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Idiot Savant Japan: Death Gods and Box Office Funerals

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Idiot Savant Japan: Death Gods and Box Office Funerals

In America, anime is an at-home staple. It’s something you watch from the comfort of your easy chair or—like me—hunched over in the dark with your laptop, bathing in its sickly comforting glow. Aside from the usual TV series and OAVs, there is a very rare third choice for viewing: actually going to a movie theater.

It may seem redundant to talk about an anime series’s theatrical release, but how else can we describe them? The TV-to-Film transition seems perfect for any animated series; it’s the old Disney model in reverse. Pokémon’s first “feature,” released stateside in 1999 as Pokémon: The First Movie, served as a backstory to one of the first game’s most powerful monsters. It also had something to do with that yellow rat thing, which can still generate cash for Nintendo.

It’s opening weekend brought in $31 million and caused numerous theaters (totaling 3,000 screens) to be filled with little kids shouting “Pika Pika!” In both Japan and America, the Poké-craze was enough to merit a long-form theatrical release rather than straight-to-video. Of course, that was 1999.

These days, the TV Film in America has a greater chance to hit DVD nearly two or three years after a release in Japan. Normally, they would be released on VHS or DVD, since many distributors—ok, ok. Viz.—never saw the point of a full scale commercial release. After the first film, Pokémon was relegated to the DVD racks in the U.S., but still allotted wide release in Japan. Releasing properties in this format is steadily increasing, from Warner Bros.’sWatchmen tie-in to rumors of cult shows like Firefly and Futurama. And for good reason, right?

Well, maybe not. Anime—heck, any cinephile would argue the merits of seeing a projection on a massive screen with good speakers. The distributors mainly argue that there is no reason to release what has primarily been a “video market” into theaters; there is a difference between a new Miyazaki opening and the fourth Naruto film, after all.

But as the genre continues it’s never-ending, Borg-like assimilation into pop culture, we should justify releasing work intended to be theatrical in theaters. While recording Grassroots Episode 12a last week, Grady Hendrix talked about being at this year’s New York Comic Con and of the fan experience in general. Mainly how fans would give their own arm to see something like the live-action Death Note in a theater, but can’t due to being in the Midwest or not in the two major market cities.

Viz has tried to remedy this with special “one night only” screenings: the first Death Note back in May and showing, on June 11th, Bleach: Memories of Nobody with the series’s character designer and producer in attendance for a pre-screening talk. But again—the Bleach event is for one night only, save for a second screening on the 12th.

Then again, it’s going to be a theater filled with screaming kids in cosplay glomping the fuck out of each other. Maybe it is better just to skip all the excitement and fun, to sit at home and weep hot tears of shame at my illegal downloading of anime.


Every so often I stop drinking blue drinks and chasing women in order to concentrate on other things like drinking women and chasing blue drinks. I also roll over to Neojaponisme for some rather nifty pieces on Haruki Murakami, United Red Army—which is showing at NYAFF with a post-screening interview with director Koji Wakamatsu via satellite—and the issues of translation.


Also, we’ve just found out that the Grassroots podcast is garnering over 9000 listens. To mark the occasion:

John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E [print only] and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.