A few years back, I have shared my thoughts about collecting anime Merchandise. While I stopped buying anime DVDs several years back since I wanted to focus more on importing Japanese games and anime CDs from Japan, I decided to buy Idolmaster Cinderella Girls in Blu-Ray, which makes me wonder about Japanese anime releases and how they differ from licensed releases.
While I covered it somewhat in previous editorials, I never gone into much detail considering that I did not own a single Japanese release. Now I do, so it is time to talk about some differences and why they are expensive.
Ever since anime became popular in the 90s, anime releases have become more accessible with VHS and eventually DVDs and Blu-ray releases. Japanese studios suddenly realized that there is actually a market for anime overseas and of course licensing companies like Funimation, Sentai (which is the new company based from the now defunct ADV Films), Viz, etc. coming into existence.
While I will not discuss how licensing works since it is a lengthy and complex process, basically the licensing company and the studio negotiates a deal on how much they need to pay for the licensing, delivery of the tapes, and determine a revenue split along with region and the term. In short, they have to come up with a contract, work out some legal stuff before they can begin subtitling and/or dub it and release the localized DVD or Blu-rays to the public. It is a very complicated and daunting process, which Anime News Network explains it in better detail than I can since I do not know much about the inner workings of the western anime licensing industry.
So, what are the differences between a localized release versus a Japanese release? The big difference is subtitles, English dub (sometimes) and most importantly, lower price. Licensed releases for the most part cost significantly less than the Japanese counterpart (which I will go in detail soon) with a licensed one costing about $60 for the full season box set opposed to $540 (or $64,800 yen, or ¥7200 times nine for a 24-episode series) for nine Blu-rays Japanese release containing three episodes each. Of course, no westerner will pay $540 just to own the whole series on Blu-ray, which is why the licensed releases outside of limited edition releases are considered budget releases.
On the other hand, there are a dark side to licensed releases, especially when it comes to Blu-rays. Since North America is in the same region coding as Japan for Blu-ray, animation studios obviously do not want reverse importation since the Japanese releases generally costs more. With that, some releases may only have English dub, reduced image quality and/or forced subtitles to make these releases less desirable. Of course, these choices screw over the western fans since they are left with an inferior release compared to the DVD version or Japanese releases. The licensed release of Persona 4 the Animation is a good example of this since it only had the English dub, leading fans to become angry about it considering that most generally cannot stand English dubs.
In comparison, Japanese releases tends to be treated more like collector’s items given the price. These releases usually cost ¥7200 yen or $60 (¥120 = $1 as of October 9, 2015). There is a reason why these releases are so expensive and it is because anime production is expensive. As mentioned in my editorial on how much Japanese animators make, an anime production for a 1-cour TV show can cost ¥11,000,000 yen or $91667 dollars at today’s exchange rate. Not only that, it costs money to air it on television, meaning that the studio needs to make their money back on these releases to either break even or make a profit after the middleman took a sizable chunk of the profit.
Aside from licensing out merchandising rights and selling music CDs, production and animation companies make most of the money back from DVD and Blu-ray releases. Since not everyone except the diehard fans, collectors or otakus buy them aside from space being limited in most homes and apartments in Japan, this is a reason why they generally cost a lot of money. Still, these releases can sometimes cost less than some figurines that cost over ¥10,000 yen. Even so, a production studio only needs to sell at least 2500 to 3000 to break even and anything above that, the production is deemed successful.
As for me, the reason I decided to go all out on the Idolmaster Cinderella Girls Blu-rays is not because I enjoyed the show a lot, but I was initially intrigued with the Gravure for You packs since there are more features than the 765 Productions one. Eventually, I thought to myself that since I am buying these, I may as well get all nine of them and own the whole series on Blu-ray, although buying all 9 will cost ¥88020 or $739 excluding shipping after all the volumes get released. Thank goodness for the weak yen or it would cost a lot more. Moreover, I am able to buy them because of my lifestyle choices as I do not eat out or spend money on experiences.
You might be wondering, what are so special about Japanese releases? Compared to licensed releases, they usually contain extras such as drama CDs, soundtracks, additional songs, art books, and/or production drawings. If you preorder them, sometimes you get something extra such as a poster. Instead of a plain plastic case as seen with most licensed releases, the Japanese releases have a nicer case. This is expected considering how much money you are paying for three episodes. At the same time, you are giving the studio more support for their work considering that they receive more money from these releases opposed to licensed releases and legal streaming, which a good chunk of the money is taken by the middleman.
In recent years, distributors in Japan production and distribution companies saw an opportunity to entice fans outside Japan since the Blu-ray region coding is now in their favor. Basically, simplified region coding allows them to cut the licensing middleman out by adding subtitles to Japanese releases to their releases to entice western fans to buy the Japanese one. Of course, this makes series that will never get licensed for a localization more accessible while giving an opinion for fans to buy their release instead so that the studio gets more of the money compared to a licensed release. This is not surprising since the cost of adding English subtitles to these Blu-ray releases are minimal despite only some of them have them.
In short, should you buy the Japanese releases over a licensed release? For most fans, it will obviously cost a lot more than a licensed one. Since production companies base the Blu-ray sales on whether or not a show will get another season in some cases, this can be a reason to opt for a Japanese release instead, more so if it contains English subtitles. If not, it is a tough call unless you know enough Japanese to understand the story.
To me, I would only buy the Japanese release if I really enjoyed the show a lot to the point that I want to own them depending on the extras it provides. Not to mention, aside from being a big Idolmaster fan, I think they deserve some support since the show is very enjoyable despite it having some flaws.
With that, what do you think about Japanese anime releases? Do you personally buy them or find them too expensive compared to licensed releases? Feel free to share what series you decided to import.