Saturday, April 1, 2017

Anime is Great Its the Fans the Suck: the Early 90s

Anime arrived in America in 1989.

Which maybe news to those of you who read my previous piece Anime is Great Its the Fans the Suck: the 60s and 70s.

But it's true.  Everything we got in this country before then were just "Japanese Cartoons."  They had been carefully cut, edited, folded, spindled and mutilated to take the anime out of anime.  They were just kid's shows with a different style of artwork and very awkward dialog, that was all.

I still remember where I first saw real anime.  I was laying in my rack aboard a tub of ship that was shortly going to scrapped.  The air conditioning failed constantly.  As did the lights.  The plumbing howled in agony, when it wasn't vomiting sewage on to the deck of the head. The skipper had accidentally beached her so many times that the entire crew called him, "Captain Crunch."  We, the Marines aboard her, kept hearing the magic words, "General quarters! General quarters! This is not a drill!"  That would be followed by the sound of us being locked inside our berthing area...and then the lights would fail for a few hours.

The lights had just come back on and  we shortly heard the cry of, "mail call!"  My name got called and I went to find out who loved me that day.  It was my sister of course.  She had sent me several back issues of Heavy Metal (the magazine).  Laying in my rack, chosen for it's strategic position between the upper most rack, (too hot) and the lower most (likely to get splashed by puke in rough seas), I was flipping through the erotic adventures of Druuna and wondering what the girls in Rota would loolike when I saw it.

It was an ad for a mail-order video tape and it only showed the back of a guy in red biker leathers with a huge pill on his back walking towards a futuristic motorcycle that was sitting on a slab of split concrete.

The cover art was stark.  There was both an edge to it and a promise implied within it.  It looked like Blade Runner without any of the suck.  It felt cyber punk as all hell...also without William Gibson's highly overrated suck. This was a ticket to a nuclear powered roller coaster ride.  This was not going to be a Saturday morning cartoon.  This was not kid stuff.

The blurb was just a bunch of good reviews from mainstream papers, an address to an outfit called Streamline Pictures and a price tag for this mail order only VHS tape of  holy shit! Forty dollars? Are you fucking nuts?  (*$76.00 in 2017 money*)

An unfortunate truth of human nature is that we value the most what costs us the most.  My assumption was...well if they are charging that much, it must be that good.  (*Yes I was very young and stupid*)  But for once I was right.

It was worth the money.

It's hard to explain what life was like in the unplugged world.  Today, it's hard not to be aware of other cultures and that's not just due to SJW ramrodding them down our throats.  Just some mild web surfing will bring you into contact with them.  But no contact.  It wasn't there.  We were all islands in one way or another.

It is quite impossible to explain how utterly mind blowing Akira was. It still holds up well today  but there was nothing at all like it in the America of 1990.  The animation wasn't cheap. Clearly a lot of money had gone into this production.  The setting was...familiar yet incredibly alien.  The violence was surreal and hyper-realistic at the same time.  The attention to every aspect of detail was immaculate.  Akira wasn't an entry level drug.  It was a big bolus shot of full power uncut heroin as your first try in the drug scene.  You survived or you didn't. That's all there was too it.


I liked it.

And yeah I wanted more.

I got my wish.  Carl Macek's late and much lamented Streamline Pictures did more than anyone else to bring Anime to America. Akira made enough money for Streamline to put it into a position to buy up pretty much the best of the best that was available at the time.

Thanks to the Japan's Bubble Economy there was enough development money pouring into Anime combined with a straight to video market that was actually profitable at the time and you had golden age of Anime taking off in Japan at about the same time that it first blew up big in America.

This is a compilation of Streamline's stuff from the early 1990s.

 Without Carl Macek, Anime may not have ever come to America. I know it's hard to believe that now but trust me I've seen plenty of cool stuff never take off in this country.

Naturally the professionally butt hurt anime fans revile him for it.

Macek wanted to make money and to in order  do that in business before Obama became president you had to turn a profit.  There were two possible markets for Steamline's products.  A new mass market of Gen X-ers and a small market of preexisting butthurt connoisseurs.  Serving both was out.  Today if you want to switch between Japanese w/ Sub or English Dub you make a couple of quick adjustments to your DVD player's settings with your remote.  But in the dim dark days of VHS that was not an option, it was one or other.  Akira was a big enough title that there was a point in providing a second release for a smaller market (although at a higher price).  But there was no point in doing that for something like Neo-Tokyo.

Good call on Streamline's part.  And it has to be said Macek and company made every effort to get the story and it's dramatic impact across.  What they couldn't do was provide a word for word translation from Japanese to English.

So despite the screams of the outraged vestals of Anime, Streamline continued to dominate the early market.

And then disaster stuck Streamline.

Oh no! 

Manga's entry in Wiki and Infogalctic are both way off.  Manga Entertainmet started off in the UK in 1987, they had a number of the same titles as Streamline but could only distribute in the UK.  However they did have connections in Japan that were comparable to Maceks.

When they collected enough titles they moved into the US market hard.  Unlike Macek they had a corporate overlord with deep pockets.

Manga's prices were way lower than Streamline's.  In order to survive, Carl Macek signed a distribution deal with Orion Picture creating Streamline Video Comics. Initially this kept Streamline in the game but the end for Macek's company was in sight.

The iceberg sighted off the bow was that a number title rights were coming up for renewal.  The Japanese companies, (Pioneer in particular) decided that since the market for "Japanamtion" in America now existed, the Risk/Reward of establishing a new brand in the US now favored their side and they choose not to renew.

Then the Asian Economic Meltdown blew threw the Land of the Rising Sun like a Cat5 Typhoon.  A lot of the smaller companies Streamline had deals with went into receivership further complicating renewal agreements.

When Orion Pictures filed for Chapter 11, Streamline stopped importing new titles.

In 1998  the rights to Akira reverted to Pioneer.

Finally in 2000 Streamline pictures closed it's doors.

Today Streamline is simply a fond memory for a few old timers but when Akira was rereleased in 2012 the producers opted to go with the Streamline's original Dub as many of the professionally Butthurt Anime Fans had come to view it as vastly superior to Pioneer's.

Next: Anime is Great Its the Fans the Suck: the Manga Years.

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

Akira was my first experience of anime as well.l I must re-watch it some time. I certainly have fond memories of it.