The ICv2 Awards are an on-line continuation of a tradition that began in Internal Correspondence, the print predecessor of ICv2, over a decade ago. These awards are given as a way of reflecting on the events of the year and to draw some conclusions from them. The ICv2 Awards are based entirely on the business impact of events on retailers, as determined by the editorial staff of ICv2.
Top Anime Company of the Year -- Funimation Productions
Our choice for Anime Company of the Year was a tough one, but in the end we chose Funimation Productions, a pioneering U.S. anime producer/distributor. Funimation successfully launched Dragon Ball GT, the final portion of the long-running (500 + episodes) Dragon Ball saga, in 2003, while also grabbing a number of licenses which should ensure that Funimation will be a US anime powerhouse for years to come.
In addition to its three Dragon Ball series, Funimation's Yu Yu Hakusho anime series received some solid TV exposure on the Cartoon Network in 2003, and the property has already expanded to include a Yu Yu Hakusho CCG from Score and a Yu Yu toy line from Jakks Pacific. In 2003 Funimation also began to reap the benefits of the 'Anime Deal of 2002' with the successful release of 4Kids' properties on video including the very popular Yu-Gi-Oh! series.
Funimation first released Dragon Ball GT on video, where the first two DBGT DVDs immediately cracked the Top 20 for all releases compiled by Nielson's VideoScan service. Rather than release the episodes of the Dragon Ball GT series in the same order in which they originally appeared in Japan, Funimation chose to front-load the series with action-packed episodes -- and when the series debuted on the Cartoon Network in November, it vindicated Funimation's strategy by delivering very strong ratings (see 'Dragon Ball GT's Awesome Debut').
Collectors would prefer to see anime series presented in the same order in which they originally appeared, but Funimation is more concerned with mass -market success than with pleasing the cognoscenti -- and a check of the monthly Nielson VideoScan lists of anime releases will always find some Funimation titles in the Top 10, even though the absence of Wal-Mart numbers from the VideoScan's reporting base tends to mask the extent of Funimation's success.
While the Dragon Ball property slipped in 2003 from the #1 position it held in 2002 on the Lycos Top 50 list of Internet searches, it still remains at #3, well ahead of its nearest anime competitor, Yu-Gi-Oh! at #22. Funimation's release of the eighth movie in the DBZ cycle, Dragonball Z #8: Broly, The Legendary Super Saiyan, was one of the best-selling anime DVDs of the year.
Still, despite the saga's longevity, finding a suitable replacement for Dragon Ball is a key element of Funimation's strategy. In 2003 Funimation acquired the action-packed science fiction anime series Kiddy Grade, as well as the romantic science fiction comedy series Tenchi GXP, and several Sakura Wars OVAs -- all potentially popular series with the American anime audience; but its major acquisition of the year was Detective Conan.
Detective Conan is the most highly rated anime series in Japan, and if Funimation can figure out how to handle the apparent incongruity of a tiny, child-size detective (who is actually a teenager) dealing with graphic, CSI-level crime-solving criminology, the company could have another long-running hit on its hands. In Japan, Detective Conan is currently at some 340 episodes and counting.
Funimation was hardly the only company receiving major consideration for our 2003 award. ADV continued its multi-faceted approach with the launch of manga and toy divisions as well as leading the charge into live action anime remakes as an important player in the proposed live action Evangelion film. Meanwhile in 2003 ADV's own anime creations Mutineer's Moon and Lady Death moved toward release, while its American version of Newtype magazine grew in circulation and its Anime Network expanded across the country.
Although it released far fewer films than ADV, Buena Vista Home Video became a major player in 2003 thanks to its release of three Studio Ghibli films directed by Hayao Miyazaki, including our Product of the Year, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Kiki's Delivery Service.
In 2003, Viz helped Inu-Yasha become one of the very top anime/manga properties in the US, while Tokyopop had a major anime success with the powerful launch of Initial D. Urban Vision, another company with a very limited number of releases, also scored a big hit with the release of the TV anime version of Ninja Scroll, while Bandai released a string of strong titles including the final Love Hina releases and stylish new series Witch Hunter Robin. In 2003 both Bandai and Viz decided they had more than enough critical mass to leave Pioneer and set up their own distribution systems. Pioneer changed its name to Geneon and came up with a number of strong releases including Ai Yori Ayoshi and promising late year additions, Last Exile and Someday's Dreamers.
Anime Product of the Year -- Spirited Away DVD
Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away was the first anime film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (see 'Spirited Away Takes Best Animated Feature Oscar'), and although the film did not do all that well in its two theatrical engagements, it has been a strong seller on DVD (see 'Spirited Away Keeps on Trucking'); it's remained in the Top 10 on Nielson's VideoScan list of Anime DVDs since its release in the spring.
With help from Pixar's John Lasseter, who is a big Miyazaki fan, Buena Vista Home Video put together excellent programs for all three of its 2003 Miyazaki releases. Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Kiki's Delivery Service are all brilliant films that retailers can recommend without hesitation. Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, which Buena Vista released back in 2000, actually made the Nielson VideoScan top 10 List of Anime DVDs in September of 2003, demonstrating the sales longevity of Miyazaki's masterworks. As the audience for anime grows, as it will thanks to increasing exposure in all American media, Miyazaki's films will continue to be perennial strong sellers.