More conventional wisdom

June 30th, 2009

Today’s Cel Shaded was one of those columns that definitely benefits from having Otaku Ohana around to back it up. Before this humble l’il blog existed, I probably would’ve had to significantly lop off whatever was printed to fit in the points I didn’t have room for, completely eliminate some of the points I would’ve wanted to make, or extend the subject over several columns. And given the nature of the biz, there’s no guarantee that I’d have room to continue my thoughts in the next week’s column without another bigger story knocking it out of consideration. (I’ve had that happen far more often than I can count, believe me.)

So let’s continue our discussion here of trends and news to watch for at the big three conventions — Anime Expo, Otakon and Comic-Con International — with the points that I couldn’t fit into Cel Shaded:

Will Hayao Miyazaki’s trip to California be enough to boost mainstream U.S. interest in “Ponyo”? The Oscar-winning director for “Spirited Away,” also beloved for Studio Ghibli creations like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” has several events planned in advance of his latest movie, “Ponyo,” opening across the U.S. Aug. 14. While the exact date of his Comic-Con visit has yet to be announced, it’s known that he’ll also visit the University of California-Berkeley on July 25 to accept an award and participate in a discussion. He’ll also be at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy Awards people) on July 28 in Beverly Hills for a tribute with Pixar’s John Lasseter.

But while the accolades are nice, they have yet to translate into piles of money at the box office. Sure, die-hard anime fans like you and me will see “Ponyo” because it’s a Miyazaki film, and Miyazaki films totally rock. But “Spirited Away” won an Oscar, yet only earned a shade over $10 million over an 11-month U.S. run, according to “Howl’s Moving Castle,” which rode on the coattails of “Spirited Away’s” Oscar-winning success, made only $4.7 million over its four-month run, but at its peak played in fewer screens than “Spirited Away” (202 for “Howl” versus 714 for “Spirited Away”). By contrast, Pixar probably could have released just the flashback sequence of “Up” and made more than those two films combined in a matter of days, if not hours.

Which brings us to “Ponyo.” Disney’s promoting it harder than it has any Studio Ghibli film, sending it to 800 screens nationwide. Miyazaki’s coming to America — he didn’t even do that to collect his Oscar. Lasseter’s always been a fan, bringing into play the “everyone loves Pixar, Lasseter loves Ghibli’s stuff, therefore everyone ought to love Ghibli’s stuff as well” factor. And early reports indicate that “Ponyo” might be one of the most accessible, child-friendly films Miyazaki’s made to date. Any good will and exposure that Miyazaki can bring to “Ponyo” likely will be a bonus.

Who can emerge as strong second-place contenders in the anime and manga industries? It could be argued that last year around this time, ADV was the most visible publisher behind Funimation in the anime industry, and Tokyopop was the most visible behind Viz in the manga industry. Then financial problems hit, and ADV and Tokyopop either lost series to rivals or put decent series on indefinite hiatus. ADV seems to be taking the slow, deliberate approach to recovering its former status in anime, while Tokyopop appears content to continue its transition from leading manga publisher to an all-purpose comic company that uses “manga” as a springboard for comic artists from other parts of the world.

This all means the second-place position in the anime and manga industries is a bit more wide-open than it has been in the past. In anime, Viz, Bandai and perhaps even ADV have a chance to seize that spot … but all of them have something holding them back. While Viz has been savvy in leading the manga industry, the publisher hasn’t done as well in anime, tending to take series that could be popular on DVD — “Honey and Clover,” “NANA” and “Monster” come to mind — and, aside from letting them out to play every once in a while online or on the Funimation Channel, generally sitting on them. Bandai could be a player if their release dates didn’t keep slipping like they have in recent months. And ADV … well, one hopes that the hard lessons learned in the past from overenthusiastic expansion will help them be more responsible in the future.

The manga side is a bit easier to predict, but no less tricky. Del Rey would seem to have the inside track, given that it’s a division of publishing powerhouse Random House and it has a strong stable of continuing series. But Yen Press has a legitimate shot as well, with its monthly Yen Plus anthology providing more exposure for some of its titles and its stable of original English-language manga like Svetlana Chmakova’s “Nightschool” and the James Patterson/NaRae Lee collaboration “Maximum Ride.” And then there’s the Kodansha factor, which I discussed in Cel Shaded.

We’ll see how this all plays out in coming weeks. Enjoy the ride.

One Response to “More conventional wisdom”

  1. Paul:

    Interesting article! Thanks for the information.

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