Originally called "A.D. Vision" ("A.D." was mentioned on early covers to stand for "Animation Dubbing") when it was founded in 1992 by hardcore otaku John Ledford, David Williams, and Matt Greenfield, ADV Films was one of the pioneers of importing and dubbing anime television series for American audiences until its liquidation on September 1, 2009. This Houston-based production house made its debut with the release of Devil Hunter Yohko in 1993. After establishing their own ADR studio in West Houston one year later, ADV began dubbing their shows, eventually earning a reputation for producing some of the best dubs in the North American market. At their height in 2005, ADV was the undisputed market leader (of an admittedly small niche), boasting the largest catalog of any anime company - including popular fan-favourite titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Full Metal Panic!, Excel Saga, Azumanga Daioh, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, and plenty more. They also licensed and published manga (including a few series they didn't have anime rights to), and were the publishers of otaku magazine Newtype USA. They also created and ran The Anime Network, which continues to operate (albeit in heavily truncated form) to this day.
Because of a total lack of any sort of voice actor pool in Texas at the time, ADV drew heavily from the local theatre scenes in Houston and Austin. Over the next dozen years, the studio groomed a large crop of voice actors, several of whom became regular faces on the convention circuit. A few have gone on to become directors and producers themselves. Among the actors who got their voice-acting start at ADV (some still live in Houston and continue to record the occasional dub for ADV's successor) are Amanda Winn-Lee, Jessica Calvello, Spike Spencer, Tiffany Grant (ADV's first voice actress), Kira Vincent-Davis, Vic Mignogna, Monica Rial, Luci Christian, Greg Ayres, and Hilary Haag.
Up until 2005 they also ran a subdivision called "SoftCel Pictures", which specialized in hentai material. In 2008, it was succeeded by a newly-opened division called "Happy Carrot".
ADV had also been raising funds and looking for talent for an incredibly ambitious project— a Hollywood Live-Action Adaptation of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The project went far enough to have special effects house WETA produce some design sketches, but it seems highly unlikely it will ever make it out of Development Hell, especially since ADV filed a lawsuit against Studio Gainax over the film.
By 2008, the company's Glory Days were long gone. ADV's manga, music, and toys divisions had either been shut down or had no production at all for some time. On January 4, Anime Network shuttered their 24/7 linear channel. On January 18, ADV announced its Anime ADVocates program, which provided screening material and other promotional content to anime clubs in North America, had been suspended indefinitely. In February, they announced they would no longer publish NewType USA. They launched PiQ Magazine as a replacement for NewType, which lasted four issues before being discontinued.
Their main anime division didn't last much longer. In January 2008, nearly 3 dozen titles representing two years worth of investment and work suddenly disappeared from their website without explanation, and DVD releases ceased. It turned out all of those titles had been acquired with help from Japan's Sojitz Corporation. ADV, which had gained a reputation for active communication with their customer base, fell eerily silent. A little over a month later, most of the missing shows were restored to the website and DVD releases resumed, although a couple of titles, notably Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, appeared in the possession of other US licensors. Finally, in July, the same 30 licenses that had disappeared in January were suddenly transferred to Funimation. This included some series that had not yet been fully-released on DVD, such as Kanon and Welcome to the N.H.K..
In October 2008, ADV "partnered" with a "new" company known as Sentai Filmworks, which was founded by John Ledford, and began to license titles again. For the most part, though, most of these acquisitions were titles previously held by other American companies (like Mahoromatic being a license-rescue from recently-dead Geneon), although there were a couple of newly-licensed series in the mix, most notably CLANNAD. The shows released by Sentai Filmworks that hadn't been released in the US before were released as sub-only DVD's with a minimum of extras and only a basic menu. To some, this was an indication how far ADV had fallen from its glory days of only a couple years back.
On September 1, 2009, ADV sold most of its assets to five different companies (all of which are still based in Houston) and ceased operations at their 5750 Bintliff Drive studio, ending ADV's seventeen year run as one of the major North American anime licensing studios.
After the September 2009 restructuring, new releases typically have these credits:
|(most anime) Licensed by||Sentai Filmworks|
|(some anime) Licensed by||Maiden Japan|
|(live-action) Licensed by||Switchblade Pictures|
|Distributor||Section 23 Films|
|DVD Production||Seraphim Digital Studios|
|Internet Streaming||Anime Network or HIDIVE|
- Sentai Filmworks is the licensor company for acquiring new (or rescued) Japanese anime into the North American market.
- Maiden Japan, founded by Matt Greenfield and Toru Iwakami, licenses anime, usually female-driven titles. Originally, they released a couple small niche titles quietly on bare bones, sub-only releases, but has now moved into licensing more mainstream titles onto bilingual DVD and Blu-ray, including some rescues like the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series and Patlabor franchise. They are distributed by Section 23 Films.
- Switchblade Pictures, founded by Greenfield and Iwakami, acquires Japanese live-action films properties for distribution in the North American market.
- AEsir Holdings acquired "a subordinated interest in selected programming from ADV's film library together with other intellectual property"— they got the rights to most of ADV Films' former library of titles. They have re-released some of these former ADV titles to DVD themselves, such as Princess Tutu (which eventually transferred over to Sentai proper for rerelease) and Parasite Dolls. Others titles became licensed directly by Sentai Filmworks.
- Distributor: Section 23 Films (SXION 23, LLC) is a distributor and marketing company of Switchblade Pictures, Sentai Filmworks, and AEsir Holdings.name
- DVD Production: Seraphim Digital Studios acquired Amusement Park Media, ADV's Bintliff production studio. All of Section 23's DVD and Blu-ray production were done here, as well as most of the dubbing until their operations moved to Sentai Filmworks's studio at 5373 West Alabama Street in 2015.
- Streaming: Valkyrie Media Partners acquired the Anime Network. The Anime Network website continued to operate as it did before the sale until June 2017, at which point they kept only the user forums and their VOD service; streaming moved to HIDIVE.
For what it's worth, nobody in North America was fooled by this legal shell-game many fans will refer to the new companies as "Neo-ADV", "Zombie-ADV", or something similar. Even the people working at the studio have been known to call actors and accidentally use the old company names... "or whatever we're called now".
In January 2012, Funimation, who wasn't fooled either, sued ADV and its associated companies over the Sojitz licensing. The lawsuit was finally dropped in May 2014, with ADV apparently winning (though it's unclear if they settled out of court). To this day, Sentai Filmworks continues to license anime to this day, regularly dubs most of their catalog, and releases them to DVD and Blu-ray.
Tropes related to ADV Films:
- Career Resurrection: While the name "ADV Films" was retired in 2009, the studio never really went away. As of 2013, Sentai Filmworks rebooted ADV when they released Elfen Lied.
- Everything Is Big in Texas: ADV Films was located in Houston, Texas.
- Friendly Rivalry: With Funimation during their existence.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes:
- For most of their library, this is becoming less of an issue. Sentai Filmworks, Discotek Media and Funimation are committed to releasing their works. However, odds of some of their previous releases are much lower and require circulation.
- Heck, even those that have been rescued aren't completely safe. Examples include D.N.Angel and the Xenosaga anime.
- The worst offender is probably their dub of Street Fighter II V. While Manga Entertainment's dub is no walk in the park to find, ADV's dub is even harder to nab because it was only ever released on VHS in the UK, whereas Manga Entertainment's dub at least saw DVD releases.
- For a more minor example, their translations of some rescued manga like Azumanga Daioh and Yotsuba&! are out of print, since the newer editions use new translations rather than the old ones.
- Magical Girl: Aside from 4Kids, ADV were a leading licensor in the otherwise neglected genre (long before the boom of a new subgenre that does get licensed and released with regularity) following their brief licensing of the first two seasons of the 90's Sailor Moon. This died out with the commercial failure of Wedding Peach in North America and their inability to get Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch the TV deal that would have allowed them to release the series at all.
- The Power of Friendship: ADV survived over a decade thanks to the teamwork of its founders and actors.
- Production Posse:
- ADV's works feature several voice actors who regularly worked alongside one another. Among its regulars were Amanda Winn-Lee, Jessica Calvello, Spike Spencer, Aaron Krohn, Maggie Flecknoe, John Swasey, Tiffany Grant, Kira Vincent-Davis, Vic Mignogna, Monica Rial, Luci Christian, Greg Ayres, Chris Patton, Kimberly Yates, Tristan MacAvery, Jason C. Lee, Brett Weaver, Allison Keith, Cynthia Martinez, Chris Ayres, and Hilary Haag.
- In addition to Ledford serving as executive producer for ADV's shows, Greenfield serves as an ADR director for dubs such as Evangelion and RahXephon. Paul Killam was ADV's longtime sound designer and Charles Campbell, in addition to being an ADR director and former CEO of Austin-based ADR studio Monster Island, also served as a recording engineer.
- Promoted Fanboy:
- Founders John Ledford, Matt Greenfield and David Williams were all fans of anime. In addition, Greenfield and Williams were also part of Anime NASA, which was one of Houston's largest anime clubs at the time.
- Greenfield was also a kaiju fan to the point where he directed the dub of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.
- What Could Have Been: In 2007, ADV was going to partner with Geneon for their releases due to the latter's financial problems, but those plans fell through and Geneon was shut down not long after that.