May 9, 2006
Japan's market for anime OAVs (Original Animation Videos, or direct-to-video productions) was kicked off mostly by accident. While Dallos was the first OAV, it wasn't until an aborted television project by the name of Megazone 23 was patched up and released straight to video that the category caught fire. Without broadcast TV restrictions, the creators were able to put in sex and gore, much to the delight of the teen and college crowd, who ate it up. With that beachhead established, OAVs opened up to a variety of styles and titles, including series made for video (Bubblegum Crisis, Giant Robo) and extensions of TV shows (Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo). The other beautiful thing about the OAV format is the lack of time constraints. Rather than being shackled to the half-hour or hour format and having to pace a show to accommodate advertising, episode lengths or movies could vary as needed.
OAVs have been woefully underused here. When Steven Spielberg announced a Tiny Toon Adventures direct-to-video project in the early 1990s, I hoped that it might be our Megazone. It was, sort of—Warner Bros. would go on to release such titles as Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman as tie-ins to the animated Batman series; more recently, Universal released Van Helsing: The London Assignment and The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury as movie tie-ins, and of course there was Warner's The Animatrix. The most recent was Marvel Comics' Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, and there are the various Disney sequels.
In fourteen years, is that all we have to show? Well, no. Kids' animation has actually done fairly well in the OAV space, including breakout productions like VeggieTales. But where are the OAVs for the rest of us? Warner and Universal have shown that they have the resources to make high-quality, less kid-centric OAV animation, and they have the marketing muscle to make the category a reality. So where is it? DVDs are so cheap and there are so many outlets for them—particularly the Internet—that they would also have the option to use the OAV market to release smaller, less expensive and more targeted works, as in Japan.
And speaking of targeted works and the Internet, there’s no reason those same companies can’t release some of the quirkier animated series and features lurking in their vaults. While it can be argued that, say, Twice Upon a Time has more limited appeal than the latest Pixar movie and therefore it's harder to justify the cost of mastering a DVD, the truth is that smaller companies like Unearthed Films (who released Rock & Rule) and anime company AnimEigo have been doing exactly that for some time, with far fewer resources. AnimEigo even has a great strategy: they get preorders for certain fan-favourite titles, and base the volume of the run and the cost of each disc on the amount of preorders received. By reducing the risk, they maximize profitability. And by showing they actually listen to consumers, they gain customer loyalty. Best of all, self-interest works in their favour: when I preordered the Macross boxed set, I told as many people as I could about it, because the more people preordered, the lower the cost of the set would be. Companies love it when they can get their customers to do advertising for them, so it works out for everyone.
So, again, where's our OAV market?
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