This article first appeared in Newtype USA in October 2007.
Whether you caught the famous Schoolgirl Milky Crisis or not, I bet you didn’t know how new it was. Neither did I, until the American distributors started telling me. I thought it was a video series that spanned 1998 and 1999, but apparently I was mistaken. Even though I had personally walked into a store and paid for the final episode in 1999, my own memory was at fault. I know this now, because the distributor has put me straight.
I now understand that it was actually released in 2003. That must be true, because that’s what it says on the box. Whatever I remember of the 1990s is now subject to revision and alteration.
Now, you’re probably not the kind of person who reads the small print on DVD boxes, but it’s part of my job. Over the years, I’ve seen a few recurring gaffes, such as the company who assumed that all Japanese cartoons came from the same place, and didn’t bother to alter the copyright data on any of their boxes, for five years. Which meant that the company responsible for Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, was also credited with Geek Gets Girls, Devil Devil Beast Beast, Who Dat Ninja and Good Morning Gerald Giraffe, at least on the American boxes. That’s the sort of thing that only bothers the Japanese licensors, but it plays havoc if you’re, you know, trying to put together an encyclopedia of Japanese animation.
Someone at the corporation decided that Schoolgirl Milky Crisis wasn’t going to get anywhere if it had a “19” in its copyright line. A 1990s date was so last century, and liable to make everyone assume it was, you know, ten years old. Instead, when the time came for the DVD movie-edit, the company simply claimed that the movie was a new version, and therefore could justifiably have a new release date. Let’s call it 2003, that sounds a lot better. Problem solved, unless you’re the Japanese release company, whose older productions are being sold as if they were made yesterday, and pale in comparison with the flashier, more expensive, genuinely new releases of their competitors.
As regular readers of this column will know, “newness” is a new obsession of mine. Or is it? Maybe it’s an old obsession I have simply rebranded… Either way, it’s even more of an obsession now, after I hear that some buyers for certain American chain stores are simply refusing to take anime and manga if they are not so new that it hurts. So you can walk in looking for a copy of Lone Wolf and Cub and be told it’s not worth shelving because it’s old, but Emo Vampire Boy is available because that was only published last week. Quality is not an issue any more, merely age.
It’s the Japanese who lose out in the long term, because consumers who buy something that turns out to be behind the times might begin to associate a particular studio’s name with substandard products, even though the studio has many newer shows to offer.
Old anime are like fine wines. Some of them might deserve to go down the drain, but others have lasted so long because they are the best of the best. True classics don’t deserve to be shoved aside, just because newness is everything to people who know no better.
I was unaware that some American chain stores aren’t purchasing older anime. How ridiculous is that? That’s like hmv not stocking Tom & Jerry or for an non-animated sense, Dad’s Army just because it’s old. Old but sells bucket loads because people recognise it. Brand values are important. This chain store clearly doesn’t think that any Ghibli film is going to sell well, or Serial Experiments Lain, or Slayers, or Tenchi Muyo for that matter.
The sheer level of ignorance in some of the biggest corporations in the world still astounds me – and I work in one of the biggest UK based companies in my industry.
Something very similar has been happening in the UK, albeit through different processes. At least one well-known UK chain store has been refusing to take anime DVDs more than a few months old unless the distributor is prepared to drop the prices down to something like a fiver.
Meanwhile, I am sure that “core titles” remain part of any stock list. Which is probably why there is so much of a bunfight over getting the word “Miyazaki” onto a DVD box, justifiably or otherwise.
Nor do I necessarily blame the chain stores for this. Their buyers have been burned many times over promises and forecasts that have not lived up to their hype. If they’re stuck with a dozen unsellable copies of Devil Devil Beast Beast, is it much of a surprise if they are cautious with other anime products?