Amecon is the biggest dedicated anime event in the UK, so it's not surprising that the big four UK anime distributors make a point of attending.  Traditionally the big UK conventions are used by UK distributors to announce new licenses and talk to fans, and Amecon is no exception.

This year ADV Films, Beez Entertainment, Manga Entertainment and MVM were slated to host panels, and there was a joint 'state of the industry' panel featuring representatives from the companies as well.  Panels at conventions usually take the form of a presentation by a company representative, often including sneak peeks at forthcoming releases and a question and answer session with the audience.  The first scheduled panel this year was by Manga Entertainment, but after 20mins of staring at an empty stage we were told that it was cancelled.  Apparently Manga's representative wasn't there, and so this left Beez to kick off the round of panels in the University's Queens Hall.

Beez started by rounding up the year so far, and officially announcing their forthcoming box set releases.  Look out for IGPX box sets, a deluxe Gundam Wing set and a My Hime set later this year.  They also had a number of major announcements to make, firstly to confirm that they had licensed the hugely popular mecha action series Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and the rather cool looking samurai action film Sword of a StrangerBeez's enthusiastic representative Andrew Partridge spoke highly of both series and outlined the company's impressive plans for the future.  Beez are the European subsidiary of Bandai Entertainment, which makes them the only anime distributor in the UK that is actually part of a Japanese company.  This gives them a lot more of a stable base than other distributors and also allows them to try things that their rivals can't. 

Andrew Partridge fields questions at the Beez Panel

 Andrew announced that Beez would start releasing titles on Blu-Ray later this year - the first dedicated UK anime distributor to do so - and even more impressively these Blu-Ray titles will be released simultaneously worldwide.  Titles on their way are Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo's sci-fi epic Freedom and Gunbuster vs. Daibuster, a crossover film from studio Gainax.  Other possible Blu-Ray releases include Yukikaze, which is already available here on DVD, and the classic sci-fi Royal Space Force Honneamise.  When Andrew quizzed the audience on these possibilities it was clear that the latter would be the most popular, especially as it has never

seen a UK DVD release.  We caught up with Andrew later on to see if the Blu-Ray releases would also come to DVD, and he confirmed that this was the intention, depending on licenses.

The other big bit of news from Andrew was the forthcoming Bandai Channel online streaming service.  The Bandai Channel is already active in Japan, and streams anime to users for a set  fee per episode or film.  Bandai now plans to bring the channel to Europe, although it is still in the testing phase and the precise fee or charging structure is yet to be decided.  It is likely that various options will be available, and those being considered include a subscription service, download to rent, download to own and pay-per-view.  Andrew commented hat it would probably work in a similar fashion to Channel 4's online service 4 On Demand (4oD).  He is hoping he will have more details on this at the MCM London Expo in October.

There were a few other interesting tidbits scattered about as well:

  • Beez had more anime on UK TV than any other company before the anime digital TV channels all hit difficulties, with seven series being screened.

  • All of Beez's deluxe edition box sets will be limited to about 500-750 sets.

  • Beez are looking into a cinema run for Sword of a Stranger, and plan to offer screenings to film festivals.

  • The .hack://SIGN box set Beez released contains the .hack://LIMINALITY OVAs, which were previously only available with the .hack:// games on the PlayStation 2.  The games are out of print so the OVAs are no available outside of the set.

  • The Wolf's Rain deluxe box set will be called the Book of the Moon edition and will come with an EU exclusive 200 page art book.

  • Beez released the .hack://ROOTS soundtracks last year

  • There is not likely to be any more Gundam releases after the Gundam Wing box set until at least next year.

  • Beez are considering bidding for the insane comedy Lucky Star, but it depends on how well The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya does on DVD here.  Apparently the sales have been good so far.

  • They would like to do deluxe edition Gundam Seed Destiny box sets, similar to the current Gundam Seed sets.  However, this won't be in the immediate future.

  • The Gundam board game included with the deluxe Gundam Seed box sets was created by Beez in house, and is 'like a cross between Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit'.  Andrew said that they'd like to do an expansion for it with a future deluxe Gundam set.