Interview with Shout! Factory Blu-ray/DVD Director, Brian Ward [Part Two]
The Tokusatsu Network sat down with Shout! Factory Director of Blu-ray and DVD Production, Brian Ward, at Stan Lee’s Comikaze in the last weekend of October.
In Part Two, the Tokusatsu Network continues its interview with Brian Ward as he talks about fan feedback and co-hosting his Batman: the Animated Series podcast, The Arkham Sessions with clinical psychologist, Dr. Andrea Letamendi.
Read Part One of the Tokusatsu Network interview here.
The Tokusatsu Network: Do you have any way of gauging which demographics buy the [Super Sentai] set?
Brian Ward: Well, in terms of demographic, no. It’s more about the numbers.
So, in the case of a box set like this, unfortunately retailers—Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart—they don’t want big box sets anymore. They want to spend as little money on stocking box sets, and you’re talking about a 10-disc set. So, a lot of our sales for Sentai are online sales—Amazon and stuff like that. I’m sure Amazon might know who’s buying it.
TN: I’m mainly curious because Netflix and streaming platforms like it—you’re exposing a brand new, younger audience—are you seeing younger kids and their families coming in and are curious about Power Rangers, Sentai, and that kind of thing?
Ward: Absolutely. A number of people who follow me on Twitter will talk about how they’re buying Time Force for their kids. Then it goes to “Now, I’m showing them Dairanger or Zyuranger for my children. I grew up on these series, so they should, too.”
And it really is one of those things, like anything, if you grew up on it, the nostalgia is there and you want to introduce it to your kids. And, I think, I mean—[Ward points out a passing child with their parent on the Comikaze Exhibit Hall floor dressed as the Blue Dino Charge Ranger]—there’s a Power Ranger right there, who’s four or five!
So, it becomes one of those things that we start to see the younger kids who now are seeing Zyuranger for the first time, and they love it. Even if their parents are a little more critical of this season versus that season. The kids love it. And we forget that’s who that’s for to begin with. So like, they love it. And it’s fun to watch that. But I’m seeing a nice mix across the board.
But, then you’ve got some parents who might not know what it is they’re picking up and ten discs is a commitment. They would rather a 5-episode single disc set that they can just pop into their DVD player. So, it’s a little bit of a harder sell for the parents, which I think is why the retailers don’t want as many box sets.
We [the fans] do. We want complete series sets and we want—
TN: —We’re completionists.
TN: So, were you surprised by the fans’ reaction when you announced Zyuranger and Dairanger?
Ward: Yes. Mainly because I was surprised myself. People have been asking me for years as we were doing Power Rangers if we could ever do Super Sentai and my immediate reaction would always be “no.” Because that’s, you know, Saban might not want a competitive product or something that can be seen as competitive. And there had just never been a sense of anyone wanting to bring it over to the United States.
And literally, one day I get a random, out-of-the-blue phone call from one of the higher ups that we work with at Saban. And he’s like, “Just wondering if you guys would be interested in this. Like, just gauging your interest. Do you think that is something that would sell?”
And next thing we knew, we were announcing it at [San Diego] Comic Con. And now I hope to be able to continue to announce more.
TN: Actually, that leads into the next question: You said in the past that Saban approached Shout! Factory about the possibility of releasing Super Sentai. Can you tell us why they finally got interested?
Ward: I don’t know. Well, I think Toei approached them. My understanding of it—and I could be wrong—was that Toei approached them to ask them if it was something that they would be interested in.
TN: So, it was a nice trickle down effect.
Ward: Yeah, and there was probably an exchange. Like, Power Rangers is huge in Japan as well, as Power Rangers. So, I’m sure the two of them worked out some sort of deal or whatever. I don’t know.
But, the next thing I know, Toei is sending us masters. This is just bizarre. But at the same time, I’m loving it because when I was growing up, I had seen the occasional episode and always thought they were very unique. And now I get to watch all of them—and it’s just like, the series is so different from Power Rangers, but it is still the same. I mean, it’s amazing how different and similar the two of them are.
TN: It’s really that, like, five member team, saving the world with your friends, saving some kids.
Ward: Yeah, but Sentai, they take a lot more… I mean, when they’re saving kids, they’re legitimately saving kids. I mean, it’s crazy the kind of stuff that they do to the kids in that show.
TN: (jokingly) [Sentai doesn’t] care about endangering young children.
Ward: I love that any time it’s wire work and the kids are being, like, blown 60 feet, you know, and it’s like… what?
TN: I think Dairanger, specifically, put a lot of kids in danger.
Ward: One of my favorite episodes, the two-parter, “Your Souls, Please!”—the idea that you’re coaxing children, opening up a little hinged door in their chest, taking out their soul, and then putting that into a doll. Then, having the puppets and the dolls as your minions? It is the creepiest thing. And it’s a two-parter. It’s like, I have to keep watching this.
And I remember, it was one of the first episodes of Zyurangers—the one that really sold me—was when they had to then go and get their better weapons. The ones that they end up having throughout the series.
They had to go through a forest of despair, or land of despair. And the kid is there, and they’re trying to explain to him that the moment that you start to despair, you will turn to stone. Then suddenly, his ankles [turn to stone], then his knees. You’re like, “Oh, they’ll save him.” But then, the next thing you know, he’s a statue! Then, you’ve got the female Ranger sitting there going, “No, no, no! Be happy! Be happy! No, no! Don’t worry! Everything is going to be fine!” And you’re like “Whoa, this is real. These kids are really in danger.” That’s just something that the U.S. wouldn’t allow.
TN: It’s kind of stuff of our nightmares, putting kids in danger.
Ward: Right? Yes. It’s like German fairy tales, sort of like, ya’ know, “Eat your soup or this will happen.”
TN: So you mentioned that Kakuranger may be next. have you seen any of it?
TN: Nothing? Nothing at all?
Ward: Nothing. I have not seen it. The extent of the stuff that I had seen growing up: I had seen a few episodes of Zyuranger, I don’t think I had seen any of Dairanger, and then I saw one or two episodes of one of the later seasons. And I don’t even remember which one it was. But I remember, like, “Oh! This is later Power Rangers.”
So now I am literally experiencing the show as someone who knows the footage, but knows nothing about… And then, everyone is talking about, “Oh, just wait until you get to this season. Wait until you get to that one. Oh, you’re going to get some good ones.” You know?
TN: Yeah. That’s the kind of the interesting thing when it comes to this fandom in particular, because it’s a bit of a legacy fandom. Each show is so different.
You’ll get [new] fans who are like, “Oh, I just started with this new thing.” And [long-time fans will start telling them about other seasons and those new fans are left] like, “Please stop telling me about what’s coming up next. Let me go. Just let me watch.”
Ward: Right. Yeah. Let me experience it all for myself. And I’ll let you know which ones I think are good and which ones are bad. It is a little frustrating when you’ve got fans who we’re never going to sell them on Dairanger. And, even if we did, [they’ll say,] “We just want to get to this one or this one. Like, can’t you skip around?”
I’m like, “No.” It’s not always universal.
And, it’s funny, as controversial as it may sound, there are people who actually prefer the Prequel Trilogy to the Original Trilogy of Star Wars. They grew up with the Prequel Trilogy, they know the Prequel Trilogy. And so, as much as one of the [Sentai] seasons may have influenced anyone, they have to remember that there is a much bigger world out there who may love this one or that one. Or they may think that your favorite is the worst of, you know, whatever.
So, I’m happy when the world is learning things and seeing things again. Sometimes, one that you may not think is good, you go back and watch and you’re like, “Wow, this is actually much different than I remember.”
TN: I actually have a staff member who’s on our TokuNet Podcast who’s never seen a tokusatsu before—never seen a Kamen Rider, never seen a Sentai, never seen an Ultraman. And it’s one of those things where it’s like “This is the reason why [she’s] on this podcast.” Because all of us [on staff are veteran fans].
And the first question she asked was, “Oh, there’s a [signature] Kamen Rider kick?” And one of the first comments [to that initial episode] was something like, “How dare she not know that?” And we’re like, “No, she’s allowed. That’s allowed.”
Ward: Right! And we all learned somewhere.
TN: Yeah, you’ll get it eventually.
Ward: Yeah. The idea of gate-keeping is always just a really weird experience where you want that person to experience it. I always want to live vicariously through people who haven’t seen something or don’t know something. I want to watch their reactions.
I don’t want to get mad at them for not knowing what I know.
Ward: So it’s kind of weird when people do that. And then other people are like, “Oh, I feel the same way. But I really hated talking to this person who had no idea what I was talking about.” And you’re like, but it’s the same? That person wants to experience it. So, let them.
TN: Right. So, speaking of fan engagement, how has the fans’ reaction on social media and that kind of engagement really influenced the possibility of bringing more tokusatsu? Not just Super Sentai but also other tokusatsu.
Ward: For starters, Shout! Factory wouldn’t be anywhere without fans. Not just fans of Shout! but fans of this product.
Years ago, we had a forum on our website where I would go in and I would interact with people and other members of the Shout! Factory community would interact, answer questions, take suggestions and stuff like that. It would be absurd of me as someone who doesn’t know this stuff to not listen to a bunch of people who do know this stuff. And it informs everything we do.
So, while some people might be able to suggest one thing or another, it always goes into some sort of—we file it, we pay attention to it. It might not always turn out the way that fans wanted, but there’s always a reason. We didn’t just ignore that. There’s something that didn’t work out. And I think that helps with all the series going forward.
So like, now that you’re successful with this, how about this series? Or how about that series? It’s the same reason why we did Power Rangers and VR Troopers and Big Bad Beetleborgs. It’s like, well, if you’ve got something to compare it to, there’s no reason why this other show shouldn’t also work.
And that’s how retailers like to think too, you know? They’re like, “Well, what can you compare Big Bad Beetleborgs to?” “Ah, we can compare it to Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” “We’ll take it, then! That’s what we’re going to sell to them. Yes, we’ll take it.”
TN: Will we see more Ultraman titles down the road for Shout! Factory?
Ward: I would love to see more Ultraman down the road. And if not from Shout! Factory, then possibly from Shout! Factory TV. Because we’re making separate licensing deals just to stream stuff. I would love to see more Ultraman, the Ultra Q series, Ultra Seven—all the stuff is just, wow, so good.
I think we’ve been incorporating a lot of that stuff into the [streaming] marathons as well, so I’d like to keep doing that. Tokusatsu stuff is so much fun.
TN: [laughs] It really is!
Ward: You can’t not love it
TN: I was here yesterday for the “Not Quite Marvel” panel and got to talk about Toei’s Spider-man, and introducing fans to tokusatsu in that way is just a lot fun and amazing—especially how Leopardon is considered to be “The Strongest Robot in Tokusatsu” because the suit was lost and the show had to use stock footage, so you never saw Leopardon get damaged or destroyed.
Ward: Right! And the reasons why they do a lot of the things they do are phenomenal. This would just send other people over the edge, but no, they find a reason to write that in and next thing you know—
TN: They’re basically the masters of retcon, so to speak.
Ward: It’s fantastic!
TN: So, what do you do when you’re not authoring DVDs?
Ward: What do I do? Like in my free time?
Ward: I’m a big movie buff, so I’m either at a movie theater or I’m making my own short films a lot. [I also] have a weekly podcast that I do with a clinical psychologist, Dr. Andrea Letamendi, and the two of us psychoanalyze—well, she psychoanalyzes. I just ask questions and judge—Batman: The Animated Series.
TN: That’s incredible. Do you two go episode-by-episode?
Ward: Yes, episode-by-episode; and we treat it like it’s real-time. So, we’re not allowed to discuss anything going forward. We have to stick to what we’ve seen.
So, we’ll do from “On Leather Wings” all the way up to—we’ve now done 72 episodes—and we get to see how the characters are evolving, if they evolve at all.
Because she is a clinical psychologist, she can tell you what these people are experiencing, how much is it true to life. A lot of people think that a villain is just a villain in a cartoon, but she’ll say, “No, he’s actually showing sign of antisocial personality disorder or borderline disorder or dissociative identity disorder.”
So, we’ll talk about all those things and it’s not just the villains. Batman’s got problems [too], and we talk about that. We put him through the paces.
It’s great when you can take something as deeply written as Batman: the Animated Series was and you can analyze those characters. Because, really, what she and I both want to do is de-stigmatize mental health. You shouldn’t think that having a mental health disorder is a bad thing. You’re just like thousands of other people and here’s how it’s treated, etc. Having a disorder doesn’t make you a bad person. You’re not going to become the Joker just because you’re “this” or just because you’re “that.”
It’s important that people understand that. So, we take a cartoon that people love and we get to talk about real things. We’ll actually compare them to real life people, like a story just like this really happened, and this is how [Dr. Letamendi] would treat that disorder in a clinic, or something like Arkham Asylum.
That podcast is called the Arkham Sessions and we’re on iTunes and all the others, and we just have fun.
TN: It’s released every week?
Ward: Yup, we try to. I mean, sometimes—I mean, I don’t want to say, “lazy” but you know—
TN: Totally understand! [We try to keep the Tokusatsu Network’s podcast] monthly and some readers have asked for bi-monthly and we’re like, [laughs] It can almost be like herding cats sometimes, but we do our best.
Ward: Same here, and we’re only two people and we’ve got a nice studio going, but sometimes, hey—day jobs, right?
TN: Absolutely. Really, though, thank you so much for taking this time to talk to us. This was really a lot of fun!