Header Photo Credit: Samantha Ferreira

Event Date: 8/7/2021

Hosts: Mike Toole, Justin Sevakis, Brady Hartel

Anyone who’s ever been to a larger anime con likely knows about industry panels. These events bring in tens of thousands of fans each year, all of whom are clamoring for the most fleeting glimpse into a publisher’s closely guarded chest of acquisitions. And, for the most part, publishers know this; for years, distributors have built their industry panels up to be like timeshare pitches: flashy, slick, and dangling just enough to keep attendees mildly interested until the big reveal at the end.

Thankfully, Discotek Media isn’t like most publishers.

Since their foundation in 2005, Discotek has become a darling among physical media collectors. The company’s tireless dedication to making “the perfect release” has led to their staff scouring the world for rare dub tracks and bonuses, rescuing what was effectively lost media from the depths of industry obscurity. The core team, which includes Mike Toole, Justin Sevakis, Brady Hartel, and Logan Rebholz, among others, have quickly become the company’s de facto faces, and the organization’s regular “Discotek Day” license drops have become celebrations in and of themselves.

So, it comes as little surprise that Discotek’s panel at Otakon would attract a capacity crowd, which was greeted with clips from the English dub for Ninja Robots as they filed into Panel Room 7. The clips were a perfect choice to set the mood, and the place immediately felt like a gathering of old friends. Folks chatted and caught up on old times while sharing a laugh at the on-screen absurdity.


As the clock struck quarter past six, the screen faded to black, and familiar chords from To Live & Die in L.A. by Every Night (feat. Pierce) began to play over the P.A. A palpable energy crackled throughout the room as people erupted into fresh cheers with each show flashing by, from Project A-Ko, to Sgt. Frog, to City Hunter. The crowd was more than primed when  Discotek’s motto: “Blu-Rays are forever, so are the classics” appeared onscreen.

Text: "Blu-Rays are forever. So are the classics."

It wasn’t long before Mike, Justin, and Brady would reveal the first of several new titles to be pulled from the publisher’s sleeve that evening. It began with a gloomy overhead shot of a ruined boxing ring, as a mournful whisper played over the speakers.

“Joe. Joe Yabuki…”

It was none other than Tomorrow’s Joe 2: The Movie! Little by little, it dawned on the audience, who began to cheer and applaud the trailer for the beloved 1981 film. As the title appeared onscreen, Sevakis took a moment to look over the audience, before remarking, “we’re in a pretty crowded room and it doesn’t really feel normal yet.”

Indeed, after nearly two years of isolation, none of this felt real to me in the least. It still felt like a passing fancy, a dream of a time long past. And we weren’t the only ones. A warm, vibrant energy ran through a crowd who just seemed excited to be sharing this communal experience once more. Excitement is a feature of every  Discotek Day, to be sure, but that evening, it was also a celebration of where we were—and what we have endured as a community.

For the first time, it really felt like a “normal” weekend for so many of us: masks aside, we were all joined together in fandom.

Photo of a PowerPoint slide detailing the Discotek Media release of Project A-Ko.

Photo Credit: Samantha Ferreira

As Hartel talked shop about the technical aspects of producing the Ronin Warriors dub, or Sevakis and Toole discussed the upcoming Project A-Ko, the crowd responded with rapturous cheers. Many cringed in sympathy as Sevakis remarked that the A-Ko remaster “brought my machine to its knees,” and let out excited “oohs” and “ahhs” at details on the seemingly endless list of new features slated for the release.

With each new title revealed, from Lupin III vs. Detective Conan, to Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo’s upcoming release on Blu-Ray, to Cutie Honey: the Live—a surprise by any measure—the audience seemed to snowball its own excitement, growing more eager with each new tidbit of information.

The event seemed to come to a crescendo when the team unveiled two major projects: a 4K Blu-Ray for iconic anime classic Robot Carnival, and a license for classic mecha series Machine Robo. At that point, time was growing short, and a few members of the audience had begun gathering their things to head out.

“Hold on a minute, folks,” Toole said, freezing the audience. “We have about two minutes left, and as I like to say, ‘but wait, there’s more!’ We have one last reveal for the night.”

Image promoting Discotek Media's license of Gunbuster, featuring a woman in a red and white uniform, standing against a sea of people and a giant robot, bathed ina  blue light. Text: "Oh, yes. It's happening."

The next slide queued up, and the screen went black. It faded in on a familiar space-scape, one we all know. Kohei Tanaka’s iconic soundtrack kicks in. Audible gasps rang out, and someone screamed, “OH NO! YOU DIDN’T! YOU FUCKING DIDN’T!”

Murmurs grew and swelled into a roaring cheer as iconic mecha Gunbuster rose into view. A tsunami of noise deafened the room frame-by-frame as people jumped up and screamed “YEAAAAH!”, pumping their fists, some literally jumping with joy! The cheers grew even louder as lead character Noriko came on-screen with her first dialogue. It was impossible to hear my racing thoughts over the roaring crowd, and it was utterly impossible to avoid getting swept up in the moment.

People were freaking out. BJ Wanlund was literally holding his head in disbelief, and the people to my left were just cheering, fist-pumping, utterly rapturous with this reveal. “I truly didn’t expect Gunbuster to be rescued in a million years,” Wanlund remarked, before adding “I was expecting to have to track down fansubs of it.”

Photo from Discotek Media's panel, featuring Justin Sevakis, Brady Hartel, and Mike Toole, flanked by Amber Lee Connors and two other members of the Sound Cadence dub studio team.

Photo Credit: Samantha Ferreira

The crowd was so focused on the spectacle on-screen that nobody noticed Amber Lee Connors and two other members of the Sound Cadence team as they strode into the room to take seats next to Toole, Sevakis, and Hartel.

Once again, Discotek had accomplished the impossible. They acquired the classic sci-fi OVA, Gunbuster, and were working with Sound Cadence studios to produce a brand new English dub for the project, which is slated for a 2022 release.

The entire reveal, from start to finish, culminated into a breathtaking moment of ecstasy—ephemeral, exciting, and beautiful, with an energy that I haven’t seen since 2004, when Funimation revealed that they had licensed fansub darling Kodomo no Omocha.

Maybe it was the two years we spent as fans being so far apart, or maybe it was the power of the license at hand. Heck, it could have just been a roomful of oldtaku who were having one last go at a passing fancy.

Regardless, the Gunbuster reveal was something truly special. Discotek had done what many had said would never happen, and they did it on brand, with a style and grace that walks the line between confident and sassy. But, perhaps most touching of all, was that somehow, someway, Discotek helped us all feel normal again, if only for a single hour.