Our first editorial of the year is unfortunately a bit of a downer. As we all got into our Monday, Bandai announced they will cease releasing new DVD/BDs and manga which means any licenses that haven’t seen a pre-order are off the table. More than that personal loss for all of us, we are losing a big name and competitor in the U.S. industry. Bandai will continue to promote titles to other companies, after all they are still a Japanese company with big series on the other side of the ocean. Which makes it all the more sad that they couldn’t make it work here any longer.
Way back in May of 2010 there was a major warning sign that this day would come to pass on the ANNCast. Eric Sherman, the CEO of Bang Zoom! Entertainment stated that Bandai Entertainment was not doing that well and was banking on the success of their upcoming sales on Haruhi and a secret title to stay in business. I assume that other title was K-ON! as I doubt Bandai’s great white hope was The Girl Who Leapt Through Space. It seemed like despite that dire prediction and some delayed release schedules Bandai was holding on in America. But today we learned that dire prediction sadly came to its grisly conclusion. I know that will lead some people to say that the we should not be shocked because the handwriting was on the wall for a good time now. But when you have a sick relative who suddenly passes away it does not making their passing any easier. A part of you always hopes that they will get better even when you know their conditional is terminal. We might have know in our hearts that Bandai might not be with us for much longer but we wanted to believe that they would pull through. When ever a loved one passes on it is a good moment for reflection on what they left behind.
I always thought of Bandai as a dual niche company picking very otaku shows like Lucky Star and K-ON! but also fueling mecha fans desires on the other end. These days there isn’t a whole ton of mecha anime being made and an even a smaller portion of that sees a U.S. release. Bandai was the biggest distributor of robot shows from Gundam to Star Driver. And while other companies have picked up titles here and there (Evangelion, TTGL movies, Broken Blade), Bandai produces many of people’s favorites in Japan making the leap to stateside that much easier. It goes without saying that any older mecha titles have a .05% of ever being released not that Bandai was doing much of that themselves. Still, the fate of Gundam especially weighs heavy on all our minds.
The biggest hole left with Bandai leaving the market is the lack of a dedicated Gundam licensor. The conventional wisdom was that Bandai would release any iteration of Gundam they could at some point. It was never a matter of if more than when. Now that they are gone all bets are off. Gundam Unicorn will probably finish out its run in the US as the Japanese side of Bandai seems to have too much invested in it to stop now. And even Unicorn are somewhat in question. But everything else is not looking so good. Turn A Gundam was officially canceled and I doubt there is anyone rushing out to pick it up. Victory, Double Zeta, and Gundam X theoretically could be picked up by someone else but they generally seem like untouchable titles due to their age alone. Gundam AGE is in a weird place. On one hand it is the latest and greatest title and it has a connection to the popular Level-5 studio. On the other hand mecha is never super popular outside of a handful of titles and the current fandom seems to dismiss the show as Baby Gundam for Babies. One wonders if Funimation or Section23 Films would even want to touch such a title with a ten foot pole. This is really painful to me because Trun A Gundam is my favorite Gundam series and it seemed to gave gotten so close to being released only to vanish at the last second. There is an especially salty taste to the news because of that. I also assume that the second subtitled box set of Gundam 0079 is close enough to completion to still come out but it quickly might become a collectors item.
With Bandai taking a backseat to anime in America, I don’t know who is the best hope we have for mecha titles now. With one less company in the mix, taking risks seem like a bad move for the moment. And funnily enough, despite some thoroughly odd licenses for NISA and Sentai Filmworks, they still aren’t licensing robot series with the exception of Broken Blade. This is kind of frightening, as though the assumption is mecha sells worse than anything besides sports shows. Then again these companies might have felt Bandai was filling that role but now with their departure they can take on more robot series. Perhaps good sales of BB (fingers crossed!) will help lift that possibility as well. I’m not sure if this will cause more or less opportunities on the digital front. This creates a less likely scenario for certain shows to have physical releases which may prompt them to try for internet distribution. Maybe the writing was on the wall when VIZ started simulcasting Tiger & Bunny. Which is still not licensed for physical release.
I am also rather saddened because this means that my precious Hayate DVDs are probably nothing more than a pipe dream now. I never bought the first round of DVDs as they were rather expensive singles. I had always assumed they would put out in a more affordable box set. Now that is pretty much impossible. That also means that no one is likely to pick up season 2, 3, or the movie. Hayate is just far too long a niche comedy while not having nearly enough fan-service to be picked up by anyone else. This along with the manga slowdown seems to prove the series in just cursed in the U.S. Also all of their manga has been canceled. While the manga division has mostly just been a very fancy extras division for their anime line they did have some great titles. I liked their release of Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens and will be sad to see that disappear so alongside some other decent manga titles.
They clearly thought they could make a go of it, announcing shows this summer at Otakon, but they have been staying under the radar for a while now. Plus without a real online presence, they are easy to overlook. Still, Bandai was a large part in the industry for a very long time making it hard to see them go. Major questions remain about other shows that are only half done, etc. and those answers will probably only come slowly. Perhaps they don’t even know the answers themselves yet. But less competition in the market place is never good for fans.
There are still several questions we will not know for a minimum of several months. What titles will be rescued from their catalog? I am sure someone will shell out for Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex down the line but everything else is far less likely to get picked up by anyone else. Also since Bandai is still releasing what they have for awhile I am sure those titles will take years to be freed up at minimum. Maybe someone close go after Gosick but that seems even less likely. If I had any money I would get Gundam 0079 on DVD and Star Driver on BluRay right now while they are still in stock. They are the two titles I would want the most and have the greatest chance of going out of print and therefore being insanely expensive down the line. In fact I realy can’t see any big positives to this whole affair. While they were never the quickest company to release a series and they made their share of mistakes over the years but I enjoyed their products. I will be sad to see them go. I can’t see anyone filling their shoes in the near future.