Monday, August 6, 2018

Anime is Great...It's the Fans That Suck: The Manga Years

It didn't matter.  There is a belief that stuff is cheaper in the PX which is vaguely and marginally true.   Back when everyone in the Exchange system was in uniform, (from the truck driver who picked up the merch at the factory to the guy at the cash register) because of that and regulation forbidding the Exchanges to turn to a profit, everything thing got sold to GIs at wholesale.  So, yeah back then real savings. 

By the time I was in, various greedy business men had managed to get all of that changed.  What was left of the Exchange system was a grossly inefficient government run monopoly.   We got charged MSRP for everything but since we were on a Federal Reservation, there was no local or state sales taxes.  Not that those bodies aren't constantly trying to figure out ways to do just that.

Regardless, I could tell that Anime had gone mainstream when it arrived in the PX (Technically the Marine Corps Base Exchange, for some reason we couldn't officially call it a PX even though we all did).  It was there for all of a week in 1996.  Then it vanished without a trace.

I knew exactly what had happened.  A General's wife had bought Ninja Scroll at the insistent pleading of one of her grandspawn...And then she watched it.

Banished without a trace.

I felt an odd sense of loyalty to Streamline Video.  Carl Macek's company had the air of a Little Guy Who Made Good about it.  Streamline dominated discussions about Anime in America.  What titles had they bought the rights to?  Why weren't they doing a reissue of Laputa?  When would they be releasing Wings of Honneamise (the answer to that last was, never, BTW)  That was because Streamline was the biggest frog in a small pond.  Until a genuinely big frog moved in.

I wasn't wild about Manga Video at first because there was just a whiff of the corporate raider about them.  They were moving in hard and moving in big.  I was in the position of some being some fanboy in the audience at First Avenue who was a fan of Prince long before anyone else had heard of him.

Silly reaction to be sure but there it was.  Manga had an actual distribution system in place was going to be selling their videoes at the standard market price of $19.99.  And there was no getting around it.  That was a lot cheaper than Streamline could manage.  Just a couple of years before they were charging $35.00 for everything (call it $60 dollars in today money).  Sure you wanted to buy, the real stuff but realistically you pretty much had to hope your local Blockbuster would carry it so you could then rent and pirate it.

So Manga had a big price break going their way.  But what they really had going for them were the best titles available in the 1990s.

Wings of Honneamise:  Was their halo-title.  It was repeatedly voted the best anime film of all time but various groups whose opinions really don't matter but I got to say they had a point here.  It's probably the best (hard) science fiction film of all time.  It's world is a very intricately constructed alternate history built around man's first flight.  But unlike in our world, this was a badly funded backwater of a military program.  It's members were few and dispised by the members of the of the real military.  It's primary plot concerned it's hero's quest to find a moral center.  It still holds up well today.

Macross Plus: This one must of hurt Carl Macek, You know he had to have wanted it.  It was a worthy successor to the original Macross series. At least when it was released.  In truth it hasn't stood the test of time.

Ninja Scroll:  Probably the most popular of all of their titles.  And it has to be said, it's understandable.  It was a first rate action film with characters who all had pretty decent story arcs. The action scenes were very influential through out the rest of the ninties and into the early double 0s.

Patlabor:  This one had a lot of everything going for it and it also seems to be the one that was completely forgotten about which is a crying shame.  I will grant it was a little hard to get into because all of the characters had been pre-established in an OVA series that was famous in Japan but hadn't made it to the USA at time of Manga's release of these two movies.  This title gets remade...a lot but the original is hard to find.

Ghost in the Shell:  Also very influential and of all of these titles it seems to be the one that has stood the test of time.

Don't get me wrong, they also carried some serious garbage.   Devilman comes irresistibly to mind.  But Manga Video was able to do what Streamline couldn't and brought Anime into the mainstream.

Today, Manga is like Streamline before it, a dead nameplate (at least in the US).  But for a while it was the king of the hill.

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