How old is too old?
In the last week we’ve experienced a slew of new license announcements or rerelease notifications from almost all known anime distributors. FUNimation licensed Jormungand, NISA licensed AnoHana (and finally made the move to Blu-ray!), VIZ licensed the new Berserk film trilogy, Aniplex of America announced a budget rerelease of Kara no Kyoukai, Sentai Filmworks licensed Mysterious Girlfriend X, and these are just examples or the many, many things that were announced. But today I’d like to talk about a bold license acquisition undertaken by a relatively overlooked distributor called Discotek.
Who is Discotek?
Technically speaking Discotek has been in the distribution business for years now. Relatively to our interests though, Discotek has had some shady releases throughout the years. Looking up the company’s online catalogue I caught glimpses of a lot of erotic/gore Asian movies (in fact I’m not completely sure their website is SFW). On the other hand those with a keen eye can also spot famous anime titles on their catalogue, such as Project A-Ko, D.N. Angel and Fist of the North Star. Now, just to get things straight, Discotek wasn’t the first licensor to release these series in the U.S. It bought them years after the official license had expired in hopes of revitalizing the titles. And now Discotek has announced the licensing of three more series: Samurai Pizza Cats, Lovely Complex, and the original Captain Harlock. One of these titles (Lovely Complex) has never been licensed and is in fact not that old. However, the other two titles are old classics. The acquisition of these two old titles brings up an interesting question: Are old anime classics still marketable today?
Samurai Pizza Cats. An old classic with the potential to succeed even today.
A matter of age
There are some classics that stubbornly stay relevant, and this is a known fact in all manners of entertainment. But even if we stick to the quite young medium of animation we can raise a few prominent examples. Decades have passed since the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was broadcasted and yet new iterations keep coming out. Show me a kid today who hasn’t watched the Smurfs, or an adult who doesn’t remember those hours they spent glued to the screen watching Looney Tunes or Scooby Doo. So in some respect, animated classics can still be relevant (and be sold profitably) even today if they manage to pull at our nostalgia strings. Looking directly at Samurai Pizza Cats I can recognize such potential of becoming a classic. Samurai Pizza Cats was an awesome series back in the 90s. It was cool and hyper enough for kids to enjoy and maintained a certain degree of satire. It also had appealing visuals to support it. To top it all the cats wore power suits and used giant robots, similar to the then explosively popular Power Rangers. I can see those grown-ups who watched the series as kids wanting to revisit that show, and I can also see kids randomly catching a glimpse of the Pizza Cats DVDs and buying them impulsively in a store. Pizza Cats is definitely still marketable today. However, Samurai Pizza Cats is barely considered old. Right now it stands on the that thin line that separates old anime and contemporary anime. Do you consider Neon Genesis Evangelion to be old? How about Cowboy Bebop? Something tells me that these titles are not yet eligible to be described as old classics. They are just above the line that Pizza Cats crossed. But Discotek’s other old title is so old that most chances are its older then you.
Now we venture into a more tricky part, the part in which we separate ourselves from what we consider classics and what is considered classic by the books. That’s because every book on anime or manga will tell you that Captain Harlock is an anime classic and that it was almost single-handedly responsible for the anime grassroots movement in the U.S. during the 80s. They will tell you how popular Captain Harlock was in Japan, how beautifully and detailed it was drawn and how thought provoking it was for its time. What they won’t tell you is that this original series was never licensed in the U.S., even after the anime boom was at full swing. Why, you ask? Well, because despite the greatness it achieved in its heydays during the end of the 70s, Captain Harlock has aged terribly and became redundant by the beginning of the 90s. Sure, the short history of anime has gave birth to countless classics which are old, yet widely loved and still relevant (Dragon Ball Z anyone?). But the ugly truth is that Captain Harlock is as boring as old animated shows can get. It has an incredibly slow pace, looks really bad by any standard and didn’t have such a brilliant story to tell. And U.S. distributors knew that. They understood that some series should be left unlicensed, despite their successful past. Thus Captain Harlock became some kind of anime saint – everyone acknowledged its importance to the medium, yet no one dared to touch it.
But of course if you are reading this then you already know that this is no longer true. After all those years, and against all odds, Discotek has chosen this day and age to pick up the series’ license. This opens the discussion and raises some harsh questions. Questions such as: Is Captain Harlock even recommended for casual viewers or is it only valid as “academic material” for researchers to write articles about? Why should a costumer prefer this series over a shiny new 2012 anime? Can such an old series make a profit when the U.S. DVD industry is at its worse state ever? How much copies do Discotek need to sell before a profit is made? Did Discotek even gauge this title as profitable to begin with? Captain Harlock is different from Samurai Pizza Cats. Since Captain Harlock is on the gloomy side and looks old it won’t attract children. Likewise, you won’t find many American grown-ups with fond memories of Captain Harlock from their childhood, since it was never shown here. Does an old, relatively unknown and overall not that good series stand a chance in our already flooded entertainment world? It will definitely need to put up a tremendous fight, and the chances are utterly against it. Regardless of the outcome though, it will be interesting to see just how much appreciation and love the anime fandom has for this aging title. Maybe anime fans will prove exceptionally kind when it comes to respecting their elders?