King of the Shill: Right Stuf Catalogue
By Andrew Erickson
Last week, I opened my mailbox to find a gaggle of anime girls staring back at me. Through some act of trickery, I had become the unwitting recipient of the first 2018 issue of Right Stuf [sic], which is the Sears catalog of anime, I guess. I don’t know where they bought my info, but there it was, addressed to me and/or CURRENT RESIDENT. So I took it inside, opened it to the table of contents, and was greeted by a Gundam asking if I’ve GOT ANIME. You know, that’s a good question. Do I got anime? I sure pirate a lot of it, but I think the last time I bought anime was about two years ago, when I got Ergo Proxy. Maybe it’s simply enough that I buy anime-adjacent material, like the Saga of Tanya the Evil light novel I ordered recently. Is that what tipped them off? Did they see I’m into Tanya and decide I must be willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for – let’s check the staff picks here – Kiss Him, Not Me, OreImo, and Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash? Because I don’t watch so much anime that I need to consult a sales catalog for recommendations. In fact, I don’t consider myself an excessive consumer of much of anything but pizza; so if there’s a Right Stuf’d Crust magazine available for my perusal, please contact me.
To be honest, I’d never heard of Right Stuf (not to be confused with the critically acclaimed film about Project Mercury, The Right Stuff), so I conducted some extensive research, starting with looking at the mailing address on the catalog. It revealed that Right Stuf With One F is based out of Iowa, which I always assumed was an elaborate scam to wring corn subsidies out of the government. There are legitimate businesses there? Or as legitimate as someone who buys customer info from third parties and then casts unsolicited anime ads to the wind can be.
But why look a gift horse in the mouth? Why not take the opportunity that’s fallen into my lap like a rotten crabapple and make something good out of it? Something like this very article, perhaps? Why yes, I think I will, by which I mean I already have, or you wouldn’t be reading this right now. That’s called causality. I think I’ll begin with their top sellers, which feature in a two-page spread. It’s impossible to miss.
Here we have Yuri!!! On ICE, My Hero Academia, Food Wars!, Attack on Titan, Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Keijo!!!!!!!!, Sailor Moon, Fairy Tale, and Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, which gets a second listing because one of them is for the OVA, Is It Wrong to Expect a Hot Spring in a Dungeon?!. Aside from the near-criminal overuse of punctuation, I think we can identify a thread connecting these titles: with a couple obvious exceptions, they’re terrible. Let’s test this hypothesis and take a look at the manga. Here we see Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Kanna’s Daily Life, My Hero Academia, Monster Musume, Food Wars!, Promised Neverland, Made in Abyss, Ancient Magus’ Bride, Tokyo Ghoul:re, To Love Ru: Darkness, and Citrus. What it lacks in gratuitous punctuation, it makes up for with child pornography. Did you know there’s a Dragon Maid spinoff about the little girl dragon whose lesbian classmate aggressively orgasms whenever they make physical contact? I didn’t, but after acquiring this knowledge, I felt the need to burden everyone else with it as well.
Well, those are only the most popular shows. Maybe if I dig through the full list, I thought, I might find some good deals. A couple pages in, I spotted some promotional art for Higurashi, which stood out due to the fact that the series is over ten years old. Thinking that there might be a special on that show, I flipped forward to the listing, with its ultra-low price of $97.49. It wasn’t even some kind of ultimate collector’s edition: the release is subtitles only! Additional searching, during which I counted how many shows I was actually interested in, revealed that there’s an entry for the abominable CGI rendition of Berserk, but not the original series. Across 17 pages of listings packed tight in near-fine print, I counted seven that I don’t already own. This was then revised downward to six, since minutes later someone told me what happens to the potato girl in Attack on Titan. The good news is that this part of the magazine contained an insert with a scratch ticket promising savings! Savings that can’t be stacked with any other discounts! Hooray!
The back urged me to “unleash your fandom.” With deals like these, I think I can afford to unleash about 5% of it. I could even save $6.49 on Oreimo, which is available for just $129.98. They’re practically giving it away, which must be why it’s also sub only. I mean, having audio available in your customers’ native language is the sort of thing you generally reserve for the $300 price point. That’s just common sense. $150 for Gurren Lagann? Sure, I could get every season of Archer for almost that exact amount, but then how would I watch the hottest mecha anime of mid-2007? I’d have to watch it for free on Crunchyroll, like some kind of peasant.
Am I harping on price too much? It just feels strange to me that western anime distributors have maneuvered themselves into a position where piracy is the only reasonable choice. It has all the big names beat on cost, quality, and convenience. Someone must have told the staff at Crunchyroll they need to be more like Steam and been woefully misinterpreted, as their solution was to make anime available for streaming through Steam. And it’s only streaming: downloading isn’t an option, so if you feel like watching offline or without buffering, it’s back to pirate sites with you. In a way, it’s unfortunate; I like owning things, and yet nobody responsible for bringing anime to the west seems to want my money, or anyone’s money, for that matter. Consider that only 10-15% of Crunchyroll’s accounts are paid users and most of their traffic comes from people who don’t have an account. It’s clear to anyone paying attention that they survive out of inertia rather than any advantages they offer as a service. Just give me Bandcamp for anime. Let me pay $10-20 to download a season, DRM-free, in the quality and format of my choice. That must be too much work for Crunchyroll, who prefer to downsample everything to save bandwidth because their entire audience falls into one of two categories: diehards who throw money at anime out of a self-imposed moral obligation to “support” the industry, and people scared of getting a virus from 9Anime. Meanwhile, Right Stuf’s target demographic appears to be anyone who is aware anime exists and regards the internet with the same superstitious unease as a newly contacted Amazonian tribe learning about photography. I can’t find a more plausible explanation for why the catalog features a banner asking if I’m “looking for adult products” while a laughing anime woman brushes her hair at me.
I think anyone who knows how the use the internet already knows how to use it to find smut, but thanks for the offer anyway. The opposite page contains a list of frequently asked questions, including “Do you carry adult products?” In the interest of plausible deniability, the answer stresses that “we’ve taken special precautions to ensure younger fans are not exposed to listings for products that contain adult situations or sexual content.” I can appreciate that stance. We definitely wouldn’t want children being exposed to sexually charged content like To Love Ru, Made in Abyss, Oreimo, Monster Musume, or Keijo. How reassuring.
Just a few pages later, now in the manga section, I spotted Berserk. While excellent, I don’t think anyone who knows what Berserk is would deny that it contains adult situations and/or sexual content. Where, might I ask, did Right Stuf draw the line? Is “adult” merely synonymous with hentai? Is that the bait and switch they’re pulling here? It doesn’t feel like the catalog has been particularly reserved, so it likely wouldn’t have killed them to go with a more straightforward line, like “looking for porn?”
You know what I’m looking for? I’d really like to order the final volume of Hellsing, which is the only one I’m missing. Back when it was available, I foolishly neglected to buy it because I assumed someone, anyone would stock it in the future. While Amazon would normally be an option, their third party marketplace is some kind of ancap nightmare land where anything that’s been out of print for ten minutes suddenly becomes more expensive than the last bottle of roofies at a male feminist meetup. Compared to that brood of vipers, Right Stuf’s prices are reasonable beyond reproach.
However much I might wish for it, however, it was nowhere to be seen. The manga selection in the catalog was actually fairly impressive, even if the volume numbers are hopelessly random (unless you’re looking for volumes 1, 23, 24, 85, and 86 of One Piece, to the exclusion of the rest of the series, in which case have I got good news for you, my friend). Oh, but they did remember to stock my favorite manga, Homestuck. Is Andrew Hussie giving kickbacks to someone in Right Stuf’s supply chain? Or maybe a marketing director saw Caliborn’s pure art skill and jumped to conclusions. If the latter sounds too implausible, consider that this is the standard I’m dealing with here:
Megumin in a bikini? How could I not spend whatever amount that costs? The catalog itself doesn’t say, and there isn’t a section for figurines or toys. Curiosity momentarily overcoming my deep-seated laziness, I checked the website. Not only was the figurine available, but it bore the “top seller” tag. I don’t know what criteria are used to determine that; whatever they are, the item got there through preorder sales alone, since it doesn’t release until Halloween. Well, I won’t begrudge the poor saps who bought it. They’re just down $151.99, which is only about five times what I spent on my own anime shrine.
I could dig into the light novel and book sections (featuring an Overwatch art book and a Legend of Zelda encyclopedia, since anything can count as anime if it’ll make money, apparently), but an adjacent full-page Aniplex ad caught my eye. “IT’S ONLY THE BEST,” it boasted above a spread of Eromanga, Oreimo, Blend S, and Fate promotional images. That took the wind out of my sails.
Thank you, Iowan anime mongers, but I’d rather keep my money for necessities, like the nails I’m going to use to secure my mailbox as a precaution against this ever happening again.