I have been collecting anime cels for years. It all began with an innocently purchased cel of Keiich from OMG. Who knew what a compulsive hobby it would become! I soon needed to add Ranma, in both forms, to my collection. Next it was Kero from Card Captor Sakura and even a handful of Pokemon! Soon, my cel collecting hobby had snowballed out of control!
Over the years, I have noticed some changes in the cel collecting hobby. Cels from shows that were once available in abundance soon dried up. While wandering the dealer hall at Anime Expo, I stopped by the Anime Link booth to chat with Rick Alonso about the state of cel collecting. Rick easily has some of the best cels available on the collector market, and he’s always eager to discuss them. Rick’s been helping collectors find their dream cels since 1990. He kindly agreed to be help share his knowledge for this article.
How did you first get interested in cel collecting?
- Through my classmates in Japan, who became art directors, character designers, mecha designers, producers & directors….all in the anime & manga industry. I was a graphic illustrator in the early mid ’80’s and traveled to Japan for work and met up with all my buddies. When I went touring the various anime studios, I met with staff who collected cels, was shown their various collections…..and was immediately hooked. My life has been in financial ruins ever since!
I know that feeling! When did you decide to start Anime Link and how did you go about it?
-After I met up with collectors, traders etc….. and talked with them about possible business ventures, I decided to give it a shot in the US, to see if they could sell. So I got a couple of investors for the seed money, got a pretty sound business plan together and got started.
How do you get your cels?
- Many various sources: collectors, traders, producers, art directors, studio open houses & anime stores….. all in Japan. I also was able to hook up with Streamline Pictures in Los Angeles, who owned all the cels from Akira & Robot Carnival, where I was able to acquire a sizable chunk of cels for our inventory.
What trends have you seen over the years you’ve been in business?
- The most pronounced trend or change was the ‘awakening’ & convergence of the female fan as a huge customer base, almost 10 years or so ago. Where we as cel dealers could not do anything with ‘male’ character cels (unless they were BIG stars like Astro Boy, Hikaru from Macross etc), all of a sudden ‘male’ cels from shows like Ruroni Kenshin, Cowboy Bebop, etc were being bought up like hotcakes by women. Then there was or is the Yaoi ‘Boy’s Love’ phenomenon that was also started by the voracious female fans.
With the demise of hand drawn animated cels and the CG domination in the current world animation market, there is a new collector group of genga & douga sketches (pencil sketches) of the CG created cels. But like the anime cels, the days of genga & douga sketches are numbered. On my last tour of the studios, they were all telling & showing me the newest technology of creating anime without the use of actual paper, anime can now be created totally from start to finish via CG. Oh, also there was/is the trend or popularity of limited edition cels that were ‘created’ both by anime studios (AIC & Studio Pierrot for example) and secondary licensed parties.
What are the most popular series for cel collectors?
- Well, that’s a pretty broad question. If I was to break it down & separate cels & pencil sketches as far as collecting is concerned, here’s some examples:
1) Cels: Cowboy Bebop, Ruroni Kenshin, Kare Kano, Macross, Macross Plus, Trigun, Battle Angel Alita, Last Unicorn, Ghost in the Shell, Gundam Wing, Card Captor Sakura, Escaflowne, Ninja Scroll
2) Pencil Sketches: Naruto, Bleach, Twelve Kingdoms, Deathnote, FLCL, Blood Plus, Trinity Blood, Gundam Seed, Full Metal Alchemist. Saiyuki
…..and there’s many more in each category as well, just can’t list them all!
What studio was the first to use digital technology for animation?
- The first all CG anime, Blue Submarine 6, was created by Studio GONZO. Many studios held back from getting into full CG but as time went along and the software got better & better …. and the studios, due to the bad economy, rising labor costs & more, slowly started to make the move Yinto CG, the rest is history now.
How has this changed your business?
- Well, the obvious change was the realization that there will be no more cels created by the studios and that eventually this cottage industry & business may come to an end….but the trading & sales between collectors will surely continue.
As a cel collector, I’m alarmed to hear that there will be an end to new cels one day. Are any studios still using traditional cel animation?
- No, none of the major studios are at this time. The last series that was made in cel animation was the first season of Inuyasha. The last Ghibli film to be done with cel animation was Princess Mononoke.
What are the biggest challenges facing your business today?
- One word: Diversification! Obviously with the demise of cels in the anime studios and now even the pencil sketches leaving us soon….one must change, evolve & diversify in order to survive in any business. One good thing for us is that we have a myriad of collectors & traders that we deal with, that still have a very nice inventory of cels that we have access to. But one cannot count on that as the only source so we have started to acquire exclusive merchandise licenses from our friends in the business. We have released our first set of exclusive Yasuhiro Niightow Trigun & Gungrave posters last year and we just released 4 more new styles at the recent Anime Expo. We have plans now for more posters from other artists, original T-shirts & other apparel designed by various anime & manga character designers, exclusive plushies & much more. I still plan to focus on getting more of the best quality anime cels out there but I also have to plan for the next phase in our business plan.
What advice do you have for people just starting to dip their toes into the cel collecting waters?
- Well to be frank, it’s a bit tough…..the biggest reason: lack of selection. It used to be, when cel collecting was in its infancy in Japan….. cels would rotate back into the traders’ & collectors’ hands and there were more cels to be had than today. With the coming of the internet, people worldwide have been buying up cels 365/24/7. There just aren’t that many good cels, or cels period, out there, like there were 10, 15, 20 years ago. And most importantly, it’s the sheer size of the current collectors and how quickly it all came about. There just aren’t enough cels, good cels that is, out there in the market nowadays. But like everything else in life, everything comes back full circle so maybe more & more cels will make it back into the market flow one day!
What is your favorite anime?
- Actually I don’t have one favorite anime per say! But if I have to whittle it down to my favorite series, it has to be anything done by Mr. Kawajiri of MadHouse Studios: Ninja Scroll movie, Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku, Midnight Eye Goku, Dagger of Kamui, Cyber City Oedo 808 & Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust. I also like many various comedy, action & fantasy & SciFi anime, from Golden Boy, Giant Robo, Battle Angel, Riding Bean etc…… actually too many to list here!
What is your favorite cel? I know you have to have one!
- Well, maybe one from EACH category but not just one cel I’m afraid!…. although I do prize my Kimba, Astro Boy & some Ghibli cels very highly!
If you’re headed to the San Diego Comicon, stop by Booth #407 in Hall A and say hi to Rick! Check out his cels; he’s got some great ones! Also, you can visit his website, Anime Link, or for information on their official Vampire Hunter D, Bloodlust Movie Cels, please click here for the Website and Gallery.
I want to thank Rick again for taking the time to answer my questions. Cel collecting is a fun, exhilarating hobby. It’s so exciting to actually own a part of your favorite anime! Just be warned! Anime cels are like potato chips – you can’t stop with just one!