Anime Mysteries: Licensed Anime Soundtracks In America – Why Only Now?
By Jonah Morgan
Musical score, vocal themes and background tracks on Compact Disc have accompanied the media blitz campaigns associated with many anime title releases in Japan since the 1980’s. In the early 80’s CD was a highend audiophile’s domain but as the new format penetrated the mainstream in Japan and America, costs associated with almost every aspect of creation, production and sale were being streamlined. It was not very long before the dominate format of magnetic audio tape was relegated to the obsolescence bin. When the decade turned to the 90’s CD sales began outpacing tape but left the average consumers with the desire to do something with the format they would have to wait several more years to do cost effectively= record. By the year 2000 with the overwhelming ubiquity of the global internetworking of computers, faster connection speeds, advancements in audio compression algorythms and decreasing cost of Hardware, coupled with human nature, the music industry was faced with issues and profit losses few could have forseen at the medium’s introduction 20 years hence.
Another type of relatively new and expensive magnetic tape format was used to store video on in the 1980’s. VHS as it was known brought some of the first anime clubs in America a glimpse at all that which we were missing out on. Sparse dribs, drabs, mixes and matches of anime programs could be spotted on analog television in those days which was the only game in town then. The revolution of Digital Television would see many of those sets probably lighting peoples rooms with incandescent snow by the end of this decade while governments collect further profits on the rights to use those particular bandwidths all over again.
Big Anime Business had launched by the early 90’s and anime slowly washed up more and more commercial profits for those daring captains and for the most part on VHS. In right behind for the remainder of the decade were merchandise, few video games, manga, toys, and ton of hotly questioned yet dirt cheap anime soundtrack CD’s from Asia. There was a time not so long ago when you could attend a major anime con and see close to 100% representation of all the soundtracks being sold on a dealer floor being of this type, put them side by side on a table priced at around $20 (dealers or even individuals could get them for $15 or less) compared to a legitimate Japanese imported CD going for $30-40 U.S dollars and guess which sold faster…. or even at all.
I personally believe this initial saturation influx of cheap anime music in the mid 90’s may have potentially dissuaded and staved off by 5 or so years, the domestic industry’s quest for acquiring the licenses and beginning to market the music themselves. A valiant initial effort to bring some of the highest profile anime music stateside was conducted by JVC in 1995. JVC’s competitively priced (on par with traditional American CDs) releases of the Macross Plus soundtracks for instance were marketed in music stores around the country and I even spotted one priced at $12.95 new in an Alabama Musicland outlet just a few years ago. By the end of the 90’s a growing consensus had developed with the anime conventions regarding questionable Asian audio products, by 2002 they have for the most part departed the con commerce scene, banned as bootlegs. Anime music had certainly not droped in demand, on the contrary it has only risen, so in the void of “bootlegs” con dealers were foreced to import the real Japanese released soundtracks and sell them at higher prices similar to those mentioned above. While $30 dollars for a CD may seem steep to Americans, dealers had no real problems selling them. The background effect of all this was to prepare the slate for the return of affordable pricing for anime music this time licensed by American industry.
At the beginning of the year 2000, exisiting anime licensor ADV Films announced it’s entry to the Anime Music arena, with plans to release soundtracks from a wide range of anime titles at the rate of approximately four per month. The first four releases announced for ADV Music (as the label was known by at the time) were (most of the repressed JVC releases) The Akira Symphonic Soundtrack, Macross II OST, Macross Plus OST, and Macross Plus OST 2. That news was followed in several months by the announcement of a joint venture between The Right Stuf International, Inc. and ADV Music/AD Vision. The AnimeTrax label announcement in 2001 had the special Irresponsible Captain Tylor Audio Collections coming out with two CD compilations slated for production being Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVA OST and Irresponsible Captain Tylor TV Series 1: Sentehishyo. The above mentioned ADV music titles were also released in short order. At about the same time Tokyopop launched it’s music label Anime Soundtrax With Three Fan Favorite compilations for: Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, Trigun and Vampire Princess Miyu.
As these labels continue to advance into the present day we have seen other offerings such as a oneshot Kikuko Inoue anime songs mix compilation from Jellybean record in the summer of 2001. Domo Records appeared on the scene in recent months with it’s Domo Anime label and Metropolis CD Soundtrack release as well. Finally CD Soundtracks have appeared from Anime companies with no apparent official music label ambitions such as Bandai/Viz’s Jin-Roh collectors DVD set and Bandai’s latest collectors set release for the Escaflowne Movie.
So if you’ve hung on this far into the article I’ll finally pose the question: Given the anime industry’s general startup here in the early 90’s encompassing all media, manga and goods and projecting it forward to the point it is at today (around 13 years elapsed), why have we only seen anime music licenesed and released in America en masse in only the last several years?
Certainly, the fact that the major players tackling the soundtracks today are primarily video licensors may have something to do with it. Video marketing and Music marketing are afterall two very different things. In those initial stages perhaps selling videos was foremost on the agenda. With video sells more or less generating massive profits, perhaps a spinoff CD division in recent years was more feasable. Although the full impact of the cheaper asian music may never fully be essayed and figured into the bigger picture, an even cheaper and even more widespread digital platform for “bootlegging” music left a considerable mark on the music industry in America as a whole in 2001.
Continued In Part 2