From Fan Site Reviewer to Anime Distribution Company Founder
Andrew Partridge of Scotland-based distributor Anime Limited aims to share his passion-driven approach to collector’s editions with a global audience.
Introducing My Journey, a series of interviews with industry leaders examining their career path, influences, and goals for the future.
Amidst the day-to-day of running Anime Limited, what really gets the president, Andrew Partridge, excited in the morning is package design. It all started with a few simple questions: “Why not? Why hasn’t this been done before?”
With a thoughtful approach and attention to detail, Anime Limited has positioned itself as the “Criterion of anime.” Collector’s editions include full-size, hardcover artbooks as well as unique items that contextualize and complement the content. Among Mr. Partridge’s personal favorites: a resin replica of The Gate with their Fullmetal Alchemist Ultimate Edition and their upcoming Evangelion Ultimate Edition.
Mr. Partridge’s anime journey started with Ghost in the Shell, which is “the same way a lot of people in the UK did.” He carved his own path by writing anime and manga reviews for a UK fan site and then in 2004, during his first year in university, he emailed Bandai Namco’s Beez Entertainment asking if they wanted an intern. To his surprise, they said yes. The following summer, he moved to Paris for an internship. While at Beez, Mr. Partridge’s eyes were opened to the anime market in Europe. At that time, he had only ever seen collectors’ editions imported from the US. All he could wonder at the time, was, “Why don’t we get those in the UK?” – a question he decided to answer with Anime Limited.
Beyond home releases, Anime Limited’s activities range a broad spectrum: theatrical, broadcast, streaming, and most recently, vinyl releases. Working on a title-by-title basis, Mr. Partridge looks at the music, plot, and director when considering an acquisition. “If all those three elements come together,” he says, “the rest comes together.” Because of this approach, Anime Limited’s catalog spans an eclectic mix of new and popular titles, classic favorites, and “auteur-driven films.”
Mr. Partridge credits Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) as the catalyst for his love of original anime films. He beamed about the sheer passion that shone through and how it was the first film where he felt the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Before Anime Limited, Mr. Partridge founded Scotland Loves Animation in 2010, a film festival that takes place in Scotland’s two largest cities, Glasglow and Edinburgh.
Drawing from his personal experience growing up in rural Scotland, Anime Limited’s promotional tours and events with creators hit cities beyond major city centers like London or Paris. While they are unable to go to each village or town individually, they can host events in other hub cities that are more accessible to people unable to travel to a convention in London. For Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda toured cities across France which resulted in the French box office being the best outside of Japan at $2.4 million compared to $1.23 million in China and $812,794 in the U.S. (Source: Box Office Mojo)
After reaching the first hurdle for growing the theatrical market of getting franchise films on screens longer and event screenings for original films, Mr. Partridge would like to see anime films playing in theaters for an extended period as the norm rather than the exception in the next five years.
With theatrical releases being an important part of Anime Limited’s activities, the closures in 2020 due to COVID-19 did impact the company. However, their direct-to-consumer online sales flourished as they followed the macro trend of home video growth in the UK and France. “Sales are in a completely new place” after growing an astonishing 100% in 2020 compared to 2019. Recognizing the importance of safety and realizing the likelihood of extended theater closures, Anime Limited launched an online film festival platform called Screen Anime for the UK and Ireland. Mr. Partridge confirmed that the project was a product of the pandemic and built specifically with audience development in mind during the COVID-19 pandemic. They came up with the idea about a month before launch, and it has been a welcome source of revenue while theatrical releases were on hiatus for both Anime Limited and the theaters that partner with Scotland Loves Animation.
Fan reception to Screen Anime has been positive, and through it, he was able to relive the magic of the featured films along with the fans. Seeing them discover these films also reminded him just how lucky his team is. Still, he looks forward to running events in cinemas again when possible. Pre-pandemic, Anime Limited participated in major conventions such as MCM Comic Con and Japan Expo down to fan-run 300-person events. In the absence of physical events, Anime Limited hosted the online event Cloud Matsuri in May and November of 2020. While he admitted that fans are “reaching a point of apathy with the current system of digital events,” Mr. Partridge expressed optimism about adapting a future Cloud Matsuri that provides fans with the opportunity to participate no matter their personal circumstances or tolerance levels for COVID-19 safety procedures. “There’s an experience you get when attending an event,” he says, “but that should not come out of the expense of safety concerns.” As physical events slowly return, Mr. Partridge also recognizes the power and value in continue to develop engaging online experiences.
Looking towards the future, Mr. Partridge simply “wants to bring what [Anime Limited does] to as many people as possible and show people really cool things.” He considers the founding of Anime Limited as one of his biggest accomplishments. Nearly a decade later, the Anime Limited team has grown from 3 to 17, all folks doing what they love. The ethos of Anime Limited has remained the same since it started in 2012. Being a prestige distributor means always being passion-driven and working on projects they believe in. Simply put, it all comes down to “showing fans things [they] think are really cool.”
As they continue to scale up, Mr. Partridge plans to focus on what Anime Limited does well, backed up by data. “This is where Miles Thomas comes in,” he notes. Previously Crunchyroll’s Director for Community Marketing, Mr. Thomas is “someone with a global focus on data who shares their passions.” With the support of HSBC’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan program, Anime Limited is poised to continue growing in the music market across the US, Australia, and Europe, as well as bringing their prestige releases to the US.
Even with expanding to new markets and diversifying offerings, Mr. Partridge sees Anime Limited as a complement to other companies rather than a direct competitor. “Any kind of anime release is good,” he says, “Anything that widens the market is good, but there’s a gap in the market for something that contextualizes.” That something refers to Anime Limited’s prestige focus and passion for physical products that contextualize as well as entertain. “I don’t buy that physical media is dead as a whole,” he declared.
When it comes to Screen Anime, its specific focus on a short-term film festival format puts it outside of the highly competitive streaming market. Instead, Mr. Partridge prefers to stay platform agnostic by working with companies like Crunchyroll, Netflix, and UK’s Channel 4. For Mr. Partridge, promoting the content is most important. “When you build a platform, the focus becomes getting people onto the platform above anything else,” he says, “…that changes your priority order in a way that doesn’t suit Anime Limited’s point of view.” He continues, “When you do a platform as a broader business, it becomes very much a volume game as well as a content game…You’re no longer focused on what you love.”
To that point, Mr. Partridge looks for the best partners to promote the content. That has led Anime Limited to work with companies across the globe, which positioned them as an “interpreter” between European, US, and Japanese business needs.
At the end of the day, Mr. Partridge enjoys broadening people’s horizons and changing their perceptions. Anime Limited introduces anime to new audiences and connects people to Japanese creators to let them know how much their work is loved abroad. For creatives, taking them to new cities and countries can even result in inspiration for future projects. In fact, Shinichiro Watanabe’s trip to Edinburgh to promote Cowboy Bebop in 2013, inspired an Edinburgh Castle-shaped spaceship in Space Dandy (season 2, episode 6).
It also doesn’t hurt to be able to change preconceived notions of the UK. Mr. Partridge often hears visitors say that they hear the food is terrible and delights in taking them to amazing places. “Expanding anime is one thing,” he says, “but also expanding people’s views of the territories where their content is released is important too.”