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Notes from the coffee mill...

February 2001

Online and retail, Domestic and Import

Online shopping is probably one of, if not the, most common ways of acquiring anime these days. And while some people are leery about using online shopping because of security risks, (is my credit card number really safe?) there is always the possibility of faxing one's credit card information to a given company if necessary. (Here at the Cafe, we do almost all of our anime/manga and travel arrangements online now.) However, when you really don't know what you are looking for, retail outlets are probably the easiest to work from since they have not only the product description, but you can also read the smaller details about the product. Working online, you are lucky to be able to get a plot synopsis in some online shops. Of course, online, you have access to a vast resource of information on the titles if you're willing to spend the time doing some extra research.

Buying domestic products is probably the most common purchasing route for people simply because it's cheaper and they have some form of translation available. Let's face it, most people can't watch raw Japanese anime. Not to mention the fact that if we all bought raw Japanese anime, while the Japanese market would be fine, we'd have no production companies or distributors out here. It makes sense to support the domestic markets and companies, and in return they'll be able to bring over more of the anime that we want to see.

That's not to say however, that if you are able to watch raw Japanese anime that you'll always buy domestic anyways. With the recent trend towards high priced subtitled VHS, it's quickly turning into a situation where either you buy yourself a DVD player and go DVD or you go dubbed. DVD and sub VHS releases are almost the same price-wise these days.

Okay, so why would someone still go import? Well, if you have to have the latest product NOW, it's the only way to get it. For fans of CLAMP, Card Captor Sakura Movie 2 has just come out on LD and DVD and so some people aren't going to wait the necessary year or two before it will become available domestically. More importantly however, is that some people really want to see their anime as it was seen in Japan. Meaning that they want the eyecatch sequences, (although they probably aren't interested in the ramen commercials which are shown on TV....) and omake that is seen on the Japanese version. Sometimes, depending on what the Japanese production company ships over, some things may not be included and as a result, a scene may accidentally (or otherwise) get clipped. At least with the imports, you know that it's very unlikely for anything to go missing; after all, they don't have to make a new master for dubbing and subbing purposes.

Also, in a situation where you have a sub/dub product, one part which has been edited and one unedited, things can get tricky on the DVD version. Obviously you'd have to either redo the edited version or just release an edited DVD. This is the situation with the domestic release of Dog of Flanders. Having completely forgotten there was a domestic DVD release, I bought the original Japanese release - thankfully. I've always loved this title and so accidentally buying it cut would have been most upsetting.

But when buying online, one thing is absolutely certain. Domestic shops are much easier to navigate through. They're in English for one thing so you don't have to worry about having a Japanese script capable browser. Moreover you don't have to be able to read Japanese. Certain import/export shops are very popular and successful. CDJapan and Sasuga Books have full English interfaces and search capabilities and are very user friendly sites. But they are limited in their own way. They are afterall only one shop. Also, even though they will special order items, what if you want something within the next 10 days or so? If they don't have it in stock. No chance. More to the point however, what if you don't know what's available for a title? If the shop you use doesn't list anything, then you'll never know that the full extent of product availability without going to the original production company. This happened to me for Kindaichi. I simply had no idea until I started shopping around that some of the original TV episodes had been released on video as well as the movies.

So, looking at finding some alternate online shops, we generally have to go straight to the source in Japan. It's daunting, it's frustrating at times, but the product availability is of course much richer. Personally I've since discovered HMV Japan. They ship overseas using FedEx compared to Tower Records which uses UPS. Why is that important? If you're in the US, perhaps it isn't, I don't know. But here in Canada, UPS charges some hefty brokerage fees on top of tariffs when importing items. That's per order. FedEx? Nothing, just the tariffs. It adds up very quickly. More importantly however, is that I can get my Conan and Kindaichi soundtracks without having to do too much hunting. And of course there is a lot more in the area of music availability. The drawback? The search engine interface. Don't get me wrong. Of the many sites out there, HMV is the one which is probably the most accessible to non-Japanese readers with their help and search functions available in English. The problem is that the search engine is *very* touchy. Are you using half characters for the kana or full characters? It makes a BIG difference. So much so, that for the first two weeks after starting to look around on HMVs site, I was being tantalised with visions of over 1400 DVD titles, but couldn't find a single Conan DVD. Indeed the selection of music for Conan was very limited. Now that I know to use han-moji (half-sized characters) There are over 100 products to be found.

Other sites which ship overseas? For manga, there is always You can't beat their selection, of books including novels, childrens books and everything else out there in print, but the question is how much will it cost to ship and how long will it take for them to get the product in? That's the main limiter there, but they do have a "time to stock" listing for each product so you aren't in the dark about how long it should take to get things. The only thing is that Amazon is strictly in Japanese. Not good if you can't read any Japanese. BUT, for those who can recognise maybe 200-300 kanji characters, it's an easy site to use. The other drawback to this site however, is that you really need to know what you want to get. It's not a particularly graphic site, so not many cover shots are available.

Many people when they shop on-line are looking for the best deal. Well why not? You're in an area where, if prices are listed, the competition could undercut each other by those precious few cents or half dollar, but is it only price we should be looking at when deciding where to shop online? For most of us, product price alone is probably not the bottom line. Not to say it isn't *a* deciding factor, but... Since we're looking at online shopping, it's a safe bet that you're looking at having your goods delivered to your home address. The means of shipping vary widely from shop to shop be it ground mail and slow boat, to overnight delivery. Some shops use the postal system and EMS while others use private companies like FedEx or UPS. Each option of course carries a different price tag, although for those who are extremely lucky and know where to look, some shops even offer free shipping to Continental USA. More than product price, I'm finding that the shipping method and prices are proving to be the most serious factor when it comes to overall price (as well as general customer service.) Combine that with some shops charging a packing fee, while others charge Japanese sales tax, and you really need to keep your eyes open and stay on top of the various factors involved in calculating that final pricetag. It's easy therefore to see why people would go to the import shops with the English interface. For me however, and my desire for a number of unusual items including radio dramas, it's hunting through the many Japanese sites out there, and please, let them not have too many hidden surcharges.

ja ne,

Jane Nagatomi, 2001.02.07

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