For the past quarter century, fans of Japanese pop culture in Australia and New Zealand have been served almost exclusively by a single distributor. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Madman Entertainment boasts over 90 percent of the region's market share in anime home entertainment, and an even greater share of its anime theatrical business.

Not surprisingly, those statistics drew the attention of the Sony Corporation, whose Aniplex Inc. subsidiary invested in Madman two years ago and bought its anime division outright last year. Sony Pictures Television and Aniplex have now consolidated Madman Anime Group into their other recent anime distribution acquisitions: Funimation in the United States, Wakanim in France, and Manga Entertainment in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

This weekend, March 7 and 8, Madman will host an anticipated 12,000-plus fans at its second Madman Anime Festival in Sydney, Australia's largest city, after presenting similar events over the past four years in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Each festival reports 10 to 20 percent annual audience growth. In a country whose entire population, 25 million, is smaller than that of the Tokyo metropolitan area, the success of such gatherings across a landmass approximately 20 times the size of Japan suggests that Sony made a good bet.