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Ten Questions With Manga Entertainment UK
A look at the anime company after standing for twenty years
By Chris Beveridge
February 16, 2011
Manga Entertainment is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year and they've unfurled a new updated logo and have been active on a lot of fronts lately, especially if you follow them on Twitter and Facebook. We had a chat with Jerome Mazandarani, the Acquisitions & Marketing Manager for Manga Entertainment to talk about a number of things, including kicking it right off by making it clear who the company is globally and what they do specifically.
1) For American anime fans, there's a lot of confusion over the years with who and what Manga is at this point, if there's much of a US side anymore and so forth. With this being the 20th Anniversary of Manga Entertainment, just who is Manga in 2011?
Manga Entertainment LTD is a UK subsidiary of Anchor Bay Entertainment. We are part of the Starz Media group of companies, which in turn is owned by Liberty Media. The Starz Channel which produces Spartacus, Pillars of the Earth etc is a separate company, but which Anchor Bay distributes the home video rights for. Manga and Anchor Bay are essentially sister labels that operate with the same team and in the same office in London. As far as home video is concerned, Manga is very much a going concern for the UK, but in North America the focus is primarily on digital distribution, the SyFy channel “Ani-Monday” slot and a couple of big event anime releases for DVD and Blu-ray this year. They are First Squad and REDLINE. Manga will be distributing REDLINE in the UK, but we don’t get First Squad. The UK rights went elsewhere for that one. So, Manga in North America is mainly digital and in the UK its mainly finished packaged goods. We have no competitors in the UK anymore and enjoy the type of market dominance Madman enjoys in Australia and Funimation enjoys in the States.
2) There's a lot of releases you have planned and in the works for 2011. What's in the pipeline that you can talk about and what are you most enthused about?
I’m really excited about finally releasing 5 Centimeters Per Second on DVD in the UK. It’s such a beautiful film. A work of art really. There was a lot of confusion between Manga and the Japanese licensor over Blu-ray rights. We initially thought we could release a Region B locked Blu-ray in the UK along with the DVD, but this turned out to be a mistake on my part. So, we only have the DVD for the UK, but buy it because it is stunning. I am also very excited about our continued relationship with Funimation. Thanks to Gen and his team we will be releasing some excellent movies and shows in the UK this year including Evangelion 2.22, Tetsuwan Birdy Decode (aka Birdy The Mighty), Shikabane Hime, and actually quite a lot more throughout the year. There is just so much to talk about. I can’t wait to release Takeshi Koike’s REDLINE. It’s awesome. We have Summer Wars out on 28th March and to celebrate we are packaging an exclusive Blu-ray and DVD double pack with Mamoru Hosada’s first film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Even better, the only way to get TGWLTT on Blu-ray is by purchasing the Summer Wars Movie Double Pack. We have Eureka Seven The Movie out on BR and DVD on 18th April. The Blu-ray is stunning. We’ve got High School of the Dead in August on DVD and Blu-ray. So much cool stuff! It’s exhausting.
3) What are some of the key differences between the US market and the UK market?
I feel that the US market matured and then crashed way too soon. I don’t know why that is exactly, but it just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. It’s a combination of high prices, high costs, the recession and digital distribution overtaking physical distribution as the way many fans want to access content. Unfortunately, most of this new way of doing things has not been done legally or with legitimate monetization in mind. I have also noticed a trend for US distributors to have to charge higher prices for their products than we do in the UK. This is partly because it’s bloody expensive localizing anime it for the English speaking market and partly because there is hardly any TV broadcast income coming in these days to help cover the cost of dubbing. There is also a lot more pressure on the US distributors from Japan because it is the largest market after France I believe. I feel that the Japanese expect American labels and the American fans to pay the same premium prices for the DVD or Blu-ray as they do in Japan.
In summary, the UK anime market is maybe 15-20% the size of the US market. We don’t dub our shows ourselves, but rely on the US distributors to take care of it, so our costs are lower. Hence, we can be a bit more aggressive on the retail price. In the UK the retailer’s set the price and they receive much bigger discounts from the distributor, so I think the on-shelf price for anime in the first month or so of release is very competitive.
4) You have a very active Twitter account for the company that comes across as one that talks about a wide range of topics rather than just about the company's products and plans. How do you approach this area of communication with your fans compared to how other companies deal with it?
We started the account last February as an experiment and to see what we can use Twitter for without really having a clear plan. We basically understand that the only way to grow our online community is engage them. Our grass roots marketing and events focus in association with the London MCM Expo has been very successful. We have a large booth at these events and have learnt so much from the fan community simply by being there and talking to our customers. We’ve simply adopted the one-on-one conversation we have on the convention floor and brought it online. We are constantly learning from our followers and other twitter users. It’s taken the brand in an entirely new direction and I am very excited about what we will be able to deliver to the fans via our official site, Twitter and Facebook over the coming months. As far as Twitter is concerned, we will continue to see what we can get away with. We like talking about anime and manga, but we are also passionate about movies, TV, comics, cosplay, games, hobbies, gossip and daily life. You cannot underestimate the effect of smart phones on our social media experience. If I walk past a kid on Oxford Street in a Laughing Man t-shirt there is a 99% probability I will tweet it. Even better, I will photograph him and upload it via Twitpic. When I visit Tokyo next month I’ll make sure I take plenty of video, but not just of the TAF booths and anime stores in Akihabara. I am sure a lot of our followers have always wondered what those fancy Japanese toilets are like. I intend to show them!
5) There's been a lot of talk about the problems of selling Blu-ray releases of TV series in the UK with the needed sales levels. What kind of challenges do you have in selling in the UK market in general and what do you think is needed to get fans to look to Blu-ray releases more?
Authoring and manufacturing Blu-ray is expensive. We simply need to sell enough of the finished product to break even and unfortunately, when releasing a 26+ episode series on the format we are not experiencing a very positive level of sales to make it a worthwhile enterprise. We can charge the fans more for Blu-ray, but I don’t really want to do that, so we’ll have to be creative and try to figure out a new approach to authoring Blu-rays. However, anime fans in the UK can rest assured that 90% of all of our anime movie releases will be on Blu-ray as will our one-shot miniseries (11-14 episode anime) such as High School of the Dead.
6) While it's easy to talk about the doom and gloom of the market, what have been some of the positives you've seen in the last year or two?
Good question. I can’t complain too much about the state of the UK anime market. Manga’s business has remained solid year on year. We haven’t really seen a drop in sales, but to be fair we released about 15% more titles in 2010 than in 2009, so it actually means we are selling slightly less on each release than we did a year ago. If you attended the London MCM Expo you can clearly see that’s phenomenal growth over the past 5 years has been driven primarily by anime, manga, cosplay and videogames. There is a huge subculture for Japanese pop-culture in the UK and it is a trend I can only see increasing. Uniqlo has a very successful t-shirt campaign every Spring and Summer that utilizes exclusive designs from some of Japan’s most popular anime series including DBZ, One Piece, Naruto and Evangelion. It’s little things like this that point to “Cool Japan’s” continued bleed into the mainstream.
7) With Manga celebrating its twentieth anniversary, how do you think fandom has changed?
When Manga first launched in the UK in 1991 with the release of AKIRA on VHS, the audience was primarily males aged 18-25. Many of them were of Asian and Afro-Caribbean descent and based in outer London and the Midlands. I believe a lot of this early audience came into the scene via their love of Asian action films and martial arts. The whole scene kicked off at the same time as John Woo’s rise to prominence in the West as well as the rise of the “Video Nasty” and the home video horror boom spear headed by Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series. I think it’s all tied into the Cult Film scene of the late 80s. Then a little franchise called Pokemon happened and it brought with it a lot of new girls and boys into anime in the UK. The rising popularity of manga in the early noughties continues to grow the female fanbase and now I would say the audience for anime in the UK is younger and split 50/50 male/female. I’d say our demographic is now 15-25 year olds and it’s really mixed. British anime fans are a very mixed lot. It’s wonderful to see.
8) And with the industry itself?
The industry has changed radically. There’s no more ADV. MVM has reduced its anime output and Beez is releasing a handful of titles a year. Manga accounts for over 93% of the anime market and 25% of the anime film market. It is only when you look at film that you see more competition between Optimum Releasing (They distribute all of the Studio Ghibli catalogue in the UK), Sony Pictures Home Ent (Final Fantasy Advent Children, Resident Evil Degeneration) and Warner Bros (Halo Legends sold over 30,000 copies last year!). But Manga is dominant in the UK market by default really.
9) What's the dream license that you'd want to bring out and really promote like nobodies business?
Dragon Ball Z of course. It’s the only Big franchise we don’t currently distribute in the UK. And I would love a chance to take over the Ghibli catalogue. I’d like the chance to prove to the UK industry that anime has much greater commercial potential, but to do that we need to get it onto TV and that is almost a lost cause for the UK market.
10) With the year ahead of you, what do you want to say to fans of Manga about what they need to keep an eye out for and to be the most excited about?
Please see my answers to question 2 and add Bleach Seasons 6 and 7, Naruto Shippuden episodes 53-104, the completion of the FMA Brotherhood saga, Fumihiko Sori’s 2001 Nights (aka “To”). Please just keep supporting your favourite anime by buying the DVD or Blu-ray, following @MangaUK on Twitter and Facebook
and helping to ensure we can keep releasing as much quality anime as possible in what is a very trying time for everyone.
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