History’s Strongest Disciple: Animag Advertisements, 1987 – 1990

Animag was one of the earliest attempts at a professional English-language anime magazine, first published in 1987 by a group of fans in the San Francisco Bay Area. It managed to outlast most of its competition, although, a few years later, it shut down when many of the staff jumped ship to help start Viz’s Animerica magazine. The following post is a selection of advertisements that ran in Animag between 1987 and 1990.

People who started buying translated Japanese comics within the last ten years will have a hard time recognizing Viz’s release of Yoshihisa Tagami’s Grey. A limited series of fewer than a dozen issues, each was the same size as a traditional American comic book, but square-bound rather than stapled. The very first issue included a foreword by American sci-fi author Harlan Ellison. With a translation entirely devoid of any Japanese-isms, and featuring flipped artwork, it was representative of a time when companies like Viz seemed to be marketing translated manga to comic book fans, rather than anime fans.

Gainax made an early attempt to cash in on the burgeoning American anime market, and, for a few years, they operated a U.S. branch of their General Products mail-order subsidiary. Gainax also helped to bankroll the first “major” anime convention, AnimeCon, in 1991. AnimeCon was a financial failure and Gainax would eventually pull up stakes in the U.S., starting a tradition of Japanese anime companies who tried to operate in the U.S. and ultimately failed.

Frederick Schodt’s translation of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Gundam novelizations is notable for a few things. First, it was released in the U.S. long before any sort of official Gundam marketing presence existed in the country. Second, Schodt’s translation used very literal translations for names, e.g. Sha for Char, and Zak for Zaku, something that continues to irk fanboys to this day. Finally, the three novels were collected and re-released in English while Gundam was airing on Cartoon Network in the early 2000s. This version fixes the naming discrepancies of the earlier release, but is now highly sought-after and tends to go for ridiculous prices on Amazon Marketplace.

Palladium Books’ incredibly drab, two-column layout (which they’ve used for the last 25 years, and continue using to this day) showed up even in their ads, all of which look pretty much just like this. It’s worth pointing out that someone, somewhere, thought Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes’ wedding merited being mentioned as a “highlight.”

AnimEigo and U.S. Renditions were the first two companies to release subtitled videos aimed at American anime fans. I don’t know what to make of the hideous art used in the MADOX-01 advertisement, except that I’m fairly sure it was based (traced) on a piece of art used for the Japanese release. For comparison, AnimEigo now sells MADOX-01 on DVD for $7.99.

$66 is hilariously cheap when you consider that prices for vintage Macross toys rose throughout the 1990s, and in the early 2000’s, it wasn’t uncommon to see 1/55th Valkyries going for over $800 on eBay.


  1. Madox-01 may be cheap, but Akira (The Movie) is still 30 bucks. Lame.

    It’s really cool to see this stuff. Thanks!

  2. Point of order: Gainax didn’t exist back then. General Products was the company, and not just mail order, they had a series of stores and ‘licensed partners’ that carried their garage kits and such like.

    Gainax came into being after the massive crash of GP. The more than epic failure of GP’s attempt to come to America is a blueprint of how when it comes to screwing things up, nobody can outdo the Japanese when it comes to their own stuff. See also Bandai.

  3. Holy shit, it’s the Daicon IV girl. That’s probably lost to history forever now.

  4. It’s true that General Products predates Gainax, but Gainax certainly existed before and during ANIMAG’s run; it was incorporated December 24, 1984. GP was founded February 13, 1982, the day I became an otaku myself.

  5. Technically that’s the 1990’s Bandai version of the VF-1 toy which is typically far less desirable. Kind of an unloved transitional piece before they just started pumping out re-issues of the proper Takatoku style toy.

    It’s kind of funny how the prices on the models hasn’t changed much since then.

  6. Man, thanks for these. I recognized quite a few of those ads from random sightings in those days. And the GP image reminds me of the collages I used to make by hand to convert into flyers to advertise my tiny “anime rental” business, back home in Manila during the early 90’s.

    I also remember owning the Palladium ROBOTECH sourcebook for their PnP RPG that I never played, purely as a source of artwork, official and otherwise. I also owned some BGC RPG sourcebooks for this exact same reason.

  7. I of course bow to Carl on his knowledge of Gainax, all I can say is I don’t recall the name being public and the overarching ‘brand’ until Royal Space Force.

    Anyone actually HAVE that catalog? All the copyright info for stuff called out General Products in Hobby Japan and B-Club, so…

  8. Still got my stack of ANIMAGs in a safe place. Yep, there were rough edges there, but…it was a different time back then.

    To Steve: You’re right about GP’s crash and burn here in the States, although I didn’t find out about that until the mid-90s. What do you point to as the reason? Is it due to underestimating the market or the culture? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

    I liked GREY, and still have my issues. It’s nice that Ellison did the intro for the first volume. You are right, Sean, that the first early manga releases were aimed at comic book fans. That was the mindset back then, I suppose–but what do I know, I was still a kid myself and was fascinated by these comics that looked nothing like what we had here in the US.

    I remember the GUNDAM fracas as well–even though Schodt used the proper translations and knew Tomino personally (and was fluent in Japanese) it didn’t stop a few @$$holes from screaming that his translation was bad. Whatever, mates. I was just happy to see anything GUNDAM related get released in the ‘States, even though it would be years before the actual animation arrived on American shores officially. And I still have the books. It’s also important to remember that there were not a lot of translated Japanese SF novels here in the US at that time; certainly not like today, where you’ve got Dark Horse, DMP, Vertical, Haika Soru, Seven Seas, and others bringing out quite a few titles over here.

    Thanks for posting these up Sean. Reminds us that there was anime fandom and history before the Internet.

  9. Well, the people who actually endured the nonsense from the GP people told the tale much better, but off the top of my head (and of course biased by my view from the midwest):

    1. Unrealistic expectations. The Japanese at GP thought that since fans in L.A. endured the new, inflated overpricing of Japanese goods (triggered to importers who had their profit margin fixed at a percent of the Yen/Dollar exchange rate instead of the more standardized percent over actual cost. It’s slightly complex to explain here but it’s a very meaningful factor and has affected EVERYTHING since) that of course that was the standard to price things at. By 1990 fans were getting savvy to the huge markup and not as willing to drop $20 on a $10 book.

    2. Item selection. Instead of listening to the Americans who were hired to run the company and getting product that people wanted, the Japanese tried to force whatever they thought was hot upon the store, and usually very high end. When customers are screaming for Dirty Pair ANYTHING and you reply with “well, no, but here’s a $200 resin kit of the main character from Nora! You want THIS, right?” you’re just not going to last long.

    3. Giving up. I don’t recall, Carl probably knows right off the top of his head, but GP USA lasted less than a year, IIRC. When it finally hit them that GP USA wasn’t going to be the giant gold mine that made everyone rich and gave them all homes in Hawaii, they just….stopped. Didn’t try to fix the problems by LISTENING to the Americans actually in the trenches, didn’t adjust the business model and make long term planning, just quit. I think that was pretty shameful, actually.

    I mean, picture if you will if GP (and Gainax) had an American office in place, slowly selling goods, working the growing American anime fandom and right there, right there when Evangelion comes out, and able to service fandom with the complete line of printed material in English, all the ‘making of’ stuff, all that. Would they be millionaires? No, but they’d be very very comfortable, I think.

  10. To Steve: Thanks for that–it certainly gave me the scoop on what happened.

    Perhaps, though, it was probably too early to open a GP branch in the US. Like you said, imagine if they were around when the big Eva boom hit the US…but maybe that’s happened in an alternate reality.

    Good points though–thanks again.

  11. These ads brought alot of good memories of being in Highschool and fighting to get 40- dollar VHS’s and fan subs of some of those classic 80’s and 90’s ORIENTAL ANIMATION VIDEOS titles, which I still love today!

    COLONY DROP speaks for me on all matters of being a 35 year old Anime fan! Thanks guys for being on the money all the time!

  12. To Lenox: Amen to that…it’s amazing to see the moans and groans over the cost of anime DVDs, when it was a s@&tload more expensive back in the day…

    Plus, at best you could only put, what–maybe two eps on one VHS tape? And remember when Viz had ads for the VHS tape for GREY: DIGITAL TARGET–and it cost around $100 bucks, with NO subs or dubs?

  13. I actually own a Miss Daicon figure kit!

    And the ad from U.S. Renditions for Gunbuster and Dangaio also appeared in an issue of Animation Magazine which I actually own. I still have a sealed original U.S. Renditions tape of Gunbuster V.1 and finally completed my 3 tape set of Dangaio a few years ago.

  14. To Mr. Marc McKenzie-

    Today’s fans are not the hard core fans that the children of the 80’s were. We fought to get small amounts of material at outrageous prices and were thankful for it- today’s fans are spoiled and do not appreciate how good they have it, and thus do not appreciate the material nearly as much.

    Our generation of fans (represented by COLONY DROP) is a one of a kind outstanding group. It would be great to get together and watch some anime together if we lived close!!

  15. To Jason: I can’t argue with that.

    Not only did we fight to get that small amount over here, we were also trying to let everyone know about it–spreading the word, you might say, and yep, we were VERY grateful for anything that came over here. There was also more of a desire to bring the good stuff, not garbage (well…some crap did slip through, but that always happens…).

  16. I had a subscription to this mag, the subscription actually continued into animerica, filling my 12 issue sub.

    The US rendition subs and this magazine were what brought me full bore into anime fandom. I know Dangaio was pretty cheap stuff, but I ate it up. ‘side-kick’ wave!!

    I attended the 1991 animecon…15 yrs old and completely lost in San Jose. I remember seeing Gainax there with their suitcases stamped with the company logo. They were promoting Nadia:Secret of Blue Water heavily there. I brought a VCR and filled 6 tapes of Anime from the closed circuit channel on EP.

    I know the very next year, at the same place, the Anime Expo was held (which I also attended), so Animecon accomplished something.

    These were such wonderful memories for me. I had such a great appreciation for a lot of Anime than…now I can’t stand most of it, lol.

  17. We loved and visited most of the companies who advertised in Animag! Classic! Unfortunately so many closed down including Newtype in San Francisco. So sad. But one good thing is these companies helped to lay the marketing foundations for future companies to offer services to the growing anime fanbase. Also AX back then was so much more fan friendly and less of a Disneyland zoo. But your mileage may vary b/c for us nothing short of Takahashi Rumiko, Miyazaki Hayao, Kon Satoshi, Takada Akemi, and Mikimoto Haruhiko will bring us back.

  18. While I didn’t get into anime until the early 90s, my geographical location (back when that was still a major hindrance) was sparse when it came to anime and manga and I felt blessed to have gotten anything.

    Saving up to buy a $35 tape took forever with my piddly allowance, but man did those tapes get watched over and over.

  19. Wow those ads sure hit the nostalgia button. I recognize all those ads very clearly. In fact more clearly than i do of stuff i’ve seen recently. I don’t know if that’s a good or sad thing. LOL.

    It reminds me how different times were back then and how much i’ve lost interest in the hobby since those days. I could just be cynical now but anime has lost the magic it once had to me.

    I think we have become spoiled these days. Back then it was all about searching and finding any scrapes like others above have said. I remember i mail ordered my laser disc player and laser discs from that laser perceptions ad. I wonder if they are still in business?

    I was so excited when i saw that books nippon ad. Finally someone was releasing subbed anime. I bought gunbuster and got dangaioh later. I still have them. I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them like the rest of my vhs tapes.

    I remember getting the gundam novels in high school. The covers were designed to look similar to the robotech novels that had just recently been released. I liked the novel’s version of the story over the anime’s. The ending was better if i remember it correctly.

  20. I use my blog to dedicate these old magazines. I am still trying to collect as much as I can for my own personal collection. Ive got one where its a list of a chunk load of Laserdisc from Laser Perception. I was amazed that someone would want to by a copy of Crystal Triangle for like 80 bucks…

  21. Just dropping in to say I’m enjoying the site. It was cool to see the old USR ad again !

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