Anime set to invade UK TV! Is anime going mainstream?

My first encounter with anime was when my little brother dragged me to take him to see the Pokemon movie. That little electric fur ball, otherwise known as Pikachu, was a joy to watch as he zapped the baddies all to the chime of “Pika Pika.” Being the doting older sister, I was stuck with the somewhat impossible task of trying to find those elusive trading cards. Thinking about it, back then I didn’t even know that that was anime. Fast forward to 2007 and anime has moved on: a new anime channel coming our way, the rise of fan subs and video streaming websites, the anime community is accelerating at an alarming rate. Naruto has captured the hearts of a new generation and is encouraging kids to check out the manga originals. You only have to go to conventions and see grannies wearing ninja headbands to realise that something unique is happening – is anime going mainstream?

To find out the answer Anime UK News recently spoke to the UK’s first ever dedicated anime TV channel “Anime Central“, UK DVD publishers Beez and an every-day anime fan (in Darren Richardson) to investigate what the future could hold for anime and to discover what it means to be an anime fan in these changing times.

As anime invades the small screen, AUKN talks to Anime Central brand manager Mark Buchanan to find out what viewers can expect to see on the new anime channel heading on UK TV screens in September ’07.

Anime UK News: How was the idea of “Anime Central” conceived and what convinced Chart Show Channels it was a concept worth supporting?

Mark Buchanan: Originally, I was brought in to research a bunch of concepts for entertainment channels that had been floating around the company for a while. Having enjoyed anime down the years, I was desperate to include an anime block regardless of what channel it would eventually become. Luckily my bosses had a decent awareness of the material and they knew it was strong. It wasn’t difficult to convince them that anime warranted more than just a slot.

Anime UK News: There have been a few short-lived UK TV channels that aired anime, so why do you feel the time is right to launch Anime Central now? How will you attract an audience?

Mark Buchanan: I think you only have to look at the phenomenal work that companies like Manga, MVM, Beez, Revelation, and ADV have done in promoting the discs in the UK to know that interest in anime has grown in the last decade. My hope is Anime Central will be both passionate and all-inclusive, appealing to the hardcore fans while catering to folk who are completely new to it.

Developing the channel’s look has been key along with continued cross-promotion that will occur on channels such as Scuzz, The Vault and Flaunt.

We’re going to have an exciting web presence at where we hope to build a strong community of viewers and fans.

Anime UK News: The vast majority of anime lined up for Anime Central is aimed at the young adult demographic, could you explain to us why you decided to go down this route instead of attempting to tap in to children’s anime instead?

Mark Buchanan: The diversity of anime out there is staggering and I truly believe that the ‘grown-up’ shows in our line up like GITS: SAC or Planetes rank up there with the best of American television. With such strong content available, I really wasn’t interested in doing a kids channel. The little folk are already well served with a decent amount of anime on other stations and I feel that it’s time for the big ‘uns to get a look in.

Anime UK News: Anime Central has plans to air a lot of highly acclaimed anime TV series. With this in mind, how do you go about selecting what to air on Anime Central?

Mark Buchanan: I watch absolutely everything that’s sent my way. By far the most difficult part is selection and I’m cursed with taking programming too personally at times. I often have to take a step back and ask myself if this will play well to large audiences. That’s not to say we won’t be broadcasting more challenging titles, but if the channel’s ever going to stand a chance we need to introduce a launch with a line-up that is going to appeal to as many people as possible. As it stands, I‘m immensely proud of the collection and I believe it balances my selfishness with the requirements of the casual viewer!

Anime UK News:
Given the recent popularity of fan subs and video streaming sites like You Tube amongst anime fans, how does Anime Central plan to tempt fans away from their computer screens and back in front of their TV sets?

Mark Buchanan: The picture’s a lot better!

Next up, AUKN had a chat with Darren Richardson, an anime fan from Swindon to discover the joys and perils of being an anime fan and to find out what more anime on TV could mean for fans across the UK.

Anime UK News: How did you get into anime and what’s it like being an anime fan?

Darren Richardson: I got into anime at university back in 2002, I was living with a few guys and one night we all came back from the pub drunk and Paul one of my housemates put on a series called Trigun. We ended up watching the first 10 episodes that night and since then I have been hooked on anime. I love being an anime fan especially discovering new series, like Lovely Complex or Air Gear, they just make me smile and I want to watch them again and again. Also I love to go to anime conventions, talk to other people about how they are finding the latest series and trying out new things like cosplaying. There are some downsides, which includes work mates making fun of anime when I watch DVD’s in the office or my girlfriend not being a fan but these don’t really affect me.

Anime UK News: Do you feel there is enough anime on TV? What would you like to see more of?

Darren Richardson: There is no such thing as enough anime, the anime currently on TV is the more mainstream series like Pokemon, which lets face it is designed to sell vast amounts of merchandise hence the addition of hundreds of new characters every series so the trading cards can never be fully collected. Or we have the other end of the spectrum with channels like Film4 showing the Studio Ghibli films, which are some of the best movies around but are still very mainstream in my opinion.

Anime UK News: More anime will soon be on it’s way to UK TV. With the rise in popularity of fan subs and video streaming websites, will you be persuaded to switch over to watching anime on TV?

Darren Richardson: Unfortunately I doubt I will switch over to anime on TV, although as a fan I am happy to see more series appearing on satellite and terrestrial TV but there are still way too many problems with the releases. Take Naruto for example, the UK edit is appalling, the violence stripped away and the dubbing is awful. The story is about a ninja’s personal growth through missions and battles, however with the cuts in certain scenes (blood and death mainly) the story begins to lose it’s meaning and becomes just another happy little series to please the masses. I in no way wish to sound elitist but anime is a hugely varied medium and series don’t appeal to everyone, I am not a fan of Evangelion (ducks to avoid bricks being thrown) but I love Bleach and Love Hina, I hate it when series are edited to suit the majority. In a way I feel it cheapens the medium as a whole.

Another huge problem with UK TV over online services is the release schedules, just looking at the UK magazines advertising the latest series I can already say I have seen them all online or bought them using R1 import websites so I find that the UK is very backward when it comes to available releases.

Anime UK News: Obviously anime is dubbed on UK TV, will this deter you from regularly tuning in?

Darren Richardson: This is another problem for me, the voices in the original releases are picked to best suit the characters personalities. For example Full Metal Panics lead character Sosuke Sagara has a rough voice in the original release designed to show that since a young age he has been fighting in wars all over the world, but in the dubbed version he sounds plain and boring, like he has spent his life working as an accountant. I am a huge fan of subbed anime, I find that the original Japanese dialogue adds to the experience of watching a series. Yes I will agree there are exceptions, for example the Studio Ghibli films are excellently re-dubbed and I am a huge fan of the UK version of Porco Russo and The Cat Returns.

Anime UK News: Anime has often received negative press in the last few years. Do you think having more anime on TV will change people’s perceptions of anime?

Darren Richardson: It can only help to increase both its fan base and its popularity, Pokemon has done a great job laying a fan base for anime but what it would really need is for people to actually realise that it is anime. Unfortunately a lot of series are aired on channels very few people have heard of or even have access to. True we are getting more anime on the Jetix and Cartoon Network channels but they are edited and sliced up to suit the younger audience and this ruins the original works. Someone has to tell the people running these channels that just because a show is animated it doesn’t mean it can be cut up to suit young audiences. Yes Bravo brought us Afro Samurai but until more mainstream channels start to bring us unedited anime it will remain predominantly an internet medium with fans having to rely on fan subs and video steaming for their fix of their favourite shows.

Finally, AUKN spoke to Andrew Partridge from Beez (UK anime DVD distribution company behind the likes of Cowboy Bebop) to see what kind of an impact more anime on TV will have on the UK anime industry.

Anime UK News: It’s interesting how the vast majority of anime airing on Anime Central is from Beez, are you tightly affiliated with the new channel or was it simply a case of right place, right time?

Andrew @ Beez: It’s true that the vast majority of titles are from Beez. We have been working closely with CSC since they first approached us – but the venture itself is one that belongs to the CSC group! As a result they approached us during talks for one of the licenses on the channel – so in a way it was a case of right place and time. Ever since then though, we have had a very close working relationship – they’re fantastic people to work with!

Anime UK News: Did Beez specifically offer the likes of Planetes to Anime Central? Or did they cherry pick your catalogue for the best anime?

Andrew @ Beez: That’s an interesting question, really! I would say that in all negotiations there are titles that one company would like to see on TV and others the other side of the table would like. In the end it comes down to a matter of what fits for the channel given the screeners provided.

In the case of Planetes though, I know Mark is a big fan of space related shows though – as am I – so that title was a no-brainer really as it is a very much underrated series!

Anime UK News: Anime Central has appeared in the wake of ADV’s own Anime Network – is the relative success of Anime Network one of the major reasons behind Beez’s own “invasion” of UK TV?

Andrew @ Beez: That one’s a resounding “No.” Really – it’s a natural question to raise though. In reality both projects began at about the same time conceptually really – with the launch dates being different. I think it’s been all of our goals in the industry to get anime onto TV for a long time though – so we’re all incredibly lucky that two excellent stations have come along to air series.

In a way you would hope the two channels would help fuel one another really too – as they compliment each other nicely – you can watch both without missing any content from either!

Anime UK News: Following on from the last question, does having anime on UK TV give a major boost to other areas of your business (DVD sales, OSTs and so on)?

Andrew @ Beez: You would hope so – we’re one of the few companies who had titles in the last decade to have had shows like Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne and Gundam Wing and I have to say, despite being “old” licenses – they are still strong sellers to this day! However – as with a lot of things it depends on the kind of exposure the channel gets as well as the focus of the channel as well!

I would say a channel like Anime Central will more importantly raise awareness and suck in a new audience hopefully too! Which indirectly, over time, gives a boost to other areas of business!

Anime UK News: Will Beez one day have the power to commission their own dubs and licence whatever they want rather than waiting for an American license first?

Andrew @ Beez: Unlike several of our counterparts, we’re in the unusual situation of having to produce our own dubs already for France (as well as on occasion Germany) so it’s a bit of a tough one to answer there. As the cost of the dub easily costs more than the cost from start to finish of mastering a DVD including the encoding process, materials etc.

In a perfect world I would like to see that happen one day! However it all depends on the fans out there supporting our releases and tuning into channels like Anime Central and Anime Network to create a market for the DVD releases as well as a desire for UK dubs!

Anime UK News:
Many people think that part of the appeal of anime is that it is not part of mainstream culture in the UK and that if anime became too popular, it may diminish the original appeal. Andrew, as an anime fan yourself, what do you think?

Andrew @ Beez: *laughs* Now that is an interesting question! I came from the other side of the looking glass so to speak – I was a fan before I started working for Beez and I’m the first to admit my views have changed over the past few years.

I think it’s natural for people to feel uneasy at the idea of something that wasn’t mainstream before becoming popular. It kind of feels like it would lose what made it special really – and those who can’t adjust to it normally can find some new niche area of J-culture to move into! That being said it’s worth considering the film industry for a minute, as the easiest comparable situation to what is the view you describe above.

Although Hollywood churns out film after film every year, fans of films still pride themselves in knowing films that weren’t big budget or distributed widely. It means there’s still plenty of anime out there not many will know about – so fans will always be able to pride themselves in educating new generations of anime fans about the “hidden gems” that are only available on DVD as well as make yet new friends in the process!