Hey, Answerman!

by Zac Bertschy, Apr 18th 2008



ABC News sent me some questions for the column! This is so exciting guys! I can't believe it! A major, well-respected news outlet has questions for me!

Let's see what they wanted to ask...

Mr. Bertschy, how do you respond to allegations that you are not actually an anime fan because one time you sat next to a guy on the bus who doesn't like anime? Second question, you have never been spotted wearing an anime pin. Do you believe in anime? How are the American people supposed to know that you're an anime fan if you don't wear the pin? You have 30 seconds to respond.

...d'oh.


I was wondering, do you think anime is better when it is based on a source material (such as a light novel or manga) or when it has an original story (as was the case with Escaflowne) ?
 
Also, how do you feel about the rising popularity of titles based on moe-heavy visual novels, such as Kanon, Air and Clannad ?

Depends entirely on the production itself and the source material. An anime based on a crappy manga will likely also be crappy (although this isn't always the case; sometimes the anime improves on the manga) and anime series based on original concepts - not really all that common, actually - are also hit-and-miss. You see a lot more original ideas being used in feature films, like Steamboy, many of Ghibli's films, or some of Satoshi Kon's stuff; generally the best anime movies that are based on original concepts are executed by directors most consider to be auteurs, cinematic geniuses with unique personal vision. So they're not the average.

I don't think there's a concrete answer to that question, honestly. It depends so much on the individual work that it's tough to say "Well, it's usually better when it's adapted from a good comic" with any kind of certainty.

As for the moe stuff, my opinion on those shows is fairly well known; I'm not a fan. But if they're making money (or "checkin' chedda", in the parlance of our times) then more power to the studios producing them. I think their popularity has scaled back a little lately. I'm not seeing the same frothing furor over moe shows I saw a year or so ago. I think the genre has firmly established itself and is no longer the ultimate new hotness or anything. It has its fans, and remains successful, and that's about it.




Why is so much of anime so formulaic and predictable? It seems like most shows are just copies of other shows. There are some that are good and original but it seems to me all harem comedies are the same, all robot shows are the same, all moe shows etc. Why?

Well, anime isn't any different from any other entertainment medium in that regard; it's produced primarily as a corporate venture. If one thing works, they do it again to make more money. I mean, American TV is exactly the same way, as most people will tell you. VH1 discovered that people love the "geezer musician surrounded by strippers" thing worked so well on Flavor of Love that they produced Rock of Love which is also a big success, so any minute now we can expect to see Ice of Love featuring 20 skanks all vying for the affection of Robert "Vanilla Ice" Van Winkle.

Not every production team is top shelf, not every project is designed to be the next great artistic masterpiece. Sometimes they just shovel stuff out because people buy it. I have no doubt that the people working on these shows believe that what they're doing is the best work they can - even the worst, most generic harem comedy probably has SOME redeeming value to it, even if it is just the character design, or maybe the backgrounds or the score or something. It's just a product, though; no different from the fourty billionth American sitcom with a fat stupid husband, eternally-suffering wife and wisecrackin' kid.

Every so often you get your Mushi-shis
or your Fullmetal Alchemists or whatever, but those are the exception to the rule.


I would love to write articles about anime for publication in magazines like PiQ, Anime Insider, etc. How do I achieve that goal? Do you have any friendly advice? Also, I noticed that ANN accepts guest columnist. What kind of columns are you looking for? What about word limit and formatting? I have several ideas I think ANN would be interested in publishing. Does ANN prefer I submit a letter detailing my idea or would they rather I just submit the finished work?

I've written about this before, but there's a new angle here so I think it's cool to bring it up again.

Basically, you need a portfolio to get freelance gigs from magazines like PiQ or Anime Insider. I'm not familiar with what PiQ's policies are, but having worked previously at Anime Insider I can tell you that you won't be the one coming up with the article topics right off the bat - first you need to establish yourself as someone who can be trusted to turn in quality work that fits the assignment, on time, every time, while causing as little headache for your editor as possible. Be humble, quick, and quiet when you're starting out.
Eventually after you've proven that you're a good writer, capable of meeting your deadlines and aren't a huge pain in the ass, they'll probably start soliciting you for article ideas, but don't count on it and don't offer up ideas unsolicited; it's kind of rude and presumptuous to do that.

The best thing you can do to get your foot in the door is to have at least a blog you can point to as a writing sample; it's better if you have writing you're proud of that was at the very least submitted in a relevant class or better yet, published in your school paper. Most writers who are starting fresh can't approach a magazine with a big fat portfolio of awesome writing, so you really have to rely on any legitimate scraps you may have, and your demeanor is really important (tip: come across as a writer who happens to be a fan, not a fan who wants to write. One of those works, the other really doesn't.). I would strongly suggest going to conventions where staff members of these magazines routinely have discussion panels and often invite audience members to submit business cards, portfolios or writing samples. I've found some pretty good people that way and it takes a bit of the edge off of a cold, unsolicited email.

To address your second point there, I'm not sure where you're seeing that. Our FAQ states:

Can I submit a review?
Yes, you can send a sample review to [email protected] Please make sure that the subject of the e-mail is "Sample Review:" followed by the title of the Anime you are reviewing (otherwise it will be discarded as Spam). Please take a look at the review guidelines that we've posted here. We'll read through all the reviews sent to us and respond fairly and honestly; but please allow us some time to respond. All files must be sent in one of the following formats: pure text, MS Word or HTML. We promise to look at every submission that comes our way but cannot promise to post your review.

Can I submit an article?
E-mail the editors and ask about the topic, we'd be glad to consider your article idea.

Can I have a column?
No. Only previous, regular contributors who have shown an ability to consistently write timely, quality articles (or reviews) are permitted to write columns. Try submitting some articles or reviews first.


That last one isn't kidding; I've never just handed a column to someone who randomly emailed me with an idea. Every columnist working for this site has been vetted over the years, proven themselves worthy of having that space to themselves. You'd have to be writing for me for a while before I'd consider giving you a column, and it'd have to be a damn good idea.

However, we do accept sample reviews. If you'd like to take a shot at becoming an ANN critic, you can email me with your sample reviews and put your name in the hat.

In addition, we own a little magazine called Protoculture Addicts. I have actually accepted finished, submitted articles by enthusiastic writers who've emailed me out of the blue. PA's content policies are different from ANN's in that way. Hopefully saying this won't result in a flood of unsolicited articles in my email inbox, but the possibility is there.

[Editor's Note: Ooops. We did have an old policy still sitting on the column page that said we welcomed guest editorials. That policy has long since been replaced by the one Zac quoted above. We just forgot to remove one mention of it. Our apologies, but no, we no longer accept unsolicited guest columns. However, as Zac pointed out, there are plenty of other opportunities. -CM]





Finally, some tough questions.

Why do you hate us so much? ;__;

Awww, c'mon baby. I don't hate you, you just make me angry sometimes, and you know when I drink I say dumb things I don't mean. Don't be mad baby, I'll make it up to you.


This is my friend's awesome guinea pig, Apples. Here she is shooting death rays of adorableness at your face.




Here's last week's question:




First, from Gerwyn Petty:

There's a simple 3-word example to answer your question: Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei.
As much as this series appeals to me (having grown up with the likes of Monty Python, the Young Ones, et al - I know, I'm *that* old - and having gravitated to things like The League of Gentlemen over time) I've yet to see anything Western that comes even vaguely close to the mix of intelligent comedy, scathing social satire and very clever use of language (maybe the Triplets of Seville, but that's a different kettle of fish).

Speaking generally (and I know that's the 8th deadly sin) when anime does comedy well, it tends to do it phenomenally well (which is strange, given that most of the live-action comedy is abysmal) and it's also not afraid to poke fun at itself and the otaku world (alienate our audience? ha! full speed ahead and damn the icebergs!) to get laughs. Even more toned down comedies like Otaku no Video, Ouren High School Host Club, Hayate no Thingy or Hidamari Sketch savage their own genre and aren't afraid to roast just about any other anime series that's out there (Evangelion seems to be a popular target). Even when it's toned down, you end up with something subtle and wonderful like Genshiken, Azumanga Daioh or Manabi Straight!.

Sadly, Western cartoons (and I confess I watch very little these days, as I find most of them incomprehensible) still seem to be stuck in a variation of gross-out humour, prat-falls, or lowest common denominator guffaws. There's precious few cartoons that I would say contain "intelligent humour", and there's certainly a great deal of anime that falls into the same bucket of slush, but there are also some very cleverly crafted and executed comedy anime out there, that stand head and shoulders above anything the West can offer.

Maybe if I had to summarise the above ramble, good comedy anime can be funny, without being silly, and it doesn't need to telegraph a punchline - they assume their audience is intelligent and gear the level of humour to that. Most Western cartoons seem to think their audience are gibbering idiots... and they might be right.


From Charles Castleberry:

No. 

And, on a fairly fundamental level, I don't see how they can be... to an American audience.  Comedy beyond the slapstick level is a delicate thing, and what different people find funny varies widely from person to person and from culture to culture. At the simplest level, the puns that the Japanese can make involving variant readings of kanji and different interpretations of names are lost in a literal translation, just as a joke about eating with your left hand in an Indian comedy would be lost on an American audience.  (Heck, there are jokes that are funny in California that don't play in Iowa.)

So, while most slapstick will translate easily, and some subtler jokes will, most of the effort of making a Japanese comedy funny is going to rest on the comedic abilities of 1 or 2 translators desperately trying to serve two masters: to preserve the spirit of the original lines (to be "authentic") while still modifying the joke enough to render it funny to us.  The translator notes in the back of some manga (e.g., xxxHOLiC) often reflect that: "The original did this, so I tried translating it as this, which works better in English."  While many of their efforts may be exceptional, the majority of the translations, on average, are not going to be as funny to the viewer as the original -- created by a team of professional comedy writers working in their native language -- was to its intended Japanese audience, or as a show by a comparable team in America would be to us.

The fact that many of the shows do work for us comedically is partly self-selection (it tends to be the better shows that get licensed over here, not the "Suddenly Susan"s of the anime world), partly the slapstick element, partly that they were brilliant (when they were), partly talented translation (when it's inspired), and in no small part the fact that we meet them halfway.  As regular anime viewers, we've absorbed enough of the culture and sensibility that the jokes work better for us, whether it's the gentle comedy of Genshiken or the massively pop-culture overload of FLCL.  I've had several non-anime fans ask, "Why is that funny?" during my occasional attempts to share the wealth.  When someone has to ask, it's not funny; not to them.  Anime comedy gets funnier the more you watch it, just as French farces are funnier to foreign film buffs; as you absorb the culture, the comedy based on it starts to work better for you.

So you take a finely crafted American comedy like How I Met Your Mother, Freaks and Geeks, Scrubs, or something similar (and those are just my choices), and they have a huge leg up on anime for an American audience: topical jokes with current cultural references crafted by teams of native language writers at the top of their games.  Those are overwhelming advantages.  Doesn't mean that the anime comedies aren't often hysterical; doesn't mean that their best isn't comparable to ours, for their own native audience; doesn't mean that some of us may not like some of them more based on our particular tastes.  Just means that that translated comedies have an uphill battle and that the answer, for the genre on average, will have to be no.


From Bella de Silva:
So it's Japanese comedies vs American comedies huh? Well Americans have a great sense of humor and so do Japanese. It really depends. Some animes, especially Gintama and Yakitate!! Japan, are HILARIOUS if you get the Japanese references that they tend to make fun with. For instance in one episode of Yakitate!! Japan they have a joke where Kazuma Azuma hears say Kakuei (a former prime minister of Japan) instead of kakumei which means revolution. It's a joke that just doesn't work in America because 1) Your average american wouldn't know who Kakuei is and 2) with the laugae it just doesn't work.  Some anime are funny universal. An example would probaly be that Naruto filler where Shino starts laughing. Well, on second thought that episode is actually quite creepy but you can get the gist of it. As funny as anime can be there's also hilarious American shows/movies. A good example of this could be the Scary movie movies. I think that everyone's taste in humor is differnt and it differs from person to person and culture to culture.
 
As a Japanese-American it's really hard to decide. I love Yakitate!! Japan and Gintamas humor but watching Scary Movie 3 with a whole bunch of friends is great too.  It gets harder when I go back to Japan for the summer. I want to buy all my hilarious anime and show them to my friends but they won't get the joke how Japan and Ja-pan are different and why there are people watching cherry blossoms fall.  So I guess it depends who the audience is. Still there are those cultural difiant animes that have funny episodes, such as Bleach and Azumanga Daioh.
 
So in conclusion, I perfer anime humor over American because it's just so much more fun and has a happy feel to it.


From Stephen Bell:
To a certain point, yes. However (with the possible exception of 
Scrubs), both pale in comparison to British comedy. Black Books, 
Faulty Towers, The Mighty Boosh and Spaced forever!

From Alissa Purcell:

 To try and compare comedic anime to general American comedies is more of a culture clash between two countries. Next to that, I would have to put in the scenario of American animated comedies rather than live action shows.

Out of my DVD collection right now the 3 anime that I know are comedies are Excel Saga, Cromartie High School, and GTO. If I could compare that to Family Guy, Robot Chicken, South Park, everything is thrown out the window.

America's version of comedy has gone with the whole sex and nude jokes, bashing of public officials and even going through the concept of jokes with ethnicity. Our President even has "his own" show, where it's blatantly obvious we're making fun of his stupidity. There really isn't much limit to what America airs in taste of comedy, but it only focuses on the same sort of crap we see on reality TV. There is a slight line, though. I see it as craptastic animation - Squidbillies, Assy Mgee..and on the other side...some really good comedies - Venture Bros, The Boondocks, and even Metalocolypse.

As for Japanese anime comedies, I can't really say there are many restrictions. After all, Excel Saga and its infamous episode 26; where it threw all aspects of censorship out of the window.
Cromartie High had its own school traditions and obvious quirkiness, but it is a bit subtle; a big difference between the juvenile delinquency in America and Japan. Some cultural references not mentioned could leave you a little confused, while other scenes are really simple to understand, and along with the facial expressions and actions used in anime, it adds to the giggles.

 I also remember watching  a series called Ping Pong Club. I don't think I've ever seen an animated comedy in America that focused on the trials and tribulations of such a simple sport, along with the "mischief" among the school students. I admit, the only closet thing that may be close to that was Balls of Fury. Only movies seem to make it well out in subjects/genres like these. For a domestic series, though...I'm not sure.

Finally, from David Windrim:

Well, first off, we must recall that some devices often don't transcend cultural and language barriers - I don't read or speak Japanese, so all the incessant puns and Osakan dialects and "Ah-ha! He is a young man, but speaking like an old man!" stuff often doesn't come across. See also: Tsukkomi (sp.?) humour (the 'slap-in-the-face with a catchphrase' stuff).

On the whole, then, what is left is primarily (for the English-language speaker) relatively samey: slapstick, fanservice, sarcasm, or random. In slapstick, people are hitting each other, or having unreasonable sexual or appetitive or scatological urges, or being really creepy while the one 'Kon' type character sits back in horrified incredulity. Fanservice takes us to a magical <insert fantasy locale here. where are tons of hot women of various builds getting wet and falling with panty-shots (which generally leads back to slapstick reaction-shots). In 'sarcastic' humor like, say, parts of Genshiken or the kid in FLCL, the outside observer gets more say and better lines and sits around mocking everyone else until inevitably they are drawn into one of the first two categories by twists of fate. Random humour like gag manga or "Bo-Bobo Bo-bobobo" or whatever just seems to do whatever the hell it wants without any rules of logic - which is fine, but after a while most people grow out of "Family Guy" style materials like this and want something where it's more about the script. Which is the problem - we can see all these repeating tropes so clearly because we have to look for the broader visual or plot-based signifiers, since we lose so much of the particular inflections and particular subtle nuances of the individual lines.

I just feel that it's impossible for translated versions of these  materials to ever be as funny as something like P.G. Wodehouse, or  the British Office, or early Woody Allen movies, or Dr. Strangelove,  where every line is hysterical and appeals to our own, English-speaking in-jokes and cultural assumptions. I mean, probably a lot of  people in Japan might find the way that Annie Hall plays with the New  York Jewish Intellectual stereotype kind of baffling unless they were  familiar with that cultural paradigm; I will say, then, that while I  enjoy some comic aspects of Japanese series, I feel like we will  never 'get' the best of it because we usually only ever have access  to the cultural concerns that they make fun of or rely upon through  second-hand research. I don't think it's fair at all to say any type  of humour is 'better' or 'worse'; I feel that ultimately only native- speakers can really fully appreciate its finer qualities.



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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