Anime, the highly stylized animation genre from Japan, may soon leap into the mainstream with family-oriented sell-through product well-suited to supermarket video departments.
Until very recently, anime was a cult-like video subcategory best known for its depictions of violence and sexuality. For the most part, anime's hype has far outstripped its sales.
But Last summer, an anime title, "Ghost in the Shell," reached the number-one spot on Billboard's sell-through chart. The genre's major suppliers are raising the category's profile by releasing titles on DVD. Japanese toy-making giant Bandai recently launched its own home-video division and plans to enter the anime market. Most significantly for the grocery market, the Walt Disney Co., Burbank, Calif., has jumped into the anime marketplace with both feet.
According to Michael Johnson, president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment Worldwide, Disney has become the U.S. representative for Ghibli, a noted Japanese studio, and for the head of its animation division, Hayao Miyazaki, who has been called the Walt Disney of Japan.
The first video release from the Ghibli deal, "Kiki's Delivery Service," will street on September 1. It is a film geared toward young children that has been dubbed into English with the vocal talents of Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Debbie Reynolds, Janeane Garofalo and Matthew Lawrence. "Castle in the Sky," which is scheduled for video release next year, will appeal to both adults and children.
Buena Vista is trying to avoid anime's niche market classification. The company plans to market its anime titles in their own displays as a way of keeping them out of retailers' anime sections. It has even been reluctant to identify the Ghibli product as anime. "Anime is one of those strange, generic words," said Johnson.
To date, most supermarkets have stayed away from anime, but Buena Vista's entry into the genre might change that, said Bill Bryant, vice president of grocery and drug store sales for distributor Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn. "It would depend on the box art," he said. "I'm sure that if Buena Vista gets behind it with marketing, associated materials and displays, it will draw attention from consumers and retailers."
Matt Feinstein, vice president of Marbles Entertainment, Los Angeles, which operates leased-space departments in eight Vons Cos. and 12 Lucky Supermarkets, agrees. "Disney promotes their products heavily. They make sure their products are successful." The celebrity voices will be a draw "just as they are with conventional animated films," he said.