Let's follow up on the Neon Alley news. A live channel, in this day and age of DVRs and on-demand TV and the Internet? Why, exactly? It's a little nostalgic. In fact, it immediately calls back memories of The Anime Network.
Let's say the year is 2004. At this time, the US anime industry, driven by DVD sales, was still in full swing. One of the biggest players was ADV Films (now Sentai Filmworks). At the height of their power, ADV was an otaku-run organization with deep pockets and big dreams. Why not pitch Evangelion to Hollywood? Why not start an anime TV channel? The status of the Hollywood Eva movie is uncertain, but The Anime Network exists.
If you bought something from ADV, there was probably something on it about The Anime Network. The infamous “What is anime?” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rg5fR05st58&feature=related) promo ran at the start of ADV DVDs for years. There were stickers on DVD boxes and books. If you bought anime during this period, you couldn't get away from The Anime Network. And that was the idea.
Note that at the end of the ad, you're given a URL and told to “demand your anime”. What that website would say on it, of course, was that they wanted you to actually call your cable provider and demand that they pick up The Anime Network. That was what it took to get a cable channel on the air.
After all, anime was never any kind of sure thing here. Pokemon proved itself as a success, and so did Sailor Moon (after the fans fought hard for it) and Dragon Ball and a precious few other titles. But “anime” as a singular entity? All of it, and a TV station that only ran the stuff? That wasn't any kind of sure thing, so ADV was betting on the passionate fanbase to help make it happen.
So did it? I don't know if the fans made it happen, but it did happen. Sort of. The Anime Network started off as an on-demand service: you just ordered episodes to watch whenever you wanted. That was fine, but ADV's goal was a proper cable channel.
This eventually happened... but I don't know anybody who actually had the channel. We didn't have it here in New York, and usually the smaller cable channels make it to major markets like ours. The Anime Network ran as a cable channel from 2004-2008, at which point it was shut down. This wasn't long before ADV Films itself shut down and then split into a pile of legally distinct entities, all of which the folks at Sentai Filmworks firmly swears have nothing to do with them. In simpler terms... it was like Quattro Bageena talking about Char Aznable.
Ayway, The Anime Network continues to do respectably as one of many on-demand choices on cable, and their website has evolved into a streaming site ala Crunchyroll and Hulu as well. Sentai has had a big fall from the ADV Films days, but they've been picking it back up slowly, and things are looking good for them right now.
The dream of a dedicated TV channel might have been realized a little too late. This would have been miraculous in the late 90s when it was legitimately hard to get the stuff, but it was the mid-2000s and it was really easy to get anime by means either legal or illegal (but still extremely popular). As I mentioned in a previous column, Internet anime fans were at this point already transitioning into watching everything online (often they'd never bought home video, and never will!). They could watch whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. They probably didn't have much of a need for a cable channel that ran dubbed TV shows they'd already seen two years ago.
ADV pushed hard for The Anime Network, but by the time they got it on the air, the same anime fans they were begging to “demand their anime” didn't really need to get it that way anymore. So when I look at Neon Alley, I can't help but wonder if the same mistake is being repeated on a videogame console instead of on cable TV. Are things different enough this time? We'll have to wait and see.