September 27, 2008
by: Serdar Yegulalp
In which Meredith Mulroney jumps all over the map and makes us all the happier for it.
My vote for Most Consistently Misunderstood Anime Company has gone to Media Blasters for years on end. If Funimation's license to print money comes from DragonBall Z, for MB it's been their (cough) adult titles and live-action horror licenses like Ichi the Killer. Poor Meredith Mulroney -- their package designer, Alteil wrangler, GaoGaiGar fantard and perennial panel chairperson -- was incapacitated after Otakon, where I saw her last; she threw her back out and was laid up for two weeks. "If anything on our schedule is late, it's all my fault," she laughed. In the same vein, their panels are unorganized and chaotic as all get-out, but also that much more fun than panels where everything is lockstep and scripted to death. Their New York Anime Festival panel was in that spirit, much as most of their previous panels have been (and I hope as their future ones will be too).
Alteil, their Big New Thing (a free-to-play online card game that's disturbingly addictive), has been eating both her brains and the brains of most everyone else on their staff. But the fact that it's all their project is a sign of how devoted they are to whatever falls into their hands. These guys do literally everything themselves, and they're seriously unkillable -- they don't throw money around indiscriminately, they bank on solid word-of-mouth and a broad roster of titles rather than expensive advertising to get the word out, and they keep on fighting. It does irk me that I wind up finding out about some of their coolest releases more or less by accident -- Gojoe, for instance, which I love them forever for bringing out domestically -- but I'll learn to live with it if it means they can have that much broader a roster.
Speaking of broadening the roster, that was something Meredith had to apologize for right upfront. "In theory, had John given me the OK, we would have a super-cool-kickin' set of announcements. Not recycled stuff, either [coughGeneoncough] -- all new material. But the memo isn't in the office yet, so it'll wind up having to wait until Monday. Japan is not fast when it comes to paperwork. I'm sure John will drop something in the AnimeOnDVD forums about this next week." (Would that AnimeOnDVD had not been subsumed into Mania.com, though, a move I feel Chris B. is going to regret before long.)
The two biggest pieces of news that the Blasters had to offer both came out almost by accident -- something I was ready to strangle Meredith for, because one's as flagship a title as MB has ever put out and the other is a personal favorite. The first: Berserk. Remember back at Otakon how I mentioned they had these killer new HD telecines for the whole series, taken directly from the 16mm masters? Turns out they're being used to create a whole new remaster for the series which is coming out this December, just in time for my birthday (yes, that's a shameless hint). The existing DVDs don't look good on big-screen TVs since they weren't mastered for progressive playback, but that didn't stop me from picking all of them up. I guess I'll be able to let them go cheap...
The other jaw-dropper -- both for the news itself and the way Meredith just sort of let this fall out of her mouth in between one thing and another -- was the announcement that MB has picked up the live-action Oneechambara movie. No plot description is required; all you need to know is that it's about a woman named Aya in a splashily-colored bikini, cowboy boots and ten-gallon hat, wielding a katana and slicing up a whole horde of zombies munching on Tokyo. You're either there, based on that description alone, or you're not. It is at least as insane a film as MB's own co-financed thing of joy Machine Girl, which I dare you to watch without at least once leaping up out of your chair and screaming "OH NO THEY DIDN'T".
What part of any of this do you need to be convinced to see?
Speaking of MB's own live-action productions, their newest bit of brain damage, the superlative Tokyo Gore Police, has also just hit shelves. I'd known that they had co-financed the movie, and that many such future projects were in the works, but I had no idea that there was a line stretching around the block outside Media Blasters's Tokyo office, consisting entirely of people who already have effects props made for movies they want to do. Gore Police and Machine Girl were both shot in a matter of days -- not because they were being done indifferently, but because the filmmakers were simply that ready to make them happen. Scary.
In the same first-here-now-there way, we learned about some of the other goodies in the pipeline:
- Golion will be finished this year, come hell or high water, with Voltron volumes 6 and 7 to follow next year, along with Dairugger.
- Another Tokyo Shock title that's being solicited is Gamera the Brave (more on the kiddie side, but hey, more of everyone's favorite flatulence-powered turtle from space is A-OK with me).
- Genshiken Season Two starts coming out next year, in January, along with the next installments of Ikki Tosen. "A huge glut of stuff is set for 2009," Meredith hinted, without going into details, although she did say that most everything being solicited on the anime side will be dubbed and subbed, both.
- Moribito is coming along, but they're stuck waiting on art from Japan for it. "The whole process of getting things is frustration incarnate. We got back and forth with Japan and it takes two weeks to make every single little change." Worse, the show got shoved to 5:30 AM on Adult Swim, sound familiar? "If Oyxgen would take it, that would be nice -- hey, they picked up Xena, right?!" The show itself will be released as single volumes, with vols. 1-2 banded together for those who want to take the plunge. Like me. This is one of those shows I've been waiting a very, very long time for, and when it drops I plan on stumping like crazy for it.
- They almost got one of their robot shows picked up by Disney, of all people. Then Disney turned around and said: "Oh, we did robots last season. Now we want comedy." (AAGH!) "Nobody wants robots right now." (Se habla Transformers, idiots?)
- Many more Shaw Brothers classic kung-fu licenses are on the way, but it's easy to get the names mixed up, so she put it this way: "Whichever ones the Weinsteins didn't get, those are ours."
A fellow from the audience floated the idea of having all the anime distributors band together into one mighty commonwealth and start their own anime-only TV network. Meredith gaped. "The amount of money it costs to run a TV channel is, like, enough to buy a Bentley every day ... I mean, it costs $100,000 a month up front to run Anime Network -- " (which, to me, explains how ADV got so royally into the hole, but never mind) " -- but that said, I think it would be awesome to get all the anime guys together and run a unified network, but the money would be the issue. We're still such a tiny market segment. It really requires that separation of genre and medium. You can't sell Hamtaro to adults and expect any kind of reasonable return."
On the subject of moe: "Cute is one thing, but boobs sell to everyone. That said, Lucky Star is different. It's not as moe as it is culturally-in-jokey. The moe sells it in Japan, but the humor sells it here."
On the rapacity of retail outlets: "The retailers are some of the biggest jerks -- like when they return a million dollars worth of product because 'oh, anime is over'."
[Note: I originally mis-transcribed one of Meredith's statements to make it sound like Wal-Mart had stocked Ah! My Goddess, not sold it, and then elected to return it. Her words: "I wasn't saying that Wal-Mart did that, they actually did sell AMG -- the entire series. But the returns game isn't something new; it's just how the industry works. My most important point was, they have more control over what you can buy, not us. So if you want it let them know, because IF they think something is hot they'll overstock it and then get mad if the overload doesn't move." True -- the supply chain rather than the consumer is the real customer for most entertainment; it's theater chains that decide what movies really get seen the most, not audiences alone.]
On whether or not another season of the stellar Twelve Kingdoms anime will come out: "Apparently the writer for the show had a mental breakdown and split. So no more of the show, at least for now." (His name wasn't Anno, was it?)
Those Media Blasters, those wacky Media Blasters. God love 'em.