animefringe october 2003 / editorial
Anime Down Under: Today is a G'Day for the Aussie Otaku

Historically, the Great Land Down Under (er, that means "Australia" -- that place where they film all the Hollywood blockbusters now) has not been a very happy place for anime fans. "The Lucky Country?" Bah--I think not! Manga-wise we've done rather better -- we can import any of the books published in the US, relatively cheaply and easily. Well, okay, just recently we've had some trouble with Viz, but apart from that...but anime? Our VCRs and TVs don't like American tapes. Most of our DVD players are similarly unhelpful.

There was a period in the nineties when we were getting quite a few local releases from Manga Video. A lot of stuff that's considered "classic" today; and a lot of garbage too. But Manga's releases slowly dried up, and after a brief attempt from the now-despised gang at Kiseki -- allegedly they thought that actually licensing the shows they released was an optional part of the process! -- the Aussie anime scene basically died entirely.

For a little while, we really had to rely solely on imports, fansubs or abstinence. Expensive, widely-unplayable media or low-quality piracy -- wow, what great choices. But luckily, of course, it wasn't to last forever.

Today... anyone know the word "Renaissance?" Basically, that's where we're at. Largely thanks to a little bunch of dedicated troopers called Madman (http://www.madman.com.au). A few years back, they appeared on the scene with a handful of rather pedestrian VHS releases. Good stuff, but somewhat "vintage". It wasn't so much a step forward as catching up on some stuff that hit the US several years early. Which is obviously better than nothing, but we were still very much "behind."

Madman's ventures continued to build up steam, however, and today they churn out anime DVDs like they're not expecting the arrival of tomorrow any time soon. They're bringing across a heap of the latest big titles -- with many, many more planned for upcoming months. In a number of cases, we're getting releases virtually simultaneously with the US, and occasionally we even get Japanese extras that the States miss out on. Only a couple of years ago, this would have been inconceivable to most Australian fans.

Of course, we are still behind, and we always will be. Remember the first TV season of Slayers? Anticipated Australian release date of October 15, 2003. You guys in the States may actually have had a chance to watch it a little way before that date. We've not yet wrapped up our Trigun release, and we only got Jubei-Chan a few weeks ago. Of course there will always be titles which never reach our shores, or do so only after a huge lag. But at least these days we're getting some newer stuff to keep us entertained while we wait!

Now, with so many releases (and just as much support from their consumer base... generally speaking, anyway!) under their belt, Madman is branching out beyond anime. They bring us Newtype USA, and are on the verge of launching a local manga line using popular Japanese titles licensed via some nice chaps in Singapore. And they do what they can to score cinema visits for the big features, most recently Spirited Away.

Now, admittedly, Madman aren't perfect...though I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that they're "mad". We've seen a lot of delays and DVD glitches. But that's been improving and for the most part they're pretty good at acting on client feedback.

And Madman aren't the only people bringing anime to Australia. The oft-maligned-but-at-least-they're-trying Siren (http://www.sirenvisual.com.au) continue to increase their anime output, and a few other distributors are popping out an anime title here and there. It has to be said, though, that Madman most assuredly led the charge. Hopefully their continued success will prompt further anime interest from a whole bunch of companies.

And on top of local releases, the increasing availability of multi-region DVD players and DVD-ROM drives -- combined with recent improvements in the Australian dollar, and the convenience of online shopping -- makes it easier than ever to affordably import from America. Assuming you can even afford to keep up with the growing bounty of Australian stuff!

Ideally, it would be great if we could progress things to the point where we can license titles direct from Japan -- have them translated, subbed and dubbed right here in Australia. That's probably a bit much to hope for, but it's a nice dream. Not that I mind living in America's shadow -- we get an awful lot of cool stuff from the States. But we usually get it pretty darn late!

But anyway, as I said, things are pretty decent for us lately. Can we sustain the unprecedented volume of anime which is currently becoming available in Australia? Well, if Madman's swag of titles continues to grow at the rate it's been going, maybe not for too long! But for the moment things are looking good, and the only thing I can see near the horizon right now is "better."