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If you enjoy my work and would like to help support my blog, please consider donating at my Ko-Fi page. Thank you! ♥
So, class, what have we learned over the past 24 blog posts and 100 pages besides the fact that I desperately need a life?
All joking aside, this wasn’t really a passion project or anything, more of a long-standing curiosity that I wanted to explore, thought would just take a few days to research and write, not two months (even as all the parts were sitting in my scheduled posts queue for weeks after finishing the entire thing, I still went back and edited them many times), and wound up finding so many rabbit holes that I think I literally am a rabbit now.
However, I am very glad that I decided to write this up because it helped me understand a lot about why 4Kids was the way it was, a lot of their business practices, what was happening behind the scenes, why they truly died, and I even got to do some sleuthing and maybe clear up some rumors. Maybe you even learned something and had some fun. I hope so.
I think a big takeaway here, though, is that 4Kids, at the end of the day, wasn’t this big boogeyman of anime, when you get down to it. They were mostly just….grossly incompetent. I know it seems weird to say that of such a big name as 4Kids, but, they pretty much were. They propped up their business on a few big titles with no plan as to what they would do should those titles be taken away, they lucked out with a few huge licenses, especially Pokemon at the start, they greatly overestimated their skills and knowledge in the industry, and then whined that Japan didn’t consistently come up with more merchandisable cash cows for them to license on a regular basis as if that was in their control.
They disrespected their audience, which earned them ire, they disrespected anime and manga as a whole, which earned them ire, they disrespected their peers in the anime (and manga) industry, which earned them ire, they didn’t bother to do proper research on their own licenses before obtaining them or research into Japan and how their economy and content works despite working with their properties for years, which earned them ire, and they constantly wanted a pat on the back for doing so much for anime while also desperately not wanting their audience to know what they were consuming was anime….which earned them ire.
Even their production of merchandise and marketing, two things you’d think a licensing company that has existed for over four decades and has had several massive properties under its belt would be able to do quite well consistently, wasn’t all that good at times. From not properly advertising certain shows to supposedly not getting a toy deal for Mew Mew Power to their ridiculously spotty and frustrating release schedule for DVD and VHS releases, especially in regards to ‘uncut’ releases, to making a deal with Miramax and Harvey Weinstein for the Pokemon movies to the disaster that was Toonzaki. It’s amazing how they were both very good at marketing and advertising while also making some incredibly baffling and poor business decisions.
Some things were out of their control, of course, especially the financial crisis and the overall death of Saturday morning cartoon blocks, but many aspects of their downfall were their own doing. If you want to look at the Yu-Gi-Oh! lawsuit from a different perspective, the fact that they said they’d do anything to keep the Yu-Gi-Oh! license, including go bankrupt, was a little on the insane side. I get that Yu-Gi-Oh! was their top earner and losing the license would have been the death of them anyway, but it seems very immature and backwards to basically stamp their feet and say they’d rather kill themselves than let someone else do it. Even if they did rightfully win the lawsuit in the end, they didn’t get anything substantial from it, and they had to have known that.
I won’t really hold Chaotic’s situation against 4Kids because that was also largely out of their hands. It was just a financial gamble that failed in a time of economic turmoil. Again, even without the financial crisis at the time, Chaotic likely would have just been a fairly beneficial property to them through the rest of their years. I sincerely doubt revenue from it would have saved them from their eventual fate. They probably would have just sold it back to CUSA or someone else in the bankruptcy auction. Looking back, maybe one of the reasons 4Kids didn’t want to give up the license to CUSA was because they had injected so much of their own money into it that any offer CUSA gave probably didn’t seem like it was worth it, even though, ya know, it doesn’t make them ANY money by latching onto it forever.
I do think they also had a big issue with their all-or-nothing attitude. They were constantly dead set on finding the next huge thing – the things that would rake in insane profits and make them the top of their field – but they were very bad at long-term strategies. Let me be completely fair and clear – I don’t have a mind for business, much of it goes over my head, but even I can tell that they had a big problem with this. Even when they did say this property or another would be a big earner for years, they either dropped them early because they weren’t being massively successful immediately or they would keep the property but give up on it in spirit, so to speak, by just letting the license rot in their hands.
This reflected very well in their aforementioned attitudes towards Japan in which Al Kahn said anime and manga in Japan were dying because they hadn’t had any generation-defining merchandisable hits in over a decade, which was objectively wrong in a lot of ways. If he thinks an entire country is “over” just because their anime and manga sales were down for a bit, even to the point where he gave up on licensing anime for three years as a result, then it’s not surprising that he views his company in the same way.
This was even reflected when they tried to branch out a bit into female-oriented shows. Winx Club did well, but they had it taken from them because the creator didn’t like what they were doing with it. They gave it another go with Mew Mew Power, which also did well, but dropped it halfway through because they couldn’t get a toy deal for it. Magical DoReMi was good, but it wasn’t good enough so they dropped it. And they didn’t even dub Precure because they likely thought ‘Why bother? If there’s one thing we’ve learned here it’s that there’s no money with girl stuff.’ And then there was whatever the hell they were trying to achieve with Capsule Monsters, which comes off like they gave up on that idea almost immediately while also having no real direction on what they wanted it to be in the first place.
I do concede that a large amount of 4Kids’ edits, as with other child-demographic anime dubs at the time, were a result of FCC constraints and regulations, but I’ll only concede so far with that assessment. Yes, certain edits were necessary to meet broadcast standards, but many of their edits, such as their localization efforts, changing entire soundtracks and removal of all things text, were squarely on 4Kids. As far as I know, the FCC has no regulations about changing foreign content to better suit young American audiences. The only entity that really benefits is 4Kids. In their eyes, it made them more marketable and appealing, and the only people getting offended were the pre-existing fans who knew better, and most of those people weren’t in 4Kids’ target demo, so they didn’t care. Also, let’s not overlook the fact that some of their edits were just entirely nonsensical, and many of their content edits were still commonly present in their movies, which are not controlled by the FCC.
Let’s also not forget that many of their practices were a result of just being terribly condescending to their audience. From making things way too obvious through dialogue changes/additions, editing scenes around or even having new animation created to drive certain points home to thinking every single second of a show needed to have music or talking in it to keep kids’ attention to making mistakes in their dubs and not fixing them on purpose just because they didn’t care and then later claiming it was on purpose as a little weird Easter egg thing.
4Kids, as much as it sucks to say, weren’t entirely wrong when it came to those views, either. Looking back as fully grown anime fans, yeah, we see how bungled the dubs were for a variety of reasons, and we feel rightfully disrespected as fans, but, back when we were kids, most of us didn’t care. The fact that 4Kids, by design, made their shows to trick viewers into not thinking they were watching anime (which failed after a while) definitely had a hand there, but I can’t honestly say that my experiences looking back at enjoying these shows is in any way tarnished knowing what I know now because 4Kids, despite their backwards best efforts, helped make me an anime fan, and they wound up being a significant part of the anime boom in the late 90s and early 2000s.
I don’t attribute my being an anime fan to 4Kids because other shows dubbed by other companies, such as Sailor Moon (DiC), Digimon (Saban) and Dragon Ball and DBZ (Ocean/Funimation) and a slue of others certainly helped push me there too, but they were a big part of it. Plus, many of the shows that they dubbed are now available in high definition subbed versions (not all of them, admittedly), the ones that aren’t weren’t made unavailable or obscure because of 4Kids (It’s likely some people only know of a few obscure shows because 4Kids dubbed them once upon a time) and they also helped pioneer anime streaming options with 4Kids.tv, Toonzaki and even their Youtube channel.
4Kids isn’t even really special when it comes to them mangling their properties. As I’ve already covered in my Sub/Dub Comparison series, companies like DiC, Saban and Nelvana were awful in their own rights with similarly awful and confusing changes, but what makes 4Kids special was that they were the best damn manglers who left a trail of shows and movies in their wake. All of those other dubbing companies had rather limited libraries of anime compared to 4Kids. They wanted that kid anime market cornered, and they cornered it as much as they could. They were the kings of mangling, and I say that with legit praise because they were so much better at digital paint and editing magic than any of the aforementioned dubbing companies.
Even on Cartoon Network where they were more lax on that stuff because their anime was geared towards older kids and teens, and adults with Adult Swim, they had to make edits to suit airing. Some famous examples include Naruto and Yu Yu Hakusho. I specifically remember sloppy paint edits on Yu Yu Hakusho where you’d see the digital paint very obviously shaking as it was covering up wounds and middle fingers. And obviously there were awkward edits to replace Yusuke’s swearing. Even on Adult Swim there was some instances of editing for content. I remember Blue Gender had a sex scene hinted at in the next episode preview with a few clips between Marlene and Yuji, and it just wasn’t there in the episode on Adult Swim where it is there in the Japanese version.
This stuff happens. Sometimes, their dubs were just legitimately entertaining because the cast and writers were having a ball with the show. Their music could even be legitimately good. It was a crap shoot with them sometimes.
Speaking of the cast and crew of their shows, I really do want to emphasize that, in my opinion, they were the best parts of 4Kids. I poke fun at some 4Kids actors’ acting abilities and even just their voices sometimes, and I make fun of a lot of writing choices, but as far as I’ve seen the regular 4Kids cast and crews typically had a blast doing what they did and were proud of their work. For many of them, 4Kids productions were their first foray into mainstream voice acting work, and for some of them it was their first venture into voice acting period. They also seem to be good with the fans, happy to talk about their experiences and were understandably upset whenever a project they were working on fell through, especially in the situation with Pokemon where the rug was pulled out from under them from all angles. The main problem in 4Kids’ wheelhouse were almost always the executives, especially, yes, Al Kahn.
That being said…..there’s a reason 4Kids died when many other dubbing or licensing companies went through similar hardships and came out on the other side with their feet on the ground. As I just mentioned, 4Kids was terribly pigeon-holed. They were exclusively, well, for kids. Older kids and even teens and adults may have had a place in their audience, but their demographic was kids.
When you’re dealing with a kid demographic, you have to work in a landscape that is probably the fastest changing landscape in media. Kids grow up super fast. They outgrow Kids WB and move on to Toonami. They outgrow Toonami and move on to Adult Swim. They may not move on to other anime at all. Within a few years you have an entirely new audience of kids you have to impress with things that are new and exciting, and in the world of licensing, especially when you’re primarily licensing imported shows, you’re chained to whatever is being offered/is available in other countries.
It’s true that trying to make certain properties more fitting for newer audiences helps keep properties alive for years, just look at some of the American kids’ properties that have existed for decades without changing a whole lot, but when you’re dealing with licensing other properties that you don’t have a whole lot of creative control over, you need to find different avenues to evolve.
The thing is that they recognized this. Their problems with having few big properties holding them up and focusing on a demographic that practically demands constant change was in nearly every single financial document as concerns about their company, but they very rarely presented anything that would help solve that issue.
They did create 4Sight, which would’ve been a fantastic move to branch out into older audiences and get a more stable income stream, but, as all-or-nothing attitudes go, they pretty much went the ‘nothing’ route with 4Sight. They didn’t make any big moves with it. They barely made any small moves with it. It pretty much just sat in a corner collecting cobwebs for half a decade.
Toonzaki was a weird outlier in this regard because it’s almost like they went too far in the other direction by having a streaming site where a lot of graphic titles were offered alongside uncut 4Kids properties with no parental controls or age confirmation that I could see. This would have been the perfect project for 4Sight, but they didn’t give it to them. It was entirely a 4Kids website.
Localization is an issue too, but not fully. Yes, some references and jokes need to be changed because they just don’t translate well in English, but that usually not the problem. They were worried their audience would be put off by foreign things. Or, for some reason, an American audience would never be able to connect with Japanese characters and settings. But then again, you’ll never know if the localization is what killed it in the States either. It was largely a matter of gambling with pretty much any property 4Kids acquired.
They were also largely stuck on broadcast TV. They had trouble with releasing movies after a point, and their DVD production and sales were incredibly inconsistent and lacking, something that got exponentially worse when they attempted to release uncut DVDs. Other companies also took to TV a lot, but they tended to be better about releasing uncut DVDs. For example, people complained a lot about Naruto’s censored airing on Cartoon Network, but the uncut version was made readily available as the series aired, starting when the series premiered and completing the DVD releases when Naruto ended its run on TV.
By the time 4Kids broke out into streaming, they just handled it badly. Streaming their edited shows on 4Kids.tv? That’s great. Streaming those and some uncut stuff on their Youtube channel? Awesome. Toonzaki, however, was a great idea that was also somehow a massive mess in practice. As I mentioned, it’s just weird to have a 4Kids streaming service that had so many graphic titles with seemingly no parental blocks or age confirmations. If they were comfortable streaming uncut Yu-Gi-Oh! titles on their Youtube channel, why did they feel the need to use that as a tentpole for Toonzaki? Why not just release the episodes on 4Kids.tv, maybe with a warning or something, and keep all non-4Kids stuff on Toonzaki?
Their official promotions, few of them as there were, didn’t push it as the place to get uncut Yu-Gi-Oh! episodes, just anime in general, but literally everywhere online that’s what it was being hyped as because the little information available, again, mostly from Mark Kirk’s interview, was that it was a 4Kids website for their uncut shows for general audiences. When you don’t have any other frame of reference, that’s what people are going to run with.
They also didn’t seem to realize that just being an aggregate site for anime sourced from other websites with only Yu-Gi-Oh! titles being unique wasn’t a good long-term plan. They acted as if they’d host more stuff directly on their website in the future, but they never did. Everything was hosted from Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation, Viz or other places for the entirety of its life.
That’s not entirely on them since the landscape for streaming was in its infancy back then, especially when it came to licensed properties, but still. It was a decent idea sitting on a bad execution. And while it came during a time when 4Kids really needed that opportunity to grow, it also came at the worst time because this was just a year before the Yu-Gi-Oh! lawsuit. If they had a longer lifespan, maybe they could have ironed out the kinks with Toonzaki, but I really doubt it.
A part of their downfall was also the death of Saturday morning cartoons. Animated shows were no longer something only available on Saturday mornings, making their inconvenience a bother. Why would I wake up early on a weekend to catch an anime that I can watch anytime streaming? Or get on DVD later? Or catch on syndication on another network? Or why watch those shows when cartoons are constantly on Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon? Or why watch those cherry-picked kidified anime when I can watch a big variety of less edited shows on Toonami or Adult Swim, or, hell, even blocks like Anime Unleashed on G4 Tech TV?
They were also prisoners of their merchandise. They treated every property as a merchandise machine. Al Kahn and Mark Kirk said it straight out – if they can’t merchandise it, they’re not interested in it. A large portion of their money came from toys and other kids merchandise, which was also evolving at a breakneck speed as Al Kahn pointed out several times. The problem there was evaluating it improperly a good chunk of the time. I don’t really think they allowed a lot of these shows to have enough time to secure an audience before they decided the merchandise wasn’t worth it. They dropped so many shows because of merchandise when they barely had a few episodes to a full season under their belts.
Honestly, the lawsuit really was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. 4Kids was already on the ropes, they were teetering on the edge, and that lawsuit pushed them over and they couldn’t recover. If it wasn’t the lawsuit, it would have been something else very shortly, I guarantee it. It may seem overly pessimistic, but I just didn’t see 4Kids having a significant future anymore. They were consistently going down for years and could barely even glance up a few times. Either they would have died shortly on their own anyway or they would have stumbled into some miracle property that would save them from the Shadow Realm (and Tai Chi Chasers was not going to be it), and even then I can imagine that would only eek out a few more years for them. They just didn’t have the steam to go on.
At the end of the day, when everything is said and done, 4Kids was and still is an icon….an icon of what, is up to you, but it’s still an icon. Let’s be honest, we still have a blast with 4Kids shows just in poking fun at their ridiculousness, and some still enjoy them legitimately. I won’t deny for a second that, even though doing my SDCs of 4Kids shows chips away at my soul sometimes, the shows still commonly wind up being fun either because I’m legitimately enjoying it or I’m just laughing at the 4Kidsisms.
I’m not going to dance on 4Kids’ grave, but I’m also not going to mourn it. 4Kids was, somewhat fittingly, a product of its time. There’s just no way a company like 4Kids could survive today. There are too many sources of good, loyal dubbed anime, and there are plenty of kids anime that are dubbed just fine and made readily available to children because many dubbing companies today will dub a wide range of anime for a nearly endless demographic from kids to adults to every gender and across every genre. And if you don’t like dubs, subtitled anime, official or fansubs, are readily available at thousands of sources.
Maybe we could have seen an entirely different 4Kids over time, but I doubt it. Also, there was a certain charm with shows being on Saturday morning lineups that you really can’t get anymore, and I think 4Kids thrived on that one very specific area that we can’t replicate now. 4Kids cut out a niche for itself and dominated in that one area, and there just wasn’t a place for it once that niche was gone.
It’s an entirely new world for kids, and it’s not a world for 4Kids.
4Kids will always have a special place in my heart for helping me discover some of my favorite shows and helping spark my love of anime. I won’t excuse what they’re guilty of, and I won’t overexaggerate any good they did. I’ll just say “Thank you, 4Kids. As much for dying as for living.”
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Al Kahn may have retired from 4Kids back in 2011, but he didn’t retire entirely. Not at all in fact. So that begs the question, where did the big bad Kahn go off to when he ran out of that burning building known as 4Kids?
He went off and founded another licensing company directed at kids.
I promise you I’m not kidding.
But this time he did it with his wife, Jillian Crane, hence the creative name, CraneKahn….
But don’t worry, the front page of the company’s website makes sure to only praise Al.
Al Kahn is currently 75 years old and is still producing content 4 kids………………………………..:D
Really confusing situation on all fronts, to be honest. His speech when he left 4Kids made it seem like he was tired of working in that industry, especially after the financial crisis, and just wanted to retire altogether and yet he immediately jumps on a new company that is strikingly similar to 4Kids.
This company, founded in early 2012, is 100% not in the realm of anime, though some of their titles are imported, and it’s pretty much aimed at toddlers instead of young kids/tweens. Honestly, I have never heard of or seen any of these properties in my life. I mean, I guess it’s understandable because it’s aimed largely at babies and toddlers, but you’d think I’d recognize something even very vaguely in passing.
I joked about this, but this actually might be a bit out of bounds, legally, for him to do considering that, according to this article from ANN, he had a non-compete clause in his contract….Does this not count as competing? I guess, maybe, considering 4Kids became 4Licensing at around the same time, but Al must’ve been working on the creation of this company since either the instant he left 4Kids or before, I’d assume anyway. Either this really doesn’t count as a competing company or *tin foil hat* he really did know that 4Kids was likely heading for its doom soon and knew they wouldn’t/couldn’t do anything to him.
In 2019, it was rebranded to Kidtagious which is a great name to have one year before a worldwide pandemic hits. (Although, being serious, Kidtagious did team up with Viracide Masks in 2021 to help with the sales and production of antiviral masks. And a charity he founded, the First Responders Children’s Foundation, provided assistance to first responders during the pandemic.)
As of this writing, they’re still in business, but they don’t really make much in regards to news. The company has six employees, I guess, and they made $1.2mil in revenue last year, I think.
He’s also a member on the board of directors for several charities such as the Children’s Tumor Foundation, the Stephen Gaynor School for Learning Difficulties and Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project.
Al Kahn’s reputation in the anime industry remains sullied, but as long as he’s using his skills and money for the sake of producing things kids enjoy and helping others, I can’t really bring myself to hold massive grudges. He’s put his foot in his mouth, he’s said some really shitty and really stupid things, he’s done some shitty and stupid things, and he always has profits on the mind above all else…..he’s objectively not a great person. I was going to say something nice and then I forgot.
Okay, okay, it’s great that he’s giving to and creating charities and doing good with his wealth while also staying far the frick away from anime. I can only hope that he’s not one of those rich people who uses charities as a smokescreen for skeeviness. I’m putting whatever trust I have left that you’re not doing that, Al.
I honestly don’t wish anything bad upon him or his company. Let him be, as far as I’m concerned. I would be interested to know what he thinks of the world of anime and manga nowadays, if he even really knows much about how much it’s grown in the decade since 4Kids fell. I also wonder if he has any regrets or anything about his time at the company. I feel like he probably does, but all of them probably just relate to money.
And that’s the state of things with ol’ Kahn. Anti-climactic, sure, but no news is good news in this case, I suppose.
Part 24: Everything Changes (Conclusion) (Coming Soon)
4Kids had effectively been demolished after they had gone bankrupt. They adopted a new CEO so Michael Goldstein could finally collect himself. The new CEO, who would remain CEO until 2016 was Bruce R. Foster, who, before, was their Executive Vice President and CFO. They retained a few properties, but only seemingly because no one wanted to buy them, or, if they did, they didn’t offer enough money. As far as I could find, they retained the rights to Chaotic, Dinosaur King and Tai Chi Chasers. It’s possible they owned the rights to some other shows still, but it’s difficult to know for certain given the available information.
Still, 4Kids wasn’t giving up. They exited bankruptcy on December 13, 2012 and created 4Licensing Corporation as a new rebranding. They would also restart trading on the OTC Pink Sheets under the new symbol FOUR. They had previously been listed as KIDEQ.PK.
For four years, 4Licensing would live a rather quiet existence, mostly just existing for the sake of holding onto those licenses and getting whatever residual revenues could be obtained from them. They also planned on getting into licensing in the sports industry. As of December 31, 2013, they repaid all of their creditors, but other than that they were just barely managing to stay afloat. They had two entities under their control – 4LC Sports, their new sports division which was formerly 4Kids Ad Sales inc., and 4LC Technology, which was originally 4Kids Technology, Inc. Their main licensed product was the patented isoBLOX protective shock plates, which largely seem to be used for baseball caps and shin guards. I don’t know if this stuff exists anymore. It’s dead on social media, and there’s no way to buy any of it from their main website.
Indeed, this product is really the only thing 4Licensing really even talks about on its final quarterly report ever, which makes sense because it didn’t have the money to produce anything with its media licenses anymore, and, since it sold off most of its assets, it couldn’t receive any real substantial revenue from anything that was already out there. 4Kids Entertainment, Inc. and the previously mentioned 4Sight Licensing still stuck around to act as the entertainment and brand licensing division, but that was just for technical purposes. They really weren’t doing anything.
Can I be real with you, guys? Reading 4Licensing quarterly reports from 2012 onward is one of the most boring things you can imagine. It’s the same thing every quarter. Outside of minute differences in the specific numbers, it never changes. They’re always reporting a lot of losses, a significant amount of spending and very little revenue. According to their stock charts, they were doing their best at 2014, but, again, the quarterly reports were pretty much the same for that year as all others.
On February 29, 2016, Bruce Foster resigned as CEO, Executive Vice President and CFO of 4Licensing due to non-payment of wages. On September 21, 2016, 4Licensing filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy yet again. This time, it seems they recognized it was the end because they did not express any future plans for recovery efforts to shareholders. The bankruptcy plan was confirmed on January 20, 2017 and enacted February 7, 2017. Shortly afterward, 4Licensing would officially shut down all operations.
It was truly the end of an era.
4Kids was officially gone.
But our story still isn’t over. One unanswered question remains.
Part 23: Where in the World is Kahnmen Sandiego? (Coming Soon)
Yes, everyone, we’re finally here. It’s the Yu-Gi-Oh! lawsuit – the thing that finally killed 4Kids…..Kinda.
On March 24, 2011, TV Tokyo and NAS terminated their licensing agreement with 4Kids after an audit reportedly showed that 4Kids was making several millions of dollars in secret on their properties by making agreements with Cartoon Network, Majesco and Funimation and hiding much of the money they got from the “kickbacks.” (It should be noted that none of the mentioned companies are being accused in this lawsuit) TV Tokyo and NAS had a clear-cut 50/50 split for any revenue involving Yu-Gi-Oh!, and their audit allegedly revealed that they weren’t being given their full share as a result of these under the table dealings. 4Kids also reportedly improperly claimed numerous deductions amounting to over approximately $3mil including insurance coverage, the cost of the audit and the cost of dubbing the series, when they had a contract that stated 4Kids would accept the responsibility of all of those costs.
In the lawsuit, TV Tokyo and NAS requested $4,792,460.36 in damages.
According to the abstract of the legal proceedings, the audit occurred sometime in Q1 of 2010. A letter outlining the accused offenses was delivered to 4Kids on June 25, 2010. 4Kids would respond with their own letter disputing the allegations on June 29.
On December 20, ADK sent another letter finalizing the audit’s findings, claiming 4Kids owed them $4,819,000 in total. Again, 4Kids sent a letter back disputing the allegations.
On March 24, 2011, 4Kids received a letter from NAS on behalf of its parent company, ADK, to terminate their agreement from July 1, 2008 to claim the rights to Yu-Gi-Oh!. 4Kids disputed the termination, calling it “wrongful and devoid of any legal basis” because the termination notification did not meet the ten business day notice agreement made in their initial contract. TV Tokyo and ADK didn’t agree and sent another letter asserting that their termination was legal and final. That same day, they’d file a lawsuit for the alleged owed amount.
They had tried to settle this issue outside of court immediately following the audit. TV Tokyo and ADK made an undisclosed offer to settle the matter. 4Kids refused. At the request of ADK and TV Tokyo, 4Kids wired $1mil as a gesture of good faith in order to get negotiations started to settle the matter entirely. In response, TV Tokyo and ADK reps met with 4Kids in the US to work things out, but “4Kids abruptly terminated this meeting without a resolution to any of the outstanding issues.” Less than two weeks later, the lawsuit would be filed.
And Al Kahn would respond by…….
Not being there.
Mysteriously, on January 11, 2011, Al Kahn would retire from his role as chairman and CEO of 4Kids Entertainment one year after the audit and two months before the termination and lawsuit would go down, handing down the reins temporarily to Director Michael Goldstein.
“After almost 25 years, I have reached the point in my career where I want to relinquish my responsibilities at 4Kids. The last several years have been particularly difficult and demanding with the business of 4Kids being buffeted by the financial crisis. After helping steer the company through challenging times, I have decided that it is the right moment for me to retire. I believe that going forward, Michael Goldstein and the team of experienced 4Kids executives will do an excellent job for our clients and for our shareholders.”
Of course Al Kahn had to pat himself on the back for getting them through the financial crisis, when, ya know….they didn’t. They survived it, but they didn’t “steer through (it).”
Poor Michael Goldstein. Kahn just made him conductor of the train a few seconds after they passed a “Bridge Out Ahead” sign. What I find especially funny is that Michael Goldstein was actually older than Al Kahn was at this point – Goldstein was 69 while Kahn was 64. This will only get even funnier once I cover where Al went once he ‘retired’.
I know I can’t prove it, and I know anyone who went through the recession leading any company would probably want to retire, but you can’t tell me this is a coincidence. This is way too close to when all this shit went down for me to believe that Kahn didn’t know a storm was coming and he needed to grab a lifeboat and dip out of there before the situation got even worse for them.
On April 1, 2011, 4Kids made a statement claiming they would do whatever it took to retain Yu-Gi-Oh! and their business, including filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Five days later, after an unsuccessful settlement proposal to TV Tokyo and ADK, they would do just that. 4Kids Entertainment and 11 affiliated companies went bankrupt, listing $23,372,000 in assets and $16,526,000 in liabilities, and they would list several creditors to whom they owed money, such as The CW ($1,987,000) ADK ($4,221,626 – I would imagine this is an unrelated debt as it wouldn’t make sense to be the same money being requested from the audit.), the previously mentioned TPC ($4,700,000), and, strangely, figurehead of Chaotic, Bryan Gannon to whom they owed $80,000 for some reason.
In previous reports, they did keep owing Gannon, CUSA and Apex money for expenses involving Chaotic’s productions, so maybe that was due to some leftover outstanding payments, but they don’t note exactly what it was for. From a note in the 2010 annual financial report, it’s also possible they still owed Gannon a little bit of severance pay or some other fees in regards to shutting down TC Digital Games and TC Websites and subsequently laying him off.
The bankruptcy hearings would put the lawsuit on hold until the bankruptcy court allowed them to proceed. The judge also ordered a hold on the Yu-Gi-Oh! termination, meaning 4Kids could still use the license until the lawsuit proceedings restarted and they made a decision about the validity of the termination. This was done as a means to prevent Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL from being sold to any other companies in the meantime, considering 4Kids had already started working on the series and teasing its release and would suffer financially if TV Tokyo and NAS sold it during the litigation.
On June 10, 4Kids filed countersuit against TV Tokyo and ADK for wrongful termination of Yu-Gi-Oh!’s license citing the aforementioned failure to notify them at least ten business days in advance of the termination.
No one really had any faith that 4Kids would win this lawsuit, mostly because a lot of people either just really wanted 4Kids to die as a result of the litigation because of their disdain for the company and its practices or no one believed that they didn’t deal under the table and steal from the Japanese companies because 4Kids bad.
However….4Kids believed in the heart of the cards.
Yes, 4Kids won this lawsuit. On December 29, 2011, the bankruptcy court (to which the suit had been moved as per the agreement of both parties) ruled in favor of 4Kids, agreeing that TV Tokyo and NAS did not give at least ten business days of notice before termination of the contract, so the termination was void and the rights to Yu-Gi-Oh! belonged with 4Kids.
Many people believe that 4Kids purely lucked out and weaseled their way out of punishment for shady business practices on technicality, myself included when I first started writing this article, but it seems that’s not true either. The judge ruled that, in response to the claims that 4Kids owed TV Tokyo and ADK/NAS money as per the audit, the findings were “99% meritless.”
“Even if it were the case that Licensor had properly complied with the formal notice of breach and termination requirements in the 2008 Agreement, the termination was nonetheless ineffective because the notice sent by Licensor was substantively defective. Plaintiffs’ purported basis for termination – 4Kids’ failure to promptly pay the royalty underpayment reflected in the audit – was improper because the amount owed to Plaintiffs, if any, was nowhere near the $4.819 million amount asserted in the termination letter and the purported notices of breach.”
As for that 1% that was given merit, one that 4Kids did not dispute, they only owed $48,000, which was largely offset by the $800,000 credit that they got on March 24, 2011. The court was so firmly in favor of 4Kids, that they criticized the Japanese companies’ mention of “good faith”, claiming that “If anyone is the victim of a breach of trust, it is 4Kids.”
On February 29, 2012, 4Kids, TV Tokyo and ADK/NAS settled 4Kids’ countersuit. TV Tokyo and ADK/NAS would pay $8,000,000 to 4Kids as a result on March 27, 2012. 4Kids would continue to hold the license for three months until they had a bidding war between 4K Acquisition Corp, a subsidiary of Konami, and Kidsco Media Ventures LLC, an affiliate of Saban, for a variety of 4Kids’ assets including the coveted Yu-Gi-Oh! license. On June 26, 2012, Konami won big.
While Kidsco got some of 4Kids’ assets, like broadcast rights to Dragon Ball Z and Kai, under a new agreement with Toei and Funimation, Cubix, Sonic X and the CW block, Toonzai, which Saban would rename to Vortexx, Konami acquired the full rights and assets to Yu-Gi-Oh! and other titles. This basically made 4Kids ‘victory’ in the lawsuit pretty much moot. They were even able to acquire 4Kids’ production materials such as domain names, music, sound recording rights, any production or recording/editing equipment, office supplies, furniture, computers and more from 4Kids’ offices.
Oh and they would also be taking 4Kids’ offices.
As of the acquisition, Konami would create 4K Media, made in place of 4Kids Productions, which would officially shut down on August 14, 2012. According to an interview with Yumi Hoashi, Konami Digital Entertainment Vice President of Card Business, “Some” of the employees from 4Kids Productions would be retained in order to maintain the same branding and “messaging” but it’s unknown how many of their employees they retained.
As a final note to 2011, 4Kids acquired the South Korean/Japanese series, Tai Chi Chasers on March 22, 2010 and released it on September 17, 2011. It was the first new anime 4Kids had dubbed since Dinosaur King in 2008. According to Al Kahn in his conference call for Q4 of 2009,
“4Kids needs to return to its roots as a licensing and merchandising company [that] specializes in bringing wonderful Japanese programming and merchandising to the rest of the world.”
Quite the turnaround from claiming anime and manga were dying and that profitable shows and franchises for the US couldn’t be found in Japan.
4Kids stopped producing it on June 2, 2012 due to the bankruptcy and loss of 4Kids Productions. Tai Chi Chasers was not acquired by any other licensing company, even with so many of their assets being sold off. 4Kids would retain the rights as 4Licensing until 2017 when the rights expired/4Licensing died, but no one to date has picked up the North American or international rights. It’s now only in the hands of Toei and Iconix Entertainment.
At the end of the year, 4Kids had a net revenue of $12,346,000, down from $14,478,000 in 2010. They had a net loss of $17,084,000.
Next – Part 22: Time 4 Change (Coming Soon)
That’s right everyone. It’s time to talk about Yu-Gi-Oh! in 2011.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Bonds Beyond Time.
What? What else Yu-Gi-Oh! related happened in 2011?
In the quarterly conference call for Q4 2009, taking place on March 24, 2010, Al Kahn told investors that they were in the process of dubbing the recently released Yu-Gi-Oh! 3D movie, Bonds Beyond Time. 4Kids made a really big deal out of the release, which was both fitting because it was a 10th anniversary event and because 4Kids was in dire straits and needed money. They showed a 20 minute preview at the San Diego ComicCon in July of 2010, and had Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG demonstrations, appearances by the voice actors, a cosplay contest, and a benefit for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A new booster pack featuring a selection of nine limited edition cards for the movie would also be available in stores on February 2011.
The full film would have a limited release in Cinedigm 3D theaters on February 26 and 27 2011, a repeat set of viewings would be available on March 5 and 6. Theatergoers would receive a promotional Malefic Red-Eyes Black Dragon card upon ticket purchase. The American version of the release includes over ten minutes of footage recapping events from the three series in order to ensure everyone in the audience is caught up to follow along.
The movie was basically as edited as anything 4Kids would usually release on TV, including editing the cards to once again not show the description, name etc. instead showing the picture, type and attack/defense points like normal – which was incredibly strange because the last Yu-Gi-Oh! movie, the one that was ordered by 4Kids, left the cards alone – and removing instances of text, which, from the Pokemon movie releases, they tended to not do on movies. These edits also included making an entirely new soundtrack, complete with new sound effects, which is another practice people thought 4Kids more or less stopped with the Pokemon movies, but I guess not.
The movie ended with a message saying “”Duelists, thank you for a decade of dueling…and the best is yet to come.””
Need I remind you that this movie was released in March of 2011….
This movie was also ridiculously short at 50 minutes, made to be 60-65 minutes on the American release. Meaning that the preview that was shown at ComicCon was really, not counting the recap, because I doubt they showed that there, nearly half the movie….
Reception for this movie was……uhm…bad. There were some good things to say about it, like how fun it was to see all three main protagonists of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise to date teaming up with each other, that it was intense and the pacing was good…..That was about it. To be fair, people did praise the English version for including the recap because it helped older fans and non-fans go into the movie without being confused. However, the recap seems to be missing from streaming releases, and in the DVD releases the recap was marked as an extra, not part of the actual movie.
Criticisms for the movie ranged from it being too short overall to the final duel being too short to the original Gen (Yugi) not being given enough focus while the most recent Gen, at the time (Yusei), being given too much focus to the animation being mid quality (not really up to snuff for a feature film) to the plot being way too simple and yet still loaded with plot holes that “even kids will see through.” to the villain being a rip-off of either Anubis or Dartz. Overall, it was written off by many as a movie designed purely to sell cards and less of a true celebration of the franchise’s ten year legacy. At best, it was just simple fun that old fans and newer ones could enjoy, but at worst it was a 50 minute long commercial that even fans would have difficulty wanting to watch more than once.
The movie made $2,017,928 in the Japanese box office (Which would be about ¥268,968,614.16) coming at sixth in the Japanese box office that weekend. When it was released on DVD and Blu-Ray, it was the second most popular title of its genre.
Because of the limited release, box office returns of the movie in the US and the UK never surfaced. Worldwide, it had a box office return of $2.6mil but over $2mil of that is attributed to Japan’s theatrical release, and the other $600,000 was attributed to South Korea, so the actual figures seem incomplete to a certain degree.
To make matters even worse, 4Kids never released the movie on DVD. I don’t know if they were really able to at the time. *thunderclap* However, in the UK, Manga Entertainment, which had the distribution rights there, released the movie in theaters on May 14 and 21 in stereoscopic theaters, and then they released a DVD and Blu-Ray of the movie on May 30, 2011. The Blu-Ray would include the special promotional Malefic Red-Eyes Black Dragon card that wasn’t included in the UK theater release as it was in America, and the Japanese track with English subtitles. It had actually reached number two on Manga Entertainment’s best selling DVDs of the year, but Manga Entertainment pretty much spit at the success of the title claiming on their Twitter “I think [it was] because it was available in Asda and Morrisons, came with a free rare card and was stupidly cheap on [the] shelf.”
It wouldn’t be until 2014 when New Video Group would release the Blu-Ray and DVD in America, including the option to play the Japanese track with subtitles.
Honestly, I really feel like this was another instance of Al being a tiny bit delusional with how successful he thinks a title will be, or maybe, much more sadly, he knew how much Yu-Gi-Oh!’s revenues supported 4Kids and how they would likely be more reliant on the property in the future considering Pokemon was gone (but they were still getting residuals from it) so was TMNT, and Chaotic had fallen on its face. He probably really wanted the movie to be a huge success so he could maybe get a boost in sales and a big boost in interest before ZEXAL was released. At the very least, he was doing his damnedest to convince investors that 4Kids would be doing better this year. Maybe he didn’t really analyze the Japanese returns for the movie well enough or overestimated how successful it would be in America, which I can’t imagine how that’s possible considering how badly the first Yu-Gi-Oh! movie did.
But oh how devastatingly wrong he was either way. The call was a few months before the audit, and I feel like Al must’ve known that the hammer was being bought to put the final nail in the coffin…..And the nail would meet that hammer a mere three weeks after the movie had been released…..
The beginning of 2009 through the end of 2010 is what I like to call 4Kids’ Pre-Death Dead Period. They weren’t licensing anything new because they had adopted a “Screw Japan and Anime” attitude, only premiering Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds (Ironically an anime from Japan…) and continuing Chaotic, barely got the broadcast rights for a couple shows, and just stagnating for the most part. Even 2011 was largely boring barring one semi-major note we’ll get to next time, but they licensed one anime in that year so I didn’t count it. I’m just going to plow through this period to get to the more interesting stuff.
In 2009 the only shows that premiered brand-new on The CW4Kids, besides Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, were acquired shows – Huntik: Secrets and Seekers, and Rollbots – the former of which being another show by Winx Club’s Iginio Straffi, so I’m sure he was thrilled to be associated with 4Kids again. Huntik lasted two seasons, but it seems only season one aired on The CW4Kids, and Rollbots was canceled after one season.
Outside of the previously mentioned shows ending this year, the only other news on the 4Kids front was their continued downward financial spiral. That’s right, everyone. It’s time to have some fun with FINANCIAL REPORT ANALYSIS! 😀
(Small note, the financial reports from here on sometimes have information on past reports that varies from the report that came out that year. The only reason I can give for this is that they likely had to redo their figures after certain revenues or expenses were reported after the fact. The figures are never so different that they really matter, especially the end net losses/income, but I thought I should mention it in case people wonder why there are inconsistencies between some posts on the specific numbers. I typically went by what that year’s report stated when I wrote that specific section, but technically speaking the following year’s report is probably more accurate.)
It was reported by paidContent that 4Kids had “put itself up for sale.” although 4Kids refused to comment on what they wrote off as rumors.
In Q1 of 2009, their revenue was down, $8.9mil, compared to $15mil in Q1 of 2008. They had a slightly less bad net loss of $2mil reported compared to $6.4mil in Q1 of 2008.
In Q2 of 2009, revenue was $4.4mil, down from Q2 of 2008 with $16.5mil. It suffered a net loss of $13.8mil compared to $5.5mil in Q2 of 2008.
In Q3 of 2009, revenue was $7.27mil, compared to $17.8mil in 2008, with a net loss of $5mil compared to about the same with a loss of $5.3mil in Q3 of 2008.
As the recession was ending, 4Kids was starting to pick up, but there was additional and devastating damage. In Q4 of 2009, 4Kids reported $16.1mil in revenue, up from $12.8mil in 2008, partially because they sold the license to TMNT to Nickelodeon at that time for $9.8mil. However, it also had a net loss of $21.3mil.
Overall, for the year, they had a net revenue of $36,783,000 compared to $57,201,000 in 2008. Their costs were down a little bit with $80,298,000 compared to $88,918,000 in 2008. They would experience a net loss of $52,456,000 compared to a loss of $36,819,000 in 2008.
As previously discussed, one of the big factors there was the $20mil worth of charges related to carrying leftover and returned Chaotic merchandise and their film inventory as well as money still owed to CUSA and Apex for their share of the production costs on the cartoon, However, there were other factors in play as well.
According to Al Kahn, one of the most damaging losses that year was when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. 4Kids had over $50mil in illiquid auction rate securities at Lehman. In the financial report for 2011, it states that they were filing a proof of claim for $31,500,000 plus interest, which would probably be around $50mil as Kahn claimed. In the end, they settled for a mere $489,000, which means they took a hit of around $49,500,000, which, let me check my notes…..was uh….not good.
In lawsuit land, 4Kids was clearing up their issues with Fox and paid them $6,250,000 in settlement money.
Upper Deck also sued Bryan Gannon, the head of Chaotic USA, TC Digital Games and TC Websites. Gannon used to be an executive at Upper Deck, and they were claiming he used confidential information and trade secrets obtained from his time with Upper Deck (specifically the years 2002-2003) for use in the development of the Chaotic game. However, on October 5, 2009, Upper Deck voluntarily dropped the lawsuit without prejudice.
Jumping into 2010,
Q1 revenue was $4.2mil, TCG returns were basically nothing at $7,000. In fact, overall in its final year, TC Digital Games, TC Websites, IE Chaotic would only earn about $274,000 in 2010 before they all ended with $6,489,000 in total losses for the year.
Q2 revenue was down to $2.5mil, attributed to reduced leftover returns from TMNT and decreased returns on Dinosaur King merch, but Yu-Gi-Oh! was slightly up. Television sales via advertising were also down for both Dinosaur King and Chaotic.
On May 28, 2010, 4Kids was officially suspended from the New York Stock Exchange for failing to maintain an average global market capitalization of at least $15mil over a 30 day trading period. 4Kids would move its trading to the OTC Bulletin Board on June 1 under the symbol KIDE.
Q3 revenue was down from 2009 with $2,986,000 from $5,312,000. This was also the last quarter in which Chaotic was a factor as they had shut down TC Digital Games and TC Websites in September 30, 2010 and discontinued all support for the Chaotic game on October 1, 2010. They hoped doing so would save $1mil per quarter. To put their situation into perspective at this point, they were citing their failing performance on the lower returns from Monster Jam, which is a monster truck rally they had licensing rights to for many years, and the American Kennel Club. However, declining numbers across the board were also cited. Basically, all of their old remaining properties were decreasing in popularity while their new properties just weren’t all that popular from the start.
Q4’s revenue was $4.8mil, which was the best of the year, but this was down drastically from $16.2mil from 2009’s Q4. Expenses were down to $7.4mil compared to $21.3 mil in 2009’s Q4.
In the end of the year, 4Kids had $14,478,000 in revenue, primarily attributed to Yu-Gi-Oh! (44% of revenue) and residuals from Pokemon (21%) compared to $34,180,000 in 2009, and they had a net loss of $31,640,000 compared to $52,456,000 in 2009.
Al Kahn was quoted in the Q4 2009 conference call as saying,
“I guess there is really no covering up that this has been a hideous year for 4Kids and for our shareholders and for our employees.”
He put most of the blame pretty squarely on Chaotic, basically saying that, if he knew then what he knows now in regards to Lehman Brothers going under and the recession, he wouldn’t have taken the big financial risk with Chaotic, especially since it was still technically underperforming a little even without those factors in place.
Even though…like….no shit, Dick Tracy. Most people wouldn’t undertake huge financial risks if they knew a massive economic downturn and a significant financial disaster were on the horizon.
The CW4Kids changed their name to Toonzai, inspired by Toonami, on August 14, 2010. In addition, a new anime title finally arrived on the block – Dragon Ball Z Kai, which was a remastered recut version of the original Dragon Ball Z series with much less filler, fixes to animation issues and widescreen format.
While 4Kids did not dub Kai, Funimation did, the CW/4Kids acquired the broadcast rights to DBZKai, which meant they had to make edits to make it suitable for their broadcast, most notably censoring injuries, blood, violence, coarse language, many incredibly confusing edits and, most famously, changing Mr. Popo to an insanely bright blue color because they considered his character design to be racist in the same vein as Jynx from Pokemon IE blackface.
Looking back, it’s almost like they wanted him to look like Genie from Aladdin.
DBZKai did incredibly well in the ratings, beating out both Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL and reruns of the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, only sitting behind Justice League Unlimited. Despite also airing on Nicktoons at the time, Toonzai airings of the show typically consistently beat out Nicktoon’s viewership of the show, and each block claimed it was their highest-rated show. This was a good move for 4Kids, but a little bit too little too late.
They had hoped there would be some sunshine peeking through the clouds with their next big project – a general audience anime streaming site called Toonzaki.
4Kids launched Toonzaki, on September 15, 2010 after being bombarded with a demand for uncut and subbed content. Toonzaki was a means of granting fans their wishes. Despite some uncut and subbed content already being made available on their Youtube channel, and a few DVD releases, there was a decent-ish amount of hype surrounding the launch.
Believe or not, Toonzaki had many more titles than just 4Kids stuff – several of which were actually aimed towards a more mature audience, such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Trigun, Murder Princess, Descendants of Darkness and Gunslinger Girl. Being clear, they did not own the licenses to any of these titles – they just made streaming agreements with other websites.
I saw numerous comments regarding this praising 4Kids for moving in the right direction, and I agree with that, but I also saw just as many if not more state it was, again, too little too late, and I agree with that too. Some even went so far as to call it “cheating”, since most of Toonzaki’s content was hosted on Hulu, Funimation or Crunchyroll (IE all titles except Yu-Gi-Oh! ones), meaning you didn’t necessarily have to watch most of these titles on Toonzaki. Basically, it felt like 4Kids wanted credit for what other people did, again, barring Yu-Gi-Oh! uncut.
The website had other issues in that, since many of their videos were Hulu embedded videos, no one outside of the US could watch many of their shows. In addition, Toonzaki had a lot of difficulties gaining traction. While having an anime aggregate site was a bit convenient, and some even stated the players from the various websites worked better on Toonzaki, for some reason, whatever hype there was died down quite quickly.
This post made on ANN’s forums to discuss Toonzaki before its premiere got zero comments.
Their Facebook page did okay. They were definitely active, but they barely managed to get into double digit likes on their posts most of the time, and they didn’t get that many comments. Remember, this was back in 2010-2011, back when Facebook was basically at its peak.
It’s Twitter account did way worse with only a few retweets on each tweet and, somehow, a grand total of two likes across their entire timeline, and zero comments.
I don’t know where they even advertised this site. The one print ad I found was for, I think, New York Comic Con….and that was it. No commercials whatsoever. No other print ads. No big announcements – hell, no official announcements period. Nothing.
4Kids was so lazy with this that their blog wasn’t even their blog – it was a blog roll of posts from other websites, like Anime News Network and Anime Shinbun, and nearly all of the articles weren’t even about their anime or website.
When you search “Toonzaki” there’s only eight pages of results, and I’d say 75% of them are mostly unrelated.
There was another thing that I didn’t see brought up anywhere else, but it was bugging me, so, uh, here goes….that naming scheme is awful. The name itself is fine, but as Mark Kirk put it in that interview with ANN from 2010, “Toonzai will also have an online component, which is for the kids, and Toonzaki is essentially its older brother.” Toonzai is literally one letter off from Toonzaki. So any little kid who wants to watch the edited kidified version of 4Kids’ shows from Toonzai (which were hosted on 4Kids.tv) might stumble upon Toonzaki, which had stuff like Deadman Wonderland, Monster, and fucking FIST OF THE NORTH STAR. If you think I’m overreacting, I typoed both names into each other several times while writing this part of the article.
As far as I could tell through the Wayback Machine, there were no parental controls or age confirmation for any of these titles, so they were leaving themselves pretty open to complaints from parents. I know this website was for general audiences, and I know 4Kids kept their logo off it, but it was still a 4Kids product. They should have put this under 4Sight and adopted a more different name. I don’t know how they would have worked the branding or advertising, but it doesn’t work the way they had it set up.
To drive that point even further, they eventually added games to the website….Not saying adults don’t play games, I do all the time, but why would you feel the best addition to your general audience anime streaming site that’s supposedly not, in any way, aimed towards kids would be a bunch of Flash games? It’s not only that they added games to the site – the games they had were completely random games that had absolutely nothing to do with anime. It was ridiculously out of place.
Being completely fair, though, Crunchyroll also had a games section for several years at this point, but many of their games were anime-related, and the section also doubled as general discussion of all PC and console games. In fact, the discussion seemed to take up much more space in that section than the mini-games did. Plus, they never catered to a child audience, so it’s not quite as weird or questionable.
Considering Crunchyroll was legal at this point, and other anime companies such as Funimation and Viz were also streaming anime online, there just wasn’t much of a point to Toonzaki except to watch uncut Yu-Gi-Oh! titles, which had already been made available previously on their Youtube channel, for a time anyway.
After 4Kids went bankrupt, Konami/4K Media got the rights to Toonzaki in the property auction. According to this blog post from a user named Ravegrl, the site was quickly neglected after that and experienced a lot of issues such as broken videos, links and images. The biggest issue came on August 2012 when 4K Media took down all Yu-Gi-Oh! videos to transfer them to another server. For some reason, that transfer caused the entire service to be down for three months. The last update was on April 2013.
On July 24, 2014, Toonzaki shut down for good, again with no announcement, with its URL redirecting to Yugioh.com. Apparently, Konami just wanted to focus on putting the Yu-Gi-Oh! episodes on their own website and had no desire to be an aggregate site for other anime, so Toonzaki was booted.
The Facebook page was sporadically kept alive long after Toonzaki shut its doors purely to promote Yu-Gi-Oh! episodes on Yugioh.com, which kinda feels like putting a neon billboard on a corpse. Konami stopped doing this in 2016, however, leaving Toonzaki to finally rest in peace after living such a brief and uneventful life.
As 4Kids metaphorically moved back home to take Kids WB’s spot on the newly branded CW, things were falling apart at Fox. The executives at Fox were upset with 4Kids since they reportedly had not been paying their lease for the time slot for an undisclosed amount of time. Likewise, 4Kids was upset with Fox for not upholding their part of the contract in stating that 4Kids TV would air on at least 90% of Fox’s affiliate channels, which is actually why they owed them lease money. Since they were not being aired on 90% of the channels, 4Kids demanded Fox pay them a refund of their lease money by $13mil. Fox responded claiming they owed them nothing.
Reportedly, the issue here was that a sizable amount of their channels simply did not want to air the block, and Fox could not force them to air it due to a Right of First Refusal clause in their contracts. Most of Fox’s channels opted to air 4Kids TV, usually the ones that had already previously aired Fox Kids, however, enough channels opted out that it wasn’t meeting contractual obligations with 4Kids. The disputes resulted in litigation being brought up by 4Kids, allowing them early dismissal from their contract by one year. On November 10, 2008, 4Kids announced that 4Kids TV would be ending, and on December 27, 2008, 4Kids TV had its last airing.
4Kids would focus all of its energies on The CW4Kids, and Fox would choose to officially end its Saturday morning cartoon block practices entirely due to too much competition in the market. Instead, the block would be replaced by a series of infomercials later titled The Weekend Marketplace.
While it seemed like 4Kids may have been heading for greener pastures, the grass wound up being awfully brown.
Less than two weeks before the last airing of 4Kids TV, December 17, 2008, 4Kids would lay off 15% of their workforce, citing financial struggles in light of the global financial crisis. As previously stated, Q4 was a particularly nasty blow to them, and 4Kids’ stock had been going downward since 2006. 2007 was a building period for Chaotic, and they were banking on 2008 being so good that it would help them reach higher peaks once more, but that obviously didn’t happen. Compared to 2007, 4Kids’ stock values were awful for nearly the entire year, maxing out at $14.31 a share in Q1, with a lowest point of $1.80 a share in Q4 compared to 2007’s max of $20.31 and lowest point of $10.72. Its earnings were up, with $63,669,000 compared to $55,609,000 in 2007, but so were its expenses and losses with $95,386,000 compared to $81,378,000 in 2007. Overall, they had a year end loss of $36,819,000 compared to $23,326,000 in 2007.
Despite this, Al Kahn was confident 2009 would bring them profit once more. However, his confidence would prove to be misplaced. Their licensing practices were still basically halted as a result of Al Kahn developing negative views on anime and Japan at this point. Their only remaining anime titles were Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, which would soon suddenly transition to Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds on September 13, 2008, and Dinosaur King. Any other titles that aired on the block had either already ended their run (Cubix, Sonic X), were ending this year (DoReMi, Kirby, Viva Pinata) or were running out of steam (Kirby’s rights were up in 2009, TMNT would end in 2009, Winx Club would have its license revoked in 2009). Cartoon-wise, they still had Chaotic too, but, well, we know what happened there.
4Kids did have a new Russian show to dub called GoGoRiki, originally titled Smeshariki or Kikoriki which would do alright, garnering two seasons, but 4Kids dropped it after that since it was already in dire financial straits. Mark Kirk stated in the 2010 ANN interview that he didn’t really view Gogoriki as a major failure as one person on Twitter accused, because, as he saw it, the show served the purpose of providing the block’s educational and informative requirements.
In terms of purely broadcast rights, 4Kids grandfathered over a lot of titles from Kids WB such as The Spectacular Spider-Man, The Batman, Magi-Nation and Johnny Test. The only show they acquired that year that didn’t also air on Kids WB was Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, which wouldn’t officially premiere until 2009, but had a preview aired on December 13, 2008. However, the show was dropped by the time 2009 was over, due to low ratings, opting to air the final episodes on 4Kids.tv.
Considering Yu-Gi-Oh! was one of their last big earners, there was a lot riding on 5Ds (Hehe, motorcycle puns.) For the first time, 5Ds would introduce an entirely new system to the card game and the anime called Synchro Summoning, hoping that this new mechanic would, again, help breathe new life into the franchise. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds’ dub was not received well. It’s considered the worst Yu-Gi-Oh! dub done by 4Kids, with numerous rewrites, personality changes, several episodes being skipped, subplots being skipped, and heavily editing the Crash Town arc to the point where they omitted the ending of the final duel.
In a serious case of Deja Vu, 5Ds would also be canceled, leaving its final season undubbed and unaired. There were several reasons for this – none of which I can properly verify, except maybe the last one, so fair warning.
The first was that 5Ds’ ratings were not doing so well, and the new cards were also not selling as well. It wasn’t a failure or anything, but it was performing under what they had predicted.
The second reason was that 4Kids was behind in production again, and Konami was pressuring them to dub Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL.
The third was the
We’re not quite around to discussing that in full yet, but, at the time that the fourth season was airing, TV Tokyo and NAS had terminated their deal with 4Kids over Yu-Gi-Oh! and sued them due to “underpayments, wrongful deductions, and unmet obligations.” However, I’m not sure that had a whole lot of bearing on the cancellation. 4Kids seemed like they were already entirely focused on ZEXAL during the lawsuit with no concern over 5Ds or mention of it at all, so I think it’s safe to assume it just suffered the same fate for the same reasons as GX.
Nevertheless, 5Ds ended abruptly and without fanfare. Unlike with GX, fans seem to be grateful for this as they don’t look too kindly on the dub very much, citing the theme songs as being pretty much the only good things to come out of it.
2007 was a light year for 4Kids in regards to premiering new content – they only premiered one new show.
On September 8, 2007, 4Kids released their dub of Dinosaur King, which was based on an arcade game in Japan that implemented trading cards, and it’s generally regarded as 4Kids’ attempt to replace Pokemon. When 4Kids got the rights to the show, they immediately created a Dinosaur King TCG with Upper Deck sometime in 2008. I imagine this was another effort to avoid high levels of overhead since they were already experiencing losses with producing Chaotic’s TCG in-house. The original cards could be scanned to play the dinosaurs, characters and abilities in the arcade game in Japan. However, the American version of the trading card game had no scanning capabilities whatsoever. It was simply a trading card game. The American TCG was never made available in Japan since the original cards used with the arcade game already acted as their TCG.
In terms of dubbing, Dinosaur King has all of the typical 4Kidsisms, but it’s considered one of the better dubs to come out of 4Kids. It definitely helped that Dinosaur King feels very reminiscent of Pokemon, especially with Veronica Taylor voicing the lead, who has a yellow lightning-based sidekick, and the Alpha Gang almost being a carbon copy of Team Rocket, with Ursula, the leader of the most commonly seen three, being voiced by Rachel Lillis.
Despite not being another massive title for the company, and definitely not a series many people remember very much, Dinosaur King did okay for itself. It tended to do well in ratings, at least in comparison to the other 4Kids TV shows, it had a bunch of toys, a Nintendo DS game, the TCG lasted until 2010 or 2011 with fairly regular releases every year, and the TCG reportedly sold well in other countries too. The show lasted until 4Kids died in 2012, and, for some reason, they latched onto the license even long after 4Kids had died and stayed gasping for air as 4Licensing until 2017 when they let out their final death rattle. In 2017 the license was handed over to Discotek Media, who retains it to this day.
Sega, the owners of the franchise in Japan, never continued the series either in anime or video game format. According to Negative Legend on Youtube, there is no official information anywhere about why Sega has shelved the franchise for so long, but the best anyone can guess is the most obvious one – it probably wasn’t profitable enough. This was most likely especially true since 4Kids, as I mentioned, latched onto the international licensing rights until 2017. Meaning, presumably, Sega was stuck without an international market after 4Kids went belly up. I have no idea how popular it was in Japan, probably mildly popular at least, but it simply wasn’t worth it to keep it in production without the international rights. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been profitable enough even with the international rights. It’s impossible to know without a direct answer from someone at Sega.
Everything else they aired in 2007 was already established, which signified the start of stagnation for 4Kids. They obviously had a bunch of cogs in motion, but they needed to keep taking new opportunities in order to get back up after they took their big Pokemon-shaped punch to the stomach.
That opportunity came on October 2, 2007 when Warner Bros. and CBS would announce that Kids WB would be going off the air in 2008 following the merging of the WB and UPN. They created the CW in the two networks’ place, but opted to shut down the Kids WB block due to content restrictions, the competitive time slot and the increasing difficulty to get advertising, specifically food-related advertising, on the block due to government restrictions. At the same time, they announced that they would be selling the five hour time slot to 4Kids, meaning 4Kids now owned and operated two of the biggest Saturday morning cartoon blocks on TV that year at the same time – which I’m certain has to be a level of hell.
On May 17, 2008, Kids WB would air for the final time.
On May 24, 2008, The CW4Kids would air for the first time.
Yes, that’s what they named it. Isn’t it clunktastic?
One other notable event that happened this year was Al Kahn dining on his foot at ANOTHER ICv2 panel, this time centered on anime and manga.
“I think basically it’s over in Japan, for the moment… I think Japan is tired, I think manga is tired… [There’s] a tremendous reduction in the sale of manga on a weekly and monthly basis… [Japanese] publishers and creators don’t really care what you want. It’s a real systematic problem… We’ve walked away from Japan to a great extent… [I’m] very skeptical of the Japanese model. If you’re big in manga, you should be looking elsewhere, because it’s going south.”
“Nothing new has come from Japan in ten years.” (What?) “Kids there are tired of manga. They don’t want to carry around a three pound book anymore.” (He really has never seen a manga in his life has he?) “They’re more interested in devices. Pretty soon, there won’t be any physical media, just digital.”
“(The Japanese anime and entertainment industry) is in the duldroms.” “(Innovation) has moved to Korea.”
“Manga is dead.”
Let me remind everyone, he was, again, saying this at an ICv2 panel for anime and manga, which was being held during NY ComicCon….
Again, Kahn had a slight point among his ramblings. Both anime and manga experienced downward sales in the 2000s. Anime had dropped ¥20bil in 2007 from 2006, while manga book sales were down 4.2%. However, as I mentioned previously, part of this was attributed to the fact that manga was now available to read on cellphones, and sales of manga via this option were exploding. They really hadn’t caught up with the development in technology to properly factor in this part of the manga industry when calculating their sales.
In America, however, this situation was slightly different. Yes, anime was also on a downward trend in the US, at least in regards to DVD sales. It wasn’t so much that anime wasn’t popular and moreso that DVD sets of anime were insanely expensive in America, and most people, either kids or adults, just couldn’t afford them. That’s one of the reasons why buying anime movies was so much more appealing – it’s just one DVD to buy of one feature. Manga was cheaper and more accessible, which is why manga sales kept improving, but the insane prices of anime in the middle of a recession were unreasonable.
4Kids DVDs were cheaper because they tended to include very few episodes, instead of whole seasons (usually) and almost never included the original Japanese track/footage. They usually only included their English dubs, maybe some other language dubs that were based on their scripts, and their music/sound effects etc. which made their DVDs cheaper to produce and sell. However, DVDs for 4Kids shows were constantly scattered all over the place, if a show got a VHS or DVD release at all, and rarely did a show get a complete DVD release.
Piracy was considered a significant problem at that point too, even though that’s, oddly, one of the things Kahn thought he was more or less immune to, because actual anime fans wanted quick and easy access to their favorite anime without paying insane prices or dealing with mutilated TV broadcasts. Piracy, however, was actually noted as being overall beneficial to making anime popular in the west because it allowed fans to access anime they loved and discover new titles all the time because they either couldn’t afford to watch those shows legally or they were simply not available in their region. Their increased interest would increase word of mouth, creating new fans, increasing DVD sales and increasingly availability, making legal acquisitions increase as a result.
I’m sure they didn’t see it that way, however. There is certainly a debate to be had over the positives and negatives of piracy, especially back when anime wasn’t nearly as widely and readily available as it is now, but it’s always hard to tell exactly how sales are impacted by piracy. You can equate every download to a lost sale, but in many cases the person illegally watching or downloading the anime (or manga) either wouldn’t or couldn’t buy the legal copy to begin with. And you also have to somehow factor in how many more anime or manga related items a person has bought because piracy allowed them to consume and enjoy it more.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself because, as we know, Al Kahn doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground when he talks about this stuff, especially when he’s talking about manga. What he’s actually talking about isn’t innovation or artistry or catering to the fans – it’s about money again.
Kahn noted that, in particular, he was frustrated with the fact that the anime industry currently didn’t premiere any massive hard-hitters like Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, or Yu-Gi-Oh! were. Basically, he was viewing anime as a dying form of media overall because they weren’t creating new kid-friendly (or can be made kid-friendly) massive powerhouse merchandise machines that he could hopefully get the rights to. And he was mostly saying manga was dying because I don’t know. Why he keeps talking about manga when his company is almost entirely divorced from the manga industry is beyond me. Given his views on manga and American literacy in children, I doubt he could even name one manga that wasn’t related to one of his anime titles.
Take note of the fact that he specifically said “Nothing new has come from Japan in ten years.” He was entirely ignoring literally anything that came out of Japan during that full decade (kinda throwing shade at big mainstream shows that had been dubbed by other companies at this point, like Naruto, as well) and treating them as if they didn’t count because they were either not geared towards his demographic, were not hugely popular or were not merchandisable.
Dragon Ball Z Kai was never theirs, even if they got the broadcast rights to the show in the following year. Yu-Gi-Oh! was still theirs, for the moment, but it was also on a downward trend and hadn’t managed to reach the same peaks it had upon its initial debut, even though 4Kids was injecting a lot of money into it. They just lost the license to Pokemon. They abandoned the license to One Piece. And they lost the bid to acquire the rights to Naruto. Without another big name that would also be family-friendly (or could be edited down to be such) and ripe for merchandising, 4Kids had no interest. Anime as a whole was dying to him because the anime he licensed were dying and Japan wasn’t nice enough to birth him more cash cows.
“Al Kahn reminded all those assembled for the session that publishing does not have to be about transferring physical objects, but that the entire anime industry has not yet figured out the best way to monetize digital content and embrace the technology of online distribution. To him, one of the greatest contributions of the popularity of anime in the West has been the fact that as Western animators and producers have been learning new techniques and honing their skills, Japan may be less and less relevant to the most cutting-edge popular culture products throughout the world.”
The concept of digital manga was already firmly in place for several years and was enjoying massive success in Japan while it wasn’t as such in America. Streaming anime was a bit of a different bag. In Japan, anime was already available online through various sources. Plenty of companies were only a few years away from launching digital avenues of anime distribution that would prove to be successful, and it was already in the process in 2007. For example, Toonami’s Jetstream had some anime streaming online, and Crunchyroll, while, at the time, using illegal means of anime distribution, was already created in 2006 as what some have credited as the first official anime streaming service. It would become legitimate and legal in 2009.
Manga is a bit easier to distribute online since it’s just scanned images. That’s why digital manga took off several years before digital anime. Creating a digital marketplace for anime that wasn’t in garbage quality and could still work well on internet speeds of the day was a work in progress, but you can rest assured that it was very much in progress. Did Al Kahn not understand that this stuff takes time? He is right that the anime industry in both Japan and America would need to capitalize on digital anime in order to stay relevant and profitable, but he’s acting as if such developments were decades off not two or three years.
“According to Kahn, there is little coming out of the Japanese anime studios that is truly innovative, and the most creative new animation is now coming out of South Korea and other countries in the region. “I think it’s over in Japan,” said the 4Kids executive, and he added that the problem is on a systemic level, as publishers and creators do not care about actual user demand. For its part, 4Kids itself is not interested in Japanese products, with the exception of Dinosaur King, nearly to the extent that it was at one point.”
While there is definitely something to be said about Korean animation, and there is a lot to praise there, Kahn was obviously either incredibly jaded on Japan because there hadn’t been another massive title for him to milk recently or he was just talking out of his ass – or both – especially because he acknowledges that the market was catering to niche titles at the time, as in creative titles that have smaller audiences but are typically very well-received critically, but also said there was no innovation in Japan.
I don’t know what prompted the Korea comment. Was something really big animation-related going on there in 2007 that I don’t know about? 4Kids had only worked with South Korea twice before this point, and that was with Cubix, which was one of their bigger properties, but it definitely wasn’t massive, and the new seasons of Chaotic. In 2010, they would work with South Korea again for Tai Chi Chasers. Oops. I meant to say they’d work with Japan and South Korea for Tai Chi Chasers……after Al Kahn had eaten enough crow and went crawling back to Japan and anime.
He and his other executives have stated several times in the past that their fans don’t even know anime comes from Japan, but he also notes;
“In Al Kahn’s view, fans monitor the success or failure of shows in Japan very carefully, but American marketers have to remember how particular properties relate to specific age groups in the United States. For example, popular as it was with vocal fans, 4Kids had a very hard time localizing One Piece in a way that would satisfy fans on one side, and advertisers and television company executives on the other. Approaching that series, his company found itself between a rock and a hard place, and Kahn said it learned the valuable lesson that popularity in Japan is only one of the factors that governs how well any given title will perform in America.”
A valuable lesson no one else really had to learn because it was easy enough to figure out. Why don’t you explain that lesson to Funimation, which is about a year or two from swimming in cash from their dub of One Piece?
So which is it? Do their fans not know about or care about the anime industry in Japan or do they monitor it so closely that they base everything they watch, anime-wise, on what is popular over there? Fans did and still do monitor what is popular in Japan for a variety of reasons, (I wouldn’t say many people are monitoring it “closely”, but we do keep an eye on it. I doubt many children back then were doing it, though.) but this statement is just Kahn trying to fancifully avoid saying that they didn’t do adequate research with One Piece before buying it and then screwed everything up.
“Al Kahn, however, again was not as optimistic, and cautioned that frequently, buyers are now looking not only at a particular toy’s immediate sales potential, but also at its staying power on the shelves. Many only want to stick to only buying products that they are already familiar with, and are not willing to experiment or expand into new areas.”
Again, Al, which is it? Is anime dying because there’s no innovation and we need new exciting titles to introduce to stores, or does the innovation exist but it’s just not feasible to work with because stores want more of the same and nothing new?
Basically, Kahn does have some points, kinda, but they’re constantly buried in contradictory statements, odd opinions and flatout incorrect information that it’s difficult to see them.
While they were able to find some common ground, most of the other panelists never agreed with Kahn, and some noted that 4Kids seemed like they were isolated because 4Kids’ experiences largely didn’t reflect in the experiences of their companies.
It’s a rather intriguing debate to read about because it highlights just how much Al Kahn thought he knew about the anime and manga industry based almost entirely on his experiences in America with an American audience that was purely children while similar companies who had immersed themselves in Japanese culture and their market trends and were more diverse in their audience had a better understanding of the market as a whole. Outside of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dinosaur King, 4Kids would basically stop dubbing anime for three years after this.
To wrap up this year, 4Kids didn’t do very well. You could say it did bad. Or horribly. Whatever. They were down in net revenue with $55,609,000 compared to $71,781,000 in 2006. Their expenses were up with $81,378,000 compared with $80,917,000 in 2006. Overall, they had a net loss at the end of the year of $23,326,000 compared to the net loss of 2006 of $1,006,000. Decline in the revenue from Yu-Gi-Oh!, TMNT, their residuals from Pokemon and One Piece were given blame for this while Viva Pinata was noted as helping offset them.
Their stocks also took a significant tumble that they would never rebound from. Chaotic still hadn’t truly gotten off the ground yet. They had launched the website for the online game on October 24, 2007, and the TCG had been launched with it, so 2008 would be the real flagship year for the franchise and wouldn’t really be a component of their financial report outside of noting the huge investments they had put in place for it.
In October 2005, Yu-Gi-Oh! GX was brought into the fray to replace the void left from the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series as it was ending the same year. However, instead of premiering it on Kids WB or 4Kids TV, 4Kids opted to premiere the show on Cartoon Network (on the programming block, Miguzi, which was basically Toonami if it was less cool and held underwater) for some reason. I’m not complaining, I’m just confused. Not airing it on Kids WB I get a little, but why wouldn’t they want it premiered on 4Kids TV? It would take until September 1, 2007 until it would air in syndication on 4Kids TV.
4Kids hoped GX would breathe new life into the franchise with new characters, new cards and a more casual and fun atmosphere with the new series taking place at a dueling academy. The show did suffer from the typical 4Kidsisms, including story changes, dialogue changes, a lot of visual edits in regards to transitions and splitscreens to make it seem more fast-paced and ‘cool,’ but it wouldn’t really be much more changed than the original Yu-Gi-Oh!.
Unfortunately, in 2008, 4Kids would wind up canceling GX without ever airing (or dubbing?) the final episode of season three or the entirety of season four. This was reportedly due to the fact that Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds had started airing in Japan, 4Kids had already acquired the first season and wanted to focus on releasing that instead.
According to an email response someone got from 4Kids around the time of cancellation;
“Thank you for writing to us about your interest in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. Because a lot of our resources are dedicated to dubbing and airing 5Ds, we will not be dubbing season four of GX for this season.
However, this does not mean that we won’t ever dub it, it just means that it is not on the schedule for the near future.
The 4Kids.tv webmaster”
Basically, how this can be interpreted now is that 4Kids didn’t want to lag behind. Considering their dubbing plate wasn’t really all that full at the time either (see: all the shows they lost at this point) they easily could have dubbed GX alongside 5Ds, but I can bet they just didn’t want to bother.
It was also suggested that, since the new wave of 5Ds-based TCG releases was coming and 5Ds would still be around a year or more before release in the States if they decided to finish GX first, they just decided to bump up 5Ds and save some money by ditching GX on the side of the highway.
Other rumors theorize that 4Kids didn’t like the new direction the show was taking in the final season. The show had gotten notably darker and stood in stark contrast to the much lighter casual show it had started out as. Judai/Jaden himself also suffered from a personality change, making him much more brooding and serious than his trademark happy-go-lucky self was in earlier seasons.
It didn’t help that reception for the final season and the tail end of season three in Japan wasn’t nearly as good as it had been, and it was mostly for that very same tonal shift. Ratings for GX also weren’t as good in the west. They weren’t particularly bad, but they seemed to have paled in comparison to the original show. Either fans of the original didn’t like the new cast/vibe/setting in comparison to the original show, they didn’t like the way 4Kids had presented it, particularly in making Jaden this ‘radical’ main character who shouted out “Get your game on!” whenever he started a duel, the fact that many of Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s original fans had aged out of the target demo and the new generation of the demo wasn’t hooking in much yet or the lingering decline of Yu-Gi-Oh! as a whole was keeping it from finding a large audience.
There’s another rumor that Konami and TV Tokyo pressured 4Kids to dub 5Ds in order to capitalize on the new TCG releases, which makes some sense, but it doesn’t answer the question of why they couldn’t have also dubbed and aired GX at the same time.
Also, according to an email exchange from 4K Media, which was the division of Konami that took control of Yu-Gi-Oh! when 4Kids lost the rights after they went bankrupt (and is not, in fact, basically 4Kids in disguise as some people seem to believe), Konami didn’t have any say in 4Kids dumping GX. They claimed that they didn’t even know why 4Kids stopped dubbing GX.
Really, the only one who would suffer for keeping GX out there is 4Kids because they were the ones who would have to devote time, money and other resources to the show. Konami probably did pressure them to dub 5Ds as soon as possible, but how much pressure, I don’t know, and I sincerely doubt they told them to drop GX since that would just be additional advertising, basically, for Yu-Gi-Oh! as a whole.
Despite 4Kids claiming they might dub the rest of the series some day, they never did. They also retained the international license for several years, so no one else could take over at the time. It’s possible Konami could now dub and release the final episode of season three and all of season four, but I sincerely doubt it. It’d be a lot of work and fuss for something that probably wouldn’t be profitable.
You could argue that they just didn’t want two new Yu-Gi-Oh! shows airing at the same time.
Only they totally had two Yu-Gi-Oh! shows airing at the same time.
As Yu-Gi-Oh GX was airing on Cartoon Network, 4Kids also premiered a brand-new Yu-Gi-Oh! show on 4Kids TV….one that 4Kids had made from scratch.
Yu-Gi-Oh Capsule Monsters was a show commissioned from Studio Gallop by 4Kids based on the game, Capsule Monsters – a game introduced in the original pre-soft-reboot version of the manga and in Season Zero, which never aired in America. Because the last time 4Kids commissioned their own Yu-Gi-Oh! feature just went over so well, Twix said sarcastically.
It’s possible that 4Kids was also basing this off of Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monster Coliseum – a PS2 game that released two years prior. Capsule Monster Coliseum was not a successful game. While the very few reviews I can actually find on the game are somewhat positive, they all cite the high learning curve as a big negative, which is understandable considering it’s a game based on a game where even the writers had no idea how the actual hell it really worked.
I can’t even find any sales information on the title (best I could eek out is that it may have sold 220,000 units in America with 440,000 units overall, but I can’t be certain because the website on which I got this information has no information on the Japanese sales.
Basically, the game wasn’t a success. In fact, many extensive lists on Yu-Gi-Oh! video games frequently forget this title exists. People say the same about Dungeon Dice Monsters, but at least Dungeon Dice Monsters was actually explained and prominently featured in the main anime. I loved the Dungeon Dice Monsters GBA game.
I honestly don’t know why Capsule Monsters was created. It was set near the end of the original series, but considering GX was premiering right as the original series was airing its final handful of episodes, it can’t be that they intended for it to be some bridge between the two. The Lost Media Wiki says it was made to promote the toys that 4Kids had made, but one of the links that they cite as a source, an ICv2 article, claims the exact opposite.
“The game will be drawn from the Season 5 12-episode story arc that will begin airing in the States in January 2006.”
And if that’s true then…why was the show created? Was it really just to try and get a new toy line for a property that was literally about to end off the ground? Were they really desperate to milk the series for content considering Pokemon was out the door and Yu-Gi-Oh! was left holding the bag? I guess they could have eventually launched a GX version, but considering GX was already airing, why not just start there?
It’s such an oddity. Capsule Monsters had little promotion, little fanfare, no official announcement as far as I saw, but still spawned its own tabletop game, which was very much unsuccessful. It was canceled after only releasing two starter sets and one booster pack. I honestly wouldn’t have even known there was a Capsule Monsters game if I hadn’t seen it once or twice in stores when I was a kid. Even the IMDB page for the anime has a pitiful one review to its name.
It really didn’t help that they made the game entirely different from the way it was played in the manga/Season Zero and the video game. The game 4Kids made up was just as confusing as the other versions. The game is so confusing that they felt the need to release two versions – one basic and one advanced.
It was also released oddly. The figure game was leaked in December of 2005 on Talkinsportsweb.com, then episodes of the show were airing early on January 30, 2006, without any announcement, on the Irish children’s channel, RTE. In TV listings, it was just noted as Yu-Gi-Oh!, meaning viewers thought they’d be seeing normal Yu-Gi-Oh!, but got Capsule Monsters instead, all seemingly without the knowledge of 4Kids and completely by accident on RTE’s part. RTE would continue accidentally airing these Capsule Monsters episodes until February 2, 2006 when they would shift back to GX and keep Capsule Monsters under wraps until August (Ireland was typically able to air 4Kids shows a tiny bit earlier than the US.)
Viewers were both confused and confused. Confused because there was absolutely no information on this show anywhere, nor any Japanese source material, but the evidence was right there on a LiveJournal post that it existed. Confused because the show just seemed so weird. It was still Yu-Gi-Oh!, the main cast was front and center, but it was focused on an entirely new game that, for some reason, involved what looked like arm cannons.
To make things even more confusing, the show was not presented as a spin-off. The reason I say this is because it has the exact same theme song as Yu-Gi-Oh!, just with a few different background clips and the words “Capsule Monsters” put underneath the title, as if this was a different arc of the Yu-Gi-Oh! series, not a spin-off. In addition, at the start of each episode, Yami would just say “Previously on Yu-Gi-Oh!” not “Capsule Monsters.”
Some sources claim it’s a spin-off, others claim it’s just a new arc to the original series that aired some time in the middle of the final season. US TV listings at the time said “Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monsters” which implies a different series, because a different arc would still be the same series. It’s incredibly confusing.
To make matters even worse…..this series comes off like a huge Pokemon rip-off. I don’t like to throw around that word much anymore, but, at its core, this was damn near plagiarism. They kept these monsters in ‘capsules,’ they could be released outside of ‘games’ and follow them around like fairly sentient (but non-verbal) animals, or they could use them as modes of transportation. They were also recalled and released with beams of light and frequently just battled other monsters with no gameplay enacted besides things like type advantages and whatnot. It was really watered down to just “Monster has a weakness against (x), so we have to do (x)”
They also didn’t have actual Capsule Monster games against other people. Capsule Monsters is supposed to be a rough off-shoot of chess, which is why one of the original names for the game in the manga was Capumon/Capsule Monsters Chess. The real world game follows roughly the same-ish format. However, in the anime, they were always just battling head to head against other wild monsters. A lot of the time, the ‘game’ came off like, well, Pokemon battles. You just command the monsters to attack and strategize based purely on certain advantages. You also collect them. And by “collect them” I mean, most of the time, they just sorta stumble upon the capsules and get monsters for free….A few times, though, they did get monsters after battling them first. And some of them just followed them for no reason, which doesn’t sound familiar at all, no sirree.
I think that’s the main reason they came up with that ‘arm cannon’ gimmick for the series when it’s not present in any form of the game, either in the video game, manga or Season Zero. If they didn’t have the arm cannon thing, they’d either have to throw the capsules or open them to release the monsters, and I can bet even 4Kids thought that imagery would probably be a bit too on-the-nose.
Oh and one of Joey’s monsters is the Baby Dragon….and he’d blow fire on Joey. Baby Dragon looks a lot like a mini-Charizard. You piece that together.
Also, fun fact, the rough draft version of Pokemon was called Capsule Monsters, and that was in 1989. I’m not sure I believe the original game in the manga was inspired by/ripped off from Pokemon as Capsule Monsters. The Yu-Gi-Oh! manga originally came out in 1996, and the first Pokemon games were released in Japan in 1996, but the game in the manga and Season Zero is so different that I can’t say anything with any degree of certainty. It is definitely weird is all I’ll say, especially when you take the releases of the video games into consideration.
This specific anime version, however, I’m much more comfortable suspecting as a Pokemon rip-off, especially because 4Kids called for it. Since the completed game was leaked in December of 2005 and the announcement of the license agreement ending was in December of 2005, they likely didn’t know quite yet that they’d be losing Pokemon when they commissioned this series, so I won’t say this was some attempt to fill the void. Maybe it was more like general laziness and mooching off of it, like they were trying to fuse Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and make some sort of super mutant merchandise baby.
There was only one actual game against a real person in the entire series, (even though it was still just a normal battle) and THAT ended up coming off like a rip-off of the duel against Pegasus because one of the main issues in that battle was that Alexander, the main villain, could read Yami’s mind, allowing him to predict his moves and change his game plan accordingly. And Yami responded by confusing him with the Millennium Puzzle because his mind is literally a labyrinth.
One interesting aspect of the series was the fact that the players were able to merge with their monsters and basically partake in battles themselves. And by “players” I mean Yugi 99% of the time. Joey was able to do it once (With Red-Eyes Black Dragon – and it was pretty sick) and everyone else got wings on one occasion, that was about it. This was not only something the main series had done a few times before, but it was also something that felt very much akin to either Digimon Tamers and Biomerging or Digimon Frontier and Spirit Evolution.
The most damning aspect of the show, however, was that it was flatout boring. Most of the monsters in the show were ones we had already seen in the main series, and there were really no fun strategies or, ya know, GAMEPLAY to hook you in. It was just a watered down series of Pokemon battles.
One of the bigger issues some gaming anime have in properly advertising their real-world games is over-fantasizing it. If you can’t even remotely emulate what’s happening in the show in real-life, the real-life game seems very boring by comparison. Yu-Gi-Oh! may involve a lot of fantasy aspects, magic and drama and whatnot, but, at the end of the day, they play the game like everyone else in real life. Capsule Monsters doesn’t do that. They only barely touch upon the actual game in the first episode.
The aspect of Yami becoming a monster himself (or really just him in various suits of armor) was cool, but it would’ve been cooler if everyone else did it regularly. Or, outside of Joey, literally even once. Not to mention the aspect of Capsule Monsters kinda loses something if the main attraction isn’t really the Capsule Monsters but Yami as the Capsule Monsters.
It probably also wasn’t a good move to make the monsters so real but still keep in the aspect of them being able to pretty much die in any battle. I’m not kidding. Their monster companions die near the end – even the tiny cute ones. Imagine Pokemon if you were worried Pikachu would die in any battle.
In addition, the art and animation were clearly either rushed or suffered a case of budget-fever. I’d wager both.
Capsule Monsters aired for 12 episodes, which did contain a full arc, but it’s obvious that 4Kids intended to build something here, otherwise they wouldn’t have tried to launch a whole game on the title. I don’t know if they planned to make a full series themselves or if they hoped Japan would be so hyped on the idea that Konami would run with it and they could just bank off of their stuff. If they really were trying to build something here, why did they do such an awful job promoting this? Did they just give up before they even started?
To be fair, as far as I saw, Capsule Monsters actually didn’t do too bad for itself in ratings. However, it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t generating much word of mouth outside of ‘What the hell is this?’, and just as quickly as it came into fans’ lives, it vanished. They did rerun the show once on Toonzai in 2012, but that was it.
4Kids technically never released the series on DVD either. By that I mean that they released the series on DVD, but only after it had been recut into two movies. The first movie was released on May 23, 2006 while the second was released on September 12, 2006. 4Kids and Konami offered a full free screening of the first movie on Yugioh.com the day before the DVD was released.
Japan would never air this series, presumably because they didn’t want people to think it was canon. As the Lost Media Wiki explained, it’s even questionable if a Japanese version exists. The series is on Studio Gallop’s website, but it’s labeled as Yu-Gi-Oh! ALEX. As far as fans who actually know about it are concerned, they pretty much see the series as being entirely non-canon.
We’re almost rounding the corner into 2007, so we should probably cover the last development of 2006. The next subsidiary 4Kids launched – 4Sight Licensing Solutions. 4Kids had long since been a company aimed squarely at children, but since their scope was narrow and their business was going down, it was time to expand their horizons as much as possible. 4Sight would be geared towards licensing properties for older kids, tweens, teens and adults.
And….uh….eh….kinda? 4Sight licensed a lot of art, for use in apps, calendars, textiles, home décor, stationary etc. For instance, they licensed The Dog and Friends, which was a puppy photography series out of Japan by Artlist inc. that was known for their use of fish-eye lens. They also licensed the artwork of Japanese artist, Hokusai Katsushika, and they got at least three licenses for Pachanga art by Belen Mena. They handled the American Kennel Club license, which 4Kids had handled itself for many years before this, and Crufts, which is the UK version of the AKK basically. They had an agreement with Celestial Imports Ltd, which was largely centered on the Chicaloca brand fashion in Europe.
They got into other media a little. They released a fashion game based on the Chicaloca brand, which was released on mobile platforms and Facebook. It doesn’t seem like this game was very successful because there’s barely any information online about it. Searching for “Chicaloca game 4Sight” only brings up three pages of Google results, most of which are unrelated, and the ones that are related are just announcements for the game’s release.
Less than four months after 4Kids announced they had made a licensing agreement with Microsoft, 4Sight would reach a new multi-year agreement with Microsoft to “work in partnership with Microsoft’s Franchise Development team, exclusively handling all global brand development and merchandising deals for the XBox and XBox 360.” which, as far as I can see, really only amounted to handling the license to Viva Pinata – an XBox 360 game geared more towards kids as opposed to the more teen and adult audience XBox typically catered to, which is….kinda backwards given 4Kids’ intentions with 4Sight.
4Kids—err, excuse me, 4Sight created a cartoon series for the games (4Kids is credited for it practically everywhere), but as for anything else they did with Microsoft or XBox, that remains unclear. Besides mentioning Viva Pinata a few times in official documents and press releases, no other information regarding other Microsoft or XBox properties in relation to 4Kids/4Sight ever came up. They did have some 4Kids show-based games available on the XBox, but that’s not really the same.
As for Viva Pinata, I don’t remember a single lick of either the game or the cartoon, but both seemed to have enjoyed a good degree of success. The cartoon lasted for 91 episodes and three years. That’s pretty darn good. It also has very high ratings on IMDB, even if there are only five reviews.
It’s frustrating that there is such little information on 4Sight available, but I can only surmise that’s because they wound up not doing much with the subsidiary either because they didn’t really know what to do with it or they were afraid to actually enter waters geared towards older audiences. Even when I combed the financial reports for every year, the only mentions of 4Sight were just pointing out that it existed and was owned by 4Kids. I did find a supposedly insanely detailed business report online on 4Sight, but I could only access it if I paid $300, which, ahem…Lol.
4Sight would stay with 4Kids as a subsidiary until the absolute end of the company in 2017.
Also during this year came one of Al Kahn’s most infamous moments where he garnered quite a bit of backlash from the anime and manga fandom. In an ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference, Al Kahn was quoted as saying;
“I think manga is a problem because we’re in a culture that is not a reading culture. Kid’s today don’t read, they read less today. In every survey, we find that they’re watching more television, they’re on the Internet more, and that content, although being king, is very disposable. Because the way content gets put out now, it gets put out free. We’re streaming most of our shows. The reason why we’re streaming them is we want kids to watch them as much as they can, and get vested in the concept and go out and buy products. The products ain’t free. The content is going to be free. And manga in my mind is trying to put a square peg in a round hole in the U.S. It will never be a big deal here, for the kids that are in the computer or the Internet generation, because they’re not going to read. They haven’t read, and they’re not going to start now.”
To say his comments didn’t go over well is an understatement. According to some sources, people booed and hissed at several of his comments. I mean, I don’t really understand how you can go to a Graphic Novel Convention with over 125 panelists – in New York City – and then go on about how kids don’t read and manga is never going to be popular in America and not expect a bad reception, especially in 2006….ya know….when Harry Potter was exploding in popularity.
Reading rates for fun among children fluctuate quite a lot, and data about this specific query was unclear because of the way the studies were conducted and the fact that there were a surprisingly few amount of studies about it. Believe it or not, at least according to data in the decade in which he said this, children read for fun fairly often when they’re young, not as often when they’re teenagers, but then the rates increase again when they become adults. Reading rates among children for recreation did go down steadily as television and video games became more readily available and appealing (in addition to a variety of other factors we won’t explore here – including a noticeable discernment among the sexes.) but it wasn’t a drastic downturn, and upticks happened regularly for a variety of reasons, including reading online.
…..Oh and by the way, this comment would become especially weird in 2009 when 4Kids would become the licensing agent for WordWorld – a former PBS preschool show that promoted *drum roll* LITERACY.
And, of course, Al Kahn just saw this as little more than a money grab.
“WordWorld’s expertise in the creative and educational domains coupled with 4Kids Entertainment’s proven track record in developing entertainment brands is certain to produce exciting results – from a sales and innovation perspective.”
I also find it funny that one of the episodes of Kirby: Right Back at Ya! was shifted around to mooch off of the release of a new Harry Potter BOOK. Like, yeah, kids don’t read, but we also recognize that there’s a massively popular kids’ book series out now that we need to capitalize on.
As we can see now, he was obviously wrong as manga eventually did become incredibly popular in the west, among children as well, even if reading rates continue to fluctuate throughout the years. As recently as 2020, manga sales hit an all-time high.
He was also making these comments right next to many people who worked in the manga industry in America, including people from TokyoPop, Kodansha, and Viz Media. Al never dipped his toes into that world so he just sounded like someone who had no idea what he was talking about acting is if he was an authority on the matter.
It wasn’t just a commentary on how something like manga would never take off in the US – he was flat out saying kids these days were never interested in reading, they aren’t now and they never will be because of digital media, which is not true for a multitude of reasons. Like I said, you can definitely argue that children reading for fun wasn’t as common, but acting as if reading as a whole was dying among children was too outlandish of a claim.
To be completely fair, though, there was some validity in his statements. 2006 was a bad year for manga in Japan. Manga sales had been declining for over a decade at that point, and 2006 was the first year manga sales had dipped below ¥500bil. Print media as a whole was on the decline in Japan, and, basically, manga had just been as affected. Indeed, all commercial print media was down, and, yes, cell phones and digital media were a part of that decline (There were several reasons why both manga and anime were down in Japan at the time – such as two major financial crises for Japan preceding this, low birth rates and even their strict immigration practices.)
Japan was way ahead of us when it came to mobile technology, and they still are. The practice of spending time on your phone instead of reading a book while you’re on the bus or train was increasing. However, manga was available to consume digitally and had been for about three years at that point. It was a ¥9bil industry, and it was growing like wildfire. Consumers loved the low price point, the convenience and the discretion – considering enjoying manga, particularly hentai titles, was embarrassing in public, and reading on a cellphone allowed customers to read in public without having to worry too much about people seeing what they’re reading. The sales for manga this way, I believe, were not reported in the same manner as their print counterparts, so the manga industry was probably doing better than how it looked back then given the purely print numbers.
The fact that Al Kahn didn’t even bring up the concept of digital manga (he even speaks as though it’s not possible for manga to be digitized?) or even digital means of reading as a whole shows that he didn’t know much about what he was talking about, especially since he later comments on how, if you look at people in America, they’re all using MP3 players and cell phones while walking around, but, in Japan, everyone on the subway has a “3000 page manga.” I don’t know if he was exaggerating or being stupid. Most manga have around, I’ll say, between 150-300 pages. A 3000 page manga would be comically large. It is literally two and a half Bibles.
The digital age seemed like such a hindrance to reading in the eyes of older folks, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. The internet boom and the rise of mobile devices made it much easier for kids to learn how to read and gave them more access to different modes of reading – like ebooks, online articles, web comics and even video games.
And just to drive the point home – the American manga industry was doing very well, especially during the start of a major recession. In 2006, manga sales actually grew 22% from $7.5mil to $9.5mil, with sales jumping from $60mil in 2002 to at least $170mil in 2006, and roughly 44% of all graphic novels in bookstores and comic book stores were reported to be manga. Manga sales would see another rise by 10% in 2007. However, this would obviously go down sharply in 2008-2010 due to the worst of the financial crisis hitting as well as lack of big name titles being released and the closure of the Borders bookstore chain among several other factors, until they finally rebounded in 2013. The industry was also growing, albeit, admittedly, slowly. In fact, one of the ways the Japanese manga industry was helping ends meet was through international manga sales, particularly those in the US.
One of the other reasons his comments garnered backlash was because it made off like children were becoming illiterate and we should just….ya know….let them. There’s no profit in promoting reading to kids, so screw it. It really shines a bright light on why 4Kids does everything in their power to remove any and all text, no matter the language, from their shows. They think if they let kids see too many words their profit margins will go down or something. Obviously, basically outright saying “Don’t invest in books, manga or any other reading materials for American kids because kids here don’t read. Instead, let their brains rot and profit off of that.” is a hot take that will certainly not earn you any favors with pretty much damn near anyone in the anime industry, whether State-side or otherwise, considering basically all of them are tightly woven into the manga industry.
Liza Coppola, Vice President of Viz Media, responded by pointing out that Viz had recently partnered with the literacy campaign, Read for America, and stated that, “Manga is a great medium to bring kids back to reading.” Viz had seen a positive response from librarians and children from their manga, and they continue making partnerships for the sake of literacy campaigns to this day. Likewise, in June 2006, Tokyopop also launched a program with the LA Public Library using their manga to promote reading to kids and teens.
As a final note for this year, 4Kids also acquired the licensing rights to Futari wa Pretty Cure. However, they never seemingly recorded a dub for the series at all, presumably because Mew Mew Power hit a brick wall and Magical DoReMi didn’t take off well enough. They announced that they had the license to Precure and never said much about it again. They held onto the rights for about three years until the license was handed over to Ocean Productions so they could finally dub and release the show in English on Canada’s YTV.
All in all, 2006 was….not awful. It was down from 2005 with $71,787,000 in net revenues compared to $80,607,000 in 2005. Yu-Gi-Oh! was still noted as being their biggest contributing factor, though the show’s domestic broadcast returns were down, along with TMNT and Cabbage Patch Kids, despite the latter two recording lower revenue from last year. Revenue from Viva Pinata and Chaotic were noted as giving them a boost in that regard. However, they did end the year in the red with a net loss of $1,006,000 in comparison to 2005 with a net income of $5,069,000. Their stocks did enjoy a significant bump, though – seeing the first rise since 2002-2003.
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