Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Films on Blu-ray and Aniplex of America import releases

The latest news on the North American anime-on-home-video front comes courtesy of Aniplex of America, who have announced that the first two Puella Magi Madoka Magica films will be available on Blu-ray on July 30th, 2013. For those who have heard of Madoka Magica but don’t know too much about the films, these two films, spanning a total of 240 minutes (4 hours), basically retell the entire TV series in a somewhat more streamlined way. I have yet to actually see the films, but I have seen the TV series, and as many others can attest to, it is a great series that turns a lot of typical “magical girl” tropes on their heads, while the ending is one of the most beautiful endings I have ever seen in anime (and for Christian viewers, it even reflects the Gospel to some extent!).
But this isn’t so much a post about Madoka Magica as it is an anime industry post (the first on this blog), so let’s talk about this upcoming Blu-ray release of these movies.
Just from hearing about it, I’m sure Madoka Magica fans will get excited at first; after all, Aniplex of America (henceforth referred to as AoA) just conducted a bunch of screenings across the continent; having the Blu-ray release come so soon… that has to be too good to be true, right?
Well… maybe. You see, the July 30th Blu-ray release of these films will be the latest of AoA’s import releases.

The Aniplex (of America) Import Release
AoA has done a number of these releases, and they’re arguably among the most controversial of their releases. They’re “import releases” because what you’re buying is the exact same Blu-ray set that is offered in Japan to native anime fans, imported into America and distributed there. This is possible because Japan and North America share the same Blu-ray region code of A (alongside some other locales like Taiwan). That said, there are some important things to note about such releases.
1.       They are oftentimes incredibly expensive.
This first point is what oftentimes drives away most people from buying such releases. When AoA announced their first such release, the Garden of Sinners, many balked at the price tag… a whopping$600 for the eight-movie Blu-ray set. ($500 if you ordered on, which was of small consolation.) Considering that the average anime movie costs about $40 on Blu-ray, not including the various discounts anime fans can easily find, and you can see why many would rather stay far away from such releases. A lot of AoA’s releases are rather pricey compared to other anime on the market, and these import releases are definitely the worst of the worst. So why are things this way? It is very closely tied to the second point…
2.       They are for people who want the Blu-rays at the same time the Japanese get them.
Most US anime releases are released well after the Japanese get their releases. As for why, there is a dangerous phenomenon called “reverse importation” that is behind all of this. Because the US and Japan share the same Blu-ray region code, and because the US’s anime prices are much cheaper than Japan’s collector-oriented prices, there are definitely many Japanese who will simply import the American release when it is available, since even with the additional cost of international shipping, the final cost is still much cheaper than the Japanese release. Japanese anime producers have many ways to try to curb this phenomenon to protect sales, a topic which is worth going into later, but the most basic is to simply force the NA market to wait before releasing their own release, so that the more impatient Japanese consumers buy the domestic release.
Therefore, if a North American company like Aniplex of America wanted to release something at the same time, the only solution was to make their customers pay about the same amount the Japanese would pay, hence the high prices. As such, there is a specific audience that these releases appeal to, furthered by the final point…
3.       One should only expect such releases to have English subtitles for the main content of the show, and nothing else in the way of translations.
Basically, don’t expect an English dub on any such releases. In most cases, a dub was never produced in the first place at the time of the release. In the case of Madoka Magica, a dub was produced for the TV series, but not yet for the movies, so yes, this import release of the movies will not have a dub. Therefore, those who don’t buy shows without dubs will want to pass on this release.
The other thing not to expect is subtitles for any extra features. The release is ultimately the same as the Japanese release, so it’s ultimately up to the Japanese whether or not they want to bother with subtitling the extras. They do in some cases; the recent Oreimo Blu-ray import release came with subtitled character commentaries on each episode that made the $280 price tag almost acceptable. However, the upcoming import release of the Gurren Lagann series (TV series and movie) comes with a bevy of assorted extras… none of them subtitled. Are you sure you want to pay $550 for that?
The Puella Magi Madoka Magica Movies 1&2 Blu-ray Import Release
So considering all this, let’s look at Aniplex of America’s upcoming release of the first two Madoka Magica films and see whether they are worth it or not…
AoA is providing two separate releases of the films on Blu-ray. The first is a “regular edition”. You get both films in Japanese and not only English subtitles, but also subtitles in Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean. That’s actually kind of nice, especially if you’re studying one (or more) of those languages. There is an extra of the voice actors’ providing commentary for each movie, but the commentaries are not subtitled. In addition, there is no English dub. There’s also the usual textless opening and ending plus the Japanese commercials and theatrical trailer, plus a postcard that comes specifically with this import release.
The price: $110, $90 if ordering on Rightstuf.
In addition, there is a “Collector’s Edition” available that comes with a couple extra goodies. All of the above information (excluding the price) applies, including lack of subtitles on commentaries and lack of dub.
In addition to all of that, there’s unique cover art, a “deluxe booklet” that provides art and assorted information on the show in Japanese, an additional “translation booklet” that translates everything in that booklet into English (specifically for this import release), and a soundtrack CD.
The price: $130, $105 if ordering on Rightstuf.
One of the more notable things about this import release is that the prices are, honestly, not that bad. Consider that you’d have to pay $90 to have the entire TV series on DVD and $120 to have it all on Blu-ray (and God help you if you want all the Limited Editions, as that’ll set you back $225 for the whole series), the import price points here are actually pretty decent. The soundtrack CD that comes with the Collector’s Edition can also be worthwhile if you want it (the series does have good music). That Aniplex of America is also providing a translation booklet is cool, too (they last did it for the Fate/Zero import sets).
That said, the lack of subtitles on the commentaries is disappointing (though perhaps understandable, considering they’d have to provide subtitles in every language already on disc, and that’d get tiring), and of course, if you’re a dub watcher, the lack of a dub will be a deal breaker. There’s also the fact that these movies are ultimately just recap movies, so if you already own the series, you’re not really paying for any new content.
In the end, Aniplex of America’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica movies’ Blu-ray import release is one of their better ones, and one that might be worth getting. Ultimately, it is up to you whether it really is worth it or not. There’s always the chance that they’ll have a cheaper, domestic release several months later, but there’s no guarantee such a release will have everything mentioned above, or even will be on Blu-ray.
Whatever the case, I hope that you learned something about Aniplex of America’s import releases and what to expect of them (unless, of course, you knew all this already).
The Standard Edition of the Madoka Magica films’ Blu-ray can be pre-ordered on Rightstuf here. The Collector’s Edition can be pre-ordered on Rightstuf here.


  1. Bah, so expensive! I haven't been able to even pull the trigger on purchasing volume 3 of the series yet. Yeesh...

  2. The lack of a dub on this release is kind of perplexing to me, especially when you consider the gigantic push Aniplex did for the series and films in the US and other English speaking countries. I don’t really understand why they didn’t produce a dub in the time between its Japanese release in October 2012 to now. They KNEW they were going to release the BDs in Japan as well as the US, so they didn’t plan to dub it? If Bandai Visual can do it for Gundam Unicorn, why can’t Aniplex do it for these films? Aniplex has been a really inconsistent company in terms of their US releases. Why dub the Madoka Magica TV series and not the movies. I don’t watch dubs, but I find the situation baffling. Also not subbing the extras and charging the same price as the Japanese release, it is a bit annoying. They could have subbed the extras. The dual (US/Japanese) releases Bandai Visual USA/Honneamise did have all the extras subbed.

    In fact I do find their marketing strategy baffling all over. While the Garden of Sinners BD set may have miraculously sold out before it’s US release date, but a lot of their other “limited edition” titles are still in stock months (or years) after their release date. Is the strategy working for them? I really don’t know. They haven’t gone home with their tail between their legs like Bandai Visual USA/Honneamise, but will see what happens.

    I’m really conflicted on what Aniplex is doing. The quality of their US only sets has been mixed. As an example, the Garden of Sinners DVD box isn’t bad quality as such, but it certainly isn’t up to par with Japanese releases. It’s really hard to part with your money for what seems to be a Japanese release, only to find that it’s a bit substandard.

    While I’m not overly fussed with Bandai Visual’s game plan in terms of the English speaking audiences (English subtitles on select new Japanese BD releases, mostly only available from Japanese retailers only, Gundam Unicorn being the exception), I don’t mind what they’re doing. In fact I’m currently collecting Gundam Age, Yamato 2199, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet and Code Geass: Akito the Exiled. I sort of know what to expect when I’m doing an import order. Having a partially localised release, which is what Aniplex is doing for these movies, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.