Houston-born John Ledford started a Japanese video game and video console import business in 1990. He was introduced to anime when he watched My Neighbor Totoro at his friend's suggestion. At the time, San Francisco native Matt Greenfield ran a local anime club called Anime NASA, which also included classmate David Williams. After consulting with Ledford, Greenfield teamed with him and Williams to found A.D. Vision, which opened for business on August 17, 1992. Ledford contacted Toho about optioning the rights to license Devil Hunter Yohko. Shozo Watanabe, the general manager of Toho's Los Angeles office, expressed concern that A.D. Vision would not be able to handle the distribution of the film. Unable to find another distributor, Toho convinced A.D. Vision to license the series. That December, Devil Hunter Yohko became the first title to be released by A.D. Vision.
In 2007, Japan's Sojitz announced that Japan Content Investments (JCI), an investment group run by Sojitz, Development Bank of Japan, and film distribution company KlockWorx, planned to contribute money to A.D. Vision, in return for equity in the company. Ledford was to remain the majority shareholder and CEO. JCI subsidiary ARM also planned to contribute money for ADV to use in acquiring new distribution licenses. The investment was to ADV Films to raise its output of new anime titles, which had dropped in 2006, back to previous levels or above. In return, ADV planned to assist Sojitz with the acquisition of North American and European content for importation into Japan. According to ADV, they also reportedly had "big plans" for its manga line.
In August 2007, a notice was sent to retailers stating that ADV Films would be taking over the distribution, marketing, and sales of Geneon properties in the US as of October 1. In preparation, Geneon United States laid off most of its sales division; however, in September the distribution deal was canceled. Dentsu confirmed that the distribution deal was canceled through a press release on September 21, 2007 with no reasons given except that Geneon and ADV were "unable to reach a mutual agreement."
In June 2006, ADV Films entered into a partnership with the Japanese Sojitz Corporation. This was done as a means of acquiring more titles in the Japanese market. From this point on, virtually all titles that ADV acquired were with Sojitz's help. However, in January 2008, ADV mysteriously removed a large number of titles from their website. All the titles removed were titles acquired since the Sojitz collaboration including Gurren Lagann, which had test disks sent out with dubbed episodes. As of May 2008, Gurren Lagann was licensed by Bandai Entertainment. ADV Films made booth appearances at the Anime Central 2008 convention, but they canceled their planned panel. In July 2008, Funimation announced the acquisition of thirty of these titles.
The titles removed from ADV's website are as follows: 009-1, 5 Centimeters per Second, Ah! My Goddess: Flights of Fancy, both the film and television adaptions of the Key visual novel Air, Best Student Council, Blade of the Phantom Master, Comic Party Revolution, Coyote Ragtime Show, Devil May Cry, the 2006 live-action horror film Ghost Train, Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor, Innocent Venus, Jing King of Bandits: 7th Heaven, Jinki: Extend, the 2006 anime remake of yet another Key visual novel, Kanon, Kurau: Phantom Memory, Le Chevalier D'Eon, Magikano, Moeyo Ken, Moonlight Mile, Nerima Daikon Brothers, Pani Poni Dash!, Project Blue Earth SOS, Pumpkin Scissors, Red Garden, Tokyo Majin, UFO Princess Valkyrie, the first anime of Utawarerumono, Venus vs. Virus, The Wallflower, Welcome to the NHK and Xenosaga.
On October 20, 2008, it was announced that ADV had entered into a licensing arrangement with new licensor Sentai Filmworks. The highlight of the new partnership was that ADV would be distributing the anime television adaptation of the popular visual novel Clannad, also they acquired the distribution rights to Koharu Biyori, Mahoromatic, Mahoromatic: Something More Beautiful (both were previously licensed by Geneon), Tsukihime (previously licensed by Geneon), Pet Shop of Horrors (previously licensed by Urban Vision), and Jewel BEM Hunter Lime (previously licensed by Media Blasters). After the dissolution of ADV, Section23 Films has now distribution rights for Sentai.
Following the May 2009 bankruptcy and liquidation of Central Park Media, ADV Films acquired the North American rights of Grave of the Fireflies and re-released it on DVD on July 7, 2009. This Studio Ghibli work was their only theatrical film whose North American distribution was not controlled by Disney until GKIDS' release of the 2011 film From Up on Poppy Hill. ADV Films also acquired the licenses of multiple other CPM titles as well.
On September 1, 2009, ADV announced that it was selling off its assets, including intellectual properties, its distribution arm and the Anime Network to four companies: Seraphim Studios, AEsir Holdings LLC, Valkyrie Media Partners LLC and SXION 23 LLC. The impact of this sale on the company's plans to license and release new titles, is still not fully known, but the ADV brand name and logo have been retired. Anime News Network has reported that Seraphim Studios, Valkyrie Media Partners and SXION 23 are all corporations registered (initially filed) by Griffin D. Vance IV, who was ADV's senior vice president of business and legal affairs.
The following companies all acquired assets from A.D. Vision:Sentai Filmworks is the licensor company for acquiring Japanese anime into the North American market.
AEsir Holdings has licensed rights to most of ADV Films' former library of titles (some titles are licensed directly by Sentai Filmworks).
Seraphim Studios acquired Amusement Park Media, ADV's production studio, and it was renamed Seraphim Digital Studios.
Valkyrie Media Partners acquired the Anime Network. The network continues to operate as before the sale.
Section23 Films is a distributor and marketing company of Switchblade Pictures, Sentai Filmworks, Maiden Japan, and AEsir Holdings.
That day, major retail website Robert's Corner Anime Blog contacted Mike Bailiff, formerly of ADV Films and now heading up Sales and Marketing at Section 23 Films. Bailiff revealed that "Section 23 has acquired all of ADV's former licenses and most of the staff" including "everyone at ADV that mattered."
In addition to the new companies that were created from the remains of ADV, Section 23 also took over distribution of Switchblade Pictures. The company focuses on low-budget J-horror and pink cinema titles and its DVDs had also previously been distributed by ADV. No one is quite certain as to the exact relationship of Switchblade and Section 23. The executives listed on all Switchblade titles differ from those on all other Section 3 releases, and several industry insiders have been led to believe that "Switchblade is someone else's baby". However, when the registration of the company was found, it was revealed that Ledford had helped register the company.
On September 18, 2009, the anime review site iSugoi.com posted a full podcast devoted to the shutdown of ADV, analyzing that ADV hadn't really shut down and the new companies such as Section 23 were basically ADV selling itself to itself: that it was not a shutdown but a drastic rebranding and restructuring. The report went on to say that Section 23 was, for all intents and purposes, the direct successor-organization to the old ADV company name, and that ADV split its assets such as the Anime Network into the other three companies to take advantage of several legal loopholes. The podcast report concluded with the assertion that Section 23, and the umbrella of associated companies ADV split into, could effectively be thought of as Neo-ADV (referencing how in Mobile Suit Gundam, when the Principality of Zeon was defeated, its remnants reorganized into Neo Zeon).
On October 19, 2009, rival distribution company Funimation posted an online Q&A video panel hosted by events manager Adam Sheehan. When asked about ADV going out of business, Sheehan's response was the following:
ADV isn't out of business. ADV did remaster itself, as you might call it, and change itself into multiple different companies (Section 23, etc.), holding different parts of its brands, of its marketing, so [it's] still around...the best way I would describe it is to think of it as Voltron: if it turned back into the five lions, so it's not the one Voltron robot anymore, so the ADV logo is no longer around, but the lions and all the properties are still around.
Ken Hoinsky, Managing Founder of MX Media LLC, a translation and localization company contracting with most major anime distribution companies (FUNimation, Viz, Bandai), appeared on the October 29, 2009, Anime News Network podcast: in it he said that his company also contracts with Section 23, but that he also collectively refers to the allied companies that ADV split into as Neo-ADV.
Another new company associated with Sentai Filmworks is "Maiden Japan". While Sentai Filmworks is responsible for licensing new titles, both Section 23 and Maiden Japan serve as distributors for it. Since ADV's fire sale, Ledford, Greenfield and Williams moved on to work for new projects at Section 23 and Maiden Japan, respectively. Technically, Maiden Japan is "associated" with Switchblade Pictures.
In August 2011, A.D. Vision sued Gainax over Gainax's refusal to accept an option payment for the perpetual live-action rights to Evangelion, including the planned live-action film; ADV charges that by refusing to accept payment, Gainax broke the contract and is asking for the rights and legal fees.
ADV Films was the home video publication arm of A.D. Vision based in Houston, Texas, specializing in publishing anime and tokusatsu videos, and other live-action material. In 1996, ADV Films opened its U.K. division, and diversified into the realm of live-action television series, such as Andromeda, and Japanese films.
The first title to be licensed and released to video was Devil Hunter Yohko. They were the first North American anime licensor to use all-digital video mastering and transfer (specifically D2 digital video tape), and soon began acquiring an extensive library of titles. Initially, titles were released to video with the original Japanese language track and English subtitles added. A few years later, they began dubbing releases to English using their own voice actors. ADV started out using a nearby production studio as their recording facility, but after a few years they were able to open up their own production and recording facility in Houston, as well as a second studio in Austin, Texas. The studios were named Industrial Smoke & Mirrors (IS&M) and Monster Island, respectively. Monster Island closed down permanently in early 2005 and IS&M became known simply as ADV Studios. In their later years, ADV Studios began offering their services for other companies, which led to their name being changed to Amusement Park Media.
ADV Films offered a program called Anime ADVocates, which provided free screening material and other promotional content to nearly 3,000 anime clubs in North America. To qualify for the program, the club had to be sponsored by a local high school, college, university, or public library and have at least 10 members. Member clubs were also asked to participate in surveys about the content they received. However, in November 2007, ADV Films put the program on hiatus, then on January 18, 2008 ADV Films announced that the program was being suspended indefinitely due to amount of resources the program needed. The company continued to offer anime clubs screening permission for its titles prior to its reorganization.
As of July 2008, ADV Films and ARM Corporation transferred the licenses to over 30 different shows into the hands of fellow anime distributor Funimation. Those rights include the home video, broadcast, digital, and merchandising rights in North America and other regions.
Anime Network was a cable channel in North America dedicated to anime. The network launched in North America in late 2002 and was marketed to multi-system operators (MSOs) as both a stand-alone 24-hour linear network and as a VOD programming service. The Anime Network was the United States' first all-anime cable TV network. On January 4, 2008, Anime Network officially announced that the traditional 24/7 service would cease operations.
The Anime Network exists now as a web site with an Online Player and user forums, as well as a VOD channel operating on many cable and satellite operators, including DirecTV, Dish Network, Cox, Time Warner, Cablevision, Charter and many more.
The network carried a variety of older ADV titles including Ushio and Tora, Rahxephon, Angelic Layer and more, in addition to many new shows from Sentai Filmworks including Clannad, Clannad After Story, Appleseed, Special A, Tears To Tiara, Sin The Movie and many more. Anime Network also airs many shows from Right Stuf International's Nozomi division, such as Maria Watches Over Us and Aria, as well as many titles from Enoki Films, including Revolutionary Girl Utena, Demon Lord Dante, and Cosmic Warrior Zero. The Network's website does not currently stream the Right Stuf titles, but all of the Enoki shows are available on its online player. Anime Network also carries Japanese films as well, apart from anime.
ADV Manga was ADV's division for the licensing and distribution of English translations of Japanese manga. The division was launched in 2003, with a strong list of titles and an ambitious plan for growth within the United States manga market. However, ADV Manga canceled many of their titles in late 2004 and 2005. In late 2005, they began a more scaled-back release, concentrating on monthly released of a few titles, as well as releasing several acclaimed one-shots. In 2006, ADV Manga released the 6-volume Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days series and in 2007 the company resumed releasing several popular titles that had been on hiatus, including Yotsuba&! and Gunslinger Girl.
At Anime Expo 2006, manga publisher Tokyopop announced that it had obtained the licenses for three titles formerly licensed by ADV that had been cancelled: Aria, Tactics, and Peacemaker Kurogane. Meanwhile, Yen Press has acquired the rights to Yotsuba&! and Azumanga Daioh.
ADV Music was the music publishing division which focused on distributing anime and movie soundtracks. Launched in 2003 after ending their partnership with The Right Stuf International in AnimeTrax, their initial releases included the soundtracks for Super Atragon, Cat Girl Nuku Nuku and Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny.
ADV Pro was the company's anime production studio. They have worked on such in house productions as Lady Death and Mutineers' Moon. John Ledford stated that ADV Pro had been "reactivated" and was working on Mutineers' Moon, however, with the shutdown at ADV Films, this plan had been cancelled.
SoftCel Pictures was the branch of the company that specialized in the release of hentai anime titles on VHS and DVD. The first product released was Legend of Lyon Flare. This division was shut down in 2005 after spining off from ADV, and most of its titles were acquired by Critical Mass, the hentai division of The Right Stuf International. In 2017, SoftCel was relaunched and Section23 Films distributes their catalog.
ADV started the Happy Carrot branch in 2008 to release hentai anime titles on DVD, replacing SoftCel. This branch released a total of four titles between 2008 and 2009, two were reissues of VHS titles and two were new titles. Following the 2009 closure of ADV, the label has been defunct.
Newtype USA was the US edition of Japan's Newtype magazine. The first issue was published in November, 2002. A.D. Vision (ADV) contacted its advertising partners to let them know that the February 2008 issue of Newtype USA was the last edition of the magazine. The magazine contained material it translated from the Japanese release as well as articles from American writers. It was expected to have 50,000 copies in for its initial circulation.
PiQ premiered in May 2008 as a replacement for Newtype USA. It was published by PiQ LLC, a now-defunct subsidiary. The magazine had a broader focus and expanded coverage of topics beyond anime and manga. PiQ retained much of the editorial staff and freelance writers that once worked on its predecessor, as well as the its 15,000 subscribers. In June 2008, after only four issues had been published, PiQ was canceled and its offices abruptly closed down. The July 2008 dated issue, which had already been released when the announcement was made, was the magazine's last issue.
ADV Films established international divisions in the United Kingdom and Germany to directly release their properties there. They also released titles that weren't originally licensed by ADV Films in North America, such as Chobits, Gad Guard, Hellsing, Last Exile, Mahoromatic: Automatic Maiden (because of ADV's close relations with Gainax because of Neon Genesis Evangelion), and Rurouni Kenshin. Because of ADV's large number of titles, its UK division also became the largest anime distributor in the UK from the early 2000s until 2009. However, it faced competition against Manga Entertainment UK and MVM Films. Its German division wasn't as successful as the UK division since the majority of titles licensed by ADV US were already licensed by other anime distributors. Following the collapse of A.D. Vision, the fate of the titles released by A.D. Vision's international divisions remain unknown although it is possible that local distributors would pick up the titles, such as Manga Entertainment & MVM Films in the United Kingdom, and Animaze Germany and Nipponart, Kazé Germany, etc. in Germany. However, Devil May Cry, Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor, and Ah! My Goddess (season 2) were re-licensed by Manga Entertainment (UK), Welcome to the N.H.K. was re-licensed by MVM Films (UK), and Chobits was re-licensed by Kazé Germany in Germany.
A.D. Vision's success was noted across its divisions in a variety of ways. In 2004, A.D. Vision's film unit achieved $150 million in annual sales and the company had licenses for 1,000 manga books and published the Newtype USA magazine.