Yesterday, Discotek announced a number of new titles for release. The company announced that they will release Devilman TV, Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie, Jin-Roh, Dallos, and Lily C.A.T. on DVD. All four titles are slated to begin their releases in 2014.
Before we begin, can you all see the common trait among the titles? If you guessed that every title is over ten years old, you’re right. This may seem like a silly thing to note, but the observation isn’t without merit. The fact that Discotek can not only survive, but thrive on these older titles is an important indicator of the market’s health as a whole. And, more important, it is a sign of an expanding market.
In the immediate run-up to the days following the bursting of the anime bubble, old titles were looked upon as poisonous, rancorous burdens. They were afterthoughts, often the byproducts of riders on contracts for far more desirable properties. There were exceptions, of course – titles like Sailor Moon and Fist of the North Star will always be in demand. However, much of the overall consensus was that old anime couldn’t sell, and wouldn’t sell. At conventions and events, requests for older titles would arise, only to be met with vague denials and non-answers. The narrative was clear, though: old anime did not sell, or at least didn’t sell enough to be viable.
And, for the most part, this was true. Older titles would go ignored on store shelves, as people snapped up copies of Haruhi, Hellsing, and Fate/Stay Night. Few titles would break even, as stock was returned or clearanced to embarrassingly low prices. Licenses were obscenely expensive, and wasting funds on something that would just be returned later was seen as a waste. In the years following the bubble, acquisition costs cratered across the board as the market struggled to gain footing. The bidding wars became less brutal, and the number of players in the market dropped sharply. The lion’s share of the take went to the biggest player in the room, and it seemed like the perfect chance to make a new attempt with older titles. The gamble clearly paid off for a number of players, as these older shows became more plentiful in release lists, and soon seemed to become a fact of life for many anime fans. While there was still a clear preference for the latest and greatest, we began to see older titles claw their way into Amazon’s top-100 list.
In today’s market, it seems that we couldn’t live without seeing at least a dozen classics hitting every other month. Whether it’s Nozomi’s releases of Dirty Pair and Nadesico or Sentai’s occasional acquisition of shows like Ghost Sweeper Mikami, it’s clear that the market today is very different from that of even a few years ago. The market’s grown larger and more diverse, as ventures into a blue ocean that was once thought to be dead have led to a return of lapsed customers. These lapsed customers, who weren’t being catered to by the latest craze to filter through the subculture. Because this group was finally given a reason to return to the anime market, they began to filter in and, like many second-tier non-customers, began to share their favorites with friends and family.
Though the oceans have reddened a bit over the past few years, this group created a thriving niche within the anime subculture that simply did not exist. To see this group grow has been truly fascinating, as odds were broken, and expectations were utterly shattered. It will be interesting to see if the growth will continue going forward, or if forces within the industry will fail to maintain its current momentum.