In an era where streaming is increasingly convenient, physical media has to be more than just a disc with the same content on it. Why spend 30 bucks to buy a 480p DVD when you could stream that anime in 1080p for a fraction of the cost? Unless your internet is spotty, a lot of physical media just exists for collectors now. But the thing is… it doesn’t have to be like that.
Bonus features have been a staple of physical media for a long time. Mini-games, extra content, behind-the-scenes stuff; interesting and fun material that didn’t always make its way online. This made buying anime tempting even for non-collectors. While watching Princess Tutu recently, I enjoyed looking through its blooper reels and the introduction to ballet dancing that were included as bonus content. This inspired me to look through my collection and see how many series still put effort into their Bonus Features.
At the bottom of the hypothetical tierlist are, of course, releases that come with jack shit. Some releases like MVM’s Bunny Drop come with literally nothing on them outside of the anime itself. Right next to them on the bottom rung are low-effort extras you’d never actually use. Textless openings and endings are readily available online and not something that anyone is going to load up an actual DVD or bluray for. Trailers for the anime you already purchased (or for other products by the same licensor) are, similarly, not an actual bonus. It’s marketing disguised as value.
Rage of Bahamut is an example of this. It proudly boasts about having 28 MINUTES OF SPECIAL FEATURES. Look on the back and most of it is quickly revealed to be trailers, previews, and the ubiquitous clean songs.
Beyond that, we got reliable staples like blooper reels, behind-the-scenes content, OVA episodes, commentaries, and interviews with staff. Content that isn’t mind-blowing in its creativity, but which any fan is going to appreciate regardless. If I enjoyed a show enough to own a physical copy, then I am usually interested enough to want to know more about its production and the people involved. One of my all-time favorites is The Devil is a Part-Timer! which has a special explaining how the fictional language of the show was invented.
Bloopers are always fun too. Especially in an anime like Princess Tutu that are usually so dignified. Getting to see outtakes of its most touching scenes or pranks that the voice actors pulled on each other was a lot of fun.
While such features are reliable as extras, I appreciate it even more when a bluray comes out with some unexpected bonuses; features that took creativity, effort, and extra time to create. For example, the steelbook release of Berserk came with a professional-made OVA for the insert song Forces, as well as a short documentary on street art related to the series. Escaflowne also has its own music videos + it includes the cutscenes exclusive to the Japan-only Escaflowne video game. Hetalia has info pages on the series’ historical references, while Panty & Stocking has a compilation of explosions. That last one is admittedly quite useless, but very on brand.
Of course, all of the above series also come with a myriad of interviews, bonus episodes, and the usual stocking fillers.
Another fantastic way to create value is with physical extras. Usually these are reserved for limited edition sets, though I do have some “normal” releases that came with cute extras. ADV’s Elfen Lied used to come with a cool poster, Madoka Magica has a reversible cover, and several anime come with tiny booklets featuring production art. One release that has always stood out to me is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, in which Funimation included an episode guide for all the different watch orders.
The industry for licensing anime is currently seeing some major shifts. I am curious if we’ll see a resurgence of quality physical releases or if the digital-era companies will conspire to make them even less worthwhile. Even if we are witnessing the end of the physical era, I hope that bonus features will find some way to live on.