REPOST: The ASOS Brigade – Anime Marketing at its Finest

Originally posted on December 28, 2006, almost exactly three years ago:

Buzz was generating through out all of last week as a mysterious website popped onto the internets. The simple page made promises that the popular anime series, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, was being licensed in the US. The website only claimed that “The world as we know it will end” that Friday. But for those looking around, one could find hidden messages to decrypt written in the website’s source code. The popular news website AnimeOnDVD.com also played along by highlighting of the letters SOS written on their posts. The hype was big, and many started to speculate who was behind the mystery.

Well, after my last round of final exams that Thursday night, I checked on the website after midnight to see if the announcement was made. I was on the east coast, but unfortunately, the announcement was going to be made at midnight on the west coast. So I stayed up really late to see that as midnight struck through the different timezones, the website’s source code updated with various messages, including a comedic dialogue between Haruhi and the other members of the Brigade. Finally, when midnight came on the west coast, the website changed with this video:

At first I thought it was a joke. A bunch of fans got together to pull the biggest hoax in anime history. But as the video continued, it became clear that this was no joke. In fact, this was probably one of the most enjoyable marketing campaigns I have ever seen.

Bandai’s idea behind the ASOS Brigade is to reach out to everyone who has already become fans of the series through watching the fansubs. They have created their own amateur-style home movies and are posting them on the internet via streaming video services. They also created a Myspace page and encourage fans to connect with the franchise through social networking.

The movie is done “for fans by fans” style, and they really know how to please their target audience. The movie interlaces Japanese and English dialogue with a Korean-American actress, former Pink Ranger Patricia Ja Lee, playing the lead role, and two Japanese actresses playing her sidekicks. Lee even admits in the film that the Japanese actresses are only meant to appeal to the otaku fanboys. This is a very suitable attitude for the character she portrays, and is even more entertaining when we, the otaku-fanboy audience, realize how true it is.

But the video also dives into other aspects of the online anime community that we weren’t expecting from a company like Bandai. Internet catchphrases like “O Rly?” and “No Wai!” are used through out the video, which are only used by visitors of such otaku-influenced websites like 4chan.org and ytmnd.com. Also, after fans complained over Lee’s choice to translate the word to “psychic” over the word “esper”, a new subtitled version of the video included the fan-preferred word written under the original recording.

And while this Myspace page (like most Myspace pages) is a nightmare to look at, it is actually one of the greatest parts of this campaign. The profile is done through the point of view of the series’ narrator, Kyon, and the blog that is featured on the site is very well written and entertaining.

“Hello to everyone in the States. Haruhi has ordered me to make an American website for a new branch of our club she is forming, the Americans Spreading Excitement All Over the World with Haruhi Suzumiya (ASOS). My name is Kyon, and I am a sophmore at North High School, in Hyoga, Japan. Truth be told, Kyon is a nickname. I suppose that isn’t relevant. In any case, Haruhi Suzumiya, the president of our club has worked out a sponsorship with an American company. In exchange for mentioning the US release of the The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya DVDs, we get supplies for our next student film. I heard it was a box of costumes and a few video tapes. I don’t want to think of what kind of costumes that Haruhi will make poor Asahina wear after the last time. In fact, I never really wanted to join this club in the first place. Well, that doesn’t concern the rest of you.”

And in the latest blog post, Kyon makes references to very fansub-specific ideas, such as torrenting and “raw” video files:

“Haruhi has been in a FIT since we didn’t post the subtitiled version of the video. Asahina grabbed the wrong torr…err…file. Haruhi has been sending me text messages to my cellphone nonstop since then. She just posted a rather angry message on the main http://asosbrigade.com website, so at least I have the link. [...] I thought the raws were fine, but in any case…enjoy!”

And that is where I feel the ASOS Brigade holds its defining characteristic. Many people feel that Haruhi will never sell well in the US because most of the fans have already seen the show through illegal methods. This campaign is an attempt to target the fansub community into actually supporting the series financially when the opportunity is available to them. The movie ends with special thanks to “All fansubs lovers who buy the official DVDs and who help support more creative works,” and specifically gives no thanks to “downloaders/bootlegers who never buy the official DVDs.” This is a very bold statement, but I completely understand where they are coming from.

I fully support Bandai in this campaign, and encourage you all to do the same. This is a fantastic series to get behind, and deserves all the praise and support it can receive. I have never had this much fun over a marketing campaign before, so mad props to all the folks behind it! :-)

Bandai did a similar marketing stunt with their announcement of the Kannagi anime during Otakon weekend earlier this year. And then yesterday, Christmas Day 2009, the ASOS Brigade website sparked back to life. The campaign is now utilizing Facebook and Twitter to promote what appears to be Bandai’s acquisition of Haruhi’s second season and / or spin-off “webisode” series.

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