Yesterday, Pony Canyon made waves in the industry when they announced that they will enter the US anime market. The company launched an English-language website, in which they introduce themselves as “PonyCan USA” and highlight their first two products. The company will distribute Denki-gai no Honya-san and Yuki Yuki wa Yusha de aru in the west.
Crunchyroll announced that they’ll begin streaming both titles in all regions, save Asia. In addition to streaming titles, PonyCan USA will release DVDs and Blu-Rays into the western market. The first releases are slated to hit in 2015, with PonyCan promising the same high standard as their Japanese editions.
So, much like Aniplex, Pony Canyon is attempting to sidestep the middleman to enter the western market. Keen industry watchers have been predicting this for a while now, though, as Aniplex proved itself to be an industry darling despite fan complaints. It’s profitable and continues to add staff, despite its divisive reputation in the fan community. ANN founder Justin Sevakis summed up the situation best in his AnswerMan column on September 19:
The Funimations and Sentais of the world are still the undisputed champs when it comes to putting an anime title in as front of many eyeballs as possible, but for more niche shows, that may not be a necessary step. Bandai Visual and TMS are already putting their back catalogs directly onto Hulu themselves, to say nothing of POLYGON PICTURES’ direct deal with Netflix to dub and stream Knights of Sidonia. I expect at least a couple more Japanese producers to start working more directly with the American market in the near future, but how successful they will be is anyone’s guess.
At this point, it’s been about a day since the company first announced its plans for a North America division. And, in the time that it’s taken for the dust to settle, we’ve seen a very wide range of opinions. Some have been positive, others have been negative, and there’s even been a contingency screeching about how this is the coming of the Antichrist.
Joking aside, I have to admit that I’m very interested in seeing how things turn out. While a lot of us expected to see another Japanese player enter the market, I don’t know how many of us expected to see it happen so soon.
That said, though, this isn’t Pony Canyon’s first foray into the North American market at all. In 2008, the company made an attempt at a crowd funding effort for Abunai Sisters. This wasn’t just a minor deal, either. The short OVA, which starred the Kano Sisters, would take on a scaled pre-order model, where the overall price of the feature would decrease as more pre-orders rolled in. The high-end would see fans paying something like $250 for a 30-minute feature, while the low-end would place prices at a hair about $60.
That said, it’s been about six years since then. The market’s changed greatly, as we’ve seen a bubble burst, and a struggling industry rebuild itself into a healthy machine again. We’ve seen companies like Crunchyroll become fixtures in the market, and companies like Discotek build niches in long-dead subgenres. Toonami’s returned to the airwaves, and anime is becoming easier to find by the day.
Pony Canyon’s entry is a sign of the industry’s continued evolution. And, at this point, it’s anybody’s guess as to how things will pan out. The company’s already making a fantastic first impression, though. With two simulcasts announced, in addition to their commitment to Japan quality media releases, PonyCan USA seems to be hitting the right notes with the enthusiast and the collector alike.
We’re still in the honeymoon phase, though. Between now, and the time that the company announces its first physical release, there will be a lot of skepticism and questioning. This will become a source of debate, primarily due to the company’s comment about “Japanese edition quality,” which is pretty ambiguous.
Basically, it will boil down to which company PonyCan USA will chase in regards to their releases. Will they adopt NIS America’s model, with a lower price of entry (per episode) that emphasizes the presentation, or will they adopt Aniplex USA’s model, which places a premium per-episode price in exchange for high fidelity?
At this point, it’s a mystery.
That said, though, Aniplex has proven that the industry is now big enough to host three distinct sub-markets:
- The lower market: Streaming services like Crunchyroll, Netflix, & Hulu in addition to discounted DVDs
- The middle market: New releases from outlets like FUNimation, Viz, and Sentai. Moderately priced titles with high-ish episode counts
- Upmarket: Premium releases from companies like Aniplex or NIS, which offer a more “premium” package, presentation, and image for a higher price
Just where PonyCan fits into the overall picture remains to be seen, at this point. However, they’ve already shown a commitment to the low market with readily available simulcast streams. And, depending on the physical format they choose, the company could prove to be a very worthy competitor to a company like Aniplex or NIS America, who currently occupy fairly uncontested niches within the upmarket.
Or, if handled poorly, we could see the company become the next joke on the level of Bandai Visual USA. I don’t see this as likely, due to the strong examples set so far, but I won’t discount the idea.
How things will play out remains to be seen, though. All I can say is that PonyCan could prove to be a truly fascinating wild card in this industry.
For this article, I reached out to a few bloggers for their comments on the situation. L.B. Bryant from Otaku Review responded with his own short summation of the situation.
Pony Canyon has entered the US distribution market. So far it seems as though they’re doing it right by announcing two simulcasts off the bat and plans to put out home video releases in the US which will match the quality seen in Japan. Is this a good thing? In my opinion yes. It has been awhile since we’ve last seen a new major player enter the US market and more competition is always a good thing.
The trick here is that Pony Can USA is going to have to navigate some treacherous waters for the first year and show fans that they aren’t here to just make a quick buck. Only time will tell if Pony Can USA will be talked about in the same positive way that fans talk about NIS America or if they will be laughed at like when someone brings up Bandai Visual USA.
I’d like to give a gigantic thanks for Mr. Bryant’s input on the topic.