Comics & Games Retailer
The Work of AnimeBy Oliver Chin
The video world is just like the real world: what goes around comes around. This cycle is true in regards to economics, where a financially successful feature spawns a series of sequels (ex. the summer of 2003). It is true for content, where a groundbreaking film influences other filmmakers who recycle its story and style. And it is also true of the industry's personnel, as veterans move their skills and connections from one company to the next.
The same themes apply in the world of American anime. Formerly the head of sales for Central Park Media, Mike Pascuzzi recently joined Media-Blasters in the same capacity. He took a break to review the company's profile and plans for future progress, mindful of the larger anime and video trends at work.
Blasting the Media
Founded in 1996 by John Sirabella, Media-Blasters entered the market at a time which turned out to be an inflection point: already over half a dozen companies had produced a few hundred titles to build a steadily growing fan base, but the exponential jump in popularity fueled by TV broadcasting had yet to occur. Therefore, under the banner of "Kitty," Media-Blasters followed the business model proven by its predecessors - licensing adult anime.
But soon the company would progressively branch out from there. The next year it rolled out the line "Animeworks" line for general anime. Pazucuzzi recounted then, "in 1998 we expanded into non anime programming with live action films from Japan with the Tokyo Shock line. 1998 also saw the release of our first big anime releases, Kite and Magic Knight Rayearth. In 2001 we started releasing the very successful series, Rurouni Kenshin. We also added yet another line with Shriek Show, live action cult and Euro horror. The unique aspects of Media-Blasters are that we have expanded beyond anime. We are also starting production on our own films."
Here's a recap on the aforementioned series, for those of you unfamiliar with them:
Kite: in a graphically violent blend of La Femme Nikita and The Professional, Sawa was orphaned when her parents are murdered. Fed up by a broken down legal system, the detective who takes the case trains her to be a deadly assassin, meting out the ultimate justice to guilty criminals. Now a college student, Sawa is torn between being loyal to her morality of her mentor or to her own emerging sense of right and wrong.
Magic Knight Rayearth: from the prolific team of female creators called CLAMP, the TV series begins when three middle school girls from Tokyo are summoned by Princess Emeraude to become Magic Knights to save the world Cephiro. The princess has been imprisoned by the evil Zagato and his invading monsters. As in a role playing game, this trio must acquire skills to save her and restore the peace to this magical world in order to return home.
Rurouni Kenshin: another long running TV series starts in Tokyo after the Meiji Revolution, as the power of the Shogan and samurai tradition is on the decline. The fencing school instructor Kaoru befriends the itinerant swordsman Kenshin and some other characters, as the growing bands proceeds from one adventure to the next in an age of bandits, fearful citizens, corrupt officials, and political unrest.
New Realm of Releases
With three main product lines, Media-Blasters is releasing almost 10 titles a month. Presently on the anime front, , Pazcuzzi states that its multi-volume Berserk (a single-minded swordsman fights with a band of mercenaries in feudal times) has joined its list of best selling anime titles. On the live action side, top titles include Zombi 3 (the title speaks for itself), Scarlet Diva (Asia Argento, famous from the movie XXX with her burly co-star Vin Diesel, plays an actress falling desperately into a haze of drugs and hedonism), and Riki-Oh (imprisoned for his punishing the murderers of his girlfriend, Ricky wrecks bloody havoc on the criminals inside the joint).
In 2003 Media-Blasters will pursue an ambitious release schedule across its adult, anime, and live-action lines. This includes more episodes for series like Ghenma Wars (in a dystopian future on Earth, an evil tribal ruler needs to bears twins to obtain a super-powered heir), Space Pirate Mito (a little boy realizes his mom is not only wanted by the Space Police but an alien to boot), Virtua Fighter (backstory from the video game), Sadamitsu (where a high school teacher assumes the mantle of interstellar policeman against the universe's monsters).
However, looking toward the future, the anime industry facing some tough challenges. According to Pascuzzi, "There is now a glut of titles flooding the US market, stemming from the glut being produced in Japan. That results in more competition, with a lot of upstarts jumping on the band wagon, a lot of inferior product entering the market, and a slow penetration into more mainstream audiences."
Considering those factors, the market has become "more of a hits driven business" than ever before. In that sense, American anime reflects that of the larger movie industry: companies are forced to gamble on winning big on one title, instead of being satisfied with many moderate sellers, and the stakes keep getting raised for everyone.
As the homegrown market grow from the hardcore rental to the daily afternoon TV series, it is easy to take for granted how this came about. But building demand and supply title by title, and store by store, takes not only patience but persistence. In the end, players like Media-Blasters prove that manufacturers still need to keep producing in order to keep being popular. Even though they are fortunate to have some well known properties, they must still launch new titles to keep their fans interest afloat.