When I started writing this article it was going to be about what a great idea it would be to run the upcoming Madoka movies in the States... and then it came out that this was actually going to happen. (http://www.madokamagicausa.com/movie.php) This is certainly a welcome development.
As you may know, theatrical releases are a big deal in anime right now. Did the Kara no Kyoukai release start the trend, perhaps? Now, US anime fans have ways to see their favorite TV anime as they air, but a Japanese theatrical release presents a big, obvious problem: short of actually getting on a plane-- I know of a Yamato fan who took an international vacation solely to see that movie--- there's absolutely no way for us to go see the movie.
We just sit on our hands being anxious until a home video release rolls around and it becomes possible to see the movie.
It's not like we buy a ticket. These kinds of otaku-oriented anime movies aren't going to be making money like The Avengers, but there's definitely an audience willing to pay to see them.
A few months back I went to see the Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban) movie. There were two film festival showings planned. A month before the dates, with hardly any promotion, both shows sold out. I knew this was going to happen, and I got my tickets as soon as sales opened. The theater was packed not with Takashii Miike fans, (who are typically the ones who sell out showings of his films) but with serious Ace Attorney fans who cheered for every big scene and laughed at every in-joke. If they had run Ace Attorney for a week, they probably would have managed to pack a few more theaters.
(I saw Ashura at that fest as well, but that's less an otaku kind of movie and more a film festival kind of movie...)
Madoka is being shown once in various major American cities, and like with Ace Attorney, these showings are going to sell out the very moment ticket sales open. I am personally sitting on the edge of my seat, reloading the theater website. I am doing this because I am pretty sure that there are under a hundred seats in that theater, and there are at least a hundred people thinking the same thing as I am.
“If I don't see it now, I won't be able to for at least a year.”
I can't wait that long for Madoka. No way. I have to get in!
Before this announcement, this is what I was thinking of the movies: “It's just a remake, I don't need to see it, and it's okay that I can't see it. I'll forget it exists.” But that was sour grapes. I'm just so used to not getting to see Japanese theatrical releases for two years. It's how I think about the Evangelion films, as 3.0 gets ready to release in Japan and nobody in America will be able to see it for at least a year and a half.
My friends who aren't in major American cities are still saying “I'll forget it exists.”
So my suggestion to the people running Madoka is to do a few more showings, because there is no question in my mind whatsoever that they can sell out a few more theaters. My suggestion to the anime industry at large is not to overlook international theatrical showings. The Evangelion movies-- provided they played close to the Japanese release-- would definitely fill some theaters. Remember the phrase “a small group of fanatics.” It's very important. If you motivate them, they will come out. Right now, I am very motivated.
(I would personally have gone and seen all the Kamen Rider Fourze movies, but that wasn't going to happen...)