Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Constantinople has fallen.

An unnecessarily long entry about the departure of Geneon and what the future now holds:

In the anime world, the fall of the Eastern Empire is now past the point of no return, and its departure will send shockwaves throughout the ever increasingly divided industry and fandom that partially supported it. “Divided” you may ask? Yes divided, however I shall reveal the reasons for this statement a bit later on. First we have to take a little look back at the days of the old republic.

From a nebulous dark age that now seems lost to antiquity and few current otaku can claim to have been alive within, anime fandom grew out of the very basic types of media delivery (print, video, other) and the functions they could provide. Like the hills of Rome, these basic types of media delivery cradled a young republic of anime fandom. One in which early participants had the opportunity to take on a more active role not just in the anime content that they they individually would have access to, but also had a further reaching effect on what large sections of the fandom would have such access to as well. This was also partially due to the fact that the ultimate source of anime was about to go through its own series of production booms, which had not had their effects felt yet, in addition to the very limited media delivery technology of the day.

This ongoing emergence of anime caused positive fandom growth, but also brought sustainability into question. Enter the formation of The Empire and the need to unify large areas creating a legitimate market via commercial entities (labels, retailers, and trading companies bringing in imports). This market, although niche, grew to level never before possible thanks to the vitality of the home video market. Published and video media delivery was made commercially viable because of the distribution dynamics of the industry as a whole (ie not unique just to anime/manga) and if any industry is going to stay healthy, several equally footed entities must continue to vie for market share.

News stories popped up in mainstream news media about this new emerging market and industry, while at the same time an ocean away, ever more of the product would be produced and would fuel further growth. Each player in this new empire continued to expand, and thanks to those news stories and the ingenuity of some of the newer players in the game, a major barrier was broken. A barrier that had not been broken in a generation and it was that of media delivery through broadcast and national cable channels and additionally, specifically presented as anime and not just a cartoon but as anime (anime on TV ook ook!). Unlike the previous decade-long eclipsing of that TV barrier (which began with Speed Racer, and ended with Voltron as the domestic toy forces forced children’s entertainment into formulaic self-contained nuggets of mind-numbing tripe with no room for story arks or creativity), this was another ingredient to the brewing “perfect storm.” That perfect storm being a home-media market to support anime, or be supported by anime. So growth continued, convention attendance increased, national distribution was easy, and the mountain of titles continued to rise ever higher.

The empire did indeed split, and it is only in hindsight that the Emperor under which this split happened could be recognized. Yes, Pikachu. Pokemon evolving into a property that could warrant a McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in (something not even DBZ couldn’t have come close to doing in the U.S.) began the upheaval of the industry status quo, splitting it into the original home media labels, and the new entities (or transformed ones such as VIZ) on the scene which where those with both a direct connection with the Japanese pool of properties as well as the ability to capitalize on ancillary rights such as textiles, merchandise, sub-licenses, and directly control broadcast and schedule their DVD releases accordingly.

The former players in the industry were split off from this new way of doing business, as they did not have such ancillary rights attached to their libraries, and could only hope that a title they had could get on adult swim through other means and they would simply reap the benefits in DVD sales. This diminished capacity to be a guiding force in the market after this split (some might even have seen it as being reduced to near impotence) seemed frustrating, but it would now seem also served as a protective insulation of the current home media implosion which is partial responsible for the fall of Geneon, and which I touched on in my previous post.

The stability of this model seems to only have been sustainable if the growth rate in home media remained constant. This of course was a factor completely out of the industry’s hands no matter how much any company spent on marketing. There were also other market forces happening specifically within the anime market, the most significant being the age and gender shift in the main demographic of the market makeup. This new younger consumer was much less likely to support the home media market with DVD purchases, and rather bump the ancillary market for a wide range of character goods. They were more likely to use free downloading to serve their media consumption and either ignored or were truly ignorant of how it would hurt the industry as a whole, or simply justified their doing so with the notion that they would buy what they like, but what they downloaded they weren’t going to buy anyway so it’s not causing direct damage. However it was this reasoning that served to artificially inflate the appearance of market support (agents take licensors to anime cons to show them all the throngs of cosplayers, of an anime that’s not even out on DVD yet, so it’s only going to get bigger from there right?). It was this artificial inflation of what the market could sustain which lead to the masking of the dangers to this new Eastern Empire which was spread too thin and dangerously overexposed. Hence the aforementioned “division” and reversal of interpersonal involvement between the fan/consumer base, and the mechanics of the industry.

Don’t fool yourself, there’s been a bubble that’s burst. But this “anime bubble” that’s gone pop is only one in a sea of bubbles throughout the home media market. Anime has left an indelible mark on media entertainment as a whole, and we are not headed for some sort of long age of darkness. It was within the same half century of Constantinople becoming Istanbul, that the New World was discovered, and the Renaissance began. I could go into all kinds of market indicators but I'm really tired at this point so just take this one at face value ok?

Look for the surviving labels to first slightly diversify genres, and consolidate their offerings in the short term. Following that, the next quantum leap is going to be the direct involvement of American and Japanese media content companies working together in anime co-productions. Productions of this nature will be intended for launch into both markets simultaneously, with all the bases of TV possibilities, ancillary rights, and so on already covered before production is even finished. Major companies will be producing major series (serieses?) with massive play-patterns and multilevel merch programs attached, and smaller producers will offer more niche programming with limited runs of more collectible style merchandise, as anime finally completes this last transitive step in going from a genre, to a medium, with it's own intermingled but none the less self sustaining sub-groups.

Almost reminds of the comic bubble doesn't it?

Welcome to the ground floor of a new era.

Also, in case anyone doesn't know about the real fall of Constantinople here's a nice little RPG style explanation of what happened.

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