As an Anime fan, I've enjoyed a great many series that were originally
licensed by CPM, but I can't feel quite so melancholic about their
demise, at least not in the same way.
CPM is the 3rd of a series of major US anime licensors (sp) that have
had to do major cut-backs, if not close their doors entirely (the other
two being ADV - which is still around but had to do layoffs and sign
distribution deals with some of their licenses, and Geneon USA which
basically is no more than a holding company - which once again
sub-licensed many of their shows to Funimation).
I was one of the ones who said good riddance - but not because I feel
they were out-dated in their business practices, but for a different
reason - Central Park Media had a boatload of really good films and
movies, including Grave of the Fireflies
, a film that is
considered one of the greatest animated films in the history of cinema.
Not just Japanese animation, but of all the films, live action and
animated, in the entire world
That's an view held by not only me, and other anime fans, but by people
like Roger Ebert, who is considered the best and most knowledgeable film
critic alive today. I stress that because Grave of the Fireflies
was out of print. If you wanted to get it, you had to get it used. I
could go on about the truly classic anime they had licensed, but I
already have - I've reviewed a lot of them for Bureau42
- but to get
them I had to get them through Netflix.
Grave of the Fireflies used is reasonably priced, about $20. Getting a
copy that's unopened or advertised as in mint condition (so you don't
have to worry about scratches) - runs $50, for 2 disks. It's about the
same for the Record of Lodoss War OVA. I was lucky and managed to pick
up a copy when it was still in print for $25 at Fry's.
I'm listing all these prices because that's money that Central Park Media could have made a chunk of. All they needed to do was a few things. If they weren't able to get DVDs in print, either set up sub-licensing deals like ADV and Geneon did, to get some additional capital to stay afloat and keep their titles in print - or set up streaming deals with sites like Crunchyroll and Hulu, getting the subtitled versions (CPM's dubs leaned a bit toward the iffy), allowing CPM to get some money from them, again, allowing them to stay afloat.
And that is what I wanted them to do. I wanted CPM to live. I wanted to see the Anime Industry in the US to be healthy again, perhaps leaner than it was before, but still alive. It tried to keep itself on life support by putting some of their titles available for streaming through NetFlix, and for sale through iTunes, but it was dubs only, and not the big titles - not Lodoss, not Patlabor, not Grave of the Fireflies. I kept wanting them to hold on though. As I became a staff writer for Bureau42.com, I started reviewing some of their shows, and other older anime series that had been reccomended to me, or I felt needed some more exposure. Among them was Record of Lodoss War, the entire Project A-Ko franchise, and at the time of this writing, the Patlabor Franchise.
However, as of a few weeks ago, I hit my breaking point. Over the past few months, I'd been singing the praises of Patlabor, of Project A-Ko, of Record of Lodoss War to high heaven. However, as I reccomended each show - I got asked one question I dreaded, and the one question I had to expect to be asked (and, if my efforts were to be successful, the person I was reccomending the show to had to ask
), "Where can I find it?"
From there, the only answers I could give were - eBay, the Library, Pawn Shops, you can get it used on Amazon.com. I never reccomended Bittorrent, though I started considering it towards the end. I found myself needing to make a choice - do I keep quietly wishing CPM well, hoping it returns to health, or do I wish it ill, wish that it folds, so that it would be forced to liquidate it's licenses, thus allowing other companies to pick them up (or in the worst case scenario, making them available for fansubbing again). To help me decide, and because I'd been reviewing Patlabor for Bureau42, I decided to contact CPM and ask about the status of their licences, in part because I was uncertain if some of the shows I was hoping would be re-licenced were still licenced by them. I sent them an E-mail and waited, and recieved no reply. So, then I tried calling them on the telephone. This is significant because I live in Oregon, they're in New York, so it would have to be a long-distance call, unless I could find a working toll-free number.
I couldn't. So, I looked for a non-toll free number and found several, and of all the numbers I tried, all were disconnected, save one - and that one was busy. As I'd gotten up early because of the time difference, and because I thought they were in an important meeting, I decided to call back in an hour. It was still busy. It was busy when I called an hour later, and then another hour after that. I spent an entire business day on the phone, trying to reach someone from Central Park Media, and had nothing to show for it.
For me, that was my turning point. Through their silence, through un-bounced and un-responded E-Mails, through the repeated tone of a busy signal, Central Park Media had painted a very vivid picture of their operation. It was most likely entirely inaccurate, but it was vivid nonetheless. The vision was of Central Park Media staff coming in for work, taking their phone of the hook, going into the break room, with a tape or DVD from the back catalog, and watching it, and then when that ended, moving on to another show. All day long.
They say to never attribute to malice what can be justified by incompetiance, but that day, in my mind's eye, the two possiblities intercected into an most annoying picture, and I came to the conclusion that even if the image that was so firmly entrenched in my head was entirely false, that the shows and films that CPM had licenced that I so loved would never see print again, as long as they were in the hands of CPM.
I have to take one little aside for a moment to explain a little piece of personal philosophy, that will explain my next steps. There are some people that believe that information should be free - as in beer, as they say in the open-source community - that information should be made freely available to anyone and everyone who wants it at no cost and no strings attached. I am not one of those people. However, I do believe that information, in the form of books, movies, music, that which is the stones on what defines one's culture, one's era to future generations, should be available. If there is something I feel is important to me personally, to the history of of professional wrestling (the status of much of ECW's tape library lead to me holding this opinion), to the status of anime fandom, it needs to stay in print. We know where we are going by the path that we left behind us, and we as anime fans better understand the path our hobby will take, and the titles that will come to our shores in the future, by the titles that were licenced in the past - from knowing how anime fandom moves in waves by genre, while certain things ("shonen series based on stuff from Shonen Jump" will generally stay popular), as an entry point to new fans and as junk food entertainment to older fans, or because it's just that good. Consequently, the series, the music, the films, the books, the manga, needs to be available
, in some form or another. I don't need to be able to get it for free, I just need to be able to get it.
Thus, upon realizing that if CPM stuck around as it has done for much of this new millennium, quiet, waiting, sitting on it's catalog and not doing much with it - eventually, I and other people who want to be able to see these shows wouldn't be able to get them anymore. The disks would scratch, formats would change, and eventually, if we were lucky, all that would remain would be bittorrent. If we were unlucky, we wouldn't even have that. So - if CPM died, there was a chance that those series that they still held might stand a chance at life, with a different company, with fansubbers, or through Crunchyroll and YouTube.
So, in the course of my reviews on Bureau42, posts on the RPG.net forums, and on my audio feedback to, particularly, the Otaku Generation podcast, I begain bad mouthing CPM. Ultimately saying, on Otaku Generation, that CPM didn't have the common decency to file for bankruptcy so someone else could buy-up the licenses for the shows they currently held and bring them back to print.
This leads us to the death of Central Park Media.
I do not claim credit. It is highly improbable that I was responsible. Even if, by some freak of statistics, I was responsible, I do not want the credit anyway. I'm not particualrly proud for saying what I did, however, I feel that it needed to be said. Now, from here, it is up to the US anime industry and anime fandom - the industry to license the shows that merit saving, and anime fans to contact them and point out the shows worth saving to them (which I will be doing) - as well as, if necessary, fansubbing the shows that slip through the cracks.