Last month marked the end of an era in the North American industry as the Right Stuf website and store were officially folded into Crunchyroll. It was the latest in a long line of corporate consolidations, but I feel this one because Right Stuf was part of anime history.
The North American anime industry was a very different place in 1987 when The Right Stuf International was founded in Grimes, Iowa by Shawne Kleckner and Robert Ferson. So different, in fact, that it’s hard to see how you could even call it an “industry” compared to 2023. What little anime that trickled onto these shores officially was often heavily edited, ala Robotech or Voltron. Officially licensed VHS tapes were hard to come by, and if you were part of the fandom, you were likely spreading fansub tapes or even reading scripts to go along with raw tapes.
That’s definitely before my time as an anime fan, which for me happened in the mid-90s. But even that world was so far from where we are today. The commercially available anime of the time was mostly limited to movies and OVAs, and the market was very dude-heavy with an emphasis on boobs and violence. Part of my anime journey, like so many other fans of that era, was subscribing to Right Stuf’s print order catalog. These catalogs, which amazingly lasted as late as 2018, were a gateway into a world where anime information was hard to find in English. As old as MAHQ is, this was even before that, and information about anime was almost as hard to come by as the content itself.
Right Stuf catalogs contained articles about anime and descriptions about all the products they carried. It was in those catalogs in the late 1990s that I first heard about series like Armored Trooper VOTOMS and was desperate to know more. I remember reading the catalogs front to back, and even though I knew with my limited funds as a high school/college student that I couldn’t afford even half these titles, I wanted to know what was out there. If you’re curious what the experience was like, the Internet Archive has scans of multiple catalogs, including this one from 1998 that I believe was the first I ever received.
That particular catalog holds meaning for me since its cover featured The Irresponsible Captain Tylor – personal favorite that over the years I have bought over and over on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. Nozomi Entertainment, Right Stuf’s anime distribution subsidiary, put out a lot of great anime titles over the years, and of course in the mecha genre they were hugely impactful for bringing back Gundam. Let’s go back to 2012, when Bandai Entertainment announced that they were shutting down. It was definitely a shock to the industry because they had been a major player up to that point. They were also the home of Gundam, and a frequent refrain from them in the aughts was that it was a matter of “when, not if” for all Gundam anime to be released in America.
To their credit, Bandai Entertainment did release a lot of Gundam anime in America during their time, but of course they couldn’t quite finish before their demise. It was especially frustrating to know that they were finally working on Turn A Gundam but that the series would not see the light of day. Uncertainty reigned for several years as Bandai’s titles fell out of print and nobody else was re-licensing anything. That all changed in 2014 when Sunrise announced that it was partnering with Right Stuf/Nozomi to not only bring back everything that had been released by Bandai Entertainment, but also to release the older series they never got around to, starting with Turn A Gundam. It was a great relief to know that all these old titles were coming back, and that we’d finally get other unreleased titles like Gundam X, Victory Gundam and Gundam ZZ. For the longest time, it seemed impossible to imagine that all of Gundam could be officially available in the U.S., but I only have to look over at my Blu-ray shelf to see that it’s a reality.
It was a shock in 2022 when the news broke that Crunchyroll had purchased Right Stuf. It was yet another example of corporate consolidation in the North American anime industry, as Crunchyroll (owned by Sony) had already gobbled up Funimation and tossed aside their brand. They said at the time that this change wouldn’t impact Right Stuf, but if you believed that, I have some prime swamp real estate to sell you. I’ve been an anime fan most of my life and have watched as the North American anime industry has changed with all the peaks and valleys over these decades. We find ourselves in a strange position where anime has never been more mainstream or accessible in the U.S., but increasingly falling under the umbrella of just one company: Crunchyroll. This kind of consolidation is not good in any industry, and I can point to so many examples of disastrous mergers like Warner Bros. Discovery (or AOL-Time Warner decades before that). While it’s great that so much anime is available so easily now, this industry needs more competition, not less, which makes the end of Right Stuf all the more a shame.