The Toei Situation

On Thursday, May 13 it was revealed that fansub group TV-Nihon had received a Cease & Desist notice from the Intellectual Property Rights Department at Toei the night prior. Later on that day New-ZECT and KRDL also reported receiving the same complaint over their Super Sentai and Kamen Rider releases with Over-Time proactively disabling their releases as a precaution. The situation has obviously caused a lot of frustration, but has left two burning questions--"Is this legit?" and "Why now?".

I kinda have a take on each one of those questions.

"Is this legit?

Having been on the receiving end of complaints for over a decade on Youtube, yes, that seems legit. The more serious strikes I got on my channel were structured the same way. Back when Youtube included the complainant's contact info it was usually sent from an email like *family.*given@*company.co.jp, but this seems to have come from a shorter email address. The time that Toei filed a complaint against me it was very similar to this...right down to the department name and it being the only part of the complaint in Japanese.

"Why now?"

This one is a little complicated no matter what angle you look at it. Toei has been expanding the availability of their catalog to reach international viewers lately, which I think is an amazing thing. The history of Toei properties outside of Japan is a fascinating story on it's own that largely seems to be driven by whatever mood their in that particular year. The feeling I'm sure a lot of people have right now is one of having their head's lured outside of the window by Toei's International Youtube channel only to be guillotined.

Tsuburaya has been doing wonderful things with the Ultraman franchise that has revitalized it's appeal globally. Official Bluray releases are still coming out, the latest series is being simulcast on Youtube, and there are more projects on the way...all being developed with the world in mind. Toei is watching it's star live-action properties tank in popularity while also trying to cultivate it's history overseas. The Toei International Youtube Channel (which was temporarily obliterated by a copyright claim in it's first day from...Toei!) is a treasure trove of series from the past. The recent addition of uploading Kamen Rider movies (some temporarily, some permanently) and the first two episodes of every series have shown that they very much have intentions to expand their most popular franchise to the world whether it be through Shout Factory or on their own. 

This leaves the fansub community in a tight spot. The walls have been closing in for some time. Super Sentai DVD releases were burning very hot until Hasbro won the Power Rangers franchise in a contest or whatever. A piece of every Kamen Rider series being released on the official Worldwide channel still counts as a release. 

It feels like something is just around the corner. Will Toei copy the Tsuburaya formula for Kamen Rider? I hope so! Going at it on their own terms would be incredibly lucrative and something that they seem to be interested in doing. Even if Super Sentai is put out of it's misery, they have nearly half a century's worth of shows to (re)introduce to the world once they get back their rights to exhibit their programs.

I'm a little more optimistic because I've been documenting this whole thing along the way--and it goes back further than a lot of you can imagine. I'm going to tiptoe on a lot of the details since the other party involved is long removed from the scene, but here is what went down back in 2004 (and why everyone needs to give the person who tweeted at Shirakura a break--I did something potentially far, far worse).

I was a contributor for a website at the time and was sometimes given things to review. One was an OV-Tokusatsu series that was produced with a teeny-tiny bit of help from Toei (I don't remember if they received any official credit--but their DNA is obviously laced in if you were to watch it). Just enough help for there to be communication established even in post-production. My contact at this company was a rad dude who was able to get me Akira Kushida's autograph without me even asking for it. We chatted quite a bit and he was kinda curious about the then-boom in popularity of Kamen Rider. I kinda mused that Rider was "something that people downloaded out of boredom while waiting for their Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon subtitles". He asked me to elaborate and I showed him TV-Nihon's page. 

Now...I'm not really into downloading anything. You all know I have my CDs and DVDs. If it's legit, I'm in. I kinda forgot that I was talking to someone in a production who was already worried about piracy before their product was even released. Of course he was going to report it back to Toei. In a later conversation he followed up with "Toei is looking into shutting down that service you sent me". 

Obviously nothing ever came of that initial nudge, but it does make the timing of this legal document suspect. Toei didn't need some hapless dope tweeting at one of their assclown producers to uncover a public fansub group when I was the OG hapless dope seventeen years ago. 

Hopefully something cool is born out of this. If not, then Toei is possibly staying true to form and nothing will come of this. Either way, you have to remember that they're within their rights to do this. Even if they were letting it slide as a gesture of goodwill all these years, they don't need a reason to pull the plug.

...but let's hope that they do have one...



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