Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's Time to Stop Dueling

TV Tokyo Corporation and Nihon Ad Systems have ended their license arrangement with 4Kids Entertainment for the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise. And they are suing 4Kids for over four million dollars. The Japanese licensors claim 4Kids withheld money owed to them from profits made from deals with Funimation and Majesco to produce Yu-Gi-Oh DVDs and video games. After some unsuccessful attempts to settle the dispute, 4Kids have lost the rights to Yu-Gi-Oh.

I find this to be sad news even though I'm not personally affected. I've never been much of a fan of Yu-Gi-Oh. Granted Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds does have the greatest premise of all time; in the future people battle against each others in packed stadiums by playing trading card games while simultaneously racing against each other on motorcycles. And yet I can't say I've seen an entire episode. I did like the surprisingly dark early chapters of Kazuki Takahashi's manga before the story was overtaken with card games. But beyond that I'm not a fan.

Still is a world without Yu-Gi-Oh a world we want to live in? Okay the world will still have Yu-Gi-Oh and it probably won't be absent from North America for very long either. There's a new series, Yu-Gi-Oh Zexal, debuting in Japan very soon. I'm doubtful they would continue making new Yu-Gi-Oh series if not for their international appeal. TV Tokyo and NAS will probably find a new distributor for Yu-Gi-Oh. However if Yu-Gi-Oh isn't as integral to this new distributor as it was to 4Kids then I could see the production of new episodes eventually drying up.

This isn't the first property 4Kids has lost. They lost the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when Mirage sold the rights to Viacom. Before that was Pokémon. My understanding is that Nintendo underestimated how profitable Pokémon would be and felt they were giving up money by letting a third party company handle it. Pokémon has turned out to be consistently popular so that loss probably hurts 4Kids now more than it did when it happened. Yu-Gi-Oh on the other hand isn't as successful as it once was.

4Kids hasn't had a new hit in awhile. Years old repeats of Sonic X outperform any of their other shows. 4Kids even commissioned an additional season of Sonic X that did not air in Japan. I'm surprised they haven't ordered even more episodes, but there is a rumor that 4Kids' relationship with Sega has deteriorated. In interviews former CEO Al Khan said he wanted to decrease his ties with Japan. Perhaps that was an early hint at their problems? He said "Japan" was a fad and was over. He wanted to develop original properties that they wouldn't have to share. However Viva Piñata and Chaotic did not set the world on fire, and they seemed to have re-embraced anime as the basis for their programming, rebranding the CW4Kids as Toonzai and airing Dragonball Z Kai.

People have been predicting the end of 4Kids for some time now. While the end hasn't come just yet, the loss of their biggest cash cow is a huge blow. It's theorized that the recent retirement of CEO Al Khan may be the result of knowing this lawsuit was coming. Is a world without 4Kids a world we want to live in? Yeah, most would. A lot of the damage done to the company has been self inflicted. Most fans hate them, with good justification, and would love to see them go away. My own sense of schadenfreude is a bit less than I would have expected, but it's there.

No comments: