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.
As ANN stated,
“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.
Next – Part 18: 4Kids is No Longer Foxy
Previous – Part 16: Yu-Gi-Oh No!
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