-- Mamo-chan 03.17.2010
Anime Stuff - ISSUE 17 8/17/1992
INTERVIEW WITH ROE ADAMS OF ANIMEIGO By Tom Mitchell For this latest installment of Anime Life, we feature another anime fan who's life has been influenced by anime. But this person is very different from all other Japanese animation fans in America because he is one of the few people who have actually decided to start his own business based on it! Roe Adams already has a successful career as a computer game designer, but now he has started another venture, AnimEigo, which is now one of the leading subtitling companies translating Japanese animation videos for the American market. And it's probably the only company of the handful that exist in the industry to have built a carefully pristine record of quality when it comes to handling their product among fans. This interview with Roe was conducted via CompuServe E-Mail over several weeks as Roe's busy schedule would permit. It was hard to stop the interview because during the weeks that we conducted it, AnimEigo kept making new announcements about some major video licensing deals. This included the groundbreaking licensing deal to translate Urusei Yatsura, Japan's most popular and prolific animated TV/Movie/Original Anime Video series. Certainly the most prized and difficult to obtain title for anyone in the anime translation business. I hope you enjoy Roe's story and his insights into our hobby and his business. It is the story of a truly rare anime fan who has done what some of us have only dreamed about...made his hobby his life! >>><<<
TM: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career?
RA: Where to start??? High points: I am a computer game designer (Wizardry IV, Bard's Tale I (initial scenario), Ultima IV ), author (3 books), and computer journalist (over 250 reviews and articles in the past 11 years). My specialties are computer game design (I am a theorist who is mostly concerned about advancing the craft of computer game design thorough each of my designs), game psychology (WHY people play Role-Playing games), game mastering (was a tournament D&D GM in the late 70's), Japanese RPG computer games (currently the leading U.S. expert), and Virtual Reality (been heavily involved in the field since 1985). I just moved myself and my family over to Japan this spring and expect to be staying here two to five years. I have been collecting Japanese anime since 1974 and have over 400 films and OAVs in my collection. Talked Robert into founding AnimEigo in 1988 as a way to promote QUALITY Japanese anime in the U.S. via English subtitles (my idea rather than dubbing). Current: 1) Designing a huge (possibly TWO disk) CD-ROM RPG game here in Japan (staff of 28!) 2) Developing an international MODEM RPG game for a mere 10,000 players on-line SIMULTANEOUSLY. 3) Doing an American version of a new Japanese Super Famicom game 4) Writing a book in Japan on "The Theory of Computer Game Design" 5) Co-authoring another book (hardcore Science Fictiom book on VR) 6) Writing 6-7 monthly columns for COMPTIQ, the big Japanese computer gaming magazine 7) Editing two AnimEigo proucts a month with numerous contract negotiations weekly. Most projects take 8-12 meetings beofore "jelling". Oh yes and traveling back and forth to Japan NINE roundtrips this past year talking at conferences on both game design and VR.
TM: Wow! I could think of a lot of things to ask you next, but I'd better stick to the subject! (^_^) I was first attracted to anime because it's a blend of many media that I'm interested in; animation, graphics, music, video, design, drama, etc. Is it this blend of media that first attracted you to anime? What pulled you into the hobby?
RA: I have always loved animation. What got me FIRST interested in Japanese anime was Starblazers. In 1979 the complete TV series, all 3 or 4 years (don't remember which now) were shown on Boston TV on channel 56 IN ENGLISH, no less. I taped the entire series right off the air. What hooked me was the terrific action, good animation, outrageous battle scenes, neat music, and an interesting story. Rare to find all that in one product! When I looked around to see what else there was, I naturally ran right into a big wall. No one had heard anything about Japanese animation. Then at a Boskon convention in Boston, I saw a screening of Lum and I was captivated.
TM: So, did you find your first big lead into the anime hobby at the Boskon convention? Who were the first group of folks to teach you more about the hobby?
RA: Well, for about 5 years, I only got snatches of anime at various Worldcons or regional sf conventions except for Rob Fenelon (later of Minstrel Press and an old friend). He was the first Otaku I met. He introduced me to Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999. The one person to whom I am truely endebted is Masaki Takai. I met him after I moved from Boston to Ithaca, NY to finish my design work of Wizardry IV. One day I saw a flyer for the Cornell Japanimation (a new word to me at the time) Society and decided to attend. It turned out that the meeting was held in the President of the group's apartment (which he shared with 3 other people!). So that night about 15 people crowded into Misaki's place huddled around a small TV set while Misaki did very impressive simultaneous translations of the anime. This went on for around 5 hours, a fantastic array of anime I never knew existed. I was truely blown away.
TM: The first anime that I ever saw was the Macross movie, and soon after Nausicaa, Arion, & Area 88. I got started with some classics, I guess. Do you remember what some of the first anime you guys watched that night at Masaki's place? It must have been an interesting line-up!
RA: AH, does that really stick in my mind! He showed an episode of Dirty Pair, Orange Road, Maison Ikkiou, and finaly Laputa! None of these I had ever seen, I was hooked for life. I left with stars in my eyes. The next week I brought my son (who was eight at the time) and Misaki showed more DP, more OR, and then Vampire Hunter D. WOW!!! It was the first horror anime I had ever seen, and it was fantastic!
TM: It sounds like you had a very typical introduction to anime. Lots of folks go to view this stuff and get bowled over by it. But you are hardly the typical anime fan. 99.9 percent of the fans hardly get beyond tape swapping. Very few fans give anything back to the hobby or the folks who create anime. And yet you have taken it so far as to start one of the first anime businesses in the country! What made you want to form your own Japanese animation video subtitling company?
RA: Nothing typical about Masaki! AnimEigo began over my experience at Worldcon in Boston in 1989. One of my best friends in Japan, Mr. Yutaka Tama, who is famous in Japan in several fields, brought a large group of influental Japanese to Worldcon. Among them was Mr. Takanashi who was the producer and creative drive behind the Gunbuster series. Yutaka had sent me episodes 1 & 2 which I very much enjoyed, so I was delighted to meet Mr. Takanashi. When I learned that he had brought a copy of the unreleased final episode three, I arranged through my contacts with the Worldcon committee to get him a screening and a chance to talk to the anime fans. The screening and interview were a fantastic success, BUT Mr. Takanashi and the other 19 Japanese science-fiction authors/artists/fans including some other anime industry people stayed around to watch other screenings of Japanese anime. What they saw was 5th and 6th generation copies of varous anime, some with incredibly poor subtitles, others with bad dubbing, and one that was an incomprehensible (to them) parody. They were shocked- this trash (typical con fare those days) was what Americans watched when they watched Japanese anime??? I was VERY embarassed by all this, and spent the rest of Worldcon trying to appologize and explain. Afterwards I gave a lot of thought to the state of anime appreciation in the U.S. and came to several conclusions: 1) Anime pricing (at that time $125-150 per tape) was truely outrageous. No wonder fans bought and traded dubbed copies. 2) Fan translations were of haphazard quality and really hindered appreciaton of the films. 3) National distribtuion of anime was practically nonexistent. Often even I had to go through many layers of the fan network over a long period of time to secure a title, and then usually had to pay a huge price to get it! Why should this be necessary? 4) The titles that fans were seeing as current were in fact usually 5-10 years old. Getting to see Akira right after it was released blew me away with its "advances" in anime compared to other films I had seen. I spent many a long hour discussing these issues with Masaki and other anime people I knew around the country. Although everyone agreed that these 4 issues were lamentable and were in drastic need of correcting, no one could figure out a way of solving any of the problems. I came to realize that there was no exisitng fan/corporate vehicle that could be upgraded to handle these issues, and that if I REALLY wanted to do something, I would have to do it myself. But, although I had many anime contacts in Japan, I had no real financial resources to begin such an undertaking. So, I went to my old friend, Robert Woodhead, who was a many times millionare from his Wizardry royalties, and asked him if he would be interested in forming a company with me. He would put up the money and I would put up my contacts and indepth knowledge of Japanese anime. He asked me "what is anime?", so I began taking him over to Masaki's and started showing him the wonders of Japanese animation. Robert is an avid science fiction reader, so he was totally swept up by Akira also. In fact it was after seeing Akira on his giant screen TV with full blown stereo sound, that Robert first agreed to help me form AnimEigo.
TM: I see. And of course at that point you needed a title to translate. What were some of your first choices, and how did you go about contacting the proper folks to license them?
RA: Our first choices for subtitling were of course highly optimistic. Let's see, I wanted to do:Akira, Totoro, Laputa, Vampire Hunter D, Dirty Pair and all of Lum! Well, the first thing we discovered was that none of THOSE people wanted to talk with us!!! That was quite a surprise, as we naively thought they were dying to get their films distributed in the U.S. By this time though, all three of my RPG games had been translated into Japanese and were big hits in Japan. Through all the publicity surrounding their releases, I had met alot of people and Robert had met others from years of attending Wizardry fairs in Japan. So we began to contact large numbers of people to find someone to provide us an introduction into the Anime community. This started the snowball rolling.
TM: And it would seem that Dirty Pair is still up for grabs, as far as I know! Can you give us an example of the process, and the cost of securing the rights to a show?
RA: That is a tough question as it goes right to the heart of why we are able to sign titles better than other companies and HOW we have been able to open up the Japanese companies to even consider doing such deals. Much of it depends upon insights that I have gained from years of dealing with Japanese companies. If AnimEigo has anything like corporate secrets, that area is it. Sorry.
TM: Ok, ok. I'll save that last question for 60 Minutes. I do have a question about your latest product, Kimagure Orange Road. I know a lot of us KOR fans have been kidding you on CompuServe for a while about AnimEigo subtitling the show. And then you drop the bombshell on us that you've actually gone out and got the rights to the thing! Had this been a title you've been interested in doing for a long time? And do you guys have the rights to all the animated KOR? (Pilot Film, TV series, OAV series, and the Movie?)
RA: Kimagure Orange Road has been a long time favorite of mine ever since Masaki introduced me the its wondrous charms. I have all the shows and OAVs and the movie in my collection. For a long time I have been pushing for AnimEigo to go after this property, but kept being told it was not an "action" series, so "who would care about it?" After a long time of dragging out Anime fan polls that showed that Madoka was the NUMBER ONE female anime character among the fans, Robert started to watch some of the series and (amazingly enough) found it was REALLY GOOD. At this time we have an option on the TV series, but are going to wait for a while to see if it is commercially feasible to do in the current U.S. market. Maybe after the market grows a bit, we will be able to start bring over many tv series like this. So right now we will be releasing only the OAVs and the movie.
TM: It's really funny how popular KOR is with fans, but you sure wouldn't know it from observing screenings at anime clubs. I was also quite surprised at its popularity. Speaking of KOR's popularity; Another very popular aspect of Orange Road is the soundtrack music. BGM collecting is a popular pastime among anime fans in general. Has AnimEigo toyed with the idea of selling the soundtrack music to your videos? I know you're already dipping your toes in the BGM waters with the release of the Bubblegum Crisis music videos. Fans seem to be demanding the music from BGC after they are exposed to it.
RA: I'll take a deep bow for that one! I have fought a long uphill battle to get music highlighted in AnimEigo products. First I got the lyrics subtitled on the animes, then I got liner notes included in our boxes, and after a huge tussle got us to license the BGC music videos. Only Michael House (our chief translator) and I seem to appreciate the music aspect of anime. I KNOW how important music is to anime, because I am one of those fans who is attacted to Japanese anime because of the twin lure of anime quality and terrific music. However, we are staying a video company, so we wouldn't be releasing the music CDs. BTW, MY favorite anime soundtrack is AKIRA, followed by Hurricane from BGC 1.
TM: Here's a question I've meant to ask you for a while. As your videos get more popular and gain more exposure, one day you're going to have a run-in with this nation's artistic and fundamentalist censorship movements over the contents of these videos. One day, the kid of some Bible-thumper is going to bring a video of BGC, Madox, or Riding Bean home, and the news media will latch onto this. Have you folks thought of how you are going to deal with such problems? I remember one such news spot a couple years ago that focused on the violence in manga, and they had some guy on there saying that he had just seen an animated film that featured the rape of a young white girl buy a big black man. Guess what film he "saw"? Project A-Ko. Things like this will happen, you know. As a fan, it is my biggest fear about anime getting more popular.
RA: The issue of censorship is a constant battle I fight here. I realize that our dream of spreading an appreciation of Japanese anime among the general population is very fragile. If some headline hungry politican, perhaps one of the new breed of Japan Bashers, decides to pillor us, it would not be too hard. And this depite the fact that at the very worst our films would be rated PG-13. AnimEigo has turned down films like Fist of the North Star or Wandering Kid because of excessive violence or gross sexual content. (Personally I enjoyed Fist but find Kid disgusting.) Besides seeking films to license that are important to U.S. fans, we have tried to walk that fine line between neat fun and material inflamatory to certain sectors of America. We would never consider editing an anime as we have always strived to convey the highest purity of Japanese anime, so we strive to carefully select anime.
TM: Tell us a little about your upcoming first Laserdisc release, the OAV series Vampire Princess Miyu. I thought it was very commendable of AnimEigo to release the four episodes on a single CLV disc at a price that's an extreme bargain for fans. I know that that cost of a small laserdisc release was prohibitive, and that you were polling fans to get an idea of how many you could expect to sell. Are you taking a chance with this release to test the waters, or was there really that much positive feedback from fans?
RA: Well, yes, we are actually taking a chance here. Robert really wants to see us branch out into LDs, so we are testing the waters with Miyu. If it does even reasonably well, maybe we will put KOR on LD. LDs are so much cheaper to produce and market. Did you know that in Japan new anime on video tape run 12,500 yen while the same program on LD is only 7,500 yen!
TM: Yes, cheaper to produce and market in Japan. That's what's fueled the interest by serious anime collectors to get into Laserdiscs. But what about here in the U.S.? Have you folks found LD's to be far more expensive than tape to produce?
RA: That is somewhat of a difficult question. It really is a matter of the economics of scale. IF we could produce large quantities of LDs then LDs are cheaper. However, since the LD market for subtitled anime is unexplored as of yet, we can only afford to make small runs which are quite a bit expensive on a per copy basis. Also there are pctically no video rental stores that rent LDs, so that segment of the market is lost to us regarding LDs. If we get enough collectors to purchase our LD version so that we at least break even, then we will continue to offer titles on both media.
TM: I hope the Vampire Princess Miyu LD experiment goes well for AnimEigo. Certainly, having anime on LD at affordable prices will be quite a boon to anime fandom here in the U.S. I personally think it will pay off for you. Anime on laserdisc is only the next logical extension of the quality presentation philosophy that AnimEigo has offered fans so far. I have one last question for you to conclude this interview, and then I will open the page to you for any comments you'd like to make to our readers. My personal discovery and enjoyment of anime has brought many enriching and sometimes profound discoveries to my life. It has brought me enhanced appreciation of art and music, made me take my own talents seriously, taught me a new language, and made me many interesting and diverse acquaintances among people whom I would not have met otherwise. All wrapped in wonderful entertainment. You've brought more to anime than the average fan by forming AnimEigo, which I'm sure is a huge personal investment in time, trouble, and money. What has anime brought to you?
RA: uhhhh...what HE (pointing to you) said! That was beautifully and compactly stated Tom, Bravo! It would be exceedingly difficult to elaborate on those fine words. The only other thing I feel about anime is it serving as a cultural bridge between Japan and America. In these highly charged political times, that means a lot! That was the prime reason (not the money, Robert hardly needs to acquire more!) for he and I founding AnimEigo. Such a beautiful artform with incredible humor and interesting storylines, all being largely ignored and unappreciated in the U.S. We hope to change that and with the help and support of anime fans everywhere, we will succeed in lighting up Japanese anime to a wide audience.
TM: You certainly seem serious about this with the news of the acquisition of the rights to Urusei Yatsura. Only the most popular, and shrewdly marketed anime in Japanese history. I understand that Kitty is not the easiest company in the industry to deal with, and they are very protective of their crown jewel, Urusei Yatsura. Did AnimEigo have to work very long to crack this nut? Or did Kitty see what you've been doing, liked what they saw, and opened the door to you?
RA: Both actually. Ever since we formed the company, we have tried to license UY. Like everyone else, we bounced politely but firmly. Kitty would not even consider UY at any price. Perhaps that was just as well as AnimEigo couldn't afford any huge price! I don't know if your aware, but the only reason that no one has gotten the Dirty Pair license yet is that Sunrise is asking a VERY firm ONE MILLION DOLLARS for the license! Robert had talked with Kitty numerous times about doing business, but to no avail. Finally I went to see Kitty with Robert and after they again said no to our business offer, I discussed in great detail AnimEigo's dream for expanding the appreciation of anime in the U.S. over the next five years. They became very thoughtful and said they would think about it. A couple of weeks went by and we got a call from Kitty saying that they would like to share in our dream and would we please send them a contract! Doing UY will be our greatest challenge to date. For not only are we releasing the movies and OAVs, but we are also going to try and release all 196 tv episodes! The TV shows are going to marketed as four 1/2 hour episodes on a tape. We will produce the first 4 TV tapes and see what kind of response we get for them. Hopefully, it will be enough to warrant full series release. We will premier this series at the 50th anniversary Worldcon in Orlando the beginning of September. It setting up to be a big anime event with panels and neat guest speakers.
TM: Wow! Thank you for telling us about the price for Dirty Pair. Gee, for that much, you could almost genetically engineer your own Mugi! Perhaps AnimEigo's record in the marketplace so far will help to convince them to think of something a little more realistic for the price. You can rest assured that I won't bug you about Dirty Pair for a while. In capturing UY, it would seem that your persistence and presentation with Kitty paid off. I have often heard it said from people doing business in Japan that Japanese are often very cautious, and not to take rejection as a set answer. Your offer is being considered, and that a "no" from a company may just be a "maybe" and their way of taking some time out to think. This certainly seemed the case for AnimEigo. Now that you have captured probably THE most important title, and one that will probably keep you folks busy for a while, are you still going to aggressively pursue rights to shows, or concentrate on selling what you have now?
RA: Yes, we are continuing to discuss new projects with the studios an d animation houses. We just recently signed one of my personal favorites Otaku no Video 1982 &1985. We wouldn't sell many copies, but they are probably the greatest FAN anime ever done, and I wanted the U.S. fans to share in these delightful films. they will certainly become the mainstay of every convention screening program! We are also close on obtaining the rights to 4 or 5 other titles. Sorry, as usual can't say what they are yet. When they are signed, I'll let Anime Stuff know first. This has been a really fun interview. Thanks Tom for making it so enjoyable.