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In 1988, computer game programmer
Robert Woodhead bought a video overlay card for his Macintosh II.

He didn't realize that he was about to change how the world saw Japanese animation forever.

Introducing Anime to the English Speaking World

Robert Woodhead first attained fame for co-developing the early computer role playing game Wizardry while he was a student at Cornell. It came out for the Apple II in September 1981. By 1988, he and Roe Adams were working on the fourth game in the series. When they took a break from development work to play with Robert's new toy, the "Colorspace II" video overlay card for the Macintosh II, Roe asked if it could possibly be used to subtitle anime for his anime club. At the time, the only way to watch anime in America was off of blurry, low quality VHS tapes in raw Japanese, while someone who knew the language attempted to narrate what was happening. (Yes, we really did that back then.)

Robert was frequently in Japan on business. Wizardry had been ported to various Japanese computer platforms of the era (starting with the Fujitsu FM-7 in 1985) and was a huge hit. "I have a better idea," he replied. "Why don't I go get some licenses and we'll try and sell the videos?" The two laughed at the probably money-losing proposition, and then decided it might be a fun weekend project.

In 1988, the only way to add text to video was with expensive, purpose-built video hardware. Robert and Roe didn't have access to this sort of gear, so they essentially made their own. Robert wrote subtitling software, which required using a mouse to "twitch-time" each line as the video played in real-time, and then manually adjusting the timing by hand. Yellow was selected as the main subtitle color (as it didn't "bleed" – most colors in the analog video era tended to smear all over the place). Timecode was generated on-the-fly (rather than being read off the master tape). Most of the difficulty was in overcoming the limitations of computer hardware of the era, which struggled to draw graphics fast enough to keep up with subtitles.

As the first company who wanted to release anime that wasn't clearly for kids, and subtitled in its original language, AnimEigo initially had trouble with being taken seriously by Japanese media companies. (New lines of business are pretty risky in Japanese business culture.) Eventually, the New York office of Fujisankei Communications International (parent company of Pony Canyon) gave them a chance, and offered them two anime to license: MADOX-01 and Project A-ko. They went for MADOX-01, since it was shorter, cheaper, and seemed a little more "mainstream friendly" to Robert. (Project A-ko went on to become a HUGE hit a few years later for rival anime publisher Central Park Media.) And thus, in early 1989, MADOX-01 became the first English subtitled, uncut anime released on home video.

Robert returned to Japan, and Gainax co-founder Toshio Okada offered to introduce him to various anime companies, if he'd appear as a guest at a convention the company was putting on. As Robert's interpreter, he hired a young woman named Natsumi Ueki. Robert would acquire the rights to Riding Bean on that same trip... and it was off to the races for AnimEigo from there. Robert's mother Janice Hindle took over the day-to-day running AnimEigo out of Wilmington, North Carolina. Robert, Roe and translator Michael House all worked from Japan. And as for Natsumi, she and Robert got married that Christmas. Natsumi quickly began running the licensing end of the business.

As anime began to boom in the US, AnimEigo grew too, eventually necessitating that Robert and Natsumi move back to Wilmington. The company released dozens of anime and Japanese live action films, throughout the VHS and DVD era. When the DVD market took a bad turn in 2006, the company downsized to just the two of them (plus Janice). Since then, they've been keeping their classic titles in print, and utilizing Kickstarter to produce Blu-ray versions.

In February 2024, Robert and Natsumi announced that the anime business would be sold to MediaOCD, a Los Angeles based post production company with a long history of restoring vintage anime and producing Blu-ray discs for other publishers. The two would slowly begin to retire... but not before they finish a handful of Kickstarter projects yet to come.

MediaOCD is beyond excited to continue the legacy of high-quality, fan-oriented anime releases started by Robert and Roe. We look forward to bringing the AnimEigo touch to a new era!

Legacy Liner Notes

AnimEigo was known for providing extensive liner notes for their titles. (In the VHS era, Japan seemed far more exotic than it does now, so American fans needed a lot of help understanding basic Japanese cultural concepts. Research about Japanese things was orders of magnitude harder in the days before Google and Wikipedia!) Historical notes, credits and translated song lyrics were often also included.

We've preserved liner notes for every single AnimEigo release from the VHS and DVD era below, in PDF format. Right-click to download!

*Please note that most of these titles are no longer available from AnimEigo, and many are now available from other publishers. These liner notes are made available for information purposes only. No current right to these titles is expressed or implied. A small number of releases did not have liner notes.


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