Nowadays, there are a few major players in anime distribution in America: FUNimation and Crunchyroll are the big players, with Sentai Filmworks and Viz Media picking up a few major licenses, Netflix co-producing streaming exclusives, GKIDS handling big movies and Discotek holding steady in the retro anime business. However, for all the companies doing well now, there are many more that used to be big names but ultimately disappeared. Here are the reasons why six once-prominent American anime distributors shut down.
In the annals of anime fandom, few distribution companies conjure as much ire as 4Kids. Originally founded as Leisure Concepts in 1970 before rebranding as 4Kids in 1995 and later 4Licensing Corporation in 2012, 4Kids is best known for its licensing of anime between 1995 and 2012, where it acquired the license to dub and distribute Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! From there, it would acquire anime such as Sonic X, Shaman King and One Piece.
4Kids is infamous for its intense censorship, often taking extreme liberties with localization. However, regardless, they had great success with marketing their anime on television blocks for kids on both The WB (later The CW) and Fox. When they lost the license to Pokémon and their coveted Saturday morning slots, the business turned sour.
4Kids would shortly after lay off 15 percent of its workforce. In 2011, 4Kids was sued by TV Tokyo, who accused the company of distributing Yu-Gi-Oh! without a license. The resulting damage from this lawsuit and settlement resulted in 4Kids filing for bankruptcy and forcing it to reorganize accordingly. 4Kids sold off its library and failed to make a profit, resulting in it filing a second and final bankruptcy in 2016.
Central Park Media
Central Park Media was one of the first major anime distribution companies in the west. Founded in 1990, they distributed anime aimed at a more mature audience to early anime fans. Starting with classics like Project A-Ko and Dominion: Tank Police, they released some landmark titles for the Western anime market, including the infamous hentai Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend. Other major titles distributed by CPM include the so-bad-it's-good M.D. Geist, D&D-inspired Record of Lodoss War, Ghibli tearjerker Grave of the Fireflies and queer classic Revolutionary Girl Utena.
CPM was successful in the '90s, but was one of the big victims of the anime bubble bursting in the mid '00s. It laid off much of its staff in 2006 and was even accused of illegally distributing anime after their licenses on titles expired. They eventually filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in 2009, with other companies assimilating their titles. Many, like Project A-Ko and Utena, are available for free on YouTube or RetroCrush now.
Geneon started its life as Pioneer LCD, Inc, a laserdisc company turned anime distributor founded by Warner-Pioneer in 1989. Early anime in its library included Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki and Armitage III, as well as assisting in the home media distribution of Viz and 4Kids licenses like Ranma 1/2 and Pokémon. When purchased by the Japanese company Dentsu, the company was rebranded as Geneon. As Geneon, the distributor published titles such as Trigun, Fushigi Yugi, Chobits and Ah! My Goddess.
Disaster struck in 2006 when a 2004 deal to exclusively distribute Toei Animation anime in America expired. ADV take over the distribution and marketing of Geneon titles in 2007. Later that year, Dentsu would shut down GeneonUSA, refocusing its priorities on the Japanese market, eventually merging with NBCUniversal. Many of Geneon's titles would be acquired by Funimation and ADV.
While the company Bandai Visual ultimately dissolved in 2018, Bandai Entertainment and its various subsidiaries stood as a mainstay in the anime market for most of the 2000s. It licensed anime primarily from the Japanese companies Bandai and Sunrise. Bandai Entertainment distributed Cowboy Bebop, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and many Gundam series, to name just a few stand-outs from its sprawling catalog.
However, in 2012, Bandai was restructured. Instead of distributing anime, it would instead license anime to other companies to distribute. After making its final shipments in 2012, it licensed off the various properties under its brand to companies such as Funimation, Aniplex and Sentai Filmworks. This was the beginning of the end of Bandai Visual, though it survived until 2018 when it merged into the greater entity of Bandai-Namco.
Streamline Pictures came and went well before the other names on this list, but its legacy is significant. Being the first company founded with the sole purpose of distributing anime in the west back in 1988, Streamline Pictures was founded by Carl Macek, the man behind Robotech. Much of the staff in the early days were Robotech and Harmony Gold USA alumni. While most famous for their release of Akira, Streamline also released Vampire Hunter D, Fist of the North Star and Wicked City -- among several other adult-oriented anime titles. They were the first to release anime dubbed and subbed on VHS, sparking much of the early dub vs sub discussions in the early anime fandom. They released a pre-Disney dub for Kiki's Delivery Service, used as a film for airlines.
However, by 1995, Streamline Pictures stopped licensing new titles. Other companies would distribute their titles for them, such as Pioneer and ADV. Ultimately, the company would sell off its assets and shut down in 2002.
Of all the defunct companies on this list, ADV might be the most unusual in that, technically, it isn't truly dead. AD Vision was founded in 1992. Its first anime was Devil Hunter Yohko, but the company soon saw a rise in popularity following the licensing of anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Azumanga Daioh, Elfen Lied and Ghost Stories. Its ambitious ventures include the creation of the Anime Network, the publication of Newtype USA, and an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds for a live-action Evangelion movie.
ADV stretched itself too thin, and in 2009, it filed for bankruptcy. However, in a very clever move, ADV managed to survive by redistributing its properties into multiple, newly formed companies, including Sentai Filmworks. While the ADV brand has not survived into the present day, it has in a sense been reincarnated.