I spent this morning putting together US amazon release data for September. It’s shaping up to be an interesting months in a while – at the least, series that haven’t provided any DVD/BD chart datapoints yet are in the mid-to-low 4 digits, suggesting some of them could possibly chart, yielding more data that would make estimating sales via amazon more feasible. That’s a lot of fun, and I wish I could be more excited about that, but getting together the data reminded me of something I’d much rather forget; Sentai Filmworks’ Gatchaman Crowds release. It’s labeled on amazon as the ‘Complete’ Collection, which is a label it takes tremendous balls to stick with when your release knowingly excludes the actual last episode of the series. The official reason why the Sentai version of Crowds will be excluding the episode is that it is owned by some entity separate from the original licensee, was given in a answer which was (probably intentionally) vague about exactly what happened in regards to the episode. What is not vague at all is the fact that the R1 release of this series will be lacking critical content as the home video equivalent of a 500-page novel with the last 20 pages ripped out.
Personally, I’m perfectly okay with companies that play to win. Anime is a niche market, and people at every level have to make hard choices in dealing with the business side of the industry. I’d rather an industry stay sustainable and churn out products I really like than break the bank over artistic integrity and end up unable to churn out any kind of work in the future. That statement represents a significant oversimplification – entertainment being a business doesn’t force a binary choice between sales and artistic integrity – but my point here is that choices made with finance in mind aren’t necessarily evil ones. There is a wrinkle to this particular story, though, that rubs me the wrong way.
While understanding that Gatchaman Crowds isn’t an obvious mainstream title, with romanized search volume at its peak only about on par with the Summer 2013 season in general, it does currently have a popularity rank on myanimelist in the mid-500s. It is, more relevantly, being dubbed. Dubs are kind of expensive; Justin Sevakis gives a figure of $7000 to $8500 per episode as the cost of a dub, which would suggest a lowball price of $7000*12=$84,000 for a 12-episode series. In the same paragraph, he notes that this is more than many series cost to license. This can be corroborated; ADV court documents have stated that, among other series, Magikano was licensed for $65,000 total (i.e. $5000 per episode). The prices of various series in said court documents varies, with a range of $33,000-$3000 per episode. These are series licensed prior to the closing of ADV and Geneon, and may represent more of a buyer’s market than the US has today, but I think it’s fair to use Air Gear’s $31,200/ep cost as a upper-limit case for the cost of an episode.
What I’m getting at here is this; even if the Crowds dub were made on the cheap side, and the holder of the rights to the final episode were expecting to receive a payment on the level of a popular battle series circa 2006, it is highly implausible based on what we know about the costs involved that said episode is being excluded from its R1 release due to a niche-series marginal cost issue. I’m not personally involved with the project, so I can’t say for sure whether it’s because of poor negotiating skills, bad faith, or whatever else on one side or another, or whether any offer was ever made for the rights to the episode, but this poor choice isn’t one that’s defensible as an issue of cost.*
*I also want to be careful about ascribing blame because Crowds was a show I had every intention of buying a second time (the R2 BD was my first-ever TV import) prior to this stupidity, and angry is never a good state of mind to be in when attributing blame.