As reported by Anime News Network, FUNimation made an interesting announcement at Kamikaze Con:

Funimation also announced that, at upcoming cons, they would be circulating petitions in order to bring the Sakura Taisen games to the US.

Personally I’ve still associated FUNimation with bad Dragon Ball Z anime episodes, but I’m seeing that this is no longer the case.  Because of a discussion over on Matthew’s Anime Blog, I remembered I had a copy of the first volume of Fruits Basket, which was put out by FUNimation.  Fruits Basket was brought up as a really nice release because it came out on only 4 DVDs, even though there were 26 episodes.  Having gotten a DVD burner recently I’ve really learned how low bitrates can really destroy a video, even on DVDs.  Most companies (anime and otherwise) still seem to prefer DVD5s, which hold about 4.7GB.  On these, if you have extras taking up space as well, 4 episodes is about the max you can get on it and have really good bitrates and video quality.  If the company’s willing to fine tune the encoding, 5 is also possible, but this is unfortunately rare.  DVD9s on the other hand are dual-layer and can hold a littler over 9GB of data.  You can pack more episodes on these discs and keep a high bitrate for a quality picture.

So, I wondered which FUNimation had done.  Was it 6 episodes + extras crammed on a DVD5 with noticeable video quality problems, or had they used a DVD9?  A quick check and it was clear, the first volume contains 6 episodes and is around 7GB.  Additionally I checked the bitrate through the first episode or so and it became clear it had been fine-tunes quite a bit.  The rate varies quite a lot, I’ve seen it around 2mbps, and as high (so far) as 7mbps.  I’ve yet to see any noticeable video quality degradation.  In fact what I watched looked simply stunning!  When the video needs the higher rates it has it, and when it doesn’t (and there are a lot of low/no motion scenes in these episodes) the rates goes down to save space.  The only real problem I can find with it is the audio is only encoded at 256kbps.  I suspect this is done to save space for the inevitable volumes with 7 episodes and they wanted to keep the audio encoding consistent across volumes.  That I can live with.

So back to the main point now.  It’s obvious to me now that FUNimation is not the company I remember, they’ve changed quite a bit and are doing quality work.  What impresses me the most here is that this is on a shoujo title, something other companies seem to treat like an unwanted stepsister compared to their other titles.  Add to this that they’re trying to get the Sakura Taisen games brought over and, well, wow, what a change!

For those who don’t know, the Sakura Taisen games aren’t exactly like standard dating sims, but there are components of that in them, something that no one seems to think a US audience would be interested in except the bishoujo H games.  Personally I think there’s a market for dating sims in general here, at the very least there’s lots of guys who don’t have any luck with women who would likely enjoy them.  I think there’s a bigger audience than that though, they can appeal on many levels: trying to win the hearts of the girls  you like is fun, and in a game it’s not nearly as painful if you goof things up; most are set in high school, I know to me there’s a LOT of appeal to being back in high school again when things were much simpler; and many would enjoy the different culture as well.  Anime fans can relate to this one, not only is it a dating sim, but it’s a return to high school and a chance to experience virtually a bit what it might have been like to go to school in Japan.  (Granted it’s not very realistic, but it’s a game and it’s the closest we’re going to get. ^_^)  Do note I’m not talking about H games here, I’m talking about the non-H dating sims.

Sakura Taisen though adds in the whole story that we’ve only seen bits and pieces of in the OVAs and TV series.  I understand there’s much more to what’s going on and the whole story is quite intriguing on its own, even without the dating sim aspects.  I think they would do well here.  Not blockbusters, but they’d do pretty well, certainly enough to cover localization costs.

Incidentally I do know of one game released in the US with dating sim aspects.  Thousand Arms for the PS1 is a RPG.  In it you’re a “spirit blacksmith” and you forge skills into your weapons, along with one of the girls.  What skills can be forged depend on your relationship level with the girl.  You have to go on dates to change the relationship levels, and you have options you have to pick to try and get the best date possible.  Annoyingly you really have to tick them off sometimes too to lower the relationship level to add skills to new weapons you acquire.  Still, the dating sim aspects were there.

Too bad I will most likely not be attending any cons, I’d like to sign the petition, I urge everyone else to do so as well!  Even if the Sakura Taisen games aren’t your favorites, if this is successful it may lead to other titles being brought over that we never thought we’d see.  I know I’d like to see Tokimeki Memorial come over sometime, from what a friend’s told me about it I think it’d be great fun. :)

(Please correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t played them but have seen them in action and have a good friend who’s played them all, but I do not claim to be an expert by any means.)

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Mar
16
Filed Under (Manga, News) by Maestro on 16-03-2005

(Full Disclosure: I’m not a big fan of ADV.  I’ve seen them ignore their customers’ legitimate complaints over things ADV did with releases far too many times.  Still I’m trying to be objective here, and the reasons I don’t care for them have contributed to the problems leading to their current layoffs.)

Publisher’s Weekly has put up a report about ADV laying off and restructuring its manga unit.  Reportedly up to 40 employees have been laid off, although ADV won’t confirm those numbers, only confirm that layoffs took place.  Some quotes from the article and my comments are below, along with a final summation.

John Ledford, cofounder and president of ADV, says the company faces a saturated market and more discerning customers. “Anyone can see that there’s only so much shelf space available to manga and to anime. We’ve adjusted our schedule to keep pace with the opportunities for shelf space.”

Truly I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry in response to this.  Frankly it sounds like Ledford’s placing the blame on the market, retailers (shelf space) and customers.  True all of that played a part, but what he fails to comment on is why ADV tried to muscle into the very firmly established Manga market in such a big way (around 80 titles last year).  When I saw the first ADV Manga titles at the bookstore my first thought was “are they nuts?”  Most of the titles weren’t big name titles, and ADV was a virtual unknown to Manga fans who don’t like/bother with Anime.  Sure Del-Rey/Bantam Books also made a highly publicized, and largely successful, push into Manga as well last year but they’re already a very well known name to book buyers as well as readers.  (Being known to buyers is highly important, as bookstores are more likely to devote shelf space to a publisher they know and trust.)  Even so Del-Rey, wisely I think, decided to differentiate themselves with top tier titles and a more meticulous approach.  While there has been some inconsistency in translation, all of their titles have excellent liner notes, cultural references, extras and full explanations of honorifics, justifying the higher price of $10.95 vs. the more standard $9.95.  Del-Rey also published far fewer titles than ADV did, another wise move (especially looking at it in retrospect now.)

ADV is refocusing its manga publishing on “winners,” Oarr says, and . . . will focus on properties “where we have both sides”–both the manga and anime licenses–pointing to the upcoming release of the much publicized Cromartie High book and anime series.

If I worked in what’s left of ADV’s manga division I’d be printing up resumes and job hunting fast!  Some of ADV’s titles will do great, but thats for older, established series that already have a huge fanbase.  Things like Cromartie High are not likely to do as well as ADV hopes.  Had anyone heard about this title before ADV started advertising it?  Has anyone, besides me, seen the Manga preview in this month’s Anime Insider?  It wasn’t that good.  Perhaps it’s because they took chapters out of context, but it doesn’t appear to matter much, it’s non-sequential humor.  I’m predicting it’ll do poorly, maybe not an absolute bomb, but nowhere near what ADV is hoping for it to do.

ADV also publishes NewType magazine, a category leading anime/manga fan periodical, and much of the editorial and production work for the manga books has been shifted to the staff producing the magazine in a new publishing division.

ADV certainly could use some help on NewType USA!  Most of the “Now Playing” episode synopsizes aren’t even close to what happened.  I can tell this from watching raws on my own and I understand almost no Japanese at all.  Whoever’s being paid to write those doesn’t even seem to be watching the episodes first.  NewType USA is also highly ADV-centric.  Try flipping through one sometime, the majority of the shows showcased, and even the advertising, is all for ADV titles.  If I was a company in competition with ADV with Anime titles I wouldn’t want to pay to advertise in Newtype USA.  Why bother when the majority of magazine caters to the publisher’s titles?

I should note that ADV has caused plenty of ire in the anime industry.  ADV had a tendency in the past to grab up rights to portions of series that another company had already started doing the distribution for.  Normally this might seem like a good business move, but it annoyed many customers too. Having the distributor change mid-series leads to mismatched cover art/naming/etc.  While their competitors have never said so publicly, they’re only human and I doubt they cared for this strategy either.  In more recent years this has been less of a problem since companies are moving to license the whole thing at once, but it may come up again in cases like Girls Bravo which has separate 1st and 2nd seasons, and likely separate licensing as well.

I think the scariest thing is that all indications are that ADV doesn’t realize they dug their own hole with this.  Since there’s still things wrong (Newtype USA and counting on new, relatively unknown titles) they really need to take a good look at what they’re doing and fix the problems.  Otherwise this will likely be only the first of many reports of bad news from ADV.

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