Yes, I was associated with Hiro Media Associates.
Some background: I’ve said how I encouraged Osamu Tezuka to come to early C/FO meetings in Los Angeles in March and December 1978, and how he led a tour group of 30 manga and anime professionals to the 1980 San Diego Comic-Con, which featured two screenings (the second by popular demand) of his just-completed Phoenix 2772 animated theatrical feature. I and fellow C/FO co-founder Robin Leyden were his tour group’s American liaisons. His goal for the tour was to promote Japanese manga and anime in America, but it was pretty obvious to Leyden & me that he was also showing off to the other Japanese artists how popular he was in America.
In July 1983, I got a letter from Tezuka. He could bring me to Tokyo as his guest for a two-week vacation, if I was prepared to leave almost immediately. Was I? Thanks to my following Robert Heinlein’s advice to always keep my passport up to date, I was.
I had a wonderful time in Tokyo, but as usual, Tezuka turned out to have an ulterior motive. The major publisher, Kodansha, was just about to publish Frederik Schodt’s Manga! Manga!, the first book in English on Japanese manga. Tezuka had planned a big dinner party for him, and he wanted me there to make it a “Two Fred” dinner, and to present me to Kodansha’s executives as the only English-language expert who could write a companion book on Japanese anime.That quickly fell apart. For one thing, I do not speak or write Japanese as Schodt does. Even though the book was to be in English, all the preparation would have to be in Japanese. For a second, Tezuka had envisioned a book full of full-color anime reproductions. The different animation studios would all demand a hefty licensing fee for those.
But the visibility that Tezuka gave me in the Japanese animation industry established me as one of the American experts on Japanese animation. In late 1985, I was contacted by a Japanese businessman, Hiromasa Shibazaki of Hiro Media Associates. He had just launched a series of direct-to-video anime, and was planning associated anime art books and a monthly anime magazine. He wanted me to write a monthly column (in English; he would have it translated into Japanese) on American animation and fan activities such as s-f conventions for his magazine, and promote his anime videos to the American fans so they would mail-order them. Was I interested? I definitely was! The pay wasn’t much, but I saw this as an opportunity to make more contacts within the anime industry. Also, the Original Video Animation market had just begun in Japan. I was enthusiastic about Shibazaki’s plans to bypass the traditional theatrical and TV markets and sell original videos directly to the anime fans.
During the next few months, I learned that Shibazaki was associated with a new and equally minor animation studio, Kaname Production Co. Both were tiny but hoped to grow. Shibazaki did not speak English nearly as well as he thought he did. His anime magazine was titled Globian, since it was to cover international animation. He meant “global”. One of his first productions was Bavi Stock; Time for Action, in which the main characters were to have American-sounding names: Sammy, Kate Lee Jackson, Ruth Miller, Iceman (for an icy-cold killer). Okay, but why was his main character named “Bavi”, which wasn’t an American name? “Oh, I think that it’s a very popular American name! I call him Bavi after your Bavi Kennedy.” Bobby Kennedy.
During early 1986 I talked up the Hiro Media Associates OAVs “that are available to American fans by mail order – first-generation anime; no more blurry 6th- or 7th-generation copies”), wrote my first columns for Globian (titled “Gaijin no Anime-Comic”), and provided advice on American space-opera s-f that might be available for anime licensing cheaply. Shibazaki apparently did license one of them; a juvenile s-f adventure, Venus Boy by Lee Sutton (1955), that I had liked but was mostly forgotten by the 1980s and was presumably cheap – or maybe Shibazaki just appropriated it; the author was dead. It had a preadolescent hero and lots of cute exotic Venus animals, including a living teddy-bear lookalike with glowing blue claws. (The claws were extremely valuable, which was the plot’s macguffin.) The first issue of Globian was dated June 1986; I think that it was published in May. It wasn’t Animage or Newtype, but it looked good. The main difference between Globian and the other monthly anime magazines was that it concentrated on the OVA titles (especially the Hiro Media titles) while the others emphasized the theatrical movies and TV programs. I was delighted to see my column, with my photograph in it.
But the sales of Hiro Media Associates OAVs to American fans never took off, for two main reasons. Firstly, they weren’t very good. There were several s-f horror titles that were too obviously imitations of better American s-f horror movies like Alien. The first Bavi Stock looked good, but didn’t have a real explanation for why the villains were going around being villains. (Although its dialogue was all in Japanese, its credits were all in English.) California Crisis had a thin s-f excuse, but was obviously really just for its animators to take a scenic road trip along the California coast to make “location shots”.
Fandora, Dream Dimension Hunter had nice Go Nagai character designs, but asked the audience to believe that the fate of the galaxy would be entrusted to a ditsy mid-teenage bounty hunter and “a powerful dragon disguised as a nerd”. Secondly, in 1986 Japan, “home” videos didn’t really exist. Video cassettes were priced for home RENTAL. Sales of videos to keep were intended for video rental stores. So the Hiro Media Associates OAVs were outrageously expensive to American fans, plus they had to pay for additional international airmail.
In August 1986, I went to Japan for the second and last time, as part of Ladera Travel’s “Japanimation ‘86” two-week tour of the Tokyo animation studios, ending up at that year’s Japanese National Science Fiction Convention, Daicon 5 in Osaka. This tour for thirty American anime fans was the first fannish group tour to Tokyo. During those two weeks, I had a couple of opportunities to meet with Shibazaki personally. Say “sleazy” and you’ve got him. I got the definite impression that his anime operation was financed mostly by loans from questionable sources (the Yakuza), and that he was seriously underfunded. He showed me the next couple of issues of Globian and the preliminary sketches for the Venus Boy animation, which I didn’t think much of. All of the Venerian animals, including the boy hero’s pet teddy bear, had been replaced by various unattractive blobs that were easier (and cheaper) to animate.
Shibazaki was never considered more than a very minor player in the anime industry, and mid-1986 was his high point. Soon after I returned to Los Angeles, everything fell apart. Globian shrank to about half its previous size. My column disappeared along with all other international coverage; it became a news source for anime OAV productions only. The final issue was #8, January 1987. The Hiro Media OAVs abruptly disappeared, reportedly because the company could no longer afford to advertise them or ship them out. One of the last was the second Bavi Stock: Time for Action video, which looked shockingly different from the first. It was produced at a different anime studio, Studio Unicorn, with character designs that didn’t even try to match the first episode. It had embarrassingly limited animation compared to the first. (Unicorns should feel insulted.) Venus Boy was never finished. Shortly after that, Hiromasa Shibazaki himself disappeared, supposedly run off to New Zealand to escape his debts and underworld debtors. If he was ever heard of again, I never learned of it. Kaname Productions, which was founded in 1982, went out of business in 1988.
That was my brush with the professional anime industry, until I became an employee of Streamline Pictures in 1991.
Next week: Incomplete Anime.