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The Blu-ray Blues

Thursday 5th April 2012

Andrew Osmond quizzes Manga UK’s Jerome Mazandarani about the perils of formats

Blu-rayThe Blu-ray debut of Naruto Shippuden 2: Bonds – released both as a standalone title and in a pack with the first Shippuden movie - confirms that Manga is still committed to Blu-ray in the UK, despite the frustrations and cancellations of recent months. Indeed, a slew of Blu-ray titles are scheduled for this year, ranging from Mardock Scramble to Roujin Z.

Manga UK’s Jerome Mazandarani points out that many UK anime fans have moved from DVD to Blu-ray, obliging Manga to follow. He adds, though, that “Maybe 80 or 90% of our sales are still on DVD, so it’s very important.” The release of anime Blu-rays is a tricky proposition, balancing the demands of multiple parties. Jerome points out that the Japanese licensors and producers of an anime have their own agenda, which Manga must meet if it wants the title at all.

“They’ve got specific ideas about how they want the release packaged: when it’s released, how much we can sell it for,” Jerome says. “The licensors for anime have a hell of a lot of control over these shows, unheard of in the normal video licensing business. They could say, for example, that you can only sell it at this price; that you can’t release it until six months after it’s out in Japan; that you can’t do x, y or z...”

“International licensing for anime, for most Japanese companies, is probably less than 10% of their overall business,” Jerome points out. “So why would you give your prized anime licenses to a foreign distributor and let them do whatever they want with it unchecked? Let them put it on Youtube or itunes or Netflix? Let them sell it at stupidly low prices, so that Japanese customers can import it? All the decisions the Japanese licensors make are based on protecting their distributors in Japan, and Japan sustains a model where a K-ON! three or four-episode DVD can sell at £30, and the Blu-ray at over £40, and sell a quarter of a million copies.”

The Disappearance of Haruhi SuzumiyaRecently, Manga had to cancel the Blu-rays of both K-ON! and the film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. “We wanted to get most of K-ON! out last year,” said Jerome. “But we weren’t allowed to release a complete season box-set if we wanted access to the English dub, which Bandai produced for America. We either had to release it the way Bandai was doing, or wait until after they’d finished the campaign in the U.S. I decided to follow them, so the series want out on single-disc volumes. But the DVD sales were so low it no longer made sense to invest in a Blu-ray release that was unlikely to break even.”

The single-disc decision had been taken for the fans. “Fans hate waiting a year or two years after something’s been simulcast or on Japanese TV to get their hands on it. So in the interests of trying to sell more by narrowing the window, we made a strategic error releasing K-ON! that way [on individual discs]. I think we would have been better off just not releasing it last year. Rather we could have waited until now and released the complete first season on both DVD and Blu-ray.”

The problem with Disappearance was different. On the film, Manga was sharing authoring costs with the Australian distributor, Madman. “We wouldn’t have even released a lot of anime if it wasn’t for Madman, including Spice and Wolf (due on DVD in June) and a lot of the ‘moe’ titles that we’ve released over the last two years. Before, we wouldn’t have bothered with them, because we don’t sell a lot of them. Sharing costs with Madman halves our production/inception costs and makes a lot more releases viable. We commonly see if Madman or Siren have released a title in Australia, because then we know there’s a PAL DVD version in most cases.”

The Disappearance of Haruhi SuzumiyaIn the case of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Madman and Manga made a deal with Bandai to access the US Blu-ray replication master. “We got the Blu-ray from Bandai, which had been tested and QC’d (assessed on quality control) on American PS3s. When Madman QC’d it, that was fine, because most of the PS3s in Australia are American ones. But it didn’t work on a European PlayStation! We’d already invested a sizeable sum of money on the authoring for the Blu-ray and we were suddenly put in a position where we had to re-author it again from scratch at three times our initial cost. It was a terrible situation to be in and a painful decision had to be made. Authoring Blu-ray is time consuming, costly and very, very complicated.”

Another high-profile disappointment was the cancellation of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood on Blu-ray after the first two sets (out of five). “It was really disappointing; we saw a 50% drop in Blu-ray sales from Volumes 1 to 2,” Jerome says. Manga was tied to fixed costs and to a Minimum Order Quantity (which meant it was obliged to make a hefty number of copies of each volume), so the series became unviable.

“We could have gotten the rest of Brotherhood out in a Blu-ray box-set,” Jerome says, “but that would have brought up new problems. What about those consumers who bought part 1 and 2 individually? Do we set up some kind of discount scheme? How would we implement that?  It would have been a logistical nightmare!” The price would also have been prohibitive for many fans. “To be honest, we would have had to sell the box-sets at a very high price point. Possibly as much as £150 to £200, without offering much in terms of special packaging.”

The Disappearance of Haruhi SuzumiyaThese days, Manga focuses on Blu-rays for feature films and for shorter series of around 13 episodes, such as High School of the Dead and the forthcoming Angel Beats. However, Jerome doesn’t rule out longer shows on Blu-ray– “If FMA: Brotherhood had been only 26 episodes long, it would have been totally viable on Blu-ray.” In principle, if the costs of Blu-ray came down, then Manga could also complete a series such as Xam’d: Lost Memories.

Following the Naruto Shippuden films, April 16 will see the first film in the SF thriller trilogy, Mardock Scramble, which Jerome rates as, “One of the best new anime films that I’ve seen in ages; it’s beautiful.” The first three Bleach feature films – Fade to Black and its predecessors, Memories of Nobody and The Diamond Dust Rebellionwill debut on Blu-ray in May, as will the Ghost in the Shell film Solid State Society.

Old and new films will follow. Pensioners and big robots figure in the wonderful SF comedy movie Roujin Z (written by Katsuhiro Otomo), released in June, which is also when we’ll see the afterlife series Angel Beats. Then it’s kids in space in another feature film, Welcome to the Space Show in July. Manga is also planning the Blu-ray debuts of both big-screen Fullmetal Alchemiststhe new film, Sacred Star of Milos, as well as 2005’s Conqueror of Shamballa. Just the thing to chase Blu-ray blues away…


Akira (the Collector\'s Edition) Triple Play Edition (incl. Blu-ray, Dvd, Digital Copy)

was £29.99
Iconic and game-changing, Akira is the definitive anime masterpiece! Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark cyberpunk classic obliterated the boundaries of Japanese animation and forced the world to look into the future. Akira’s arrival shattered traditional thinking, creating space for movies like The Matrix to be dreamed into brutal reality.

Neo-Tokyo, 2019. The city is being rebuilt post World War III when two high school drop outs, Kaneda and Tetsuo stumble across a secret government project to develop a new weapon - telekinetic humans. After Tetsuo is captured by the military and experimented on, he gains psychic abilities and learns about the existence of the project's most powerful subject, Akira. Both dangerous and destructive, Kaneda must take it upon himself to stop both Tetsuo and Akira before things get out of control and the city is destroyed once again. 
AKIRA The Collector’s Edition features both the original 1988 Streamline English dub and the 2001

Pioneer/Animaze English dub!



Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira then and now

Helen McCarthy examines Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark Akira, then and now
1988 in Japan: Yamaha Motors won the J-League but Nissan won the Cup. Western pop divas Bananarama, Kylie and Tiffany were on TV. Japanese real estate values climbed so high that the Imperial Palace garden was worth more than the State of California, and Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward had a higher market value than Canada. The Government signed the FIRST Basel Accord, triggering a crash that wiped out half Japan’s stock market. Katsuhiro Omoto’s movie Akira premiered on 16th July.

Akira's Ancestors

Andrew Osmond on the unexpected forerunners of Neo-Tokyo
In Akira’s opening moments, a sphere of white light appears from nowhere in the centre of Tokyo, and swells to obliterate the city. Many Western critics saw the image as a symbol of the Bomb, like the earlier Japanese pop-culture icon, Godzilla. But the designer apocalypse could be taken as Akira’s own mission statement – to be a new kind of entertainment, blowing away its peers and reshaping the cinema landscape.

The Impact of Akira

Andrew Osmond reviews the reviews from 20 years ago.
On its explosive arrival in the West, Akira crossed the Pacific to catch the generation that grew up on the films of Spielberg and Lucas; it was also the generation that read adult superhero strips such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Akira, though, offered the shock-and-awe widescreen violence akin to that of enfant terrible live-action director, Paul Verhoeven. For example, both Akira and Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) have a gory money-shot scene in their early minutes, in which a luckless bit-part player is graphically torn apart by a hail of bullets. Unsurprisingly, such imagery excited reviewers.

Akira 25th Anniversary Screenings

Your chance to see it in the cinema in the UK
Neo-Tokyo is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E. Katsuhiro Otomo’s debut animated feature AKIRA had its Japanese premiere on 16th July 1988. We are very proud to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of what is undoubtedly, one of the most celebrated animated movies of all time. Voted by Empire readers as one of the top 100 best films ever and cited by everyone from James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Daft Punk and Kanye West as a massive influence on their work, AKIRA kick-started the anime business all over the world, opening the doors for everything from Pokémon to Princess Mononoke.

The Art of Akira

Joe Peacock tracks down the original images from the anime classic
Watching Akira for the first time provokes a universal reaction of awe. And justifiably so: there’s often an overwhelming sense among audiences that this animated film is unlike any other they’ve ever seen. Casual viewers won’t be able to put their finger on it; they just know that Akira is visually striking. Art and illustration aficionados appreciate the intricacy of individual scenes, sometimes pausing the film to appreciate the detail in a particular frame.

Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira then and now

Helen McCarthy examines Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark Akira, then and now
1988 in Japan: Yamaha Motors won the J-League but Nissan won the Cup. Western pop divas Bananarama, Kylie and Tiffany were on TV. Japanese real estate values climbed so high that the Imperial Palace garden was worth more than the State of California, and Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward had a higher market value than Canada. The Government signed the FIRST Basel Accord, triggering a crash that wiped out half Japan’s stock market. Katsuhiro Omoto’s movie Akira premiered on 16th July.


Spyair: Back with the Best

Tom Smith on the return of one of anime's most popular rock bands
So where do the guys go from here? On their biggest domestic tour, that’s where! At least that was the plan, but halfway through the mostly soldout schedule, vocalist IKE suddenly takes to Twitter to make an announcement that would shock everyone, including his bandmates. The message simply stated; “I will leave SPYAIR”.

Garm Wars: The Last Druid

Mamoru Oshii's latest film, fresh from its Tokyo premiere
In his live introduction to the premiere of Garm Wars The Last Druid at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Mamoru Oshii called his film a "a precise recreation of the delusions in my mind." While the truth of that statement is only known to Oshii, Garm Wars is certainly embedded in Oshii-land, ticking off the staple themes and existential worries in his work, while finding a new kind of gorgeousness.

Cosplay: Pokemon

Paul Jacques has gotta catch'em all at the London Super Comic Con
Lisa Moffatt and Natasha Fountain spread their wings as Moltres and Articuno from the unstoppable Pokemon franchise, snapped by our roving photographer Paul Jacques at the London Super Comic Con back in the spring.

The Ninja Museum

Stephen Turnbull risks nine deaths in the eye of the ninja storm... or does he?
There is more to the ninja myth than meets the eye. By 1638 all wars had ceased under the police state of the Tokugawa family, yet within twenty years armchair generals were busily writing manuals of military theory, including speculations about sneak attacks, night-fighting and backstabbing.

Godzilla: Too Soon?

When is it okay for a real-life disaster to become entertainment?
How soon is too soon? The question’s raised by the new Godzilla trailer, the first half of which seems to be all about recreating traumatic events as fantasy, just three years after they occurred. Specifically, the trailer opens with a disaster at a Japanese power station, before segueing into images of a giant wave sweeping into a town with devastating force. Both images seem less ripped than Xeroxed from the headlines of March 2011, when northern Honshu (Japan’s mainland) was struck by an earthquake which caused a tsunami, killing thousands, and the meltdown at Fukushima.

The King and the Mockingbird

Andrew Osmond on Miyazaki’s love for a French classic
The King and the Mockingbird was one of the films which taught Miyazaki and Takahata that you could make an animated feature without following studio formulae – something they strove for themselves as early as Takahata’s 1968 Marxist epic The Little Norse Prince.

Cosplay: One Piece

Paul Jacques snaps another anime costumer
Jordan Yeo as Trafalgar Law from One Piece, a.k.a. the Surgeon of Death.

The Weird World of Rotoscoping

Andrew Osmond on the history of animation’s corner-cutting secret
Rotoscoping and its descendants are an important part of American cinema, and recognised today. Many film fans know, for example, that Gollum, Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the rebel anthropoid Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes reboot are all based on physical performances by one actor, Andy Serkis. Again, it’s common knowledge that the Na’vi aliens in Avatar were human actors ‘made over’ by computer – the digital equivalent of those guys wearing prosthetic foreheads and noses in the older Star Trek series.
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