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Anime Goods at Frank & Son: Where Have All the Media Gone?

posted Sep 28, 2012, 12:47 AM by Douglas Sun   [ updated Sep 28, 2012, 12:49 AM ]

Even if I have no pressing reason to go, I like to wander on down to the Frank & Son collectibles show every now and then just to keep my finger on the pulse of what's going on there. Vendors come and go, the ones who stay often change their product mix, and you just never know what will turn up.

I stayed away from Frank's all this summer, not only because of the recent spell of hot and humid weather (there's no air conditioning, and the warehouse is almost unbearable on hot days), but because I'd been spending my available time and money at summer conventions. But the first hint of autumn weather tempted me out there the other day, and I thought I'd note for the record that, for the first time since anime vendors started showing up at Frank & Son, no one was selling anime soundtrack and song CDs. And almost no one was selling anime DVDs — the only ones I saw were some opened Naruto discs tucked off to the side at one of the booths in the CCG area. 

This was the culmination of a trend that I noticed over the last year or two, but it came as a bit of a shock all the same. Maybe I shouldn't complain, because all of the music CDs and most of the DVDs sold at Frank's were — and let's be honest here — unlicensed Taiwanese and Chinese copies. Pirated material, basically. But all the same, these bootlegs were an important part of my introduction to the wonderful world of anime goods, partly because they were affordable, partly because it would have been hard (if not practically) impossible for me to find authorized copies, and largely because just browsing through them introduced me to stuff that I didn't even know existed. 

As to why they are absent, I'm not sure. I won't even consider without laughing the notion that the Taiwanese and Chinese authorities may be cracking down on the export of such items, so that the supply has dried up. I will consider the notion that Frank's may be cracking down on the sale of bootleg items in general. But I haven't heard anything to that effect, and I didn't check on vendors who had been selling other kinds of pirated items (like rips of movies or video games) as a control.

But as I said, this decline has been gradual, and if there was a sudden ban or cut-off, it simply accelerated the process. I mentioned this to Kimberly Unger not long ago, and she suggested that I shouldn't be surprised, because torrent downloading is now the method of choice for people who don't want to spend money on the genuine article. Perhaps she's right. And as for DVDs, I would expect the presence of both legal and bootleg DVDs to ebb as anime publishers turn increasingly to online streaming as a cheap means of distribution. It may be the case that nobody's buying the stuff like they used to. Heck, I no longer buy the stuff like I used to — now I got to Book-Off and poke around for the real article.

Another observation: The number of anime goods vendors seems to have shrunk. One vendor who had been there since I first got interested in anime was no longer in their accustomed spot. Another longtime vendor, who has been around almost as long as I've been interested in anime, started shifting their product mix a year or so ago, so that most of what they sell is distinctly Occidental, like Despicable Me Minion plushies and Angry Birds plushies.

It took me aback at first, but then I realized what's happening: Anime goods are not in decline so much as they are integrating. Nowadays at Frank's, you're more likely to find vendors that mix American and Japanese items. Like a Kenshin Himura fig on a shelf right above some Marvel action figures:

Or the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man almost cheek-by-jowl with Sailor Moon dakimakura:
Does the trend line point to full integration between anime culture and American geek culture?