Life on the Fringe

Otaku no Cine

What’s a guy gotta do to see some anime in this town?

by Patrick King

Back in May 2003, I wrote a "Life on the Fringe" article about the popularity (or lack thereof) of anime in theatres. With the recent release of two big anime movies (Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell 2) and Howl's Moving Castle coming out later this year, it seems like things haven't changed much since I wrote that article.

On the up side, Ghost in the Shell 2 did receive a relatively wide Japanese language release (wide for an anime movie, at least). Hopefully, when Disney brings us Miyazaki's new film, it will enjoy at least a release as wide as Spirited Away.

Yet I'm not writing this to rehash what I said back in 2003. No, this month, I have a dream that I'd like to share with you guys, because I'd like to see something like this exist in my lifetime.

Most of us are familiar with anime clubs. Some are more formal than others. Some of them meet in schools, while others in homes. Some clubs focus on shonen series, others on dubs, while still others prefer nothing but raw video straight from Japan.

The one trait that they all have in common is the fact that they represent a group of people who all share the same interests. When you watch something with a collection of like-minded folks, it tends to amplify the experience. Many anime series or films are deep enough to warrant discussion afterwards, and many of us fans are happy to partake in such talks.

So, what's my dream? I want to have a place dedicated to screening anime. Just one would be enough for a given town. Sort of like a theatre, but not nearly as large as the megaplexes that are so common nowadays, and certainly not as devoid of personality as most of them are.

Imagine a building with six screening rooms and nice, comfy seating. Shows could be projected simultaneously in English and in Japanese with subtitles in different rooms.

Pocky could be served at the concession stand, along with a fine assortment of other Japanese dishes. While popcorn would be available, an onigiri would not feel out of place, and Ramune would be just as accessible as Root Beer. It would also make sense if such an establishment sold anime-related goods - books, DVDs, CDs, wall scrolls, etc.

In fact, the merchandise and food services portions of this imaginary otaku playground would be a primary attraction - not merely side items.

In addition to the screening rooms, the building would also boast a lounge-style sitting area where food could be consumed and fans could enjoy a heated discussion about Satoshi Kon's latest mind-bender while Yoko Kanno's newest soundtrack plays soothingly in the background.

Anime trailers would be shown before shows started, of course, and it wouldn't be uncommon to see a good anime music video before the main attraction.

Whole series could have runs throughout the year, for this theatre should not focus only on theatrical releases; we'd quickly run out of films to show.

Depending on the support of patrons, admission to the screening rooms should be as cheap as possible - if not free (gasp!). Most of the money for the owners should come from the food, drinks and goodies sold outside the screening rooms.

There are, of course, some huge hurdles to overcome when making this dream a reality. First of all, we're not in the middle of our finest economical moment here, and from the looks of things, the economy isn't going to get much better for the average Joe any time soon. Is there a large enough fanbase of all things otaku to support a venture of this nature? How could a person make it profitable?

Stemming from the issue of cost, there is also the huge, possibly insurmountable roadblock that is the current licensing situation in the industry. Companies are buying up the rights to series that they have no intention of releasing to the public in any sort of timely fashion, just to keep others from making money off of them. Much like how a dragon hoards its treasure, too many of the megagiants of the industry are keeping some real gems in the dark simply because they hope to squeeze as much money out of the releases for themselves as possible.

I sincerely doubt that any company - Japanese or American - would willingly license their intellectual properties for public viewing in such a manner. At least, they would not do so without imposing a substantial charge, which kills this idea before anyone could even get it off the ground.

The point at which this exercise in thought crosses the line of dreams into pure mad fantasy is when I suggest that the only way that it will work is if it is built with the cooperation of the industry leaders that control the things we want to watch.

Does it make sense for companies to provide viewing rights for shows with little to no immediate compensation to themselves? To me, it makes oodles of sense. Anime films still aren't performing as wonderfully as they could be, given the proper exposure. Perhaps the theatrical anime industry could benefit from the same sort of free advertising that the fansub community provided prior to the current explosion of store-bought DVDs.

There's a huge anime culture out there right now. We have cons and we have clubs, but many of us know each other only because of the limited interaction the Internet provides. It's high time that we had a more reliable, comfortable meeting place than the hotel room of a convention, one that serves good food and all the anime we want. It's up to the anime companies themselves - both distributors and producers - to give the domestic culture a chance to expand to its full potential. Maybe this is one way to provide that opportunity.

Is that too much to ask? While I wait for the answer, I suppose I'll just hang out here in the apartment and get caught up on Last Exile.

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