Yet another volley has been fired in the Reverse Importation Wars. Sentai Filmworks has announced (via a blog post on MTV) that their upcoming Blu-ray release of Persona 4 will not include the original Japanese audio, as per the requests of the original licensor, Aniplex. On the plus side, it means a drop of $10 in the list price -- from $59.98 to $69.98.
Reverse imports of anime are a problem for the industry on both sides of the ocean. This is when a U.S. or other English-language version of an anime title are imported back into Japan for significantly less than the cost of the same title in Japan itself. Most of the way this is dealt with is by simply allowing a window of time in Japan for the title to sell through there, then allowing it to be licensed for U.S. release and swallowing the loss.
Sometimes, however, the Japanese licensor takes a more proactive approach. One major line of attack is to forbid the inclusion of the Japanese audio on the U.S. edition -- which makes the disc all but worthless to a Japanese audience. Unfortunately, it also makes it that much less appealing to U.S. fans as well. Many of them do want Japanese audio, and are willing to pay a little extra for it -- doubly so with Blu-ray, which has been shaping up as the boutique format for anime (much as LaserDisc did for a previous generation of anime fans).
The biggest problem remains, at core, the disparity of prices in each market. Japanese DVDs and BDs are expensive, far more so than their U.S. counterparts, for two major reasons: 1) such products are sold at rental pricing, not retail pricing, and 2) a good percentage of the cost of the production is recouped by such sales, so the prices are that much higher by default.
The price disparity can be seen with Persona 4 as a test case. The entire season -- all 13 episodes -- is being sold domestically for $60 or so. By contrast, the individual volumes of the series in Japan (which contain two episodes per disc, along with a bonus CD) sell for anywhere from ¥6800 to ¥7600 -- about $65 to $75 $86 to $96! (The Japanese pressings also do not contain English audio or subs.)
It's been suggested that these prices could be lowered by more involvement by overseas licensors earlier on in the process, which is something Sentai Filmworks claims they already do (as per their panel discussion at Otakon 2012), but there's clearly a lot more work to be done in this regard.
English dubbing is by itself expensive. NIS America, in another Otakon panel, talked about how one of the ways they keep their products (Anohana, House of Five Leaves, Occult Academy, etc.) priced halfway affordably is by omitting English dubs.
(I've been tracking Blu-ray releases for anime since the format first came on the market, and I've compiled a list of best anime feature-film titles on Blu-ray, updated regularly as new releases come to market. Another list of series releases is also in the works.)
Image: Persona 4, courtesy Pricegrabber.