Anyone who keeps up to date with anime and manga news knows that the last few years have been rough. The anime and manga bubble both burst and we have seen several major companies as well as dozens of minor companies go under in the U.S. Even the companies that survived have become a good deal more selective in their offerings.
While they still take chances they are mostly sticking to what they know sells. In the manga world Vertical, Inc. operates a bit outside the norm with licensing decisions. It tends to pick up older prestige titles and newer off beat titles than the other manga licensing companies. But with a careful selection process and effective niche marketing they turn titles that would be utter failures into money makers. They do not sell like Naruto but they often make a tidy little profit. It might not seem that impressive but to most people it is like turning straw into gold.
We here at the Reverse Thieves often wondered in the past could an anime company take the same strategy and use it in the anime market. There are some older series that still have a small but dedicated fandom that would happily buy an English release of vintage titles. You would just have to be smart in which titles you pick up and how you release them. It turns out that Discotek is that company in the anime market.
While licensing the unexpected aligns Discotek and Vertical, Inc., their strategies when it comes to the market are different. Unlike Vertical whose eclectic library is not (generally) aimed specifically at manga fans, Discotek seems to have their sights set on old school anime fans in particular. Sure old school anime fans are a niche in a niche, but they also seem to be the ones willing to put their money where their mouth is. Everyone’s practically pledged allegiance to the empire that is Discotek already; people only half-joking there should be a subscription service because they’d buy everything Discotek are releasing.
It seems that Discotek is the most exciting company currently releasing anime!
When Discotek first came onto the scene their strategy seemed rather off beat. When everyone else was trying to get the new big thing and avoiding anything over a decade old they seemed to be mining the back catalog. In the past with a few very notable exceptions this strategy seemed to be nothing more than a guarantee for failure. Picking up titles like Animal Treasure Island and Taro the Dragon Boy seemed like a crazy scheme to make money by going out of business like the The Producers. But over time their strategy became clear.
They picked up cheaper older titles that had successful legitimate releases back in the day. A movie like Animal Treasure Island had a theatrical release when it first came out years ago and a series like Fist of the North Star still has a small but dedicated fan following. They are selling shows to older fans who already have a history of paying for the show they are interested in.
This built-in fan base for their licenses with a boutique shop sized print run helps make their choices a success. Backing up their catalog with some Japanese B-movies and pink films helps them maintain a solid base of small but constant output. That is what makes their most recent acquisition even more usual.
To call Fist of the North Star fans “dedicated” is rather an understatement! Still its history in the states has been less than stellar, but here comes Discotek making it work! (Now if only we could get the manga.) And their willingness to pick up long series is another piece of elation. Things like Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock TV series seemed impossible dreams.
So once we were all on board with the strategy, Discotek surprises us again with their most recent license. While any other company picking up a mid-range title like Lovely Complex would be just any other day (though I’d still be totally stoked about it!) when Discotek announced it I thought “that is a weird show for them.” Just look at their recently catalog, all things banking on nostalgia and/or a love for the classic and retro. Sure, Love*Com is one of the best romance comedies in recent memory, but how will it fare with their goals?
Perhaps the answer is Discotek has proven themselves to the older fans, now its time to grab the attention of others.
I have to say that Lovely Complex in an unusual direction they have gone in but I think it might determine the future direction of their licenses. So far Discotek has picked up titles with either a shonen or gender neutral quality that have a long-established fanbase. This trip into both shojo and with a modern title is an interesting approach. This is an excellent test to see if they can expand their business model to accommodate other types of shows.
Their license rescue of D.N. Angel was definitely a step towards this but Lovely Complex is the full plunge. If this is successful it might open up the doors to other niche shows getting released. Especially since shojo anime is generally considered sales poison expect for a small handful of exceptions. But then again that is what everyone said about older titles.
That ability to defy conventional wisdom is what makes Discotek a fan favorite.
I had forgotten about D.N. Angel and goodness I don’t know why they picked that up. Still if there is a company that is going to turn its attention to the wide range of shojo anime that is virtually unlicensed, then I’ll be even happier with them than I am already!
Discotek is combining the lower price / stripped down release strategy but making it work with a different collection of titles than other companies. I think NISA is the other company doing really interesting things with anime titles, but they are releasing higher-end sets of newer shows; and Nozomi is willing to take on a select amount of classics.
Now it is time for Discotek to be the hero of the ages, never to be forgotten, and license Legend of the Galactic Heroes.