Howl's Moving Castle, massive anime hit for Optimum

When people talk about UK anime distributors they usually only mention the four dedicated anime companies - ADV Films, Beez, Manga Entertainment and MVM.  However, there are several other companies that release anime as part of an eclectic catalogue, and foremost amongst them is Optimum Releasing.  Their Asian cinema arm - Optimum Asia - has been releasing anime alongside live action films from the Far East for quite some time, and according to Candy Vincent-Smith from Optimum it's been doing 'extremely well!'

Spirited Away, Haku and Sen will have to run to get to the Oscars after party...

The reason for this is quite obvious when you look at the anime titles they have released this year.  Optimum Asia is the home of the films of Studio Ghibli, Japan's most celebrated anime studio, and 2006 was the year when most of the studio's back catalogue was released in the UK.  'All of the Studio Ghibli titles have sold phenomenally well' comments Candy, 'although Howl’s Moving Castle has been the biggest this year, Spirited Away is the biggest selling anime title overall.'  It's somewhat unsurprising to hear that director Hayao Miyazaki's two latest films are leading the charge for Optimum

Asia, especially considering the amount of  press he has received since he won an Oscar for Spirited Away back in 2003.  Optimum have since brought pretty much his entire back-catalogue to DVD, bringing many films to the UK for the first time as well as re-releasing the likes of Laputa, Castle in the Sky and Kiki's Delivery Service.  However, it's not all about Miyazaki.

Studio Ghibli is driven by the prodigious talents of Hayao Miyazaki, but also by those of his close friend Isao Takahata and their fiercely talented staff of animators and directors.  Optimum have not neglected them either, Takahata's My Neighbours the Yamadas, Pom Poko and most recently Only Yesterday have been released this year alongside the late Yoshifumi Kondo's Whisper of the Heart.  None of these films received less than four stars when we reviewed them, which - in our opinion at least - leaves Optimum with the strongest anime catalogue of any UK company!

UK fans have been waiting well over a decade for the likes of My Neighbour Totoro and Porco Rosso to come out here, but now the wait is over.  Go into pretty much any shop that sells DVDs and you will see Studio Ghibli titles on the shelves, at long last you can pick up anime other than Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! in Tesco, WHSmith and Woolworths.  Other anime companies never manage to get this level of exposure but somehow Optimum do, and it's not only in the shops that have taken them to heart.  When the movie channel Film4 became free-to-air on terrestrial digital, Cable

It's plain sailing for the Yamadas...

and Sky television, it ran a season of Studio Ghibli films.  It still shows one or two a month, and even shows some in Japanese with English subtitles.  It goes to show the quality of these films that, in a time when most UK TV channels won't touch Japanese animation with a barge pole unless it's Pokémon, they are being shown regularly on weekday afternoons on a highbrow film channel.

The strength and variety of Optimum's non-anime releases leave them in the enviable position of being able to focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to anime.  In 2006 their releases have been 100% Studio Ghibli, including not only the Oscar-nominated Howl's Moving Castle but also the likes of My Neighbour Totoro - a film considered by many critics to be the greatest anime film of all time.  However, whilst the quality of these films is apparent it must be said that they are very safe releases.  Anything by Miyazaki is likely to do well nowadays, and now all his films are out it will be interesting to see what Optimum will do next...