (Note: The theatrical releases have always been x.0, with the home version being x.xx)
Of course, being the UK release, it is dependant on the North American version as they are reliant upon that being complete. If I remember correctly, Manga UK sublicense these movies through Funimation (the NA publisher). If that is not correct then even if the license directly from Japan, they have licensed the English language localisation (dub and subtitles) from Funimation. So, either way, they can’t do anything until Funimation do. This doesn’t stop people, understandably, wanting to know when the next home release is out once the Japanese home release has started.

Fast-forward to October 2013 and the official Manga UK panel at MCM London Comic Con. They announced that Evangelion 3.33 was coming to UK DVD and Blu-ray in 2014. it got the biggest cheer for the panel. Even I was excited, and i don’t even care about the series. I just know that a lot of people have been avidly awaiting this. Even a technical screw-up (the screen went dead halfway through the trailer) didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.

The rumblings started to come out from Funimation’s side of things that the North America release had been delayed. This had a knock-on effect on Manga’s UK release and Madman’s Australian release, as both were dependant on the aerials that Funimation would be supplying.

Then…

…nothing.

There were a few announcements about “Time for additional NA theatrical showings” but, generally, there hasn’t been any real news for quite a while until recently. There have been rumours that it was something to do with the English language version, as other languages have had their home releases, but nothing concrete. nothing official.
The most “real” information we have had so far was a Facebook comment by Funimation in June saying that they are “working very closely with the studio in Japan” – which is worrying, so many months after the initially scheduled release date.

Like I said, there are rumours. I’m not going to list them because the rumours themselves are besides the point. The point is that there are rumours, and no official word. All we get are variations on “No Comment”. And, especially form Manga UK’s side of things, this has the air of coming out from between gritted teeth. There is clearly A Story Behind This, but it isn’t something that can be publicly stated. However, the lack of official facts is pissing off the fan base something seriously.

Mix into all of this that all of the UK distributors have had several delays on titles over the past year or so. Whether it’s down to material delays or last-minute quality issues, a  fair few releases have been delayed. And the ones that go down the best are when the full story, or at least a clear reason, are related. Especially because when the delay is upstream, if you don’t state that it reflects badly on your company. I’ve seen this happen a lot where people who are less researched than myself (sorry, “people who don’t waste as much time as me looking into the public reasons behind things because they’re not at irritatingly knowledge-hungry as myself”) blame end-point company A for a delay when the problem is upstream supplier B has delayed it for everyone.

I think this is where Jerome’s latest outburst came from. He knows the story. He knows the only thing that will calm people down is explaining why there is a delay and at what point the delay is coming from. And he can’t say anything, instead having to take the flak from the fanbase. And, unlike some production issues, this one isn’t in any way Manga’s fault. But they’re taking the same criticisms as if it were.
(BTW, working in IT support I understand some of the pain of having to wait on the supply chain, and fending off customer queries when there is a delay. So I can’t help but empathise a bit.)

Manga UK spent much of 2013 fielding questions about this title. In October 2013, they finally thought they would be able to close the book on this chapter in 2014. Now their latest new is that they won’t be able receive the assets form Funimation until October 2014. And the production and BBFC certification processes basically mean that the release date is now Feburary 2015.
And, by the time that date arrives, fandom expectations will probably be impossibly high.

No wonder Jerome’s frustrated.

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.

On Vita Announcements or Lack Thereof

In a way, the recent outcry about certain Vita announcements (or their lack) sums up the whole of E3 to me.

None of the early announcements did anything for me at all. It was all games I don’t care about, consoles I don’t own, or both together. My Twitter feed was swapped with announcements that really didn’t interest me in the slightest.

Then one stood out, from The Playstation Eu Blog’s own Twitter feed.

“Happy news for JRPG fans: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is coming to PS Vita. Details: http://bit.ly/1pCfuGL #4ThePlayers pic.twitter.com/97g0mOnu0H

Which linked to this post, now featuring a correction. (Also featuring half a page of celebration followed by a bucketload of disappointment…)

It was the first news that was about a title I gave a damn about on a console I already own. At last, some E3 news that meant something…

Oh. Nevermind.

Now, granted this means that in a few years time when the PS4 price drops, probably with a slimmer model, and when there is a decent-sized backlog of the games I actually play (the usual point at which I buy any console, nothing Sony-specific here) , if I can justify the cost of PS4 there will already be an interesting game out for it.

But for a console I already have? Nowt!

But this is the point. I wasn’t one of the people rabidly hoping this game would come out. I wasn’t even aware of the #jrpgvita Twitter hashtag.
I just saw an announcement for a game I’d heard of and thought would never come outside of Japan, and I saw it being announced for a system I already own – and own specifically for bringing my jRPG habit on the move.

Then, a correction. No Vita.

Then…. silence. No official explanation as to why such a cockup was made. Just a solid air of “We won’t/can’t tell you”. And that, more than anything, is what personally got my back up. There are details that could somewhat diffuse the situation and instead they’re letting it all fester.

Anime and Blu-ray in the UK (part 2)

In the previous post I looked at some of the challenges faced by UK Anime distributors in regards to Blu-ray releases. it ended up inspiring a week or so’s worth of Twitter conversation. And, yes, I suspect at least one of the UK Anime companies has been thinking “Oh God, not this lot again”.
I am going to look into what, in my opinion, the companies may want to look into going further. Firstly I am going to do a general look at where I think the attitude towards Blu-ray releases might want to go, followed by another post detailing what the current companies are currently doing. Alongside some improvements I, personally, would like to see.

I do maintain that, in general, Blu-ray is going to be an important factor going forward. Maybe not in a spectacular way, but important nonetheless. Especially as more and more fans begin to get Blu-ray players (or more Blu-ray owners get introduced to Anime), people will be looking to find nice shiny HD Anime for their nice shiny AV kit. Track record and available back catalogue will mean a great deal at that point. I know that’s a much harder factor to quantify but, despite that, it is a concern regarding future purchases.

Here are some ideas that I think might possibly help going forward. That’s not to say I think any of these methods are without risk, they all have potential drawbacks involved. As times goes on, though, having a limited Blu-ray catalogue will itself be a potential risk.

Blu-ray as an Incentive

Making Blu-ray an incentive to buy the title at all would be one way of trying to convince the fence-sitters to go for the BD release. Releasing dual packs (BD+DVD), without or without a future separate release, or releasing the Blu-ray version first with a DVD version down the line would effectively encourage people to consider the Blu-ray version if they want to get the show early.

The obvious drawback with this is that it doesn’t always sit well with customers. Dual-format releases don’t suit everyone. If you don’t need the second format, it feels like you’re paying extra for a component you neither need nor want. Also, people who do rely on DVDs (or just favour the lower prices) don’t usually like having to wait for their format to come out a month or more later. And, like it or not, DVDs still currently make up the bulk of sales as far as I know. And ticking off the larger segment of your customer-base never tends to work well.

All the Anime has been doing this with some of their releases,. In their case, some titles start off with a “bells and whistles” Collector’s Blu-ray, with a DVD set and a standard-edition BD to follow down the line. This does seem to be working out for them, although so far they have only done with classic re-releases where people may already have an older DVD version.

Blu-ray as a Loss Leader

Run BDs at a loss, as long as you expect the license to gain a profit overall. Or use the mass-appeal ones to cover niche/hardcore interest. And basically invest in future sales. Some titles simply aren’t going have a profitable BD run, but may sell well overall. And some are just incredibly niche. Looking after the fans, your potential customers, however will keep them coming back.

Games console companies basically do this. Selling the consoles themselves at a loss in the first few years, making their profits from the game releases and the later sales when the components cost a whole lot less. And I think this is how some shop’s special offers work.
Take a hit on Product A to raise interest in Product B. Or simply to keep your company name in a positive light. Or make an overall profit on a license, even if the Blu-rays make less than their production costs. Naturally, only when the overall sales across both formats will net an overall profit.

I’m not saying to run every title at a loss, as that would quite obviously be bad. But for every few Titanic Ninja Deathgods almost-mainstream titles you release, throw out the occasional Quirky Fan Favourite with a Die-hard Fanbase.

This ties directly into…

Blu-ray as a Future Investment

As well as just looking at how well a Blu-ray release would perform right now, it is also important to remember that Blu-ray availability is very likely to fuel future sales. Especially as, here in the UK, streaming video isn’t quite as prevalent yet as it is in America – mainly owing to infrastructure and bandwidth issues. Also some people, especially collectors, just prefer having a physical copy. So there will always be the need to have a physical release to some extent.

Granted, this then becomes a very fine balancing act. Without Blu-ray releases, a distributor might run into major problems in the future. Over-committing to a less profitable format too early, however, may lead to not being around long enough for Blu-ray to be the dominant format.

This Goes for Fans, Too

And this is where the fans as well as the distributors will want to lynch me…

Seriously. If you have a Blu-ray player and are at all interested in the format please do buy Blu-rays where the option is available. As a niche format, especially in the UK where every sale helps, choosing to buy the DVD instead only hurts the viability of Blu-ray as a format. If Blu-rays don’t sell, the distributors won’t sell Blu-rays. And if DVD is seen as “good enough”, the distributors are more likely to play it safe. Especially in the more niche titles.

Similarly, buy UK where possible. If a show gets a UK BD announcement (even if there’s no solid date) then it is worth holding out for unless it is a severely inferior version. Opinions may vary on what really classes as “inferior”, though. But unless an import is miles a head of the competition, at least put some though towards buying the local BD.

If you can play Blu-rays but don’t buy the UK Blu-ray (of shows you actually want, naturally) then it is only contributing to the problem. Yes, there is more that the UK companies could do but we really have to meet them halfway. After all, how can they work to do better if the format doesn’t sell well for them?

And the biggest problem is that it is very much a chicken-and-egg situation. Companies won’t sell what doesn’t sell. Customers won’t buy what doesn’t work for them. But to change the situation, one side has to make the first step.

Future Back Catalogue

At the time of writing this, of two of the UK distributors, Manga UK have a larger Blu-ray selection than MVM. Up until a few months back MVM have tended to err on the side of DVD-only releases. And even then, some of their more recent announcements (Mysterious Girlfriend X and Kokoro Connect) are currently slated to be DVD-only.

In future years, however, this risks that someone looking to buy Anime on Blu-ray is probably going to be sending more money in Manga’s direction. Both companies, however, do sometimes look into re-releasing older titles. This can be important as having too high of a DVD-only section of the back-catalogue, or having key titles in it, could lead to people either buying something from a competitor or importing the overseas version.

Future Reputation

Similar to the above points, releasing decent Blu-rays gets you a reputation of releasing decent Blu-rays. That’s a fairly obvious statement but the opposite is also true. Releasing badly mastered BDs or releasing the majority of your catalogue on DVD instead of taking a risk on Blu-ray gets you a reputation of not being trustworthy for future releases.

Although recent announcements have the chance of turning this around, MVM has been starting to get the reputation of “If they announce a title, just import it as they’ll never release the Blu-ray”. And even their recent announcements of a better production deal and several upcoming BD titles, I can easily imagine many people just continuing to buy the overseas versions to guarantee getting it. Which brings us to…

Announce Early

Where possible, release the format information when a title is announced. At the very least, announce the format when the release window is announced. Still umming and erring, or staying silent, about whether a BD version is coming out when the US or Australian version is already out (and compatible) is basically asking people to import instead of waiting. Sales are lost to people going for the dead-cert import instead of waiting for a maybe-it-won’t UK release.

And this then is further compounded when titles long-since importable on Blu-ray get slated for a DVD-only release in the UK. It just further convinces people that importing is the better route.

In Conclusion

I don’t think any one of these is a Silver Bullet solution, and none of them come without an element of risk and faith, but they’re all little things that could help the format gain traction that will be much needed going forward.

DVD-only will hurt in the long-run and it is on the heads of the companies and fans to ensure that Blu-ray succeeds in future years. It will require walking a very fine line, though, as too much short-term risk could be equally bad.

ComiXology, Content Restrictions and Customer Loyalty

AppStorecomixologyLogo

 

 

Digital comics platform ComiXology recently made a very sudden change to its operating model. On Saturday April 26th 2014 the in-app storefronts stopped working, with absolutely no prior warning that this was going to happen.

Android users required an update, which replaced the old Google Play compatible storefront with one requiring their main ComiXology account have a payment method on file. Aside from the inability to use Google play credit anymore (which is a major issue for some) there was no real loss in functionality. As long as one is in a position to use the credit card or PayPal account.

iOS users, however, bore the brunt of the change. This was no mere upgrade. There was a new app that needed installing. This itself then required logging in with (or creating) a ComiXology account, to tie existing purchase to the account that would be needed going forwards…
…in the shiny new Reader-Only App.

Cue major outrage.

On a Saturday.

The poor PR and tech support (file migration was not always smooth) guys must’ve been working their socks off last weekend to deal with the aftermath of this one.

ComiXology have desperately been trying to put a positive spin on this as being ultimately good for the customers. Apple’s App Store does, it has to be said, have rather strict rules regarding in-app purchases. Apple automatically get a 30% cut of each sale. Also, there are rules regarding what kind of content is allowed to be purchased in-app. So technically this is a good change.
Only the web store was always an option before. So if people wanted restricted content then they could do. And if someone wanted to support ComiXology directly, they always had that option.

The problem now is that choice has been taken away. You must use the webstore if you are an iOS user. You must buy directly through ComiXology, regardless of tablet platform.
If you favour in-app purchases, or if you only run through mobile store credit, you no longer have those options.

Needless to say, it has been a bit of a PR disaster for them. Their App Store average ratings (depending on country) have dropped to between one Star and one-and-a-half Stars. People are deleting the app. People are unsubscribing from other Amazon services, or at least taking the opportunity to review whether they need those subscriptions at the moment or not. And the very people who probably would have been won over in a day or so have been alienated by the overall bad handling of the whole situation.

They have severely negatively impacted their customer loyalty. There’s a chance it may just be a case of “Nerd Rage” and that it will all settle down quickly. There’s always that chance, though, that this is going to leave people with a sour taste for a long while yet. Only time (and sales figures) will tell.

Anime Streaming in the UK: A Comparison

I’ve just worked out a quick comparison of the four main anime streaming options available in the UK. I have linked each service’s name to their service information or FAQ pages.

Crunchyroll Wakanim UK Animax UK Daisuki
Free Simulcasts One week delay after Premium For one month after upload For two weeks after upload Yes
Ads for Free Episodes Yes Yes Yes unsure
Free access covers Simulcasts, selection of back catalogue (license permitting) Simulcasts only Simulcasts only Bulk of catalogue
SD-only HD HD HD
Expiring “rental” downloads
Paid Subscription £4.99/month (Anime-only plan, other plans available) No £5.99/month No
Paid Downloads No Yes (DRM free) No No
Ads for Paid Episodes No No No (since April 26th 2014) N/A
Paid access covers Apps, HD (when available), full catalogue DRM-free downloads Back catalogue N/A
Ad-free stream (including back catalogue) Stream of selected paid-only titles
Available platforms Web Web Web Web
Xbox 360 Download-to-own: Anything that can play MP4 video PS3 iOS
iOS Download-to-rent: Computer-only, specific software required
PS3/PS4/Vita (only if you have a US PSN account)
Roku
Android
Windows Phone
Apple TV
Google TV
Selected Smart TVs

I have taken information as available from their websites. Where I am unable to get a definitive details, I have marked it as such.

More on Animax UK

UPDATE – 26-04-2014
Animax has just announced that paid subscribers no longer get adverts for simulcast episodes.

Two months ago I posted a brief overview of Animax’s Anime streaming service as they had finally released their first non-web platform, their PS3 app.Animax UK

 

Since then, there have been a few improvements. Their main website’s front page actually lists the series title as well as episode title when mentioning their latest releases. And the PS3 app does now respond properly to the media remote.
So they are clearly making improvements, and ones based on customer feedback at that.

My problem, though, is that the improvement aren’t happening fast enough. The website and PS3 app are still less than ideal, and there aren’t any other apps out yet. There is still no queue/watchlist feature. There are still adverts for paid subscribers and there are still delays in episodes being release. Anywhere from a day or two to a full week behind when Crunchyroll release the episodes to their regions.

And, yes, all this for a higher price per month than Crunchyroll’s Anime-only subscription.

At this point in time, I cannot really recommend this service. Not unless someone is desperate to watch the shows they have via legal means.

The really sad thing is that, this season like other seasons, some of Animax’s UK licenses (Mekaku City Actors and The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior, a.k.a. Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou) are shows that CR has the except-UK rights for. And they are releasing them on time, and on multiple platforms and ad-free for paid members.

I want to like this latest entry to the UK Anime Streaming scene but, really, I just can’t. They are now into their third season of mishandling shows that Crunchyroll are doing a good job of elsewhere. Without some serious improvements, and fast, they really need to stop picking up the rights to what would other be Crunchyroll’s catalogue.

I hate to say it. I’m known for speaking my mind, though, so I’m not going to hold back just because I wish the situation was otherwise. Animax still have a long, long way to go. And, going by other people’s opinions online, very little time left to get there.

Gaming Shorts

I just thought I’d give a (very) quick overview of three of the videogames i’ve been enjoying in recent months.

Firstly, I played Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies on the 3DS. Very enjoyable game. I loved that all three of the Agency’s lawyers got some court time. I had a few minor niggles with some of the gameplay aspect, but not enough to stop me enjoying the game. And if you’ve liked the earlier entries in the series, and either have a 3DS or are seriously considering getting one, I highly recommend this game.

Still on the 3DS, Bravely Default is definitely meeting my desire for a new take on the more classic Final Fantasy game style. If you enjoy the earlier games, love turn-based battles, but still want something fresh then this one is definitely worth looking into.

Finally, I recently bought Final Fantasy X/X-2: HD Remaster and am loving revisiting the world of Spira. The move to HD and widescreen is lush. The reworked soundtrack still fits the game. Overall, it feels very much like it was designed for the PS3. In a way, it feels like how I remember playing the PS2 version. Revisiting an “old friend” without having to put up with what older games look like on newer HD televisions.
I do, however, find myself playing a little game of  “spot the non-remastered texture”. But that’s not enough to run the game by any means.

Shouting into the Digital Wastelands

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