Bait & Switch

This month’s fun anime news – the removal of the Japanese language track from the American release of Persona 4. The reason can be found by anyone if they start poking around the sales figures for Japanese animation in its home market. The first episode of Persona 4 sold over 40,000 copies in Japan, but after that, sales settled down. Reading between the statistics, Persona 4 has about 6,000 Japanese fans who bought the whole set on DVD, and another 10,000 fans who bought it on Blu-ray. But owning the complete Japanese set of the first season would set you back £420 in Japan. That makes the English-language release about 80% cheaper, and puts the producers in deep fear of reverse-importing.

So far, there has been no indicator that the British release of Persona 4 will be similarly affected. Territorial lockout, once a bugbear for British fans, might turn out to be a saviour on this occasion, as UK Blu-rays are no longer in the same region as Japanese ones. However, if this becomes a general trend, the Japanese animation business risks shooting itself repeatedly in the foot.

There are several possible answers to this problem, none of which you are going to like. One would be to make everybody pay Japanese prices, which would kill off the UK Blu-ray business. Another would be to bring Japanese prices down to foreign levels, which would kill off many niche-interest anime serials. Leaving the Japanese language track off the foreign release, however, is not a solution, either. A sizeable chunk of foreign fandom likes anime because it is Japanese. For ten years, the dual audio tracks of DVDs have largely obscured this subset of fandom, but I, for one, have never bought a dubbed anime, except when the dub comes attached to a DVD I’m buying anyway.

Removing the Japanese-ness from a foreign anime release will scare off many buyers, but surely the Japanese already know this? Which leads me to suspect that foreign rights, in general, for some companies have become little more than a bait-and-switch con, designed not to sell the product, but to keep a studio’s “foreign rights” department looking busy. Japanese producers: say it isn’t so!

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #103, 2012.

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4 thoughts on “Bait & Switch

  1. Oh this again. I firmly believe the Japanese are more afraid of reverse importation than they are about the Chinese Navy. By reducing their home market MSRP and then release that title maybe a few months after the home release, both with subs, surely they could balance out any loss from the local price reduction with world increases in purchases. Why can’t they see that what works outside of Japan could just as easily work inside if given the chance? But I guess it would take a cultual revolution to break the habit of giving so little and gouging their customers so much. As for Region Blocking, that’s an idea what should have died with the last mass market VHS that came off the assembly belt, and a pirate’s reason to exist. It’s just sooo unnecessary. ¬_¬

  2. Concerning pirates, don’t the Japanese companies realise the level of fandom (half of it maybe? I’m guessing) for there products that if they leave out the japanese track that people will just go and download the fansubs?
    The whole, “I’m justified in getting what is wrongfully denied to me” argument as per the usual reason for downloading the title instead of purchasing.
    I personally won’t get into the debate, both sides have merit but the people who work for the companies… Are they so removed from the fanbase?
    Sometimes when people say “I could do a better job” for any general situation, it’s examples like these that make you wonder if that often used phrase might actually begin to hold merit.

    • Given not only the huge price difference but the cuts being skimmed by the licencees too, the home sales are vastly more important than those overseas – and besides, they still get their minimum guarantee and the rest is, as JC puts it, just gravy.

      • Hey, when it comes to business and money, I’ll happily try to top up that “gravy” as much as possible 😉
        In this climate or in any climate infact, you want maximum potential to maximise profit. Anything less is bad business sense.

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