The golden age of DVDs isn’t over yet for anime fans

Production studios still regularly release their latest, greatest films and series on DVD and Blu-ray. But in recent years it has become increasingly clear that physical media is no longer as big a priority as it used to be for Hollywood’s biggest players. You could see it like this Barbarian – one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2022 – came and went without a physical release and in the way that Disney only seemed interested in setting up projects like WandaVision, LokiAnd The Mandalorian on disc years after their streaming debut. Given the way the shift to streaming has decimated most brick-and-mortar retail and entertainment rental companies, it’s often felt like we’re heading toward a future where people will simply no longer be able to physically purchase copies of their favorite mainstream to own. hits.

But as dire as the situation seems, there are still a handful of small, anime-focused outfits working to give fans the kind of robust physical home releases they crave. And at a time when it’s become clear that viewers should never expect their streaming favorites to always be accessible, the work of these smaller companies to preserve beloved works of art and literally get them into people’s hands feels more important than ever.

Brands like Funimation, Viz Media, and Discotek are typically associated with newly remastered anime classics. And partnerships with post-production companies like MediaOCD allow them to market these types of projects as physical discs. According to MediaOCD founder and CEO Justin Sevakis, many niche publishers have found success by specifically targeting the small, passionate communities of fans who want to own a piece of the media they love. While major studios typically don’t consider physical releases for projects that aren’t expected to move at least 50,000 units, according to Sevakis, “a good hit in the niche Blu-ray space will move around 5,000 units.”

“We’re not talking about huge numbers here,” he said. “But that’s 5,000 people who really loved that anime or show or whatever. And as they get excited about the idea of ​​physically owning this kind of media, I think it’s imperative for us – the people who bring these products to market – to create something special and definitive.”

Before Sevakis started remastering anime professionally, he was a high school student obsessed with Project A-ko and making VHS fansubs of series such as Kodocha by connecting a LaserDisc player to his Amiga to enable the subtitles manually. Producing those early fan subs ignited a passion in him – not only for the specific series he loved, but also for keeping an eye on all the other anime that came onto the market. And after realizing that there weren’t really any websites that made it easy for people to follow anime news, Sevakis took it upon himself to Anime News Network Got off the ground in 1998.

Sevakis’ time up ANN was short-lived, but his interest in anime never faded. After a chance meeting on a plane with the president of Central Park Media, Sevakis landed a gig producing subtitles for series like Project A-ko as well as “some of the most horrible hentai you’ve ever seen” from one of the largest anime distributors in America.

“When drives became commonplace, there was a lack of care that became very apparent.”

Sevakis remembers the early days of DVD as a time of experimentation for studios who were still figuring out how to get people into the habit of buying media in the new format. “It was good because a lot of cool things were created, like a lot of really neat, innovative bonus features that you don’t see today that really took advantage of what DVD could do on an interactivity level, like little mini-games,” Sevakis described. “But after DVDs became common, the thinking shifted to, ‘Well, people don’t really buy a disc for the bonus features. That doesn’t change the sales figures.’”

Looking back at the menu-oriented mini-games that came with the DVD releases of films like Who framed Roger Rabbit, Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryAnd ShrekIt is somewhat hard to imagine people rushing to buy those movie discs just for their bonus features. But as simplistic as these features were, they gave viewers a taste of how much more interactive DVDs could be compared to VHS tapes. But when DVDs became the new standard, features like these were the first things to be cut back due to production costs, and Sevakis points to that initial period of cutbacks as one of the reasons mainstream Blu-ray releases feel rather bare these days. -bones.

“When drives became commonplace, there was a lack of care that became very apparent,” Sevakis said. “There has always been antipathy towards the end consumer, which may be why they don’t do well in direct-to-consumer.”

In 2023, the best-selling DVD in the US was (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) moved just over 300,000 units – a stark contrast to the millions with which films hit the charts a decade ago. Physical media sales in Japan have been on a downward trend for most of the past two decades. But between Demon Slayer – Kimetsu No Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train Having become the highest-grossing Japanese film in global box office history and achieving record Blu-ray sales in the process, it’s clear that audiences are still interested in the genre. And with Sony doubling down on its investments to become a bigger player in the anime streaming market, it’s clear that larger studios have come to see interest in anime as an opportunity to make money.

The advent of services like Crunchyroll – which incorporated Funimation as part of Sony’s plans for anime dominance – has made legal access to popular Japanese-produced animated series and films easier than ever before. But just as subscribers of other platforms have seen titles disappear from their libraries suddenly and with little to no warning, there are no guarantees that anime streamers’ digital offerings will always be there.

Even if people like Sevakis don’t put the time and energy into painstakingly remastering the projects encoded on the Blu-rays they sell, the simple fact that the discs play normally if you have the right equipment on hand should keep people from stop them from buying. However, a deeper and more important reality is that physical releases have also played a key role in the preservation of classic media. It’s only because Sevakis and the Discotek team found an old Betamax tape Nutcracker fantasy – Sanrio’s 1979 stop-motion film based on Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet and ETA Hoffmann’s 1816 story – that they were able to produce a remaster of the international version of the film.

Sevakis couldn’t tell me how many times during the production process it was, ‘Oh, we need this English dub, but the masters are gone. You’d be better off finding an old DVD”, only to realize that the DVD in question was never released. That’s when the hunt turns to eBay, where, if luck allows, there might be a collector with an old VHS he’s willing to part with. That willingness, Sevakis emphasized, has been crucial to the survival of media that would otherwise likely be lost in the streaming age.

“It’s easy to blame the studios, but I’ve been in a fast-paced production environment and I know what it’s like not to have the time or bandwidth to deal with archival stuff after you’re done,” Sevakis said. “But it is important to make sure that films are preserved and not ephemera, and that things only become ephemera if no one rescues them.”

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