December’s issue of Wired magazine included an article that stumbled across something that NEO readers have known for years – that online repositories for your favourite movies cannot be trusted. Brian Raftery’s article “Streaming isn’t Everything and Blu-rays are Here to Prove it” informs Wired’s hipster readership that the really cool kids are hunting down bespoke DVDs of their favourite films, because there really is no guarantee that some whim of international licensing will suddenly cause titles in online libraries to wink out of existence.
If, like me, you are lucky enough to live in a town with a well-curated second-hand video store, you may still be able to snatch up one of the obscurities. Good curation, however, also comes at a price. The nearest store to me is scrambling desperately to offload its DVDs so it can concentrate solely on Blu-rays.
There are all sorts of reasons why a film is no longer available. Often it is a trivial matter like music rights, when it is too expensive to remove a song, but also simply not worth the distributors’ while to pay for the rights to use it. The number of likely sales is outweighed by the cost of ticking all the right legal boxes, and this is a particular danger to anime, when many titles struggle to sell more than a couple of thousand copies.
Films fall in and out of libraries. Their ownership is tangled by changes in committee compositions, or corporate take-overs. It’s important to remember that just because you own a DVD, you don’t actually “own” the film on it, only the right to play it in your recorder. If your DVD stops working after a thousand plays, you are not entitled to a replacement; you’ll have to buy it again.
I find it ironic that even as the likes of Netflix throw buckets of money at new anime shows and fund remakes of Death Note and Cowboy Bebop, their very ubiquity and disruptive influences are making other shows harder to find. But on balance, we still have an easier time of it in the modern world. Streaming sites still offer immediate access to hundreds of anime, and may well introduce you to something you would never find in the video shop. And if you really must look for a solid, online stores can tell you in moments whether that’s actually possible…. And if not, cheekily offer you a Dutch or Polish version that’s almost as good and will probably play in your player. Some anime might fall between the cracks in the pavement, but at least online searching saves you wasting shoe leather tramping around the shops.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #184, 2019.