Hey, Answerman!

by Zac Bertschy, Jan 18th 2008


We had a short hiatus last week due to illness, but thanks to the magic of antibiotics, I've been resurrected and can now return to answering your totally awesome questions. Hey Answerfans is back as well. It's almost like spring in the middle of winter!

Normally I don't pimp things in this column but my good friend and former boss at Anime Insider, Rob Bricken, has a brand-new blog over at LA Weekly called Topless Robot (don't worry, the link is safe for work). It's pop culture news and random internet artifacts, with Rob's unique spin on things. Yes, he does occasionally cover anime-related items, so spare me your "this has nothing to do with anime!!!!" complaints, please. Just click and enjoy.

Anyway, let's get crackin'.

Last week on your column you said "Nausicaä is one of the best comics you have ever read". Nausicaä is not a comic. It manga. You should know better, just like anime is not "cartoons", it is anime. Different from cartoons. Please be more careful in the future.

While I understand this mindset, and can see why people argue this way, I've never really felt that it was all that horrible to call a manga a comic book and call an anime a cartoon. When I said what I did about Nausicaä, it was actually a conscious choice - saying "this is the best manga I've ever read" restricts it to just the manga category, but it is in fact one of the best graphic novels I've ever read period, so I used the term "comics" to denote that.

While I understand the importance of being precise with your speech, honestly, "anime" just means "Japanese cartoons". People these days know what you mean when you say anime, but getting angry about people saying "Japanese cartoons" smacks of mindless elitism to me. The word "anime" does not imbue these things with some kind of foreign coolness, it's just an easy catch-all. It's the same with manga - there's really nothing wrong with calling them comics, or "Japanese comics" or whatever. Yeah, I guess it's "more correct" to say anime and manga but I often get the feeling when people "correct" you on this sort of thing, it's less about being precise or actually believing that the person saying "Japanese comics" doesn't know that they're "supposed" to say manga, it's more about being a bit pedantic and elitist.

But that's just my take on it.


I heard someone tell me that anime trailers are a good substitute for fansubs to preview a series. I think that is ridiculous!! A trailer is 30 seconds, how am I supposed to know if a show is good based on 30 seconds?! With fansubs I can see as much as I want for free and decide if I want to buy later. So why do people think trailers are a good preview of a show?!

I think people are expecting me to disagree with you but you're correct on one point: trailers aren't really a great way to "preview" an anime series that runs longer than, say, 6 episodes or so.

When you see a trailer for a new show on TV, you generally either remind yourself to check out the first episode when it airs or set up your DVR to catch it when it comes on.
You don't then say "Huh, I'll pay $30 to sample 4 episodes of that". You have the option of watching the show - with advertisements - for free on TV and then at the end of the season you can decide whether or not you liked it enough to pick up the eventual DVD box set.

The problem with anime is that it is, at its core, traditional TV product, but it's being sold here - and has been sold here since the medium crossed the Pacific and invaded dingy college dorm rooms across the country - as a collectors-only item, something you have to pay a substantial amount to see. Now that it's been long enough and people realize that these are really just TV shows and not some special super-cool awesome... thing that's not just a TV show, they're expecting to get it in the same way they get other TV shows. Which so far hasn't happened.

Trailers are fine for movies, and the folks who make blanket statements that "all trailers suck and they're not a good way to preview anything" - that's pretty much nonsense. If you're using any common sense you can get a general idea of what a movie is about from the trailer (in spite of the shifty editing they use sometimes to sell a movie to different audiences), you'll see some stuff that might interest you, and then you walk into the film with an open mind. But a film is only 2 hours or so, generally - TV shows are routinely 26-episode commitments (or longer) and 30 seconds just isn't going to give you enough of a taste.

I think there have been major inroads lately in terms of allowing people to see at least the first (or the first few) episodes of an anime series for free. After the first three episodes or so you're basically going to know whether or not it's worth your time to continue watching it - it won't tell you if the show ultimately winds up being good or not, but it'll tell you whether or not you personally are interested in seeing more and sticking with it.

Is it the best solution? Maybe not, but it's better than the notion that fansubs, which provide you with the entire product for free at no cost to anyone and with absolutely nothing going back to the people who made it, are a way to "preview" a show before deciding whether or not to buy it. That makes absolutely no sense. It's like saying Disney should show Pirates of the Caribbean 4: Please God Make It Stop for free in theatres nationwide for months on end to anyone who wants to see it and then if the millions of people who saw it maybe decide they want to pay for a copy of it they can, and that's somehow a sound business plan that benefits anyone at all but the people seeing it for free.

Hey Answerman, what are your favorite japanese musicians? I assume you listen to a lot of j-rock and j-pop and anime themes like the rest of us and I am wondering which are your favorites.

I actually don't really listen to a lot of Japanese music. My favorite Japanese bands are POLYSICS and Melt Banana. Otherwise I prefer music that's being sung in a language I actually speak and can understand.

It's nothing against Japanese music - a lot of it sounds pretty great. I just prefer to be able to understand the lyrics. I'm the sort of person who likes catchy songs, stuff that gets stuck in my head, something I can sing along with. I can sing along with a Japanese song but it's basically meaningless - it's a tune, and I'm stammering through a bunch of words I don't really understand. It's fine for a while but I'd rather listen to Radiohead than L'arc~en~Ciel. Just a personal preference.

There's a massive contingent of fans out there though that just adore Japanese music and are really, really dedicated to it. A quick look around the internet should yield you a wealth of communities that
will be able to point you to hundreds of great Japanese bands.





It was only a matter of time. I keep telling myself that.

Dear "Answerman" Zac Bertschy, I am writing to tell you about a presidential candidate named Dr. Ron Paul. He is the pro-anime candidate and his policies and beliefs will be welcomed by all anime fans, I believe anime fans will find their candidate of choice in Dr. Ron Paul who is against the big government and in favor of anime. Please tell your readers that if they plan on voting that Dr. Ron Paul will keep anime safe for all.

Although I already know Ron Paul is a racist libertarian lunatic whose feverent internet supporters annoy the living crap out of me, it's even more obnoxious that you're now trying to appeal even more to the "misanthropic self-interested teen" crowd by directly targeting anime fans. "The Pro-Anime Candidate" gave me a hearty laugh, though.

I think this hilarious animation sums up my response to your letter accurately:



Ron Paul, hahahahahaha. Seriously.




Here's last week's question:




First, from Chris Barus:

At times, almost anyone thinks they have an idea that would have improved whatever anime (or anything else) they're watching. I don't belive that I (or most others) could do a better job of things, but I also don't think that ideas like that are all worthless. I myself feel that I have a talent for editing, revising, improving on something that already exists in some form. But as for doing the whole job of a director? Overseeing the actual creation (or adaptation) of same? As a practical matter, I wouldn't know where to begin, or what that really encompasses, and I don't expect most people do. But assuming that's a non-issue, the question is mainly one of vision, and the ability to communicate it.

"Do you think you'd be good at writing or directing an anime series? Why or why not?"

Long answer? Keep reading. Short answer to follow.

Vision: Clearly, a forum-goer or fanfiction writer who proclaims "if kenpachi ever gets his bankai hed be the strongest one ever, i write a story about what happened when he gets his bankai and kills ichigo check out this link on fanfiction.net (i'll have my own website soon, i have alot of other storys)" is not going to author the next Millennium Actress or FLCL. One must evolve a more distinct, more personal sense of style, as well as some fresh substance to apply it to.

Communication: Assuming you've suddenly become a director, you'll have to communicate a heckuva lotta detail to the actual animators and VA's, or there's no point to having your own ideas about it at all. The animation directors may decide on the visual style from moment to moment, but you're in charge of the overall feel of the show, and it won't come through unless the team(s) creating it understand your vision thoroughly, or at least thoroughly enough to move in the right direction at any given moment of production. Few people have, I think, enough skill in the areas of understanding what others understand, managing what they need to know to do their jobs, understanding the subject matter the way they do, and helping them to understand it exactly as you do. You need to share your vision with the staff, and (via that staff) with the audience.

In other words, a director is certain breed of professional artist, and not all people are artists, even fewer both artistic and professional. As for writing? There are different practical requirements, but the basics are the same: coherent vision and good communication skills.
I get the feeling many (or most?) of the people who do have these skills are already applying them elsewhere, or at least not in the realm of anime fandom.

I suppose that's the key, or one of them- once anime becomes your job, it's not a hobby anymore. Someone who is currently an anime fan views it in a much different way than a writer or a director, or someone in the much fabled 'industry' would view it. It really has to be taken in from a much more professional, 'businesslike' perspective. There's plenty of room to have fun with it (FLCL's director Tsurumaki says they used robots in the show 'because robots are cool'), but you can bet that the nitty-gritty of it (there's quite a lot more to FLCL * than its cool visuals and zany attitude, and it was certainly very carefully designed to be that way) is much more difficult and demanding than you know.

Fanfiction is really just fanservice, more often self-service, and has little or nothing to do with writing a script for a television program or movie. A little bit like people who produce fanart- good practice for building the actual technical drawing skills, perhaps, but different in scale, quantity, detail, format, and process, from actually being a key animator.

So, could I do a good job as a writer or director of anime?

A definitive 'maybe not'.

(*Did you know that the big blue robot in episode 2 of FLCL was
[a] based, aesthetically speaking, on a tea-kettle, and
[b] probably a reference to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?)

From Erik Gerardo:

I'd  be good to write an anime series because I have seen just about every genre of anime thats out there, from your harem shonen/bishonen titles to the plain crazy
and wacky. So maybe I'd be writing a script full of cliches and hackeneyed plots. Although thats what people want right? That doesn't mean however that I can't come up with anything original.

for example:
I could write about a boy genius whos goal in life is to meet his favorite inventor but it turns out that the person he admires is a criminal mastermind bent on destroying the planet we live on and has plans to create a new world using his crazy-ass inventions to fulfill his selfish desires, and its up to this boy and a rag tag of misfits to stop him.

Then again thats not very original isn't it.

From Z.G. Darrels:

Would I be good at write or Directing an anime? No. I can, in all honesty say I would not.
I can say this, as I actually tried writing my own thing once, albeit, this was more in line with tokusatsu such as Masked Rider or Power Rangers. It was to be a parody of the genre that would poke fun of the obvious, such as the color coded clothes, epic scarves, the attacked cities ability to regenerate itself attack after attack, and the “Where did they get giant robots?” angle. it failed. HARD. One problem, I couldn't decide on who the target audience was. An older audience means I wouldn't have to write my characters as strictly, putting one or two into that ratings grabbing “dark gray area”, not to mention I could be a little looser in the language. The younger audience, on the other hand, would allow me to think of other ways to do a scene, try to duck and dodge through the censors,  and really flex my “creative” muscle, much like the DC animated Universe, notably for Batman;TAS, or Justice League Unlimited.

Another failure came from the characters themselves. Very  generic, and very boring. With the main five “Teens“ (After all, this thing WAS making fun of Power Rangers or Modern Era riders) you had the “hilariously” absent minded high school boy lead who was still obsessed with the Ranger type shows, the really cute best friend neighbor girl who has the tendency to hit the main character during his more dense moments, the obligatory third friend who just kinda stands there, maybe having an episode dedicated to showing how he has SOME use, and never brought up again, and then the two I hated, The “I'm so DEEP and MYSTERIOUS, I don't need anyone” sorta guy, then the “optimistic” Mary Sue with a tragic past, but Oh, She SOUNDS cheery, but if you listen to what she says… Comedy… gold.
The twists were even worse than the characters themselves, and also walk the thin line between pastiche and plagiarism. The main character (Who had an evil twin mind you) was a clone of his grandfather, a world renowned scientist who built a machine that could only open with his EXACT biological signature. The brooding jerk was a clone of his father, who was an assistant to the scientist, as well as the first Big Bad. The Cheerfully-depressed Mary Sue was in a car accident, and was really a cyborg built by what was implied to be Evil Origination  SHOCKER, from the First Masked Rider.
The final nail in the coffin, and most important one…. I cant write, both grammatically and, humor wise. This random passage would be a prime example of this-.

Shutaiyo brushed off the attack. “It is always such a pain to deal with clichés. Very well, you have forced my hand on this matter.” He reaches behind his back and pulls out a small box. He opens it to reveal the most terrifying weapon to go against, an object that would make nations tremble, people lose control of there bowel movements, and make even the gods themselves quiver in fear. Indeed what he had was… “Holy crap! He has an eye patch!” Zan blurted out in fear. “An eye patch?” Barry said at rather odd ends. “So? What's the big deal?” Zan, shocked at Barry's lack of faith berates him. “So?! He's Invincible!” Barry said nothing, too disturbed at Zan's thoughts. “You saw what it did to Big Boss. He was able to pull out a rocket launcher out from NOWHERE!” Barry, regaining his ability to speak turns to Zan and asks “And you know what happened to Big boss?” “He lost the national surplus to a one night stand?” “Other than that?” “Oh... No I don't…” “This.” Barry pulls out a spray can and a match. Shutaiyo looks down at Barry “What do you think your doing?” Barry lights the match “Proving Soccer moms right about Video games?”

A Metal Gear joke.That was the best of my humor, a random reference in a non subtle joke that would have been discarded for a younger audience.

Directing, is a far, far simpler reason. I lack vision… Well, creative vision. I can see just fine, but regardless all action scenes I thought up basically involved three actions. Thrust\Punch, parry, side, duck. Repeat that five or six times, and that would be the typical action scene. I cant really think of awe inspiring scenes, and have no idea WHERE I would take things. I also have a bit of a problem getting things across, and story boards? My drawing capabilities are so bad you couldn't tell them apart from a pre scholars.  Also, if I DO think of something, I have trouble using my ideas in any significant ways. I also always end things way to abruptly.  Kinda like now.

From Evan Bourgalt:

Since I was in high school I thought that I could write for anime.  At first I would come up with some silly ideas, like "Hey let's have 'Tenchi Muyo!' and then have Jay & Silent Bob show up in the series!"  As soon as I found out that scenarios like that would be impossible I gave up on it; but I never stopped coming up with many ideas that I thought were good.
 
Over the past few years I've been writing scripts for shows/films that would work well in anime (or even J-DRAMAs), and I do hope that one day soon I can get them done.  Just over this winter break I finished writing an anime pilot that I think if done right could be a worldwide hit; and no it's nothing like Pokémon or anything with giant robots.  The show would be the first series that would have both English & Japanese throughout the entire series.  There'd be characters that can speak both, and then there are others (like the main character) that can only speak the one language.  It would also focus on one of the biggest anime demographics: the people who look down upon it and push it away like it's "kiddie fare" (i.e.: people who never watch anime in the first place).  (There's a lot more to it, but I don't want to give too much away.)
 
I feel that if anyone has a good imagination and the know-how to write a proper script you can write for anime.  The problem is that the majority of anme studios want Japanese-speaking people working for them; which is why I am learning the language with the help of friends and the Rosetta Stone software.  Hopefully if I can meet the right people I can get at least one series done.  With enough determination and strong will I know I can make these ideas a reality.

From Joanna Slawik:


To a certain degree, yes, I believe I could write a very interesting anime series. I feel my credentials are fairly good. I'm an avid reader, which helps in the creative writing process. I have been writing novels since I was thirteen and have been an English honor student my entire school life. I'm also an artist, which helps a lot for the visual aspect of anime. I think though that I would not consider writing/directing a possibility if I did not already have a friend who writes and directs and who went to college to learn to write and direct professionally. From him I know that there is a lot that goes into writing a series that is made for movies or television. Based on my experience helping to spell check some of my friend's scripts I've noticed a few things about writing for a television audience. First, there is a certain amount of forethought that must go into the writing of the scripts than what is needed to write a book. Scenes have to be set up and figured out even before the characters can be placed in it. Just as setting is important in a book, setting is also important in television. Also, the script writer has to be able to communicate to the voice actors what mood or personality should be reflected in each line of script. So in essence the writing process for a script is a lot more complicated than writing just for a book. That's why I think that, while there are a lot of people with very good ideas, I don't know how many actually have the capacity to write for a script. And even then an idea may be good but a show is dependant on how well that anime plays for the audience. If no one watches it, even if it's a great story, the show will tank. Therefore, I think with some help from my friends in the movie industry I could write a successful show.

Finally, from "Ace":

No.  The majority of fan fiction proves that simply being a fan and "knowing" what's good doesn't mean a thing.  I don't believe that anyone who browses the internet and constantly reads other people's opinions could create something of high quality. It's a waste of time that requires little brain activity, something which is quite important if one is looking to write/direct an anime. 

Originality and the ability to instill emotion in the viewer are things needed to create truly good anime.  Fans often experience good and bad examples of this, and hopefully can distinguish between the two.  However, the application of said concepts is quite often out of reach.  Many attempts would simply be hollow knock-offs of other programs, or even a collage of personal favorites.  In my case, I don't think combining Kanon and Macross would make a good anime, and I'd probably be forced to cry myself to sleep upon seeing my abomination completed. 

Creating something worth viewing takes a lot of time and effort.  Fans often pour effort into meaningless activities.  In order to create, those fans would have to channel that energy into something productive.  Given the massive amount of whining, complaining, and bad-mouthing that goes on during these activites, it doesn't seem like fans can actually spend their time, rather than waste it.  For instance, instead of writing something special that stirs the soul and thrills with a highly imaginative story (ignore my above idea for the moment), I'm answering a question posed by some stranger online.  Creators need the ability to create, and fans often simply have the ability to discuss creations, but not actually create.  If a fan were to try to create his drive would probably soon vanish like some bad 80's fad.  The stress of creating and the complications in finding what makes anime good would quickly gnaw away at his whining soul and he'd end up back on a forums talking about how he "almost finished writing what would have been a good anime but got bored because it was too easy." 

All in all, fans are fans for a reason.  They watch shows, try to show others that their opinions matter, and try to show others that other opinions don't matter.  This is not a creative attitude.  It's actually quite destructive.  A creator can be a fan of some works, but he doesn't spend his life watching other's works.  He spends the majority of his time creating, expressing the feelings that he wants conveyed to the viewer, and finding ways to make his creation stand out among his past works and the works of his competitors.  He also needs a burning urge to create, otherwise his endless toils and sleepless nights would soon smother what little fire he had.  A fan has no such drive to propel him forward, very little creativity, and the only emotions he is consistently able to convey are those of righteous indignation and seething hatred.  As a final bit, a creator's creation is open to the world.  What makes a fan most angry?  How do you think a typical fan would handle criticism? 


Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.


Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I hve so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.
* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

So check this space next week for your answers to my questions!

See you all next week!


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