Tuesday, June 27, 2006

:anime: Hurrah for Bandai Visual USA!

Well, this may not be the piece that I was alluding to in the previous posting, but news from the anime subsidiary does warrant comment and adulation.

Bandai Visual USA (BVU), the new American distribution arm of Japan's Bandai Visual studio, continues their re-releases of the Patlabor movies with the franchise's second film in July 2006. It, like the first, will be available in both a $29.99 standard version and a ten thousand-copy limited edition version, which of last came complete with a bonus disc, Archives book, Storyboard book, and a sturdy slipcase at the tune of $89.99. However, my interest does not lay so much in Patlabor as it does in the potential growth in BVU's library.

The films, as well as a number of Bandai Visual’s work, were once relegated under the license of Manga Entertainment. The quality of the releases were debatable, but nonetheless, the titles themselves were not and offered many an anime fan the chance to view such masterpieces as The Wings of the Honneamise (the namesake of BVU's label), and Gunbuster. In late January, the company's license on the properties expired, placing those and others in limbo, as they are essentially out-of-print (meaning, since Manga can no longer distribute them, once the product is sold out, they are sold out for good). BVU was one step ahead though, and had already picked up their parent company's two Patlabor films. In conjunction with Image Entertainment, the firm responsible for the famed Criterion Collection, the Honneamise label was formed, and on April 24, 2006, the first fruit of their labor was born in the nicely packaged, and packed, Limited Edition release of the first movie. Boasting improved visuals & audio, as well as an all-new English dub track to replace the much-vilified original, their premiere release showcased the level of quality and dedication they aspired to bring to the US market.

With the Patlabor leg complete (the third film was distributed by Geneon well before BVU was formed), where does this leave the subsidiary to next turn their attention to?

With the label of their brand being named after Bandai Visual's first feature, it would be only natural to expect the branch to acquire the Honneamise film as their next line of work. With the license unclaimed stateside, it all falls back into the hands of its chief distributor in Japan--Bandai Visual themselves. The prolific movie's stature amongst the more familiar anime fan would make an ideal statement for the label and a prime instance to push for recognition in the community. It would be very improbable to see the film being re-released by any other company.

Another title that could very well be taken under BVU's wing is Gunbuster (aka Top o Nerae!, or Aim for the Top!). The six-part groundbreaking OVA, directed by Evangelion creator Hideki Anno, has been receiving a recent boost in popularity, thanks to its sequel, Top o Nerae 2!: Diebuster (more commonly known as Gunbuster 2), also a six-parter. The fanbase is arguably higher than even Honneamise, so success of the feature, which two years ago was given a Patlabor-esque remastering in Japan, could become just as high. Like the aforementioned movie, it is back with its primary distributor (in this case, Victor Entertainment) and could be possible for it to be handed to BV's US counterpart for redistribution. Bandai Visual was one of the producers of both Gunbusters and is Diebuster's chief distributor, so perhaps they can obtain the US license for the first OVA and release it around the same time as the sequel.

With Bandai Visual USA's vision of releasing "high quality entertainment," could we see the release of other classic works from the studio? Bandai Visual has long been listed as a producer of the Macross series (including the movie Do You Remember Love?, as a distributor, and as a "presenter" of the Macross Zero OVA), and in theory could gain some of the licenses (even the fabled Macross 7, whose animation studio was absorbed by Bandai's Banpresto branch). Yoshiyuki Tomino's highly esteemed Turn A Gundam and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's Giant Gorg, a series once long-rumored to be released by Bandai Entertainment, also could be distributed under Honneamise. Though the Gundam franchise falls beneath Bandai Ent.'s jurisdiction, works such as Turn A or Victory Gundam could be handled by BVU to alleviate the pressure for their "big sister" (perhaps an exclusive box set?). The caveat in all of this, however, is that this is all speculation. While the possibility is always there, one thing to keep in mind is that Bandai Visual has allowed other distributors to release their work in the past (Mazinkaiser, SDF Macross w/ADV Films; Gunslinger Girl w/ FUNimation), and Gundam-related material will most likely remain with "Big Sis." Moreover, as far as other Macross content is concerned, the franchise has had a difficult history in licensing rights (though it is improving), which may hamper any sort of wish involving a stateside release of a series. Instead, it appears the company is focusing more on older, more notable titles within its library that are within their grasp at this time.

Bandai Visual USA and its Honneamise label, with more releases under its belt, could create a very good reputation amongst anime fans. Which other works they may choose to bring over or redistribute outside of the two Patlabor movies remains to be seen, but most likely their efforts will be concentrated on the freshly freed licenses of Bandai Visual-involved projects from Manga Ent. For now, the upstart subsidiary deserves much credit for the amount of dedication and care they are imputing into each of their releases and I hope they continue to do so for all of their acquisitions.

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