Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson, Jan 23rd 2009


Hello hello, Answerman-ateers! (Answerman-iacs? Answerman-atees?) As usual, there are a bevy of questions and an equally bevy-ous amount of answers to dole out this week.

Before we begin, a very special THANK YOU to all the fine ladies last week that responded to my personal photograph for the Answerman Banner Contest that said I was “cute” or “hot.” Now, if you could print those words and mail them to my ex-girlfriends and the especially voluminous amount of girls that I've dated briefly that lost interest within 48 hours, that would be swell. Perhaps include a signed, notarized statement that says “YOU WHORE” or “GIVE BRIAN BACK HIS LETTERS AND MIX CD'S.”

...actually, tell them to keep the Mix CD's. I spent a lot of time on those. So, let's make it “GIVE BRIAN BACK HIS LETTERS AND MIX CD'S AFTER YOU LISTEN TO THEM AND TELL HIM WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT ANIMAL COLLECTIVE. ARE THEY TOO WEIRD?” That should work.

Now! Your questions are henceforth...


My friend and I both like anime and are in a band. Simply put, What would be the best way of having our music inserted into an anime series, for either the opening, ending or whatever else there may be. Who would we have to speak with? How likely do these type of scenarios usually succeed? If this is not even possible, could you explain?

Lucky for you I've outlined a simple, four-point plan that will GUARANTEE your success as a hit anime-opening-song-recording group!

  1. Become expertly, musically fluent in Japanese
  2. Move to Japan and make a hit single that becomes a kind of youth anthem, played ad nauseam on MTV Japan and is featured in several Japanese Coca-Cola advertisements
  3. ??? (to be determined)
  4. Become friendly with several Japanese anime and television producers and appease them through sundry and probably sexual means

 

And presto! Your musical sensibilities will then be pronounced before every episode of Geki Fighters: Ultra Breast Warriors F2.

I kid, of course. Trust me when I say that I'm just as big as, if not moreso, a music geek as I am an anime geek, and the likelihood of your band making any sort of music for anime is next to nil. The reasoning is, as always, strictly business. Pay close attention to the end credits for your average anime series; ever wonder why L'Arc-en-Ciel seems to do a lot of songs for shows and movies that have Aniplex's logo on them? Because L'Arc-en-Ciel are signed and essentially owned by Sony Music Japan, and Aniplex is, essentially, the television and anime production arm of Sony Music Japan. If you're a company that's helping to bankroll Fullmetal Alchemist, wouldn't it simply make sense to have one of the artists under your label quickly bang out a tune to complement the show you have partial ownership of? It helps cross-promote the two – L'Arc-en-Ciel fans tune in to the show to hear the new song, fans of the show unfamiliar with the band get an earful of their sound and buy the soundtrack, and Sony becomes far richer in the process.

I mean, if you're confident that your band's sound can impress the staunchy, possibly bigoted bigwigs at Sony Music Japan into thinking that YOU ARE the next L'Arc-en-Ciel or Pornograffiti, by all means, get those demo tapes overseas, pronto! Otherwise, good luck, kid. I can hardly think of a harsher, more cannibalistic enterprise in the entertainment industry than the music industry, and as much as I hate to discourage people, I'd tell you guys to just keep rockin' out and having fun, and leave the anime OP songs to the licensed professionals.


How much do the Japanese companies rely on R1 sales? Is there a magic number (if you will) that they shoot for? I doubt you have any real numbers in that regard, but even an educated guess would be appreciated. Even if you don't answer it (which I'd find a shame; the more information I have at my disposal the more likely I am to convince those stuck on youtube/megavideo/other places with ample illegal material for free streaming to at least give Hulu and whatnot a chance) I thank you for at least reading it.

Short answer: not really, kind of. In certain circumstances, yes, but mostly: not anymore. A few years ago when it seemed like anime in general was going to hit it big in the US, Japanese licensors were ravenous for a slice of fat R1 DVD cash, but in light of recent events both in our economy and in Japan's, that mindset has obviously shifted. Realistically speaking, there are a variety of business-minded decisions behind why and how and what eventually winds up being licensed. Especially these days; only a few years ago, companies like ADV made it a habit of licensing everything they could potentially afford (or in some famous instances, couldn't) just in the mind that out of perhaps a dozen or so titles, a few might stick and turn enough of a profit to subsidize the rest. It was at this point that most of the Japanese companies that owned these shows still didn't really care about the Western market, and were more than willing to let their properties go to whoever for whatever price.

Now, though, everybody's hurtin' for money all around. The Japanese companies are eager to have their shows catch on in America now that they know there's a built-in market for them, but at a higher price. US anime companies have had, if you can recall, had a bit of trouble lately. So, there's a huge litany of things they consider before making the plunge and acquiring the license. Here's the official scoop from a guy “in the know,” our very own Justin Sevakis:

“There is no "magic number". There might have been once, but it was a short time at the end of the R1 DVD boom, and it fluctuated wildly on a per-show basis and went away pretty soon after that business model proved itself unsustainable.

To put things in context, the average anime costs about US$200,000 per episode to produce, start-to-finish. When license fees were reaching absurd levels, they were going up to a peak of approximately $70,000 -- which is 1/3 of costs! At this point, that's when the American studios were brought in to chip in for production costs up front, and for a few years we saw evidence of this, with ADV Films and Geneon Entertainment USA listed right on the "Produced by" credit alongside Manglobe or GENCO or MediaWorks or whatever. But in most cases, all that extra money was pooled to make additional shows. This is what Matt Greenfield meant when he stated that ADV money was involved in most anime production a few years ago -- that extra windfall revenue contributed to the budgets of a staggering number of shows. Now that the money is gone, production has followed suit.

In the years since, license fees have come back down to earth, typically around $10-20,000/episode. Nobody outside of the show's producers are privy to their budget sheets, but with very few anime getting licensed compared to the old days, I'm extremely doubtful anybody is dumb enough to make it a key part of their business model. The license fees do certainly help the bottom line (particularly with the Japanese DVD market also sagging, some of the planned-for revenue might not reach projections), in some cases doing quite a bit to boost a slightly underperforming show towards profitability, but it's not counted on before a project starts.

The fact that the American market is no longer as significant a contributor to the industry's bottom line, however, also means that the producers are far less likely to think about their potential American audience when a show gets made. Anime has largely returned to being, from a financial point of view, a by-Japanese-for-Japanese medium. Just like it was way back when.”

Essentially, if you're wondering why all the relatively big series in Japan  are the usual Moe and Giant Robot-centric shows that are mostly impenetrable to mainstream US audiences, there's your answer. It's not quite “they really just don't care about us anymore,” but it's close.


Hey answerman! I have a question of little significance, but something that I've wondered about. Butterflies in anime, seem to always be around or connected to death. Why is that? I've noticed it in Red Garden, Bleach, Jigoku Shoujo, Higurashi's opening montage, and other places. Even the Cowboy Bebop movie has butterflies in it (okay it's a stretch, but they are still there, even if indirectly). So is there some folklore in Japan or that part of Asia about butterflies and death?

This is going to sound incredibly condescending, but the answer to this particular visual symbol is incredibly simple: butterflies are pretty. Granted, I'm not a Ph.D in mythology or Japanese folklore, but butterflies are usually used to symbolize change, particularly in young women as they “blossom” into adulthood, or the change of seasons, or whatever. I obviously can't tunnel into Shinichiro Watanabe's head and pull out the reasoning for the butterfly leitmotif in the Bebop movie, but the generally assumed idea that butterflies are pretty and beautiful and exemplify nature's splendor probably juxtaposed well with all the death and chaos surrounding the rest of the story.

Having said that, there's bound to be some expert in Lepidoptera Mythological Studies from Eaton of Oxfordshire that'll provide some specific examples from some obscure woodcuts or cuneiform tablets circa the mesozoic era. But I highly doubt that the writers and directors for Bleach and Higurashi are more familiar with those than I am, so I'm quite confident in my assertion that, damn it, butterflies are pretty and remind the viewer of the beauty of life when a character dies or what have you. In general, much of the visual symbolism in anime is largely window-dressing; no doubt grown men have been driven mad attempting to piece together the TRUE MEANINGS of the hundreds of visual symbols in Revolutionary Girl Utena, only to be gustily informed by Kunihiko Ikuhara that none of the excessive imagery serves any deeper purpose.

But, then, such is the beauty of all art. (cue swarms of butterflies and doves and rose petals and cherry blossoms, and a touching Sufjan Stevens song, as Brian stares up at the sky and wonders, wistfully.)




Now for the fun stuff! If you'll notice above, Hey, Answerman! desperately needs a new banner; the one you see above is only a temporary placeholder.

We're moving away from using licensed characters, so here's the challenge: the banner has to include some anime or manga-fied version of me. ME! That's right. I assure you this is not the product of ego, rather my horrifying overlords demanding I ask you to draw me for this contest. Perhaps they're doing this for their own amusement - the world may never know.

Some mild rules:

1. Stick to the standard banner size this column uses. Just check the pixel width on the banner that heads up this column, and you're all good.
2. Nothing profane or dirty. This is a family show!

3. The banner has to include the column's title - "Hey, Answerman" - along with a vaguely anime or manga-style visage of yours truly.

For reference, here is a picture of myself. Note the sunken eyes and distressing lack of character.



So go nuts and be as creative and fun and artistic as you all can be!

What do you win? A permanent thank you credit in every column, my eternal gratitude and a the warm fuzzy feeling that you've contributed something to the world. And what's better than that?

UPDATE: It wasn't made clear last time but we're going to run this contest for a good while, and eventually post a bunch of entries, and select a winner. There's no set end date right now, so just hold on to your butts (here I am quoting Samuel L. Jackson in Jurassic Park) and keep an eye on this space.





Here's the question from last week:


From Cymka:

When introducing other people to anime I usually start with Satoshi Kon's "Paranoia Agent".
I learnt that it generally flies in the face of what people usually asociate with anime. PA offers no teens brandishing swords, no vampires showing off teeth, no cyborgs, no demons, very little blood. No lenghty cutscenes or tacky animation. Just cityfolk immensed in daily frustrations. Something close, known and tangible, and yet already processed in the aesthetics of an anime. A perfect introduction, so to speak.


From Mizu:

First time writing in. It all depends on the person I am introducing someone not familiar to anime with. If they like sports, Prince of Tennis or Eyeshield 21. If they like violence, Black Lagoon or if they tend to like short people killing other short people (loli would be the term they don't know of) Higurashi no Naku Koro ni would be my best bet for them. If it is a girl and they like a sad love story I think Air: The Motion Picture. Of all things if I happen to find out someone who LOVES Twilight and would like to be introduced into anime then I would just stick them in a soundproof room with Vampire Knight and leave. Now for just an average girl who I don't really know them that well, I would pick Lovely Complex. And finally for a guy who I don't know that well I might pick Bleach: Memories of Nobody.

From Eirowen Elliott:

Kyyaa, okay well it really depends on their age, but if they are a girl (or a gay guy) I start it off with "Fruits Basket" because it is generally very interesting, not too long or too short. It has interesting characters and appeals to a lot of different facets of the anime world. It has fantasy, humor, pretty guys and girls, and isn't too complicated. It was the way that I was started off and I think that if I had started off with some of the animes that I have come to adore (like "Air" or "Honey and Clover" or even "Ouran High School Host Club") that I might have not been that into it.

When my 13 year old brother started to get into the idea of anime from some of his Japanophile friends at school I suggested that instead of falling into the dark pit that is "Bleach", "Inuyasha" or even "Afro Samurai", I told him about "Hellsing". He loved it, and he thanked me over and over and over for it. I think that "Hellsing" has such a cult following in the anime world. It is one step above Bleach in accessibility and even recognition so it is very easy to start a guy off with Hellsing.

The thing that I love about those two is that neither of them have some of the more "interesting" trends in anime that when you explore you might find. For example I would never on my life start someone off with "Koi Kaze" because it would be like asking them to think all anime involves perverted undertones (which in a way most does). I also wouldn't start them off with the fan serviceof an anime like "Rosario + Vampire". To do that would be to tell them that anime is expected to be all about ffan servicebecause that is all that is in "Rosario". I like the anime for people that are farther into the giant ocean of wonderfulness that is anime, but there is no reason to start someone off with those sorts of anime.

To be honest, I started my mom off with Guardian of the Sacred Spirit and she loved it so much. Next we are starting "Kamichu!." I love my mommy for taking an interest in anime because she knows I adore it.


From Andrew Kim:

This first answer you'll probably get a LOT of and that is Cowboy Bebop. Honestly, never in my life have I seen or read anything that appeals to so many non-anime viewers. Also, if you think about it, it really does work. Bounty hunters in space? Yeah, like we've never heard of that concept before (thank you Star Wars). Recognizable music in jazz instead of the typical J-Pop or J-Rock? Done. The English dub is very well accepted so that's nothing but a plus. You have much less people with the standard big eyes look and wearing clothes that are simple and, more or less, practical. Japanese culture is rarely present in Bebop. For example, Ouran High School Host Club shows you how Japanese schools operate and many Americans, where I'm from, don't care about that. Another thing is humor is more towards us than them. The episodic nature helps a lot too because many people just like to watch it wherever you are in the series and be a stand-alone
 episode instead of having to watch all of the past episodes in order to understand what's going on.

If Bebop doesn't work, then movies are the way to go. I doubt they want to invest that much to watch 13-2XX episodes just to see if they like it or not. Manga, in my opinion, usually doesn't work because they want to see the action unfold and not be confused on how they got from one panel to another. Voices of a Distant Star is definitely a solid choice because it's only 20 minutes long. Anything by Satoshi Kon would work like Grave of the Fireflies, Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress, or Paprika. By now, the ones I mentioned are all dramatic because, personally speaking, non-anime viewers tend to have the notion that if something is animated, it should/would be funny and/or be directed towards children. I'm trying to break the mold by saying it is possible to have dramatic story lines, have little or no humor involved, and still be as great as any other animation that would use mainly laughter.

From Alex Price :

It depends on the type of person I'm trying to get hooked. If they like fairly simple romances, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a great pick (and easily the best anime movie of the year). If they're an action junkie who owns every Jason Statham movie in existence, I'll start them off with Akira or maybe the first episode of Samurai Champloo. For the art house movie lovers I know, I start out with a Satoshi Kon movie. It doesn't really make too much difference since they're all good, but I prefer Paprika just because the first 5 minutes are some of the best in recent movie history. I've even gotten a few people that thought the most mentally challenging material they wanted to watch was Scary Movie interested by getting them interested in the Mushroom Samba episode of Cowboy Beebop.


Of course, half the reason I show these things to people is just to dispel any misconceptions they have about it all being kiddy stuff since it's animated. For people that aren't so ignorant, simply not into it, shows like Code Geass are great since they have a wide range of appeal and are incredibly addictive.

From Matt Kamen:

Regarding the introductions of 'outsiders' into the sinister inner cabal of the anime world, I've found it's very much a 'horses for courses' problem. Most recently, I've hooked one of my best friends with, of all things, Godannar. This is a guy who's heavily into Transformers, so mecha was always going to be an easy sell. While a lot of people would have gone for the likes of RahXephon or Evangelion, I think we can all agree they're fairly heavy going; akin to giving a six year-old Great Expectations as their first read alone book - sure, it's a great novel and a classic example of literature at its finest but not likely to grab the kid's interest. So, Godannar - it's shallow, it's clichéd to those of us familiar with the genre and it's borderline exploitative with its use of fanservice. However, it's also outlandishly entertaining, fast-paced, fun, humorous, full of action and peppered with some surprisingly deep character moments. It's worked a charm and after a marathon of the first two discs he's bugging me to bring the rest over and anything else I think he'd like.

Other friends have been successfully converted by the likes of Haibane Renmei, DNA², Gilgamesh and Fantastic Children. I don't think there's a hard and fast formula that Japan has cracked as yet to create the ultimate accessible anime series, one that will universally appeal to all viewers regardless of taste or knowledge. It's a matter of tailoring your recommendations to the existing interests of your target and hoping they find some common interest to grab hold of. After they're interested, you can start with the bizarre suggestions. Personally, I'm working my Godannar convert up from mecha to magical girls - wish me luck....!

Finally, from Lana:


When I first read that line my automatic response was "Escaflowne: A girl in Gaea", but then after a moment's pause and careful consideration I realized that while that was my standby, it wasn't the one I had chosen to corrupt others with in the past. 



So I came to the ever present, and somewhat irritating answer of "it depends". What does it depend on though? It depends on the age, gender, that person's interests, and the type of relationship you have with this person. 


For example, one of my great friends grew up at the same time I did, but managed to completely bypass the initial foray into the anime world (well more like second foray... Sailor Moon time). That being said, she was into fantasy and sci-fi, with a particular interest in the cyberpunk genre. So one of the very first things I gave her was - Ghost in the Shell (first series).  It was cyberpunk at its finest, with adult themes, story-telling, mystery, and character development. At the same time though, I also gave her D.N.Angel - which regardless of anything else - is pretty shoujo fluff. Seeing as my friend is female, this wasn't a complete shot in the dark. She ended up loving both of them, and coming back to me for more. It also helped "ease" her into the shonen-ai/yaoi world - one that she doesn't partake in as a rabidfangirl but enjoys none the less. (As a side note, showing people pictures of Gackt can have the same effect) 


Now for someone of the male persuasion, perhaps older, and more skeptical, you can't go wrong with Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door.  This movie is exactly like anything you might see today in theatres, the only difference being that it is animated. I find it is a good, if not subtle shift. There is just the right amount of "familiar" themes and tones and has a more "western" feel to it. Not to mention it has a hot female character in compromising positions, and a cool guy with a gun. Those are the parts that will draw even the skeptics in, and then once they are in they realize the complexity of the characters, the story line, and the themes that go far above and beyond what they considered to be a "cartoon".  Also, if they are still non-believers at this point, showing them Akira or one of the Kenshin movies would not be a step in the wrong direction. 


Now if it is someone you don't know very well, and you don't want to give them anything that might compromise you later (like anything with specific cultural, political, or even sexist material) - but still want to show them a "quintessential entertaining anime" you can't go wrong with a comedy like Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu.  Lighthearted, silly, and damn entertaining. The problem with starting someone off with something really popular like Naruto and Bleach is that newbies are not fans. If they realize that they will have to watch 200+ episodes of something that isn't even done yet, they will back out before they have even started. This is why Fumoffu is perfect. Its entertaining, but also very short - a series that can be finished in less than 6 hours. That being said - there is a reason why the other two paragraphs put movies first. The smaller the time commitment, the more likely they will be willing to start in the first place, and if they are entertained, then they are more likely to come back for more. 


That being said, I also have a mid-twenties male friend who "oohs" and "ahhs" over shows like Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch and Kanon. So as I said before...it really depends. 




Here's next week's question:


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.

I suppose, then, it's time for me to step off of my virtual soapbox (answerbox?) and allow you all to return to your daily lives, without me. It's okay: I'm used to it.

Everyone have an awesome week, and see you next time!



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