Originally called "A.D. Vision" (what the "A.D." stands for
is a trade secret was mentioned on early covers as "Animation Dubbing") when it was founded in the early 1990s by a group of hardcore otaku, ADV Films was one of the pioneers of importing and dubbing anime television series for American audiences. This Houston-based production house made its debut with the release of Devil Hunter Yohko in 1993. In 1996, the company built its own ADR studio and 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, 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, a 24/7 satellite channel that exists (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, Kira Vincent-Davis, Vic Mignogna, Monica Rial, Luci Christian, Greg Ayres, and Hillary 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 had gone 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.
In 2008, the company almost totally collapsed. Prior to this, ADV's manga, music, and toys divisions had either been shut down or had no production at all for some time. On January 4, The Anime Network switched from being a dedicated 24/7 channel to a video on demand service (a format that continues to this day). 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 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 NHK.
In October 2008, ADV "partnered" with a "new" company known as Sentai Filmworks 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 U.S. 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 Films announced that it sold most of its assets to five different companies, all of which are based in Houston (and based in the same block of condos) and was shutting down. Although it may appear that the company is essentially dead, some industry observers believe that the move was an attempt to end a relationship with a hostile shareholder that had damaged the company, while still maintaining its core competency and catalog. This argument is bolstered by the name of the new production company, Section 23 Films, which is a not-so-subtle reference to a part of Texas tax law that allowed ADV to pretty much legally hide their assets from their creditors and the Japanese.
- Switchblade Pictures acquired Japanese live-action films properties for distribution in the North American market.
- Sentai Filmworks is the licensor company for acquiring new (or rescued) Japanese anime into the North American market.
- AEsir Holdings got the rights to most of ADV Films' former library of titles (some titles became licensed directly by Sentai Filmworks and remain in print).
- Seraphim Digital Studios acquired Amusement Park Media, ADV's production studio.
- Valkyrie Media Partners acquired the Anime Network. The Anime Network website (on-line player and forum) continues to operate as it did before the sale.
- Section 23 Films is a distributor and marketing company of Switchblade Pictures, Sentai Filmworks, and AEsir Holdings.
After the September 2009 restructuring, new releases typically have these credits:
|(anime) Licensed by||Sentai Filmworks|
|(live action) Licensed by||Switchblade Pictures|
|Distributor||Section 23 Films|
|DVD Production||Seraphim Digital Studios|
|Internet Streaming||Anime Network|
See Section 23 Films for the list of anime series formerly licensed by ADV. 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.
In January 2012 FUNimation, who wasn't fooled either, sued ADV and its associated companies over the Sojitz licensing. It was settled in May 2014 under undisclosed terms.