Aniplex USA is a truly interesting entity in the US marketplace. As a Japanese publisher in a western market, they stand outside of the mainstream market culture. Rather than adapt to western market norms, the company insists on a combination of premium quality and premium prices.
The company’s recent announcement of Fate/Zero illustrates this strategy, as the company plans to roll out a limited number of 13-episode sets at a suggested price of $498.98, though preorders through Right Stuf peg the release at $369.98. The sets are essentially identical to the Japanese release, with an additional English booklet that provides translations to the supplementary items. The kicker to the release, though, is that the American sets will ship on the same day as the Japanese release: March 7, 2012.
At a glance, this release sounds insane. People are already balking, and claiming that the sets won’t sell at five hundred bones. They’re running through the list of complaints: it’s too expensive, there’s no dub, the materials are in Japanese, and so on. The arguments would be warranted, had this been the company’s first attempt at such a release. On December 3, 2010, I reported a similar situation, when Kara no Kyoukai’s $398.88 Blu-Ray boxes were revealed. At the time, the same cries were made, the same arguments – even I joined in. When the title hit stores though, much to the chagrin of many, it sold,and sold well. The box sold out shortly after street date, and became an instant rarity.
What I,and many others, didn’t count on was the fact that Aniplex wasn’t competing for my dollars, or the dollars of someone pulling minimum wage. They’re not appealing to the mainstream anime fan, the cheap geek crowd, or the casual buyer. As far as Aniplex is concerned, these crowds have NicoNico and Crunchyroll to turn to for an inexpensive way of seeing the program, for now.
They’re appealing to a small, dedicated ocean of customers that have specific tastes and demands. They’re catering to a crowd that consists of viewers that want the full Japan experience. These are people that are willing to pay a premium to receive the product Japan receives, right down to the supplementary material. They’ll pay to get shows early, and they’ll shell out money for titles that they simply must have.
Most important, though, is that this crowd has the funds to partake of such a luxury.
In essence, Aniplex is catering to a new, uncontested ocean of upmarket customers. They are receiving the products that they are digesting through importers, in a format that doesn’t require knowledge of Japanese to appreciate. They receive translations for the literature and supplementary items, plus they’re getting the product much sooner than they would, had they bought through Amazon Japan, CDJapan, or another importer.
Is this a sustainable market for all releases? Of course not. It’s a small, exclusionary market that will continue to shrink as time goes on. However, it’s also an ocean that most publishers aren’t fighting over at this point. There is no real competition for consumer dollars in this bracket, and they’ve proven eager to pay. Limited releases such as these, in moderation,can indeed be a profitable endeavor,so long as Aniplex continues to deliver the level of value the market now expects from such sets.