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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.
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.
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…..
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.
2006 was a massive transitional period for 4Kids. Pokemon was out the door. Yu-Gi-Oh!’s initial run was ending. Several titles they had either dubbed or gotten the broadcast rights to were already either over or canceled. 4Kids had become heavily reliant on having at least two or three big titles to serve as their main sources of income. Losing one and having another start to walk off into the sunset was certainly a massive problem for 4Kids. They needed a new big hit, and they needed it fast if they wanted a chance at staying alive, let alone staying as a top contender in the world of children’s media.
In an effort to cast a wider net in the marketing and advertising world, 4Kids formed three new subsidiaries – TC Digital Games, LLC, TC Websites, LLC and 4Sight Licensing Solutions, LLC. We’ll talk about 4Sight a little later since their main hopes rested with TC Digital Games and TC Websites as they would be crafted specifically for a franchise that 4Kids hoped would be its newest biggest hit – one that it would produce in-house and own a majority of the rights to – Chaotic.
TC Digital Games, LLC was formed to be their trading card game company. Because of the massive and continued success of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!’s TCGs, 4Kids invested millions in making an entire section of their company dedicated to creating trading card games. Their flagship game would be the aforementioned Chaotic.
Chaotic was made from an existing Danish TCG called Chaotic: Now or Never!, which was created in 2001 and was based on another card game called Grolls & Gorks that was released in 2000, which itself was based from a toy line called Dracco Heads. Chaotic: Now or Never! was unique in that they had codes on them which could be redeemed for online versions of the same cards and used in online play. The innovative card game had garnered quite a bit of popularity over time.
In 2003, former Upper Deck executive credited with helping make the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG a success in the west, Bryan Gannon, created the US-based Chaotic company, Chaotic USA Entertainment Group, to help bring the franchise overseas. The owners of Chaotic, Dracco Company Ltd. and Apex Marketing, sold the worldwide licensing rights for Chaotic to 4Kids on May 11, 2005. In December 11, 2006, the agreement between 4Kids and Chaotic USA was solidified to help make Chaotic exclusively an American franchise. The contract gave 4Kids the merchandise licensing rights through December 31, 2016.
Chaotic: Now or Never! would cease production in lieu of 4Kids and CUSA making their own sets of cards. The card game would experience numerous changes as a result of this shift. Not only would designs, names, card types and mechanics change, but so would the overall lore and storyline.
One thing that wouldn’t change, however, was the innovative online game integration. In addition to the TCG, 4Kids and CUSA also gained the rights to the patent for the game’s unique structure of having codes on the cards that could be redeemed online for digital copies of the cards that could be used in 4Kids’ and CUSA’s own American version of the online game.
TC Websites, LLC was made to help support this aspect of Chaotic. While there was some talk of TC Websites doing other things besides just managing the Chaotic online game, nothing else really came of it as far as I researched. In 4Kids’ financial documents, they also mentioned hopefully managing more TCGs in the future with TC Digital Games, but, again, nothing came of that either.
The most prominent report I found was that TC Digital Games and TC Websites had acquired the licensing rights to the NFL in October of 2009 and were planning on basically making an NFL version of Chaotic where they would produce football trading cards with codes that could be redeemed online for use in some online game they would develop, but there are very few articles about this, and all of them merely announce that the deal happened. No updates on development, nothing about when such a thing would be released, no mentions of it in any financial report or official document I read, no speculation – nothing. I can only assume 4Kids or the NFL must have backed out of the deal or it otherwise fell through.
4Kids’ partnership with CUSA granted them co-ownership of the two subsidiaries. TC Digital Games would be majority owned by 4Kids with 53% ownership later upped to 55% in 2007 while CUSA owned 47% later reduced to 45%. Unlike with TC Digital Games, the ownership of TC Websites would be a 50/50 split with CUSA, however, this would also change to a 55/45 split in favor of 4Kids in 2007. With this partnership and co-ownership, and now owning 32% of CUSA (with his Vice President, John Milito, owning another 32%) and 60% of the outstanding capital stock in Apex, Bryan Gannon would be made CEO of TC Digital Games and TC Websites – effectively making him the helmsman of the entire Chaotic franchise.
In addition to the TCG and online game, which would launch on October 24, 2007, 4Kids and CUSA would also work together with Bardel Entertainment and Dong Woo Animation to produce and distribute a new cartoon series based on the title that would premiere on October 7, 2006. The TV show, TCG and the online game were all interwoven. While the TCG codes allowed players to create their real-life decks in the game, the TV series would implement real strategies that would help players get better at the game.
The DVD situation with Chaotic is a little confusing. I can find several volumes of Chaotic DVDs, but most of them are just in French. From what I can find, it seems that Canada got a series DVD release in French, but not the US in English, which is extremely odd. The first two volumes claim they’re in English, but according to reviews it’s actually only in French, which is, I assume, why the Amazon and eBay star ratings are so low. I also found one box set in Portuguese.
I did find one full DVD box set available in English on Retroanimation.com, but I’m very wary of its legitimacy, mostly because the only other place I’ve found it is backtothe80sDVDs.com – a place that seems…..less than legal? Their bread and butter is selling DVD collections of old commercials, but they also sell a ton of DVDs of retro TV shows and movies, most of which either being cartoons or live-action kids’ media. I can’t remember for which show it was, but the last time I visited this site searching for DVDs of a show, it was clear they were just selling the TV rips to the show in a DVD format as the official DVDs didn’t exist. Skulking around a bit more, it seems that’s quite common of them to do that since the preview videos for House of Mouse and Dave the Barbarian (which never got a DVD releases) have the Disney Channel logos on them. From the preview videos of Chaotic, it seems like it’s legitimate because there aren’t any TV station logos, but they could have just taken the DVD footage from foreign DVDs and put the English TV audio tracks on them.
The other thing that makes me very wary about this box set is that, on the backtothe80sDVDs set listing, it says the box set comes with four hours of 1990s commercials….which….uhm…why? If this was legitimate, they wouldn’t include four hours of retro commercials as a bonus feature – commercials I’m also quite certain they’re not legally authorized to sell.
4Kids was extremely ambitious about Chaotic. They even publicly stated they planned on having the animated series last at least seven years.
Make no mistake, however. 4Kids and CUSA were both taking huge gambles with this outing. In the financial report for 2006, 4Kids outlines in detail the various risks associated with this venture, claiming that, should Chaotic fail, they would lose massive investments. According to the documents for that year, they had invested $10,000,000 in TC Digital Games and $20,000,000 in TC Websites out the gate. In addition, while Chaotic was still largely an American property now, their agreement with Dracco and Apex included a 10% net income fee annually.
Luckily for them, for all intents and purposes, Chaotic was shaping up to be a good success in its first year. It looked like it would become the life preserver 4Kids desperately needed when its future was looking grim. At its peak, Chaotic enjoyed the number three spot on the top TCGs on the market at the time, beating out Magic: The Gathering, but never quite beating out Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Chaotic also won out over Magic online with 1.25 million registered players on chaoticgame.com as opposed to Magic’s 150,000 players.
The show didn’t receive the same success initially. The animated series had a rough outing with the first season, but fans responded more positively to seasons two and three, which had a bump in production quality (moving from Flash to traditional animation and changing animation studios) and better writing. Still, the show wasn’t a huge hit or anything. According to as many ratings reports from Cynopsis Media that I could find between the years 2006 and 2010, it frequently lost out in ratings to TMNT 2003, Sonic X and Yu-Gi-Oh!, sometimes even Viva Pinata and Dinosaur King, and never once dominated the block.
When it was run later in the day in syndication on Cartoon Network, the situation was about the same – it did okay numbers at best, but never really broke out into big popularity. The show managed to get three seasons, airing primarily on 4Kids TV with season three moved to The CW4Kids, and reruns airing on a variety of networks and blocks such as Canada’s Teletoon and Jetix.
For about two years. Chaotic continued to be a decent success, but then, in 2010, Chaotic was canceled. The TCG ceased production. The online game went offline. And Chaotic as a franchise faded into obscurity with a moderately small but very loyal fanbase still keeping what was left of the game alive.
Many fans wondered exactly what happened. And when I started writing this article, I didn’t think much of it. Chaotic probably suffered the same problems every other canceled franchise or show did – it wasn’t making enough money. Little did I know of the massive rabbit hole I would wander into…..
Everywhere I looked, fans asserted that Chaotic was doing wonderfully around the time it was shut down. The show was doing fantastic, the TCG was selling well, the online game was doing well, they even had some console and handheld video game releases. In their eyes, it made no sense whatsoever that Chaotic died.
Some time after Chaotic ended, someone claimed that the reason for Chaotic’s downfall was a “series of lawsuits” in which 4Kids was trying to acquire the full rights to Chaotic from CUSA to maximize their profits from the property. 4Kids supposedly claimed that they somehow felt entitled to 100% of the rights because they had 55% majority ownership, which makes absolutely no sense. Basically, 4Kids was being greedy and trying to bully the franchise away from its original owners. However, this move blew up in 4Kids’ face spectacularly.
Not only did they not gain the full rights to the series, but at the start of the trial, the judge allegedly put a hold on the entire property – no Chaotic merchandise could be made or sold as long as the trial was going on, and, according to the rumors, the trial went on for about four years. No TV show, TCG, online transactions or other merchandise sold for a franchise for years would easily mean its doom. And, according to the rumor, it was.
According to the rumor…
I typically like to have at least some sources when I make any claims, even if the best sources I can get still aren’t entirely concrete. But so many people were parroting this story and asserting it as absolute fact that I went and wrote nearly three pages about this whole ordeal and how it was 4Kids at their lowest, proving them to be one of the scummiest licensing companies in existence without any actual evidence besides the words of the Chaotic fans. When I got to the editing portion, I decided I definitely needed some actual sources for this because it was too harsh of a claim for me to feel comfortable acting as if it was fact, even if this is 4Kids we’re dealing with.
However, no matter where I looked, no matter how many documents I scanned, I couldn’t find a single, solitary sliver of evidence that this lawsuit ever existed. I even asked the Chaotic Reddit community for literally any source for this claim, no matter how small, and all I got was someone telling me to watch the interviews with Bryan Gannon on Youtube.
There are three interviews with Bryan Gannon on Youtube, all of which I had watched in full before I went to Reddit, and none of which contained any mention of a lawsuit by 4Kids. The only interview that even mentioned 4Kids was just talking about how it took several years for Bryan Gannon and CUSA to get the rights back from 4Kids (then 4Licensing) after Chaotic died – only managing to finally get full rights back in 2014.
Someone else mentioned that most of the details about the lawsuit would probably be under an NDA, which makes some degree of sense, but you guys need to understand something here. My search engine skills are pretty damn strong. I am annoyingly curious, and I hate when I can’t find something, so I typically look for a very long time until I at least find some nuggets to work with. I can find some of the most obscure shit, and during the course of this deep dive I most certainly have, whether it was useful and interesting or not, and yet, somehow, I haven’t been able to find a trace of this lawsuit even existing. Forget getting details about it – I can’t find proof that this supposedly four year long lawsuit existed.
I even silently joined the Chaotic Discord server and looked for any post involving “4Kids” or “Lawsuit” or words of that nature, and all I got was people talking about the 4Kids lawsuit, but no sources for it, not even anyone explaining who told them the rumor in the first place. I had found two Youtube videos that stated this rumor as the reason Chaotic died, one of which may have been the source of the rumor in the first place, but all they said in the video was that it was something someone told them.
One of the reasons I decided to note the various lawsuits 4Kids has been involved in throughout the years at the end of each section has been to act as a demonstration of the level of detail the financial reports provide. 4Kids needed to note each and every bit of litigation they went through, no matter how minor, no matter if it was just their subsidiary going through it and not technically their main company, because these were official financial reports. They needed to be registered in legally official channels, and they needed to be presented to shareholders, who have a right to know about any major financial impacts currently going in the company they’re investing in, like, say, a multi-year long lawsuit that could literally make or break them and wound up allegedly destroying a big franchise that they helped create. NDAs, as far as I know, would never restrict them from merely reporting that the lawsuit existed. And it would be stupid on the part of 4Kids because that would mean they’d probably be withholding reports of massive expenses, which could land them in legal trouble with the IRS.
Even if I wanted to put on the biggest tin foil hat and say 4Kids, for some reason, was keeping this the biggest secret they could, there still would have been official legal reports of the lawsuit kept in legal archives available to the public. I looked in as many places as I could from publicly owned legal archive websites to official government archives and found absolutely nothing, even though I did find documents for all of the other lawsuits 4Kids and CUSA had been involved in separately or together, never against each other.
Stepping away from lawsuit talk for a minute, let’s discuss how Chaotic was objectively doing out in the wilds of the marketplace. In its first several months after release, Chaotic was doing alright and was staying near the top, it just wasn’t the huge hit 4Kids was hoping it would be. It was on a steady track of meeting revenue expectations, but not exceeding them. It wasn’t the next Pokemon or even Yu-Gi-Oh!, but it was holding its own. Even when Kahn would admit to being anxious about the massive undertaking of Chaotic, as late as February 2009, the LA Times responded by claiming that Chaotic was doing so well that Kahn’s “initial worries [were] proven to be unfounded.”
I have to wonder how Al Kahn responded when he read that article, if he did, because that article was released just one month before Q4 of 2008 reports would be released – Q4 2008 being the biggest hit Chaotic and 4Kids would ever take.
The Great Recession of 2007-2009 was hitting them hard. They were losing money across the board for any merchandise sales on any property they had left – and they were losing it to shocking degrees. 4Kids began laying people off and reducing operating costs to help offset the losses. 4Kids was already on wobbly ground when it came to their revenue, but they were getting by. 4Kids was clearly putting almost all of their eggs into Chaotic’s basket, because, truth be told, it was one of the last baskets they really had. Several times over 2008, their earnings were touted as being boosted by Chaotic sales, which were only going up. They needed Q4 to be particularly good in order to be as stable as possible.
I can’t stress enough how important Q4 is to companies that focus on children’s media/toys/merchandise etc. This is the holiday season, meaning what is typically expected to be a huge boost in sales that most any company needs, but especially 4Kids. However, instead, the fourth quarter of the year was abysmal.
Due to the financial crisis, stores were canceling orders for merchandise and even returning merchandise they had acquired in order to reduce overhead and save money. Particularly, many stores were reducing the amount of seemingly superfluous items like trading cards, video games and toys. Speculation from the way 4Kids words their reports also indicates that Chaotic’s lower popularity compared to other TCGs and shows/franchises contributed to Chaotic having higher levels of returned merchandise than competing properties.
Chaotic had trainwrecked. In Q3, they had $7.3mil in revenue for Chaotic, a number they hoped would jump up quite a bit in Q4 to help them meet projected earnings of at least a year-end total of $20-30mil. In Q4, they only managed $500,000 in trading card revenue from Chaotic. In addition, their net losses were up from $16,486,000 in Q4 of 2007 to $19,613,000 in Q4 2008, making their year-end earnings for Chaotic $15,276,000 – $5mil short of their lowest project earnings target. Overall for the year 2008, they wound up with a net loss of $36,819,000 compared to the net loss in 2007 of $23,326,000.
“The sharp economic downturn and associated severe deterioration of consumer confidence starting in September 2008 deeply impacted our licensing revenue and trading card game sales in the fourth quarter. Our results were also impacted by declining licensing revenue throughout the year from some of our more established properties. While we are extremely disappointed by our results for 2008, we implemented significant cost cutting initiatives in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 that we expect to reduce our operating costs by $25 million in 2009 as compared with 2008.”
“This decline in sales is primarily due to retailers and distributors reducing, canceling or returning orders in an effort to reduce their inventory as they respond to the rapid, steep economic decline. In addition to impacting sales, it also triggered an increase in our reserve for returns and allowances and a $3 million write-down of our trading card inventory.”
Even in the shadow of this this sharp decline, Kahn still remained optimistic.
“Despite the fourth quarter sales numbers, Chaotic finished the year as the number three selling trading card game in the U.S. behind Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!,”
“Looking forward, we believe Chaotic still offers a tremendous opportunity for 4Kids in the future as we roll out the Chaotic trading cards in the UK, France and Germany during the first half of 2009. Chaotic will also be bolstered by the revised and improved Chaoticgame.com website that went live on March 3 and is now available in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. We also expect additional Chaotic licensed products to be available from our master toy licensee, Spin Master, and our videogame partner, Activision Publishing, which is scheduled to release a Chaotic video game on the Wii™, Nintendo DS™, Xbox 360®, and PLAYSTATION®3 platforms in fall 2009.”
2009, however, would have its own set of problems. Chaotic’s sales were reportedly very unreliable as noted in 2009 because, according to Kahn, the conversion to “pay on scan” was making it so Chaotic wasn’t selling much at all on their reports. In Q2 of 2009, they mentioned during their earnings call to shareholders that they shipped $2.6mil of Chaotic merchandise, but it couldn’t be reported back as actual sales until it sold in retail outlets and their sales were reported back to 4Kids.
There’s something else you need to keep in mind about Chaotic. Since 4Kids was footing most of the bill for the production of the cards and the upkeep of the online game, their production costs were up quite a bit from previous years. Their trading card production costs were usually either the highest bill they had or at least in the top three.
In Q4 2009, 4Kids reported taking a $20,195,000 impairment charge related to Chaotic merchandise. Declining interest in the property had forced 4Kids to allow for drastic markdowns of merchandise already in stores, the returned merchandise was basically just collecting dust as retailers were not increasing their orders once they were reduced, and they were also taking losses on the TV show in regards to production costs versus returns.
I want to remind everyone that 4Kids expected Chaotic would have between $20-30mil in revenue in its first year – a number that was expected to grow as time went on.
We know it didn’t reach the first year projected goal. What of 2009?
Only $2,603,000 in revenue to offset that staggering $20.6mil loss that was added onto the $12,947,000 in losses for the trading card and game division in 2008.
In 2010, the year production would cease on Chaotic, TC Digital Games and TC Websites would report a mere $247,000 in revenue with $6,736,000 in losses.
As 4Kids reported, due to “continued lack of profitability,” TC Digital Games, TC Websites and, as a result, Chaotic, would all shut down production on September 30, 2010. Support for the website and trading card game would cease on October 1, 2010.
For some unknown reason, 4Kids would still latch onto their majority share of the rights for another four years, supposedly preventing the franchise from attempts at revival by CUSA and Bryan Gannon. However, the rights are back with them now.
Bryan Gannon stated a bunch of optimistic things about Chaotic’s future, including bringing the TV show back – not rebooting it, but continuing on in the storyline it left off – bringing the TCG back, bringing the online game back, though focusing more on a mobile app version, and creating Chaotic for a new generation of players and fans while also honoring and catering to loyal fans. Obviously, COVID has put a dent in these plans, but from everything I’ve heard they’re still plugging away.
I think that’s great, and I’m glad that, despite not being a Chaotic fan myself as a kid (Although, I was aware of both the show and the TCG) that the franchise will hopefully rise again and enjoy new life. Bryan Gannon seems legitimately passionate about the franchise, the fans appear to be even more passionate and excited, and I wish him, the fans and Chaotic all the best in the future.
I’d be one of the first to jump on a ‘4Kids bad’ bandwagon, but from all of the facts I’ve gone through, they didn’t do anything wrong in this circumstance. They just took a gamble and it failed because of factors mostly out of their control. They didn’t try to steal Chaotic from CUSA or Bryan Gannon just to eat up all the money they could from a franchise that was on life support. They didn’t allow the franchise to stagnate for years and eventually die while wasting god knows how much money on their legal team for a clearly fruitless venture instead of just dropping the supposed lawsuit as soon as the pointlessness was made apparent.
It just died.
Had the financial crisis not happened, Chaotic could have lived a more prosperous life, but let’s not fool ourselves. It wasn’t ever going to be a big juggernaut in children’s entertainment, it wasn’t going to break new ground, and it likely wouldn’t have saved 4Kids from the bankruptcy they’d soon suffer along with its inevitable death four years later.
As for why this rumor about a bunch of lawsuits came to pass, I have a theory. The Yu-Gi-Oh! lawsuit was coming up around the same time they shut the doors on Chaotic. I believe someone just either mistook the Yu-Gi-Oh! lawsuit for one involving Chaotic or they purposefully bent the truth to stoke a ‘4Kids bad’ fire.
This would be more of a stretch if it wasn’t for the fact that the judge in the Yu-Gi-Oh! lawsuit put a hold on the rights until the lawsuit was over. In the case of Yu-Gi-Oh!, 4Kids had brought up concerns about TV Tokyo and NAS selling the rights to Yu-Gi-Oh! when they were in the middle of preparing to release Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL. No matter the outcome of the lawsuit, if the rights were sold while the lawsuit was going down, they’d suffer a massive loss of income. In turn, the judge ordered a hold on the Yu-Gi-Oh! license until everything was cleared up. To be specific, this was just a hold on the licensing rights – not on any productions involving Yu-Gi-Oh!. However, that particular similarity felt like too much of a coincidence.
In all honesty, I can’t imagine any judge ordering that a company stop producing a product altogether just because a lawsuit over full rights is ongoing, at least in the circumstance of a supposed lawsuit over Chaotic. 4Kids would own the rights either way. If they won, they’d own 100%. If they lost, they’d go back to owning 55%. There’s absolutely no reason a judge would order a full production hold. That’s needlessly massively harmful to both companies in question and makes absolutely no sense.
In summary, always check your sources. The most important aspect of that being always make sure you have a source in the first place. I absolutely don’t blame the Chaotic community for spreading this rumor as there was no real announcement about the cancellation or the closing of TC Digital Games or TC Websites to work from, and that is on 4Kids’ shoulders. I sincerely doubt anyone in their situation is going to dig through long, boring and sometimes difficult as hell to read financial reports and earnings calls transcripts for crumbs of information regarding the cancellation of a trading card game and cartoon – that’s a bit unreasonable. The only reason I dug that much is because my brain doesn’t like not being neurotic for five seconds.
Rumors like that can spread like wildfire very quickly, especially if the people who seemingly started the rumors are trusted people in the community. It’s just a little disheartening that this rumor is still taken as fact by so many people. I know my blog doesn’t have that many readers, but I hope some individuals from the Chaotic community read this and help clear this matter up. To what end, I don’t know. It’s not like 4Kids is around anymore or it’s some massive wrong that needs to be righted, but maybe it’ll do something positive for someone.
If I am truly wrong and someone can actually provide me with concrete evidence of any kind that the lawsuit did happen, then I will gladly post a retraction to all of this and offer a sincere apology, but I legitimately worked my ass off for weeks trying to find anything that would actually be valid proof and I just couldn’t. It was all word of mouth from within the fandom.
As a final note, I do concede that it was still awful of 4Kids/4Licensing to latch onto the majority rights for four more years when they weren’t getting anything from it. I have no way of knowing why they did that, but it seems very petty of them. Legally, they were actually in the right here as their contract said their rights agreement would go until 2017, but they weren’t doing anything with the license, it was making them absolutely no money, and at least they might be able to get some income by selling the rights back. I guess we’ll never know the answer to that one for sure.
As they rounded the corner into 2006, 4Kids started wrapping up production on their eighth and final Pokemon season, Advanced Battle, as well their eighth and final Pokemon movie, Pocket Monsters Advanced Generation the Movie: Mew and the Wave Hero Lucario, retitled Lucario and the Mystery of Mew.
As I mentioned in my own review/comparison of the movie, I really feel like 4Kids wanted to go out strong in their last Pokemon excursion (even though, technically, the show still hadn’t finished being dubbed when the movie came out…..I’m still calling it as their last big hurrah) because their dubbing job on Movie 08 was one of if not their absolute best dubbing job. While there are some minor changes here and there, and some very typical 4Kidsisms, they weren’t that drastic or that bad, and the voice actors brought their A-game. It greatly helps that the original movie is also heralded as the best Pokemon movie to date.
While none of the Pokemon movies ever really seem to be big hits with critics, Movie 08 was about as close as they had gotten. The movie was praised for its action, comedy and excitement while also having a good story and great animation, but others criticized the dub’s more pop-ish music and the fact that the good story took a back seat to Ash and Lucario in the second half of the movie.
The Pokemon movies were also finally out of the hands of Miramax and into the more capable hands of Viz Video…..However, the movie was still released in 4:3 and would never get an American 16:9 release. It would be released in English in widescreen in Australia, but it’s disappointing that it’s never been released State-side in widescreen format. As far as I can tell, Movie 08 is the only Pokemon movie that was never re-released in 16:9 or given a Blu-Ray release in the US as Pokemon Movie 09 would be the first Pokemon movie to ever be released in the US as 16:9 from the start.
The DVD included some bonus features such as a letter from the director, a behind-the-scenes featurette and a slideshow. The original DVD release didn’t come with anything else. However, the Collector’s Edition, which was released at the same time, included two special bonuses – a limited edition Mew card and The Mastermind of Mirage Pokemon 10th anniversary special (re-dubbed version).
This is actually really awkward, when you think about it. The Mastermind of Mirage Pokemon, which was made specifically for American audiences to have something unique of their own to premiere during the 10th anniversary, which I think is pretty darn cool, was not dubbed by 4Kids. PUSA had already made their presence known and had dubbed the anniversary themselves, which, if you ask me, is one of the biggest passive-aggressive bitchslaps I’ve ever seen.
4Kids – at LEAST the cast and crew of the show – earned the right to dub the 10th anniversary special. Ripping it from them was bad enough, but oh no….They also aired it on Kids WB, which was basically 4Kids first domain, before the DVD release, and bundled it (redubbed, however, in order to improve the script and voice work) with the eighth movie in the Collector’s Edition, subsequently strong-arming 4Kids out of the limelight in what was supposed to be their final goodbye to the franchise. Just…wow.
I can say with certainty that PUSA made one of the worst first impressions as a dubbing company I’ve ever seen. Say what you will about 4Kids, but this whole situation with PUSA was just embarrassing.
As for 4Kids and their talented and caring cast and numerous hard-working crew members (Okay, mostly just the cast and crew.) who made the original dubbed Pokemon what it was – for better or worse – I don’t think we should forget that they introduced that awesome show and, to a degree, game to our lives as kids and helped make it the beloved franchise that it continues to be today for an entirely new generation and even the adults out there who still enjoy it, myself included…..I know 4Kids likes to pat themselves on the back and it’s usually unwarranted, but I think they deserve some credit here, and I think they deserve a proper send off as we move on from this historical moment in English dubbed anime history.
The time has come.
It’s for the best, I know it.
Who could have guessed that you and I,
Somehow, someway…..we’d have to say….Goodbye.
2005 was a year that would be historical for 4Kids and Pokemon. It was definitely the first sign of dark clouds on the horizon for one and rocky roads eventually leading to greener pastures for the other. On October 10, 2005, 4Kids sold their 3% stake in The Pokemon Company back to them, meaning they would not get anymore revenue from Pokemon in Asian markets. While I can’t find any information on how much they bought it for, they sold the stake for $960,000.
TPC then announced that they would not be renewing their contract with 4Kids which was set to expire on December 31, 2005. Pokemon USA was instead tasked by TPC to be their own in-house North American dubbing and distribution company. Beginning in 2006, they would be creating and launching their own dub of Pokemon. Pokemon USA was created all the way back in 2001 to handle overseas licensing in the Americas, meaning they were probably planning for this day for a while. They no longer needed 4Kids, stripping them of one of their biggest titles and being one of the biggest hits 4Kids would ever take. (Some sources say 4Kids just dropped Pokemon, but I can’t fathom why they would. It was still one of their absolute top earners, and would continue being so for years even simply through residuals after they lost the license. Dropping the license would cause nothing but problems for them, so I don’t see what the logic is in the assumption that they dropped it.) 4Kids would be allowed to dub season eight, Advanced Battle, as well as the eighth Pokemon movie, Lucario and the Mystery of Mew, but that would be it.
While Al Kahn publicly wished PUSA all the best and celebrated eight years with the show, the company losing its main tentpole was far from good news. In addition, the voice actors were not at all pleased at being spontaneously fired from a series that they had put eight years of work into and had become beloved to many of them. Keep in mind, Pokemon was not just 4Kids’ big break – it was also the doorway to relative stardom for many of the voice actors. And throughout the years both the company and the voice actors (but mostly the voice actors) had been endeared to the fans and vice versa. To quote my recently edited-in entry on the ninth Pokemon movie review;
“None of the original voice actors were happy about being dumped by the new company, even though Maddie Blaustein took it in stride. Eric Stuart said they were driven by greed and even implied that this would be the death of the show, even though we now know that was an incorrect prediction, Veronica Taylor stated PUSA cares nothing about quality and that it’s ridiculous for them to claim it will be identical when they’re gutting everything 4Kids and the original VAs did to the show, and Rachel Lillis was pissed, she straight out said so, especially towards someone I’ll address in a second. In fact, they were all blindsided by both the fact that they were all being ‘fired’ AND the fact that 4Kids lost the rights in the first place. No one told them anything, there was no warning, they just told them they were being replaced and moved on.
So why were the original cast members shafted anyway? According to Eric Stuart, Veronica Taylor and Rachel Lillis – it was all just to save money. It was cheaper to hire a cast of “sound-alikes” than it was to keep the new cast on board, and they thought the fans would be too stupid to notice or wouldn’t care because, again, voice actors are treated like shit. But, of course, the fans DID notice and DID care, but by that point it was too late.
None of them asked for more money. They all would have worked for the same amount 4Kids was already paying them, which, by implications, was already not that great, but PUSA never negotiated for their contracts or invited them back. They just showed them the door.
To make matters worse, one of the PUSA voice actors, Bill Rogers, the new voice of Brock, made a post on Serebii.net that Rachel Lillis did not take kindly to at all because he made off like the original voice actors’ old contracts had a clause that made it so they couldn’t come over to the new company and could never be involved in future Pokemon projects. According to Rachel Lillis, no such clause existed whatsoever and he had “no idea what (he) was talking about.” and said all of this was incredibly shady.
And she was right to think that way because some of the original cast were eventually invited back to play bit parts and reprise some of their roles (none of the main cast) briefly, barring, oddly enough, Veronica Taylor of all people, and Eric Stuart. TAJ Productions, which was originally 4Kids’ dubbing partner and was PUSA’s dubbing partner for a bit, went out of business in early 2008 and was replaced by DuArt Film and Video. They made the decision to bring in some of the old voice actors, although to what end I really don’t know. None of them reprised big parts, except Dan Green who got to reprise Mewtwo, and Ted Lewis, who got to reprise Giovanni, and the parts they got that weren’t reprisals were kinda insulting (the last two roles they gave to Rachel Lillis before she left were voices of Pokemon….) The biggest roles the old cast seemed to land were Erica Schroeder, who originally voiced Nurse Joy, voicing Bianca in Black and White, and Jason Griffith, who really only had CotD/CotM parts in the original series, eventually voicing Cilan in Black and White.”
However, due to the way 4Kids’ contract was structured, they would reap some benefits from Pokemon. An article from Business Wire stated “4Kids will continue to receive commissions for the next several years on payments made under existing Pokemon license agreements whose term expires after December 31, 2005. It is expected that commissions earned by 4Kids from the Pokemon property will decline over the course of the next several years.”
As I stated, this money flow from old licensed work would continue to be substantial enough to be one of 4Kids’ bigger sources of income throughout a good chunk of the rest of their existence….However, that was a bit of a double-edged sword. It would be revealed in 2011, when they were filing for their first round of bankruptcy, that 4Kids still owed TPC quite a lot of money, $4.7mil in fact. According to an audit that TPC did in 2010 for the years between mid-2001 and 2008, 4Kids didn’t account for nearly $4,700,000 in “deficiencies” from undisclosed sources. The only specific thing brought up in the document is Pokemon Movie 04. 4Kids surrendered its right to receive any profits from the movie as a result of the dispute, so I assume it had something to do with that, at least (Although the movie didn’t make nearly enough to be worth all of that), but there are likely other areas that contributed to those deficiencies.
In 2012, they completed a settlement agreement in which TPC would receive $1,000,000 plus interest.
As this storm started, 4Kids would be in the middle of releasing Pokemon season seven, Advanced Challenge, and Pokemon Movie 07, Pocket Monsters Advanced Generation the Movie: Deoxys the Sky-Splitting Visitor, which would be retitled, Pokemon: Destiny Deoxys.
Ironically, things would actually start looking a tiny bit brighter for 4Kids on the Pokemon front.
Despite Destiny Deoxys still not seeing a theatrical release, 4Kids had a better idea on how to give the movie more attention. They struck a deal with Warner Bros. to have the movie air on Kids WB on January 20, 2005 – three weeks before it would be released on DVD. This would turn out to be an incredibly smart move, giving Kids WB the best ratings they’ve had in their target demographic since 2003. The movie did need to be edited for TV – particularly 15 minutes of footage needed to be removed and some footage was sped up for it to properly fit the broadcast slot. However, the DVD version was left intact. You can find all of the cuts required for broadcast length on Bulbapedia.
On February 15, 2005, Destiny Deoxys would be released on VHS and DVD. For the final time, the movies would be released by Miramax, and for the first time, the movie would not be accompanied by a short – allowing the movie to be extra long.
To their credit, Miramax would actually do better with their cropping issues on this movie. Despite still being released in 4:3 as opposed to 16:9, they edited the cropped footage better and panned the shots instead of jutting the footage when characters needed to be in frame. In re-releases, the movie would be in 16:9.
The initial DVD release would include a promotional Deoxys card. However, unlike the other promotional cards, this one would be given out at various other events, making it not quite as exclusive as the others.
The DVD also came with special features such as a ‘Who’s That Pokemon?’ game, a behind-the-scenes featurette with the director, a Pokemon quiz game and gallery art for the posters. However, as has been the norm with Miramax, their subsequent re-releases of the movie would not include these features despite recycling the box art that claims they’re on the disc. However, again, this issue would be fixed in the 2020 re-release.
For the edits that were attributed to 4Kids alone, the movie actually didn’t fare too badly. It’s noted as being one of their better dubs.
Critically, the movie earned a resounding ‘Meh’ from non-fan audiences – claiming it was decent, but not much better than the average Pokemon episode. Fans responded positively to the movie, praising its intense action, more mature feeling and fun characters – particularly Munchlax and Deoxys. It’s still not considered one of best Pokemon movies, but it is fondly remembered by many.
Overall, 2005 was a lower year for 4Kids, which isn’t really a surprise. They had net revenues of $86,662,000, down from $103,306,000 in 2004. Their net income was basically halved with $5,069,000 compared with $12,730,000 in 2004. Declines in returns from Yu-Gi-Oh!, Kirby, Pokemon and TMNT as well as One Piece and Mew Mew Power were blamed for some of the loss while Cabbage Patch Kids and Winx Club were credited as helping offset it.
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“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Bringing new anime essays and reviews every Monday at 12 PM EST.
Anime that pops!
Quick rants about everything there is and ever was
Exploring Anime and Entertainment
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Blog for everything anime, manga, and otaku culture.
Where insights on anime, games and life converge
The Best Space for Exploring East Asian Pop Culture. Anime, Manga, and Kdrama Reviews, Recaps, Discussions and Theories all in one place.
"Making dreams come true, one (agonizingly slow) episode at a time."
Examining the world of solved and unsolved cases.
Half the comedy, all the taste
blog from the author of the 真柏Project series
The Anime Breakdown that you neither want nor need!