Well, 2008 is over, and what a year it has been.  Anime has continued to grow in the UK from a fandom point of view, with more dedicated events than ever before, including cinema screenings, cosplay balls and a packed convention and in-store event calendar.  Amecon 2008 left its mark as the UK's biggest ever anime convention, the MCM London Expos attracted five-figure crowds and we were treated to major anime titles like Bleach, Death Note, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Tales From Earthsea and FLCL

2008 was also the year when anime companies started to explore alternative distribution methods for their anime.  Beez entered the Blu-Ray market with Bandai's stunning simultaneous worldwide release of Gunbuster and Freedom, whilst US video website Crunchyroll struck several distribution deals which saw them stream anime for free and completely legally.  Other video sites have followed suit and leading anime distributor FUNimation have started screening their titles through various video sites and their own web portal.  The biggest announcement was that Naruto, once so expensive that no Western distributor could afford it, was to be legally streamed online shortly after the Japanese airing.  In response the fansub group Dattebayo announced that they would stop distributing it illegally now a viable alternative was available.

ADV Films, down but not out

 But whilst everything seemed to be going swimmingly for anime fans the world over, the same was not true of the industry itself.  Even before the credit crunch hit there were signs of a slowdown in consumer spending, a slowdown that one of the best known Western anime distributors was ill prepared for.  ADV Films had gambled on future returns with several business expansions over the last few years, but it became clear in early 2008 that things weren't well for the company.  ADV collapsed in spectacular fashion, going from one of the biggest anime distributors in the US and Europe to barely surviving its financial woes in 2008.  Although the company just 

about pulled through and even began licensing anime again in the US, its near demise saw
the closure of its UK and German branches, along with the end of the Anime Network TV channel and both NewType USA magazine and its replacement PiQ.  Its toy, music and manga divisions are also seemingly defunct, and things got so bad that the company was even reduced to selling the furniture from their office.

ADV still exists in the UK as a label managed by Lace Digital Media Sales, no longer an independent company but a name with an impressive back-catalogue.  It wasn't only ADV that suffered though, Revelation Films - FUNimation's sole distributor in the UK - reduced their anime releases and then suddenly stopped them altogether, although they are due to start up again in 2009.  These were the visible signs of the credit crunch, they were by no means the only ones.  Many other companies in the US and Japan have been tightening their belts, with anime studio Gonzo and US publisher Tokyopop laying off staff and reducing their output.  A combination of slowing sales of non-essential items such as DVDs and books, and a general lack of cash coupled with ever-increasing piracy has seen many distributors and studios being hit.  However, it's not all been doom and gloom.

MVM and Manga Entertainment have been going great guns in the UK, picking up numerous great licenses that will no doubt be on many people's shopping lists for 2009.  Their 2008 releases were superb too, as were those of Beez and Revelation prior to their slowdown.  Even ADV rounded off the year with a host of cut-price boxsets so it was in general still a good time to be an anime fan.  But will it continue to be so?  In truth there was only one big winner in 2008, and that was FUNimation.  They were already a major player in the anime industry, but not only did they make several huge license acquisitions in the US, they also picked up many of the titles

Queuing in Clapham!

lost by ADV and those left in limbo following Geneon's demise in late 2007.  FUNimation are picking up far more licenses than they can possibly release, and with one of the few surviving dubbing arms at their disposal few companies can match them for the mass appeal they can give their titles.  However, they have also showed an initial reluctance to sub-license their titles to other companies, which led to fears that some titles could just get buried in the FUNimation vaults.  These fears have been somewhat allayed, at least in the UK, by Manga's distribution deal for Ouran High School Host Club and several other titles.  Where this leaves Revelation - FUNimation's designated UK distributor - in the future is anyone's guess, but it seems likely that FUNimation will spread its colossal catalogue around in the UK market.

So what can we expect in 2009?  Well, a slowdown in releases is probably inevitable, as the small UK distributors face increased licensing costs due to the weakness of the Pound against the Yen and the Dollar.  ADV UK's future also remains in the balance as we have yet to see if the licenses made in the US also extend to the UK, but at least Beez, Manga and MVM have plenty already lined up for next year.  We expect to see a bit of a rise for Beez as they profit from strong titles like Gurren Lagann and Bandai's muscle on the industry stage, and we also predict a stronger stance from Japanese companies on anime piracy and fansubbing.  Anime and manga fandom is stronger than its ever been in the UK, and with more conventions and Expos than ever on the 2009 calendar plus some awesome anime and manga titles in the pipeline it looks like we have plenty to look forward to!