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The Lack of Anime Films in American Theatres

by Esosa Osamwonyi

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Recently there have been a lot of anime movies being released on home formats such as DVD and Blu-ray—movies such as Evangelion 2.22 and Summer Wars just to name a few. Now these are very high budget projects and when one watches something like this, you can really see how much work has been put into it. Sometimes when I’m watching some of these movies on my 23” inch television, a thought sometimes crosses my mind: “This is cool and I would have loved to see this in a cinema!” Which brings me to the point of my topic which is why are these movies not been shown in Western theaters?

I mean granted there was a time when these movies were available for viewing in the cinemas. Sure there were not that many that were put on the big screen but at least it was something. A lot of them even had advertisements. But nowadays you would be lucky to see one in a limited showing. Limited showings as in one day only and usually at some awkward time you probably wouldn’t be able to make—I usually find out about these types of showings several months later. It can be a really tricky predicament.

Let’s be honest here: the American anime industry isn’t in the best of shape these days. It’s pretty much safe to say that its glory days are long, long gone. Struggling DVD/Blu-ray sales, risk of going under, a huge lack of advertisement for the products unless you live on the Internet but that is only a certain demographic. In a sense you could say the industry is in a need of a boost to get it going. I mean, certainly you get higher sales of certain products but these days but that does not happen on a consistent basis. And you need something to get people looking your way to get that boost? So how do you do it? Well my proposition is to take that risk with the cinema.

Let me explain. When you go to watch a movie before the thing even starts you are treated to a bunch of previews of other movies and upcoming works. Now let me give you a scenario. Lets say you are going to see a highly popular movie that is slightly generic like say Fast Five or The Hangover 2. You get your popcorn or snacks and head in. While watching the trailers, a trailer for the new Gundam 00 movie comes up. Or even before you enter you see posters of various anime films coming soon or now playing. Believe it or not this is advertisement on a grand scale. Now you are presenting your product to a larger audience and demographic. Maybe the same trailer for that Gundam 00 will appear on TV or somewhere on the Internet and stick in that person’s head even more. Maybe he would ask a buddy about it and word of mouth begins to spread. And if they were showing anime films in the cinema, no doubt other animated works would be promoted in the preview as well. That is something you don’t really see anymore, at least in many Western countries.

With the increase of CGI animated films, cartoons are no longer strangers to the big screen. In recent years there have a lot of animated films appearing on the big screen and there is something a lot of these works have in common—they do well on the big screen. Usually on their debut, you see them in the top ten. Some even maintain that spot for multiple weeks. Kids and adults love these things. There is a bit of money to be made in this. So what is stopping Anime from joining its other animated brothers and sisters? I mean granted the companies would need a movie distributor like Disney or Sony to distribute the work but I’m sure something can be worked out. Even films by Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki still get limited showings despite him winning an Oscar and having some type of popularity in the West. To me it’s like anime films don’t get the chance they deserve. I really feel these works of art have a serious chance to compete with some of the big dogs in the cinema. I mean if stuff like Toy Story and Shrek and Princess and The Frog can be shown, why can’t one watch Evangelion 2.22 on the big screen? During that time we were anticipating its DVD release they could have shown it in more cinemas and maybe garnered a larger interest. And granted with the backing of a decent distributor there would be advertisements on the TV as well. What’s stopping some of these companies from doing something like this?

Sure in a perfect world, this sounds and dandy but I’m sure behind the scenes that industry politics makes this proposal not quite so simple. Anime distribution companies are trying to make a profit on what they can without really maximizing resources. But as big as a gamble it is, I think it would pay off in the long run as I honestly feel certain films with the right promotion would do well or at least decent enough to gain a profit and with that profit you have more resources on your hands to make more power moves. The American anime industry is basically on its knees and it needs CPR. If you’re going to go out why not go out swinging? Take some risks. I mean what else do you got to lose? But I guarantee if given the same option and chance, Anime films in Western cinemas would really be something else. It might be a move worth making—but in the end it’s probably just wishful thinking.

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Author: Esosa Osamwonyi

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Comments

  • Hogart

    I might as well break out the obvious. A major problem is that North Americans are just not amenable to the idea that cartoons can be for adults. At best, they have adult elements for when you have to sit through one with your kids.. but how many animated/pure-CGI films are there for adults?

    It’s a bizarre perspective of course, considering that action movies these days are far more “cartoony” than most anime movies ever were. Just watch Tron 2 or James Cameron’s Avatar and tell me that Evangelion 2.22 is less entertaining, let alone less serious or insightful.

    I think until social demand for such forms of entertainment rises, they will be relegated into the tier of the industry where the licensing dragons are.. a place few distributors/theaters/etc will fish when they have films practically shoveled at them that are guaranteed to turn a profit.

    There is a reason that 90% or more of the films created these days are sequels, rehashes, reboots, or other twists on existing properties. If Hangover 2 is guaranteed to draw a profit why would you go with an obscure foreign cartoon like Gundam 00?

    But the Internet is thankfully making all of this a non-issue. It may be sad, but the entertainment industry will have no choice but to eventually move on from their current models, or risk extinction due to the fact that fewer and fewer people want to pay for the crap they are shoveling at us.

    So hold tight.. it might not be too long before they’re pleading with us to come and watch Haruhi out of sheer desperation once their demographic models fall apart. Or maybe they’ll just try to shut down the Internet because it’s making them have to do hard work again.

  • Ansir

    I would be so nervous if an anime movie trailer popped up on the screen me and my parents were watching, my parents don’t like anime and I used to be open about my intrests but now I keep it a secret so I would be very nervous if one did…

  • http://organizationasg.wordpress.com Justin

    Honestly I think the real problem is two things: one, the general lack of anime that would be marketable in America, and two, past failures. As great as Evangelion and Summer Wars (which was awesome) are, companies are focused on one thing and one thing only: the best way to make cash. With anime not even around on most TV channels anymore and everything online, they probably feel that the best way to make their money is by advertising in Cons and through various anime websites. And this segways perfectly to point number 2, past failures. I don’t recall a single anime movie that did make it into cinema making it big since Spirited Away, and it made ten million in cinemas. Priest made more than it (though Spirited Away became more successful in stores once it won a couple awards).

    I do still ponder if Anime companies should expend some energy in actually marketing anime around, but they probably view it as a waste of money, and after the highly notable failures of Priest and Dragonball Evolution, it probably also is a factor.

  • http://www.gwern.net gwern

    Both Eva 1.0 and Eva 2.0 were shown in American theaters, as was Summer Wars, for that matter.

    (BTW, it’s silly to discuss screening Eva 1.11 or 2.22 – why would they have permission to screen the DVD/BD specific version? Probably there aren’t even film versions of 2.22 or 1.11 – no reason to make them.)

  • Esosa Osamwonyi

    Hello Gwern I know they were shown in theaters but as i said in the article probably in limited showing in the case of those three that was what happened. What i was proposing was that they start showing anime films in non limited showings for more exposure and a chance to make a decent amount of money

  • http://www.gwern.net gwern

    It takes a special kind of arrogance to presume to tell businessmen how to run their businesses; you may propose showing more anime, but what makes you think that this is a good idea for them (as opposed to for you)? Do you have an iota of evidence that they are leaving money on the table by not showing anime and instead showing more Hollywood films? A quote from film industry types shocked at the record revenue brought in by the Eva or Summer Wars showings would suffice, for example.

    If you don’t, then this article boils down to ‘I wish my unpopular tastes would be financially subsidized and catered to by others’. And your final line seems to indicate you know this yourself.

  • Esosa Osamwonyi

    Hey I didn’t say they were leaving movie behind. All i said was that if it was possible it would be good advertisement for them. I think you’re taking the article a little to seriously as of course i know how a business works and things are not that simple especially in a situation. And as you read its just wishful thinking but its still wonder about these kind of things something whether possible or not. Its more of a what if kind of thing if the gears were aligned properly. No need to get nasty. Its not that serious. Its all in good fun.

  • Richard

    Interesting article, but I have to agree with Hogart. Here in North America cartoons are seen as ultimately kids films, maybe with some adult elements sprinkled in to appeal to adults to, like Shrek. Getting people to take animation seriously would be very hard. Not only that, but there is the problem of the way anime is looked down upon today. Not only might you be considered a complete nerd if you dare even like some anime, but anime is frequently thought of as only Naruto and Pokemon by the general public at large, which does not give it a good reputation. While it could work what you are suggesting, it is a very risky endeavor and I get the feeling that most of these anime companies would rather stick to what they’re doing than try anything new, especially in this economy. Plus, the current 3-d fad would not help matters at all.

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