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Comics & Games Retailer

A New Generation of Pioneers

By Oliver Chin

One of the mainstays of American anime producers, Pioneer has undergone a transformation of late. On October 1, 2003, Pioneer's parent company sold its US and Japanese entertainment properties, which included its stateside software, CD, and DVD divisions (as well as its Japanese VHS arm), to the media conglomerate Dentsu.

In Japan, the home video market is several times larger than the US. There Pioneer is the #1 DVD distributor and #2 anime distributor. But given the rapid home video market conversion from VHS to DVD across the board, Pioneer's officially justified the sale by declaring it intended to focus on its core competency in consumer electronics hardware. Meanwhile, a huge player in the advertising industry, Dentsu was already an investor in Pioneer's production facilities, and is trying to become a more vertically integrated entertainment company.

But more importantly for Western viewers, Pioneer's anime headquarters was bestowed a new name, but left virtually intact. It retained its office in Long Beach, California and the same mission as before: keep churning out the hits. To catch up on their latest endeavors, I spoke with Chad Kime, the veteran marketing manager of the new "Geneon."

A Changing Eon

Explaining the company's new name, Kime confirmed that the label synthesized "generation" and "eon". But though the name has changed, he emphasized that the company still stands for "the same quality that customers have come to expect from Pioneer" and fans should expect bigger and better things in 2004.

Well, the future has a lot to live up to, since Geneon had quite a few anime attractions this past year. As their VHS releases have dwindled over time (the most recent exception being the kid video and game tie-in BeyBlade), Geneon's DVDs solidified their stranglehold on fan viewing habits. Notably Geneon releases included two series adapted from manga by the creative team known as Clamp. As a brief backgrounder, Clamp started as group of female fan artists (doujinshi) in the late 1980's, and eventually coalesced around four women who reeled off a string of blockbusters such as Card Captor Sakura and Magic Knight Rayearth.

In 2003, Geneon continued two long running Clamp tales. The first was the seven volume Chobits, in which people own their own cyborgs called Persocoms and the poor high schooler Hideki salvages a discarded model that has a mysterious past. Capitalizing on the success of the original comics published by TokyoPop, this was Geneon's strongest series in the "non-children" category. Next came the eight volume saga of X, in which the Earth's fate hangs in the balance as two gangs of mystically powerful beings fight over whether humanity should survive, and the young man Kamui is destined to battle his friend Fuma. As Kime proudly reported, this was Geneon's first title, a non-feature film that was rated 16 years of age and up, that managed to get into the Walmart. Volume 1 broke the ice, and then succeeded in driving viewers to buy subsequent volumes at other retailers.

Sounds of Anime

Supplementing its DVD anime, Geneon launched a CD soundtrack line in July 2003. Priced at $14.98, each disc included English translations of the lyrics, and many were released simultaneously with their DVD counterparts. Their #1 title was the accompaniment to Hellsing, in which an infamous vampire is employed by a secret service to hunt down rampaging vampires, and #2 was Chobits. Other CDs bulwarked Geneon's library of DVD titles, such as the madcap Lupin, detective Heat Guy and sci-fi adventure Tenchi.

On tap for this year, Geneon plans to continue releasing three products a month, such as FLC (aka Fooly Cooly) and His and Her Circumstances. But certainly fans will clamor to listen to the haunting tunes from the blockbuster Evangelion (which was obtained from Starchild Records, members of the Gainax committee).

Currently, Kime observed that the music chain Suncoast sells more of the anime soundtracks than at hobby stores, but that comic stores should increase their selection over time. "As more consumers come to expect the music, they will look forward to finding it in familiar haunts," noted Kime.

The Latest Line on Anime

In 2004, Geneon's main challenge is that of all anime producers. "The market is getting saturated from a product standpoint," concluded Kime. "That's not to say that the audience isn't growing, but it isn't growing as fast as the supply." Over the past few years, he estimates that the number of DVD releases has increased 200-500% compared to 50% for the anime customer base. Plus on a title-by-title basis, Kime stated, "the ability to break even is getting harder" as production and competitive licensing costs still keep rising.

But Geneon intends to stay the course. Popular series like Heat Guy J, the Last Exile, L&R, and Master Keaton will continue. In addition Geneon places high hopes on four new releases ($29.98 per DVD). The first is Captain Herlock, a brand new OVA from Madhouse. After launching the TV series 24 years ago, creator Leiji Matsumoto (Star Blazers, Galaxy Express) and producer Taro Rin (X/1999, Metropolis) reunite to animate the adventures of the legendary space pirate in his attempt to save Earth from the forces of evil.

In April 2004 comes Texhnolyze (6 volumes, 26 episodes), another production by Madhouse and from creators of Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane-Renmei, and Hellsing. As described by Kime, it is a "cross between Lain and Akira" and the first "trippy" episode has a total of 12 lines of dialogue! In a dystopian future, the mafia enforces their control of an underground city by cutting off their victims' limbs. When his arm and leg are amputated, a boxer gets artificial body replacements (a la the $6 Million Dollar Man), and woe to the bad guys.

In June comes the seven volume ROD TV, which follows the fan favorite manga Read or Dream and Manga Entertainment's anime one-shot Read or Die. The bespeckled bookworm Naomi Readman is MIA, so three new characters, unofficially known as the "paper sisters," set out to find her. Then in July, the boxing anime Fighting Spirit arrives. Considered a classic in Japan, this runs a whopping total of 72 episodes. Though Kime recognizes that "the market in state of flux with the economy," he is confident that Geneon will eventually produce them all for loyal American animeniacs.

Magazines

Comics Buyer's Guide is the USA's longest running magazine about comic books. Every month it features new comic reviews, nostalgic retroviews, interviews and a price guide. Oliver Chin reviews anime, manga, movies, videos, graphic novels, comics, and books.

Comics & Games Retailer provides news to comic and games retailers about practical how-to tips on selling comics and keeping up with industry and market trends. Monthly issues include Oliver Chin's column "Going Global" and other articles that give a national overview of the market.