An Editorial on Anime Distribution.
In my spare time, I do a lot of activism relating to Anime, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I stop at no end to make my voice heard. For example, two years ago when reckless actions from an independent retailer nearly caused anime to be banned from sale in my province, I fought back by writing to the Government and the Film and Video Classification Board. I wrote and visited stores and got the word out to other otaku to do the same to fight this. And it was successful!
Make no mistake… if you think about it there are a lot of issues with anime that need resolving, especially in Canada. And I think many of these issues are under reported. Sure we have all heard the recent news stories about channels in Canada adding anime to their schedules. Blocks such as YTV’s Bionix, Razer’s Kamikaze, and G4/TechTV Canada’s Anime Current have improved the anime programming landscape. The addition of The Anime Network to nearly most of Canada and Gong Anime to Canadian Joost beta testers is also adding to this revolution! But while everyone has an opinion about what they can and can’t see on TV, not many really talk about another big issue.
Which brings me to the bigger issue of anime distribution in Canada. Unless you live in a bigger city, the chances of you finding your favorite title is slim. If your city has an HMV , you may be in luck with new releases. If your city has a London Drugs, you may be able to find some rare gems. If you’re a bigger city with lots of independent comic book stores and big box stores like Best Buy and Future Shop, you probably won’t have a problem finding your favorite title. However if you live in a small town, your local Best Buy and Future Shop probably don’t have large anime sections, and aside from special ordering or ordering online, you may be out of luck. Or, if your local comic book store has a large selection, you may have to pay a lot more than the MSRP due to comic book stores needing to pay more to carry a product. It’s really a sad day when a person who wants to buy an action, drama or a comedy flick can go to their entertainment store of their choice no matter where they live, but anime fans almost always have to go to great lengths in many cases, just to get what they want.
Anime Retail in Small Town Canada versus Small Town America:
The following is a comparison between two cities. We’ll call my current city of residence Town A. Town A is in Canada, and lies in a province with barely a million people, and Town A’s population is approximately 175,000 people. Town A has had a Future Shop for at least 10 years, and a Best Buy for nearly three. For those who are unfamiliar, it is worth noting that Best Buy owns Future Shop in Canada and the prices of anything at each store are the same. It also has 3 HMV locations, and three independent stores (of which two are sister branches), for purchasing anime. HMV is a Canadian chain which sells music, movies, and now, some video games. The lone independent store is quite large, and not just devoted to anime, catering to gaming, sci-fi, and comic crowds. The other two have smaller locations and cater to the same crowds as well. If worse comes to worse, an otaku in Town A has the choice of traveling to another town or city, or ordering online from Amazon.com (not .ca since they barely carry anything) or their online store of choice. Not bad, you would think.
Town B is approximately 6 hours driving distance from Town A. Town B is in the United States, in a state with a population of 635,000. Town B has a population of below 60,000 people. Town B has a Best Buy, a small F.Y.E. boutique, and one independent comic book and card store, that does not sell anime. Otaku in Town B also have the option of ordering from their online store of choice, or travelling to another town or city.
Just over a week before my excursion to Town B, I went on a shopping trip looking for some anime. More specifically, I was looking for two volumes of a series that had been released in the last three months, and I figured I was able to find them here. I went to my local Best Buy and Future Shop, and did not find them. What dismayed me even more was that Best Buy had less than 20 DVDs in stock (mostly carrying things like InuYasha and a few volumes of Ghost in the Shell and Eureka 7), and Future Shop had slightly more in stock but it was more odds and ends of other animes that were older (such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Akira) and barely anything else. I found this to be very odd. My next venture was to London Drugs which probably had about 20-30 titles in their stock, but mostly odds and ends again from ADV, Funimation and Bandai. I then went to two independent stores. The lone store did not have it, but had a selection that was twice as large as London Drugs and with a bit more variety. The other store had a vast and large selection, but there was a problem. They had one of the volumes I was looking for but the price after taxes was nearly $36 Canadian. This shocked me. I shouldn’t have to pay nearly $40 for a DVD containing only four episodes. This price seemed a bit ridiculous to me. My final shopping destinations consisted of 2 HMV locations, which were selling older volumes of the series for that same high price. I had to wonder why this was happening. And it wasn’t just this series. “Mainstream” releases such as the Miyazaki releases from Disney cost anywhere from $30-35 in Canada at nearly every retailer. I was more than shocked when I saw these price tags and wondered of this was a general trend or if this was just in Canada. May long weekend was approaching, and I decided to pay Town B a visit.
The first store I ventured to was F.Y.E. – which before I had known as a Sam Goody. Sam Goody usually carried everything under the sun. If I was looking for anything, I knew I would find it here. I would have thought the turnover of Sam Goody and Suncoast to F.Y.E. would have been smooth, but I was in for yet another disappointment. The store had moved to a much smaller “boutique” in the mall, and had approximately a selection that was on par with London Drugs. This is a specialty retailer with about as much variety as the electronics section in a drugstore. Something is drastically wrong here! The prices though seemed anywhere from $8-10 cheaper after conversion to Canadian Dollars. I still left the store dismayed after not finding anything I was looking for and decided not to renew my membership to their loyalty program. My expectations were very low for my visit to Best Buy. And when I got to that blue and yellow behemoth, boy was I surprised!
Town A’s Best Buy had one shelving unit with four shelves devoted to anime. At best, this unit was stocked ½ to ¾ full. Town B’s Best Buy had an astonishing (and fully packed) three shelving units full. Moreover, the prices were a lot cheaper compared to prices seen in Best Buy and Future Shop in Canada. Lo and behold, I had found several copies of the two volumes I was looking for! The price? Each one was 23 US dollars, which converts to 25 Canadian dollars. This was ten dollars cheaper, and a much more reasonable price to pay. There was no way I could afford two volumes in Canada with only $50.
So What is Going On?
Still, this doesn’t make sense. This has left me with many more questions. Town A is 3 times the size of Town B. Therefore it only makes sense that Town A has more otaku. Why are stores in Canada just not stocking as much anime as their US counterparts? Why is anime so much more pricier in Canada compared to the United States? Why are many titles harder to find in Canada than they are in the United States? If Best Buy and Future Shop are owned by the same company which owns Best Buy in the United States, why is there such a drastic difference in the stores’ stocks and prices?
Nearly three years ago I had the opportunity to meet Roland Parliament (Melvin and ADR director) and Stephanie Morgenstern (Sailor Venus) at the CN Anime Expo in Toronto. Both had stressed that Sailor Moon had really put Canadian talent on the global map, in a world where it is much harder for Canadian stars to be seen compared to stars from other countries. A lot of anime is also dubbed here in Canada, in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. The studios that dub these series and movies use talent from all over the country. And it’s probably worth mentioning that two series that really started the anime boom in the mid-90’s; Dragonball and Sailor Moon were dubbed in Canada! On another note, many of the Sailor Moon DVD releases never made it to small town Canada. I remember I saw the odd ADV or Pioneer/Geneon videos in a store. Only after Best Buy opened did I see the Geneon DVDs, and luckily I was able to purchase all of the Geneon releases of the series. I never got to own the ADV releases of the series in entirety, I got very lucky when I found two volumes of the dub at a con. It’s a sad day when stores in Canada don’t support their own talent as much as their American counterparts.
I don’t have any answers to these questions. I have heard stories and rumors that it is a lot harder for companies to get their anime up here, but at the same time I do know that some of the companies have Canadian distributors. But Canadian Anime distribution is shady at best. Some stores will order direct from the distributor in the US, others will go through distributors in Canada. We’ve all heard the stories of Bandai changing their distributors a few times over the years in Canada but things aren’t improving as much as they should. Buena Vista Home Entertainment is responsible for shipping out Ghibli titles but a lot of the other , non-Miyazaki releases like Pom Poko and My Neighbors The Yamadas were never found in a store here. Sometimes you can’t even find bigger hits like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle in a department store! Things like Porco Rosso, The Cat Returns, Nausicaa, and Whisper of the Heart were found on release nearly everywhere , but now are scarce and over priced if they are found. More popular Funimation releases and ADV releases can be found in small quantities at HMV and London Drugs. No matter what company is putting out the anime the prices are a lot higher than they should be. And it’s not fair that Canadians have to pay the price.
I can’t answer for the stores themselves – sometimes “small town otaku” can get lucky close to the day of the release of a DVD if they go to an HMV. I know the ones in Town A at best get 2-3 copies of an anime DVD on a release date, and once they are sold it takes a long time to restock. And as for prices, I could understand a couple of bucks here and there. But 8-10 dollars is too much.
So What Do We Do?
It’s difficult to know where to start in trying to get some changes made. Writing to a store may yield a response that would say to contact the distribution company saying the company may not be sending them enough copies. The company may yield a response to contact the store saying that the stores are ultimately responsible for what they carry. And it’s anyone’s guess as to who sets the prices for anime in Canada. Maybe the companies need to get their distribution sorted out hopefully for once and for all in Canada? Yes, there’s always online ordering but then this goes back to a question I posed earlier: if someone who wants to purchase an action, comedy, or drama can go to a store in their town or city, why can’t an otaku have nearly the same amount of access to anime that a non-otaku can have to their films of choice? Anime used to have a fanbase in North America from the 80’s to the early 90’s that was small and secluded, but since then the size has skyrocketed enough to be a good chunk of the entertainment market in North America.
Something is very, very wrong with this picture. And it seems that every year it is getting worse. Readers, feel free to post your comments and thoughts about this issue below! If anything, I hope I have given readers something to think about the next time they go shopping for anime, no matter what side of the border they are on.