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Japanese Video Prices: “I'm Sorry, Great Five!”

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera


#25: Japanese Video Prices: “I'm Sorry, Great Five!”

A friend of mine-- I'll withhold his name to protect his identity-- has an otaku secret that he doesn't want his buddies to know about. I was unaware until a mutual friend slipped it out in a casual conversation.

“You know, he bought Kara no Kyoukai on Blu-Ray!”

The way she said it was accusatory.

A low “whooa” passed through the group. We asked her repeatedly. “Seriously?” “He really has that?” “Can I come over?” “I knew he liked Type-Moon, but...”

In America we got the same Blu-Ray box set for this series that Japan did: the $400 one. Only a few hundred were made available, and over a few weeks the box slowly sold out.

He didn't want us to know he owned it. He was ashamed.

You see, home video just doesn't cost that much in America. Not for anime, not for anything. The most expensive non-anime Blu-Rays you're likely to see are Criterion's beautiful deluxe packages of classic films: they cost $40. TV series have already made their money back and routinely sell at a cheap $30-40 a season. Blockbuster Hollywood movies are priced to lose money at $20 or so. That's what the competition for anime is on the shelves of the average American department store.

(Of course, home video is on the way out, and so is the average American department store...)

I was going to import Gunbuster on Blu-Ray: though it had no translation (unlike Kara no Kyoukai) and was a luxury I couldn't really afford at about $160, it's still one of my very favorite anime. Though I knew it was a bad idea, I had been mentally preparing myself to make this purchase for months in advance.

The same day the Gunbuster Blu-Rays went on sale in Japan, Amazon opened up preorders for the first season of the TV show Game of Thrones on Blu-Ray. Though George R.R. Martin's fantasy novels don't occupy the special place in my heart that Gunbuster does, I'm a fan, as are millions of geeky Americans. This box was ten hours of a TV show, with hours more of commentary and making-of features. If this were Japanese anime, it would have cost me $400.

I paid $35. The sheer shock of that price shattered my resolve to buy Gunbuster again. My rational adult mind could not justify it any longer. My inner time-dilated child gave up.

On Unofficial Sentai Akibaranger, the hero eyes a vintage Chogokin Great Five robot from Maskman in a store window for a hundred thousand yen. He's so excited he whips out his wallet right there... but he runs into a cardboard standee of his favorite moe heroine, and he imagines her guilt tripping him over not buying her show on Blu-Ray. There's no joy on his face: he's buying solely out of a hopeless feeling of obligation, and I know the audience is relating to this joke!

Another friend of mine buys the US limited-edition releases of Madoka for $100 each (the show will run him $300). He doesn't like it, but Madoka was quite a show and, in his words, “unfortunately, this is the new normal”. On the other hand, he refuses to buy the $400 Fate/Zero box.

Nobody I know who buys anime at Japanese prices is at all happy about it, and I think that's a problem in and of itself. I guess it's where we're going: everybody will watch big shows online and only the most passionate (or richest, or both) will actually be able to own them. Once a show's no longer streaming online, it disappears (legally, anyway) from the face of the earth. As a guy with a closet full of anime DVDs, I find that a little sad.

Of course, this is better than Kadokawa's recent decision that Americans just can't have Panty and Stocking on Blu-Ray, which enrages me on so many different levels I don't know where to start. But that's a story for another day...
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