Yesterday, anime licensor/publisher Bandai Entertainment announced that they will no longer release DVDs or Blu-Rays. According to an interview at Anime News Network with Ken Iyadomi today, the decision was made in October by parent company Namco Bandai Holdings. February will be the last month they release anime and all planned releases for after then are cancelled. Cancelled titles include Yoshiyuki Tomino-directed Turn A Gundam. Their entire manga division is also cancelled. However, they will continue to handle licensing and sub-licensing for "group companies". Iyadomi added his gratitude to the fanbase for supporting the company.
Bandai Entertainment has had a significant effect not just on anime in North America, but in particular, my own collection. The first DVDs I ever owned were of Cowboy Bebop, my favorite anime. I have several of their DVD releases. I've attended their convention panels. I considered them the best name in anime for quite some time. Titles like The Big O, Outlaw Star, and Gundam 08th MS Team, aired on television, were formative in my anime fandom. Many of my favorite English dubs, like the one for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, came from Bandai releases.
It's hard to stay positive about this. Part of me wants to blame the fandom, a fandom that prefers to download things for free, illegally, to buying their anime and supporting the industry. I even want to blame myself. Sure, I bought plenty of Bandai releases over time, but there were titles I always told myself I would pick up later, but never did. I know one person hardly makes a difference in the market, though. Even blaming anime fans in North America is a little shortsighted. While it's true the piracy is a factor in the downturn in the anime industry in North America (voice actor Kyle Hebert blames the "bad eggs" who "fill their hard drives with millions of dollars worth of content and never have to pay a dime for it"), it's not the only contributing factor.
Bandai Entertainment had people pulling strings from Japan. Many of them ignorant with how the North American market works. Because of tight reins on Bandai Entertainment from the Japanese, they were releasing singles, sub-only sets, delaying releases, and other practices, such as pushing the original Mobile Suit Gundam for television in a market that shys away from older titles. Then there was the Zeta Gundam release mistakes. And in recent years, Bandai Entertainment had been licensing very little.
Perhaps Namco Bandai expected a profit rivalring their Japanese domestic market and were let down. But the market is changing. Fans are demanding their anime faster and in better quality. The Japanese seem to believe that they can market anime the same here as in Japan, meaning up to a hundred dollars for a handful of episodes on physical media, like DVDs and Blu-Rays. Instead of trying to evolve with the rest of the market, they decided to stop production entirely. However, it does seem now that instead of physical media they'll be concentrating on digital distribution.
In other words, Bandai Entertainment is dead and yet it isn't.
As Kyle Hebert says, "Anime is an awesome art form, but at the end of the day, it's a business." A myopic parent company pushing an outdated business model is not the way to succeed in business in North America.
That being said, I'm extremely thankful that Bandai Entertainment stayed as long as it did. Even if I'm smarting over Turn A Gundam's cancellation (I was looking forward to it), thinking of all the great titles Bandai Entertainment brought to me over the years makes me smile a bit. The argument might go that if they didn't, somebody else would have. But're the ones that did, so I still thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for the good times.