From the outside, this is what I see as the problems (anybody wants to tell me wrong, I'm interesting in hearing why)-
- Fansubs. As somebody that loves fansubs, I hate the idea that I'm hurting the industry. I grew up on the anime industry, and I have a place of pride for all of my Animeego VHS tapes-with the cultural hint and music lyric liners attached. But...
I just picked up the first two DVDs of Gundam 00 here in the US. Nine episodes, total. The series came out in October 2007 in Japan. So...call it about 18 months from the first episode to having a legal copy here. I was able to get some very good fansubs avalable of the first episode, within two weeks of it coming out on Japanese TV. Anime has benefitted from the Army of Davids-a good setup for doing high definition anime subtitling has easily fallen within reach of a well-off person in the United States. The only issue is a lack of good translators and time.
The response of anime companies? Go after the fansubbers as pirates. Piracy flourishes when there is a market for a product that there is no legal avenew for. When cigarette taxes are high, people will go to smugglers that will give them more value for their money, legality be damned. Especially in a free market society.
- Shifting demographics. Most anime fans came in during the first "big wave" of anime (mid '90s), the next wave that started in the late '90s, and the current generation that grew up on Naruto and Death Note are starting to get out of college and are trying to find jobs in this crazy market. I don't see a major new "wave" of anime fans coming up. Or manga fans. Hell...I'm not even sure what the new demographic of the 18-25 year old is...
Fandom has less money to spend on greebles. And, they have to have value for their dollars.
- Shifting anime companies. From what I can gather, most Japanese production and distrubtion companies regard the American market as either a "nice to have" or a "direct competition". Geneon's big problem was that American anime DVDs were cheaper than the Japanese releases, even with reimporation costs. Add a region-free DVD player and it's easy to watch our DVDs of their anime. American studios also have the problem that they were running on fiscal shoe-strings. This probably was what killed ADV-they didn't have enough money in the bank when the bubble burst.
This may be what Bandai is up to with their exclusive deal-they want a justification to cut their losses. They tried a "Japanese" model with Bandai Visual, and that failed. Now what?
- Go to a model that makes it easy for anime owners to use their products. Digtial downloading to media devices like the iPod and similar mobile devices.
- More rapid/integrated options for fans to get their products. There is no practical reason why anime cannot be released in the United States within a few weeks of it appearing on Japanese TV. Make DVD releases important because they have items like dubbing, high definition (and on BluRay with new releases...1080i formatting), and items like interviews and toys.
Which is a pity. One day, I want whatever legal snarls that are keeping Macross Frontier (and the rest of the franchise) from coming to the United States. I got a chance to see a few episodes on BluRay and they are stunning.