Monday, 21 January 2013

Anime: The VHS Years – UK Edition Part 1

Yes I’m talking about those old fashioned magnetic tapes that anime was released on before DVD became the standard.  No menus or dual language options here, but a totally linear experience at the end of which you then had to rewind the tape again.

This might seem crude to those used to anime on discs or online, but this is how anime arrived in the UK, and how it remained for many years before technology forced it to move on (UK companies were quite slow to get on the bandwagon).

I thought it’d be fun to have a quick rundown of all the specialist anime companies that released material during the VHS era, not only for older fans to reminisce, but to give more recent ones an idea of what the anime landscape was like back then.   I’ll also throw in a few recommended titles per company, but only ones that they put out on VHS (eg. for ADV I wouldn’t list Excel Saga, as it was only released on DVD).  There’s quite a few to get through, so decided the split this into two parts.  This is only a vague listing as I remember it, so if there are any major omissions feel free to add info to the comments section. ^_^

Manga – It’s probably best to start out with the most obvious one.  Originally known as Island World Video who released Akira, Manga Video quickly expanded their library once they realised they’d struck gold.  Dubbing their own material, they opened up a previously extremely niche market with titles regularly hitting the video charts.  (Does that happen these days?)  They also took the reigns from Dark Horse to continue publishing Manga Mania throughout the 1990s along with a few graphic novels.  Manga did earn a shaky reputation from this period due to the swear-filled dubs and focus on action titles, and while that’s not totally undeserved it’s also a little unfair.  For every Angel Cop or Mad Bull there was still a Wings of Honneamise or Castle of Cagliostro, and of course there wasn’t exactly a number of slice-of-life TV shows for it to choose from, but instead had to pick from the science fiction-heavy OVA market.  Basically Manga found their audience and stuck to it, but these days they’re a lot more open with both their fans and their choice of output.  

Recommended titles: Akira, Macross Plus, Perfect Blue.

Kiseki – One of the longer lasting labels of the VHS days.   Kiseki tried to capitalize on Manga’s success of the first two Urotsukidojis films by licencing the 3rd and 4th chapters, and form their own label from there.  Alongside their hentai titles they released a steady mixture of more regular anime, and were willing to be more specialist in releasing titles in both dubbed and subtitled formats (although if you wanted the choice of both you’d have to buy it twice).  They survived as long as the early days of DVD (kinda) before being enveloped by Revelation films and disappearing into obscurity.

Recommended titles: Gunbuster, Macross: Do You Remember Love?, Sol Bianca.

Anime Projects – An anime company from the earliest days of anime in the UK.  Anime Project was the UK affiliate of US distributor AnimEigo and released hardcore titles for hardcore fans at hardcore prices.  If you could afford to buy Riding Bean subbed for £19.99 when all the other anime was going for £12.99, you would’ve felt like a boss.  Many of their release also contained liner notes explaining various cultural references.  They lasted a few years before throwing in the towel but if there was any label back then that developed a proper otaku crowd, this was it.

Recommended Titles: Bubblegum Crisis, Oh My Goddess, Urusei Yatsura.

Western Connection – Quite a low-rent company that did its own thing for about 50 releases and then disappeared off the face of the Earth.  They favoured using stickers for their age certificates as opposed to printing them onto their covers, oftentimes ignoring the BBFC-approved rating and marking titles up as 18 regardless.  Also the subtitles for any songs weren’t literally translated, but more paraphrased to fit the syllables so that you could sing along in English.  They picked up a bunch of obscure titles that never received a released in the US, making many of their translated titles unique to the UK, let alone available on DVD anywhere.

Recommended titles: The Sensualist, Ushio and Tora, Slow Step.

Look out for part 2, I'm not even halfway through the list!

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