Bandai Entertainment USA Folds

What a bad way to start 2012! As you might have heard by now Bandai Entertainment, the U.S. based subsidiary of Namco Bandai Japan, will stop releasing new titles in February. That includes all of the companies’ manga and anime line. According to the ANN’s article:

Bandai Entertainment will focus on licensing rights to other companies, particularly in digital distribution, broadcast, and merchandising.”

This in fact translates to “Bandai Entertainment will close its offices, but a representative will be kept in the U.S. in case any of the other U.S. based anime distribution companies wants to license a series directly from our Japanese firm.”
All the series Bandai Entertainment already released will remain in print for now, so there’s no need to panic even if you managed to miss one of Bandai’s releases along the way. But Bandai’s statement that it will stop releasing new titles is a bit enigmatic. Licensed series which have not been published yet are one thing, but what about series Bandai has been churning out in earnest, but haven’t been fully released yet? Will Bandai ever finish releasing Tales of the Abyss? and what about the second season of the very popular K-ON? These are series which were released in tiny little bits instead of a fully fledged complete series box set, and Bandai should be ashamed for not finishing them yet.

Then again, herein lies the problem: Bandai Entertainment’s current “restructuring” misfortune is the end-result the Bandai’s own inability to market its products. Back in the 90s it was common to release series in singles, with each single containing 2-7 episodes, and sell it at a premium price. ADV, Geneon, Media Blasters, Bandai, all the big distribution companies did this. But this marketing style began to lose steam in the new millennium, and eventually brought ADV and Geneo to their knees. In a recent ANNCast interview Bandai Entertainment’s former marketing manager for Jerry Chu told Zac Bertschy and Justin Sevakis that Bandai Entertainment USA succeeded where ADV and Geneon failed because it really did offer a premium package to those who bought those premium priced singles and box sets. However, what might have been true for the beginning of the millennium can become irrelevant in a few years’ time. Bandai continued to release overpriced singles in a new age where no other publisher dared to do so. Aside from the obviously exaggerated price tags (20$ for 4 episodes of K-ON after a discount? really?) the notion of having to wait a year or two for the series you like to be published bit by bit has become archaic. Other companies have often released series in two parts, but slicing a series to more than 2 parts (unless it is a long-running series) is in bad taste.

Bandai has been making bad marketing choices for years. One example would be the companies obsession with Gundam. Bandai released Gundam-related series left and right, never bothering to stop and check which Gundam series had actual potential for success and which is was garbage. But perhaps Bandai’s most recent infamous failure is its inability to market Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann had the potential to become a cult hit. It should have been the next Full Metal Alchemist/Naruto/DBZ (you get the point). But Bandai didn’t promote it properly, released it as over-priced singles, and only sold it through its own online store (which is now closed). Frankly, the sleepy Bandai desperately needed a heavy hitter like Gurren Lagann. Instead that great title had undeservingly mediocre sales and didn’t create any sort of hype. Bandai continued to release singles until the bitter end. I feel sorry for all those who bought the three Tales of the Abyss DVD boxes and are now nervously worried if the forth (final) DVD box for the series will ever be released.

But enough about that. Grudges aside, Bandai Entertainment also managed to release mighty good anime while it lasted. I personally want to thank the company for releasing .hack//Sign, Lucky Star and The Girl Who Leapt Throught Time. May Bandai Entertainment rest in peace.

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