Yesterday, Discotek announced that they acquired the domestic rights to the Mad Bull 34 OVA series. The company stated that the show will hit stores in 2013, in both English-dubbed and Japanese subtitled formats. The title is the latest in a series of deep catalog acquisitions that include titles like Samurai Pizza Cats and Space Adventure Cobra. Since Discotek continues to make investments in older properties, one can only assume that the company is seeing significant returns from their classic anime to justify further spending.

“Anyone with a brain can see that,” you say? Well, dear reader, that wasn’t always the case.

In the 1990s, when anime was beginning to gain a retail presence, older titles were a staple of the market. The combination of low licensing costs and numerous shorter OVAs created an attractive proposition that led to titles like Guyver, Angel Cop, and Dirty Pair dotting store shelves with newer fare like Slayers and Lodoss. They were attractive to customers, who could find programs that may have fallen under the radar, or a short film that could scratch the itch for adventure without the need to commit to several volumes.

However, as the anime bubble inflated and bidding wars pushed license costs sky-high, so too did the price of older licenses.
Shows like Lupin III, Megazone 23, and even the mighty Macross still made their way to DVD, though often at exorbitant costs that would probably never be recouped. As the anime market collapsed, many of these classics began to disappear from shelves one by one. Hopes of seeing VHS classics like Angel Cop or Robot Carnival were quickly muted, as it became clear that the industry needed to refocus its priorities and set its goals to mere survival. Licensors were demanding similar costs for these titles as they were the latest and greatest, which meant that priorities needed to shift in response. After all, the customer-base for older titles has always been, and will always be vastly smaller than that of the market for the bleeding edge.

In short, older titles had become a major risk, rather than an asset. This was a complete reversal from the norm,

In recent years, we’ve seen companies slowly filter back toward this second tier of releases, which indicates a few possibilities:

  1. The market for older titles is growing
  2. The market for older titles remains unchanged, though members are buying more
  3. Licensing costs have finally reached a floor, where the risk of licensing is outweighed by potential profits.

Without concrete figures on license costs, it’s impossible to determine just where the change was. After all, with Nozomi’s releases of Dirty Pair, we did see that higher-profile older titles have the potential to rise up to the level of newer shows. However, overall, the more sensible reaction would be to argue a combination of case 2 and 3, as purchases of such licenses were practically nonexistent for the better part of four years. With the absence of certain products for the market, demand rose as the audience that would previously purchase was unable to do so.