Earlier today, Bandai Entertainment announced that they will start winding down their distribution operations. The company plans to send its final manga and novel shipments to retailers by the end of October. They will discontinue their home video business by March 1, 2013, with a final deadline for orders occurring on November 15.
Bandai’s exit from the market was inevitable. When the company announced that they would cease all licensing in January, it felt like a sad inevitability for the troubled distributor. Bandai was plagued by misfortune as early as 2009, when a number of us began placing the company on the annual “death watch” radar. This began in January, when Bandai Entertainment restructured, laying off 19 full-time employees. In May 2010, Eric Sherman of Bang! Zoom noted that the company was facing severe difficulties, and was hoping for the Haruhi franchise to be the silver bullet that saves the company, as they threw underperforming title after underperforming title into retail channel. Release dates on key titles slipped, and Bandai continued to pay top dollar for incredibly niche offerings, like Lucky Star and K-On!.
While, at this point, we won’t see much of an impact on the greater market, Bandai’s presence will certainly be missed. They currently hold a number of strong titles with great sales potential, which include like Gurren Lagann, Cowboy Bebop, and the Gundam franchise. Given that Bandai is essentially retreating to the role that Geneon currently holds, I have little doubt that we’ll begin to see partnerships and distribution agreements arise between Bandai and western distributors. While not every title will be rescued, I have little doubt that the shows that make money, and resonate with a greater market will be given their second chance with a publisher like Sentai or FUNimation. As for who will release which titles? This will surely become the topic of speculation amongst fans and industry watchers alike.
More than anything, Bandai’s exit is a sad reminder of the changing market we currently reside within. While we are beginning to see some growth, some branching out into new territory by the major players, there is still an unmistakable sense of dread in the air. Uncertainty continues to linger, as former establishment figures fade to give way to rising new entities, and industry powerhouses continue to dominate the key blockbuster licenses. While the corrections are no longer as drastic as they were in 2008, or even 2010, we will continue to see some form of reach toward equilibrium, as the economy creeps out of its current slump.