What the Hell Are AniMini DVDs?!

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The year is 2003. Anime culture is taking root on a global scale as widespread internet use brings information and resources to a burgeoning base of young fans. Adult Swim’s anime block is evolving, Toonami is still on during the day, and Cartoon Network even introduces an action block on Saturday nights leading up to Adult Swim with shows like Rurouni Kenshin and G Gundam. Saturday mornings on WB and The Fox Box bring myriad new anime to young children, while adults collect an ever-broadening selection of home DVD releases. Companies like ADV and Geneon are licensing everything in sight, blissfully unaware of how their companies will eventually cannibalize themselves and die out during the economic collapse of 2008. This is the climate from which ADV’s AniMini DVDs were generated.

These Gamecube-sized disks each contained one episode of anime, and were meant to be an inexpensive way for people to taste-taste new shows without having to drop thirty bucks on a DVD. At the time, a twenty-six episode series was typically released on six to eight disks at thirty bucks a pop, so collecting an entire series was a huge investment, and most people weren’t internet-savvy enough to find and download shows online, much less do it safely. Streaming video wasn’t even really a thing yet.

AniMini DVDs were typically five to seven bucks for one episode, which seems really steep by today’s standards, but they had the catch that you could redeem them for ten dollars off of the full DVD purchase if you bought it on ADV’s website. The back of the box indicates that they were meant to be traded as well, so ideally if you had friends who were anime fans, you could all check out new shows on the cheap and decide on who got to use the discounts for what shows.

There isn’t a lot of information about AniMinis on the internet, but looking at the press releases on Anime News Network reveals that ADVs original intent was to market these towards girls. The first wave of releases were all branded as “shoujo” anime, though it’s more accurate to say that they all featured primarily female main characters. Azumanga Daioh, Happy Lesson, Hello Kitty & Friends, Kaleido Star, Noir, Di Gi Charat, Pretear, Princess Nine, Super Gals, and Wedding Peach made up an actually pretty solid and well-rounded lineup, although Azumanga Daioh and Noir were the only disks I ever seemed to find in stores at the time. These were far and away the most popular shows to begin with, which kind of defeats the point of introducing new shows to a wider audience.

ADVs original press release through ANN is at once incredibly patronizing and wildly hilarious:

ADV Films, the #1 producer-distributor of anime in the U.S., today announced an ultra cool new DVD collection called AniMini™.

AniMinis are new bite-sized DVDs that pack a big-size taste for a new generation of young girls. From your pocket to your player – these cute and colorful 3-inch DVDs are all the rage because they’re easy to collect and trade! This new line is affordably priced at SRP $6.98, and each disc contains a complete first episode of the series.

“AniMinis are easy to collect and trade, like the popular trading cards of the past,” said Anne Armogida, director of marketing, ADV Films. “This is a great new line of products that will have widespread fan appeal because of its unique look. Our next line-up will include titles for our male fans, too, so they can enjoy and collect our new funky, fun, fresh line of DVDs!”

The second wave of releases toned down the idea that these were meant specifically for girls, but the press release was no less hilarious:

AniMinis are the latest funky bite-sized DVDs that pack a big-size taste for a new generation of hip kids. From your pocket to your player – these colorful miniature 3-inch DVDs are all the rage because they’re easy to collect and trade!

“Our first set of AniMinis are flying like hotcakes,” said Anne Armogida, director of marketing, ADV Films. “This fresh new line of products has the fans going wild because of its unique look and affordable price.”

This line included the second episodes of Noir, Azumanga Daioh, Kaleido Star, and Happy Lesson, which were probably the only ones that actually sold from the first batch, and also introduced Full Metal Panic and Kino’s Journey. The third and final line of disks took things in a different direction, by releasing episodes two through four of Hello Kitty & Friends, as well as the first four episodes of Robotech, but nothing else. And thankfully, the trend of great press releases continued:

AniMinis are the coolest bite-sized DVDs for a new generation of hip kids.

“We couldn’t keep enough of the first batch in stock,” said Anne Armogida, director of marketing, ADV Films, “and we anticipate this batch of our must-have titles to do just as well this fall.”

As one of the hippest kids around, naturally I happen to own one of these AniMini DVDs, although I have no recollection of how I obtained it. As a teenager, the few times I had spending money, I usually had just enough to buy a DVD at Best Buy or a manga volume at Waldenbooks (yeah, remember that place?), and I couldn’t justify the idea of blowing seven bucks on one episode only to never buy the rest, when I could blow twenty bucks on four episodes only to never buy the rest instead.

Putting Noir into this series was genius on the part of ADV, given that the first episode pretty much tells you nothing whatsoever about the storyline, so if you bought into the show’s characters and aesthetic after the first episode or two, you were most likely going to buy the rest of the show just to figure out what the hell it’s actually about. Personally, I think Noir is terrible, but the power of hindsight has a lot to do with that. Noir’s first episode has a really stylish tone, with its use of, well, noir-esque colors and lavish Yuki Kajiura soundtrack; but the animation is actually really stilted and awkward, and the pacing is absolute shit. At the time, people probably thought that this was an artistic decision and were roped in by it, but I think anyone looking back with enough awareness of studio Bee Train not only being a total shit-factory, but also being essentially a training ground for new animators, will quickly realize that these quirks are more likely the result of a low-budget, low-effort production. Watching this disk never inspired me to buy more of the show, though I did eventually try to watch it via download later into the internet age, and was pretty glad I’d never bought any of it on DVD.

A quirk worth noting about these tiny DVDs is that they don’t work on all DVD players. On the front of the box, it claims that it works with MOST DVD players, but the back of the box says that it doesn’t work with slot-loading DVD players at all, and can even damage them. I tried playing it on my slim PS2 for the sake of this video, and the PS2 gave zero fucks. I no longer have a DVD drive in my computer or laptop, so this thing is basically useless to me now. Still, I’m happy to own it as a quirky and interesting piece of forgotten anime history.

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