If there’s a god or goddess of anime, I can’t thank them enough for keeping AnimEigo around for so long. Throughout the last decade, far too many North American anime distributors collapsed after being blindsided by concurrently changing consumer desires at a rapid pace. That many of them overestimated the sub-medium’s popularity after paying through the nose for anime licenses was, of course, also a significant factor. The so-called anime boom, well, boomed, and the figurative earthquake created through its reverberation toppled big and small companies like Geneon USA, Central Park Media, and ADV Films. But AnimEigo somehow survived the disaster, despite licensing few anime throughout their lifetime.
You might know them from releasing titles like Urusei Yatsura and Kimagure Orange Road, the “oldies but goodies” of the anime world. In fact, that was a frightening business prospect even during the anime boom times, considering older anime has always sold in lower numbers compared to new material — which explains why they sold most of their collections through their website. While they apparently sold in big-enough numbers to keep them afloat for a while, they needed a new way to sell them to keep up with the demand of their dedicated audience. The answer? Kickstarter.
Riding Bean ostensibly seemed difficult for AnimEigo to crowdfund, as it’s considerably more obscure than Bubblegum Crisis. Plenty of anime fans who feel they’re familiar with 80s works have never heard of it (like me!), meaning it initially only piqued the interests of die-hard aficionados. But that risk was lowered thanks to this being a short 46-minute anime OAV, meaning it won’t need the resources and work a seven-episode series required. That explains why the initial goal for the campaign is a mere $30,000, down from Bubblegum Crisis’ $75,000.
The feature takes place in Chicago, and follows the exploits of Bean Bandit (no, seriously), the titular “Riding Bean,” and female partner Rally Vincent. Both have been framed for kidnapping a popular company president’s daughter, and need to clear their names before the police get too close.
It was written by Ken’ichi Sonoda, well known for the Gunsmith Cats anime and manga series. He also provided character and mech designs for the aforementioned Bubblegum Crisis and divisive successor Bubblegum Crash, meaning this has a surprise connection to Animego’s previous release, intentional or not. Reportedly, this was a pilot for a series that was never green lit, due to a falling out between Sonoda and producer Toshiba EMI. That’s unfortunate given what this could have been, but it’s considered an enjoyable novelty nonetheless.
(Edit:) Here’s a little more info from our own Drew Young from the comments: “Gunsmith Cats is a spiritual sucessor and effective reboot of Riding Bean, with Rally (or Larry, as some of the dialog implies) taking center stage and Bean becoming too cool and effective to be anything more than a sixth ranger. While Bean never made it to the Gunsmith Cats OVA (which oddly whitewashed Rally), he featured as the independent calvary and untouchable rival in the manga.”
The campaign is for a limited edition release AnimEigo is calling the “High Octane Edition.” It’s named such due to not only using the Japanese Blu-ray release’s transfer, but their decision to release it on a BD50 disc instead of a BD25 (which hold 50GB and 25GB, respectively), to maintain a higher bitrate for better picture quality. While the pitch video clearly shows this, you can also see its quality from the many screenshots posted on the page. Keep in mind that page includes some small spoilers, since this campaign is mainly aimed towards fans of the original.
Coming along with the Japanese audio option is the old English dub, which is sure to have nostalgia value (ersatz, if you’ve never seen the original) or laughs, depending on your preferences. What’s slightly more interesting is how they’re also including greyscale, multicolor, and SDH subtitle variants to cover all subtitle preferences. There’s also an option for no subtitles, despite the disc being region-free; that’s a sure sign that Japanese distributor Bandai Visual doesn’t think reverse-importation will be an issue, though it was released in Japan over seven years ago.
Though the use of a BD50 disc means it’s coming at a higher expense to them, they’re refreshingly not charging too much for it. You’ll only need to pledge $25 to get the disc, which will also come with a custom embroidered patch. The higher pledges will net backers nifty extras like an art book, a keychain, and even a garage kit of the Buff the Roadbuster car. Note that pictures of the extras aren’t included on the Kickstarter page, since this won’t be shipping until December 2016 at the earliest. Instead, examples of similar materials done for the Bubblegum Crisis campaign are shown.
AnimEigo mostly stuck with what worked about their Bubblegum Crisis campaign here, clearly a good decision given how successful it’s been. Thus far, they’ve made a little over $91,000 in campaign funds, three times the initial goal they hit within 50 minutes of launching. Those aforementioned aficionados also have some deep pockets, which — let’s be honest — is a prerequisite if you’re purchasing anime on Blu-ray. There are still around 25 days remaining in the campaign, so expect that number to keep climbing.
While it’s apparent AnimEigo can only afford to release shorter series and OAVs through this venue, unlike longer material like Urusei Yatsura and Yawara! (yet?), these seem to be doing well enough to keep them afloat, and I’m happy for that. It will be a while before the Riding Bean Blu-ray ships, but it should be worth it.