February 1, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Anxious times in the cartoon underground
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Network, and even has its own Anime Network on cable TV.
But even with this new interest, sales of DVDs--which amount to about 5.7 million copies a year, according to internal industry estimates--are holding steady or dropping. Companies worry that the easy prerelease availability of fansub versions means that the otaku class has already seen their products, and no longer need to buy anything but the must-haves.
The result has been growing anxiety in the industry, although little in the way of direct action. Anime distributors don't have the financial resources for protracted copyright lawsuits, and for the most part, the fan communities are diligent about pulling down titles once they are licensed for distribution, leaving American companies diminished ground for legal action.
"We certainly haven't prosecuted anybody doing the file sharing," said Chad Kime, director of marketing for Geneon Entertainment, another prominent distributor. "Officially, we don't condone the activity. We do admire their enthusiasm and love for our products, and we're grateful when 90 percent of the fansubbers, once they know titles are licensed, do pull them from the Internet."
That leaves the ball in the original Japanese studios' court, and except for Media Factory, it's not obvious what they think of their English-speaking online fans. Nolan said the directors are well aware that their titles are being translated and distributed here, however.
He pointed to the recent final episode of a series called "Battle Programmer Shirase," in which the director included an apology for having to end the series, addressed to "those who enjoy the show on TV, and to those outside the broadcast area who took special measures to watch the show on their PC monitors, and to everyone who watched it subtitled overseas without permission."
"Nobody expected Media Factory to send the letter to everybody, but I think things will go on pretty normally," Nolan said. "I think there are some Japanese companies that really appreciate fansubbing."
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