The March 4 article “Future of ‘anime’ industry in doubt” highlighted many of my own growing frustrations. I moved to Japan from the United States as an English teacher a little more than two years ago. I was a casual anime fan who had just completed a degree in literature and film studies, including some courses on Japanese animation. My friends joked of their jealousy as I headed off to “the Mecca of anime.”
As an English teacher who deals almost daily with students whose goal is to be able to watch foreign movies, I understand that the language ability required to FULLY understand a foreign film without subtitles is prohibitively menacing. Without English subtitles, it is impossible for me to watch and understand the types of stories that attracted me to anime in the first place.
To explain the growth in popularity but loss of profit, the anime industry cites the dangers of illegal Internet downloading and viewing. Certainly piracy is bad, as animators deserve to be paid for their work, but it could prove fatal to focus on the negative aspects of the rise of the Internet instead of on the reasons for the proliferation of illegal downloads.
The two biggest obstacles anime faces in the global market are an often prohibitive price (are we really expected to pay up to ¥8,000 for three 25-minute episodes of a series on DVD or BluRay?) and availability. The article mentions that the fan-subtitled downloads that become available shortly after a new release are a big problem for the industry. So, why not provide a legally available alternative?
Almost every DVD I purchased in the United States had Spanish and sometimes French subtitles, and sometimes dubbed audio options as well. My American copy of the most recent “Harry Potter” BluRay has 12 audio language options and 15 subtitle languages, yet I’m lucky if one in five animated feature films have even one non-Japanese subtitle option, and I’ve yet to find a series available with subtitles here in Japan.
The global and local demand for anime is there. It is time for the industry to explain why I can watch a legal copy of “Patlabor2” with subtitles, but “Patlabor: The Movie” and “Patlabor3” are unavailable except in Japanese. Hopefully outdated business practices can evolve before Japan needlessly loses “one of the nation’s most prized cultural exports.”
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