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King of the Hill
By Edwin Peregrina
Up until now, most anime companies have considered DVD as something not very important in their quest to be number one in the industry. But some companies are seeing the anime DVD market as ground yet to be claimed... ground that hasn't been sought after by many other companies.
And it's easier to be number one in this market while most companies are still lingering in the market. It's easier to be the first to the top of the hill rather than having to kick someone off of it.
So, who are the ones making some of the first runs to the top of the hill? How about Central Park Media and Pioneer.
Be King of the Hill in Four Easy Steps
There's four basic demands of anime DVD fans. Provide each of them equally and you're half way there:
Provide fans with high quality titles -- bilingual with good picture and sound... and good packaging.
Provide fans with a good variety of titles on DVD on a regular basis -- try to get the new titles in while not forgetting about the classic anime titles. Balancing is the key. Of course, if you do EVERYTHING on DVD, you can't go wrong with that either.
All of the above ON TIME.
Listen to the fans!
Central Park Media
Central Park Media was the earliest of entrants into the anime DVD market. They released the first anime DVD Battle Arena Toshinden... a milestone that is theirs to keep. They've probably been the most solid company doing DVD so far -- they rarely lingered on their decision to support DVD. If it wasn't for the cancellation of The Slayers and the severe delay of Record of Lodoss War, Central Park Media would have easily been the company to beat and possibly put them at the verge of anime DVD greatness. In spite of these trip-ups, Central Park Media continues to make a strong run for the top anime DVD company. And most importantly, they work to improve on their weak points and build on their strong points.
Advantage: No Holding Back
Central Park Media has announced a ton of new titles. While many of them are the old, classic anime titles in their collection, many of them are the new titles, like Revolutionary Girl Utena that have yet to be released on any format. And they've expressed that they would like to release a whole lot more on DVD.
Advantage: Listening to the Fans
Central Park Media has done a good job providing information to the fans and, willingly, answering questions that have risen... in a speedy fashion may I add.
Disadvantage: Countless Delays
Central Park Media has run into problems with getting their titles out on time... much of which has to do with the hiring out of outside companies with insufficient facilities to release titles on time. A prime example is Record of Lodoss War. It was supposed to be released the early summer of 1998 by Image Entertainment, but as of the time of this article's posting, is yet to be released. It's mainly the fault of the outside company, but it looks very bad on Central Park Media's part. They need to find a company that will release these titles on time, while providing good quality DVDs. Fortunately, they're trying out different companies, so perhaps this problem won't continue for long.
Central Park Media's DVDs have not been the pinnacle of anime DVDs in terms of quality. Problems have ranged to poor video quality in Harmageddon to audio cut-out in the Japanese audio of Legend of Lemnear. Again, this is something that must be worked on. It's bad enough to wait for delayed DVDs, but to get a late, poor quality DVD is even worse. Although, I have to admit that Central Park Media's DVDs haven't gone so far as to be called poor. But certainly, they can improve.
Central Park Media is doing a good job for working with a new technology. They're trying out different companies to make their DVDs, and working to improve any of their weak points. They've listened to the fans. And the result will be improved DVDs, and more of the ones you want.
Pioneer is a company that, while somewhat conservative on the number of releases, consistently release good quality titles. Pioneer's dubs of El Hazard (all of it) is one of my favorite dubbed titles. And Pioneer has released their DVDs, and the DVDs of Viz Video as well, with quality that is in no way sub-par to the rest of what they release. But what hurt them was the period where they reconsidered their anime DVD plans, one which would have included only movies and short OAVs. And their rate of anime DVD releases have dropped. But apparently, Central Park Media sent them a challenge and Pioneer has been pretty much forced to go all the way if they want to make a run for the top.
As mentioned above, they release good quality DVDs... perhaps some of the best quality over all the anime DVDs so far. While the packaging at one point wasn't very good, overall, they release anime DVDs with excellent quality.
It's an advantage, but a small one at that. Pioneer has probably been the only company so far to release their titles on DVD without some sort of major delay. Having a place to press DVDs within the same company has a lot to do with this. And good anticipation on timing has helped as well. While this is a good point of Pioneer, they still lack the rigorous release itinerary that Central Park Media has devoted their time to.
Disadvantage: No Looking Back?
A major disadvantage is Pioneer's inability to look toward older titles to release onto DVD... which at one point were their benchmarks titles. While they have released Tenchi the Movie: Tenchi Muyo in Love and Tenchi the Movie 2: Daughter of Darkness, they've completely ignored what has made this title popular: the TV and OAV series. And, apparently, you can forget about all of El Hazard as well. The OAVs seem reasonable enough to put on DVD since the first series consists of seven episodes and the second series consist of four. They haven't even mentioned DVD and El Hazard in the same sentence... at least one that hasn't included the word "won't." If you want to be the top company, don't set your guns to "miss"... especially if those titles are what made you what you are today.
Now, I may be drawing an extreme misconception. Pioneer could simply be waiting for a slower point in their anime DVD releases throughout the year to work on their older titles. But personally, I'm not buying it. Unless their DVD schedule becomes extremely congested, which I haven't seen, I think that they are far more than capable of producing these DVDs as well... maybe at a slower rate, but at least they would be producing them.
The release of older Tenchi Muyo titles on DVD are more probable, if not inevitable, since they announced the DVD release of Tenchi in Tokyo.
Disadvantage: Fans, What Fans?
Pioneer doesn't seem to respond to what fans want very often. My attempts to contact them have come up empty so far. Enough said.
I've been somewhat mixed with Pioneer so far. What they release is excellent, but what they can do a lot more to make their release schedule a little more active.
So Who's on Top Right Now?
I'd say no one. That's right. Both companies have had their shortcomings. What Pioneer doesn't do Central Park Media does and vice-versa. To be the best, you can't let anything slip through the cracks. And both companies, in some way or another, have let things slip through the cracks.
Of course don't get me wrong. I think the runs that companies are making for anime DVD supremacy is exciting, but things need to be done before they can say, "what we're doing is fine; this is how we'll do things from now on." And I think that companies are doing a great job in exploring this unclaimed soil, and trying to master the "untamed wilderness."
When to Make a Mountain out of a Mole Hill
As more companies begin to do anime DVDs, I believe the stakes will become higher and the market more important. Therefore, this "hill" will become a "mountain." But it's best to lay your claim while no one has made their run yet. As more companies try to lay their claim to be "king of the hill," they'll raise the stakes more and more. More and more anime DVDs will be produced, and the consumer will benefit the best from their run to the top.