Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson, May 8th 2009

Hey everyone! It's been sort of a crazy day while writing this – I need to take my motorcycle to the shop and hustle my nerdy way down to the movie-theater-palace to catch an early-ish screening of the new Star Trek, so let's just get this ball rolling. Drum roll, please:


I have a pretty interesting question to ask you. Whether or not you feel it is up to you, but I've really run out of people to get advice on! Before the question proper, I believe a little setup is appropriate; not necessarily for suspense or anything, but just so I don't seem like a stark-raving idiot.

I've got several friends interested in starting up a localization company for visual novel games - without the naughty bits, of course. The idea is simple in this regard: ultimately, strike up a deal with Sony to digitally distribute the games exclusively on the PLAYSTATION Network. We would go this route because most visual novels that get a port go to the PSP - these versions are also "clean". It's a sound idea in concept, but its execution is difficult to put out a single foot and take that step. While you've been less-than-subtle about your fondness for anime and games of this nature, I'm pinning my hopes you or your cohorts could help direct us where to go first or what to do.

The question has so many parts I don't mind if you pick n' choose what to answer. I've spoken with Sony reps to see where to go, I've researched the Japanese developers of the games and the publishers who put the games to market in Japan... but this doesn't really help in moving forward. Would I start by contacting the Japanese devs to see if they're interested in this idea? Or the Japanese publisher (who often has a branch in the US but obviously has no intentions of bringing the visual novels over - bigger fish to fry with their translating/localizing resources, I imagine)? Ideally, I'd like to figure out if there's an interest from the Japanese developers/publishers before formally shelling out the cash and establishing a company. I've got the patience to jump through hoops (extended family has plenty of lawyers), but I've got to find those hoops first, y'know?

...Or is this just a crazy pipe dream? I'd love to hear your thoughts - the more advice I can get on this subject, the better.

As much as visual novels and the anime thereof are completely uninteresting to me, I'm not quite bitter enough to dissuade smart, passionate people like yourself, who take the time to write a well-thought-out question, from doing something like that.

But, man, there's a lot of hoops, there.

For one thing, yeah, the Japanese companies that own the rights to those things have pretty much been told by Sony and the other platform holders that there ISN'T a market for those games in America. If you just tried to port those games as they are to the PSP in the US, Sony America would likely refuse it.

And that's the biggest hoop, I think. Ultimately the platform holders – Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo – have the final yea or nay over what goes on their system. Even though you'd be using the “clean” versions of these things, there might still be some resistance over some of the “risqué” elements, not to mention the niche audience you'd be marketing to.

Still, though! My personal suggestion would be to first, and foremost, set up a team of guys and girls that could, potentially, make this happen. Set up a proposal, perhaps even a small demo, of what you intend to do, and go from there. Easier said than done, sure, but if this has any or all likelihood of happening, you need to have something somewhat tangible that'll make sense to both the original Japanese companies as well as any potential publishers.

So, hold out hope! That sounds like a lot of work considering the odds, but if it makes it, you let me know. I will totally buy it. Honest.


Hey Answerman, I have a question that has been ebbing away at me. Back in high school, I was real gung-ho about anime, like I was really really into it. Now I am a freshman in college, and I find that I am not as gung-ho about anime like I used to be. I still like anime, but I have narrowed down my anime list quite dramatically, (which is a good thing on my wallet) I guess what I'm trying to say is, does this happen often with people who are/were anime fans? Has this happened where someone will be "gung-ho" about anime, and then after awhile it's like they get sedated, only being interested in some anime, if they even have interest left?

Happens all the time. Happened to myself, actually! And in many ways still does; I'll go through several spells where my capacity to watch anime and therefore maintain any sort of interest in it completely evaporates. Then I'll spend a month or two catching up on what I've missed and get sucked back into it again, rinse, repeat.

Certainly in my experience, there was a “honeymoon” period after I first discovered what anime really was when I was about 15 or so – I was so awed by everything that I was seeing for the first time, that I sort of made it my mission to watch and learn and read everything I could about it. I would watch every episode of a show that I hated (I still hate you, Weiß Kreuz), I would pore through every potential resource, both academical and not, trying to educate myself on the entire history of the medium, and since I was still young and thought I had a career being an animator/cartoonist (a foolish notion), I tried to apply the style and disciplines of anime to my own.

Then! I got into college, started working full-time, discovered lots of other things I was interested in, and essentially... became an adult. AnimeWorks around my schedule, instead of vice-versa. But at that same time, of course, I started applying all the skills and experience I was getting to my initial love of anime and everything around it, and, well. I'm writing this column now, apparently.

So don't be discouraged – it's not anime's fault, anime isn't getting worse, nor do I think you will find yourself completely disinterested in it. (Actually, any of those above things could potentially be true, but just work with me here.) You're just growing up, and life is beautiful. Anime can work around that.

For the record, I meant for that last statement to sound authentic, if a bit corny. No snideness intended.


And now, a follow-up question! Again I try to avoid these, but this was responding to the “How Anime Productions Are Made” question that Justin tackled last week, and I feel like there's a bit more to say on that, so. Just... go with my justification. Please.

Hello again!

Thank you (and Justin) for answering my question about the anime industry last week. I have two follow-up questions I'd like to ask:

1. If anime is made to sell the product it's featuring, and they're cutting down on the amount of shows they're willing to produce, why is it that there's always at least one show featuring a guy, his token harem, and an insanely weak plot? Do those shows really sell in Japan? They don't seem like they'd be worth producing.

2. How long does it take for a studio to produce an episode? Do they animate an episode on a weekly basis or do they animate the episodes weeks before the episode is set to air?

I certainly don't think those lousy harem shows are worth producing, but they DO sell, so what do I know? “Hikkikomori” shut-ins lap up doggerel like To-Love Ru and Sekirei like mana from heaven. Sadly, loser Otaku are so dedicated to their lifestyles as empty, soulless recluses that the concept of “shame” doesn't seem to penetrate. So unfortunately any sort of criticism or advice from outside sources that could tell these people that they could, I dunno, fall in love with a real girl or maybe even have consensual sex with a real girl if they just stepped out into the bustling utopia of a social existence... it just hits an impenetrable wall, like gnat on a car's windshield.

Er, tangent aside, as Justin stated last week, all of those shows are basically commercials for the DVD releases – which typically feature all the nudity and such the TV airings edit out. In fact, those production companies basically BUY the time from the TV networks to air them, so they're kinda like infomercials. Animated infomercials that are selling fan-service and nerd wish-fulfillment, instead of salad cutters and name brand knock-off jewelry.

And, no, heavens no, each episode isn't animated on a weekly basis. The average lead-time to actually animate an entire 22-minute episode of an animated series is about six to nine months. That's on average, though; something like South Park can obviously be done in a matter of days. Something like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, however, requires an incredible amount of time and effort, so it'll be several months after the episode is written and storyboarded when the animation is finished. And then there's post-production; music, dialog recording (since nearly all anime shows record their dialog After... The Animation is done, something which totally deflates the entire “DUBS RUIN ANIME” argument, but let's not get into that here), editing, and every other crazy thing an episode of a TV series needs to go through before it's allowed to air or get pressed onto a disc. It's an incredibly time-consuming process. I envy every animator's talent, but not their workload.

As a side note, I have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of old cartoons. I can't watch an old Disney movie or a Looney Tunes cartoon without pointing out to my friends that Milt Kahl hated drawing that character, or that Ken Harris animated the entire thing, and stuff like that. If you ever want to have a conversation about which Bill Tytla scene is the best, I am that guy.

Which leads us to a bit of a segue into...




...Flake of the Week, in order to put the whole Akemi Mokoto saga behind us, is taking a little hiatus. For this week, anyway. But mainly I wanted an excuse to post this fine reply to one of our earlier questions! Last week you'll remember I gave a few very basic pointers to someone wishing to make a career out of her art, and I got a lovely letter from Amy here, who works in the US animation industry!

Hi Brian.

You offered some good, very basic advice for those who are aspiring to get into the highly competitive animation industry. As someone who is also into the animation industry, I also have some sound advice that might help out those who want to be taken seriously in the field. Most of the advice I've been given was from actual animators from Disney, Dreamworks, and various independent individuals in the field.

1. Get your feet wet in America.
I'm sure everyone in ANN wants to be an animator in Japan. Japan is a very tough place to work in. 50+ hours a week drawing inbetweens (Those are the drawings “in between” the key poses, which are usually drawn by the director or the head animators -Brian), very little union support to prevent your boss from withholding your overtime pay, and most studios are apprehensive on hiring foreigners who don't speak native level Japanese. Speaking of pay, you're going to get very little of it. On average, animation studios pay entry level employees about $12,000 to $25,000 USD a year, less then half their American counterparts. It's a tough gig with very little reward.

America is still tough, but at least most studios are willing to pay you enough to eat. There are also better working conditions that are more friendly to students getting out of school.

2.Go to film/animation conferences/festivals.
No, not anime conventions. The serious business kind of conventions. The kind that can net you an internship with a top studio(i.e Disney) if you know how to play your cards right. Want to know if there is such a festival near you? Go online to websites like Animation World Network and find out! These festivals usually hosts workshops on how to animate, screenings, and lectures from professionals in the industry. The people smell and look a lot nicer too.

3.Take your Professor's critiques seriously.
They will probably have some very choice words to say about your "anime" style. Even though I won't know the exact words they will say, I can pretty much agree with the general consensus: For the love of all that is holy to your career, learn how to draw lifestudies! I have never heard a professional advise someone to "draw more animeish." Every now and then they will tell you to "loosen" up your work. That means to deconstruct your drawings to make them more guesturely. Don't have a clue what I just said? Ask your art teacher.

4. Books you MUST read:
  1. Animator's Survival Kit
  2. Illusion of Life

Your initial advice Brian is exactly what I would say if you had not already said it. By golly if anyone chooses to ignore me, I pray that they at least listen to you.

With many respects,
Amy

Personally, I'd recommend the Animator's Survival Kit and the Illusion of Life to anyone with even the most remote interest in animation – they're fascinating technical bibles written by some of the finest animators ever: Richard Williams, and Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, respectively.

Thanks, Amy! Have I mentioned how much I love talking about animation and cartoons? I mean besides the fact that I do it every week. Holy crap do I love it.





Hey Answerfans! It's back! Here's the question from last time:


And now, your responses! Some good ones this week.

Cynthia loves her some David Matranga:

Lately I've been trying to follow the work of voice actor David Matranga. I say 'trying,' because for whatever reason this talented actor just hasn't been in very many shows. He is probably best known for his role as Genjo Sanzo in Saiyuki. That had to have been one of the best dubbed shows ever, and what I point to when I hear the tiresome argument "the Japanese dub is better." Some of the other cast members have had prolific careers, notably Greg Ayres (Goku) and Vic Mignogna (Kougaiji), but I've heard Illich Guardiola (Gojyo) in only incidental roles and Braden Hunt (Hakkai, who sounded uncannily like the original Japanese actor) in nothing at all. Matranga voiced the title role in the ill-starred Orphen, which took a lot of grief for the fast-and-loose translation, but his performance was stellar. More recently he was in Le Chevalier d'Eon, which I haven't caught yet, Appleseed Ex Machina (Guardiola plays his character's clone), and the ADV release of the film 5 Centimeters Per Second. When ADV lost the rights to the latter, it was left to go out of print, and when picked up by BangZoom! Entertainment, was redubbed, with Johnny Yong Bosh doing Matranga's part. I am hoping that if Saiyuki Burial is ever dubbed, someone will have the smarts to round up the original cast, though I doubt that's likely, as the rights I think are still held by the company that brought in a new cast for the dubs of Saiyuki Reload and Saiyuki Reload Gunlock. So, Answerman, my lament to you is that must I return to Saiyuki and a narrow body of other work to hear David Matranga. Surely there is a place for such a talented actor in some recurring role. Look at Code Geass, that hot mess. There wasn't a Black Knight or Britannian or [fill in the blank of one of the 579 other factions] he could have brought to life? I recently saw a few episodes of Devil May Cry, and while Dante's voice wasn't bad, I kept thinking how much more characterful it would have been with Matranga in the part.

Not one, but TWO people wrote in to praise Mitsuru Adachi, of which I wholeheartedly agree. Here's Joshua's response:

Mitsuru Adachi.

Why?

1) He's regarded as one of the top mangaka in Japan, and yet a large part of the English-reading manga audience has never heard of him because only the Short Program anthologies (which are far from his best works) have been translated by Viz.

2) His contemporary, Rumiko Takahashi, has sold millions of copies of her books, and yet people claim that his art style and storytelling methods (which are similar) would never sell in the West.

3) He uses sports as a backdrop to tell deep, subtle stories about youth, ambition, human drama and relationships, and yet most people see "sports" and think he's one of those that make up absurd techniques and overglorify a sport.

4) Touch is regarded as the 7th most popular anime of all time in Japan (10 places ! ahead of Naruto), and yet most people are only discovering its' beauty now, after being exposed to the Cross Game anime.

I've been wondering about this dichotomy for the last five years or so... how could such a mangaka beloved by so many in Japan be almost completely ignored by the English-speaking world? If it wasn't for English scanlations, he would be almost totally unknown, and yet he's popular in most of South-East Asia as well, with official and unofficial translations into Chinese, Vietnamese and Malay. I've even heard rave reviews from fans in Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and France, so cross-cultural appeal doesn't seem to be a problem.

Can I conclude it's pure prejudice?

Has the taste of today's youth drifted towards flashy art with shallow storytelling?

Is he being marketed to the wrong audience? (Perhaps he should be targeted towards seinen audiences rather than shounen, even though most of his stories deal with shounen themes. I se! e him as catering to the same audience as the ARIA / AQUA franchise... older males who want the nostalgia of youthful dreams and a relaxing journey with characters they care about.)

Thankfully, the Cross Game anime is making waves this season and leading more people to appreciate his style of storytelling. If they overcome their prejudice against "sports anime" and actually watch it. But how long will it last?

Here's Wayspooled's love-letter to Adachi:

My answer is Adachi Mitsuru.  You're probably familiar enough with him to know he's been one of Japan's top writers since the early 80's and one episode of the Touch anime on 80's Japanese tv had more viewers than any other non-disaster related broadcast in their history.  His drawing is simple and pleasing and subtle and he's the greatest of romantic comedy storytellers.  It's just, American's aren't interested in long attention span anime in a subgenre that's doesn't have robots, ninjas, saving the world, vampires, magical girls or spaceships.  Oddly, his manga is published in french and italian and yet only a couple volumes of short stories are published here in the US.  They even made a live action drama of his H2 manga and that came out really well since the JDrama's are more storyline driven than graphics.

Saint Seiya is a guilty pleasure of mine, so George and I agree on this:

I think that mangaka Masami Kurumada is underappreciated, at least in North America.  Of course, I partially blame that on DiC, who really messed up with their adaptation of the Saint Seiya anime, but that's another thing entirely.  Anyway, Kurumada and his works are sorely not given the proper treatment and appreciation they deserve.  I have fully enjoyed every creation of his that I have read or seen (Saint Seiya, B't X, Ring ni Kakero 1, Fuma no Kojiro) because they stick to what they do best: Straight-up shonen action at its best.  Ring ni Kakero especially is underappriciated, partially due to the fact that most people don't know that Shonen Jump magainze owes a lot of its success and shonen action style to Ring ni Kakero (it debuted in 1977), and partially since it's just such a fun and enjoyable shonen anime.  Every one of his works that have been brought over to North America has had some problem with its release, and until one of his works is given a proper and unproblematic release it doesn't seem like Masami Kurumada will ever be appreciated enough over here.

Mind Game and Kemonozume are two of my favorite things ever, so of course I'm printing Ty's answer:

Masaaki Yuasa, without a doubt. this man is one of the most amazing anime directors out there right now, and yet barely anyone has even heard his name. when the movie Mindgame came out, it received quite a bit of praise from people outside the community. his recent series "Kaiba" was among the four to win the prize for Excellence in Animation at last year's Japan Media Arts Festival. it's a shame that none of this guy's stuff has never been licensed.

Again, TWO people responded with Osamu Tezuka! One of these days I will subject the masses to the original Japanese version of his animated Cleopatra epic, but until then, here's B.J.'s answer:

While this may seem like a cop out, I'm going to go with Osamu Tezuka.  I mean, everyone can attribute him with creating the modern anime and manga scene as we know it today.  He took small manga industry, focused on children's entertainment, and made it appeal to everyone (in Japan).  He started the Testuwan Atom anime and its appreciated international success and paved the way for exporting anime and manga to other countries.  I think we all generally know this kind of stuff.  Huzzah.

But have you actually read his manga?  Seriously, have you picked up a collection of his material and sat down and really read it?  The guy's a genius!  His Phoenix material is incredible, just as challenging and engaging as most independant or off-beat American comics.  Even the original Astro Boy stories with its shonen style action has a deep side to it, reflecting on the rights of robots at the same time as Asimov!  And that's just two series.  He created several!!

I think the anime community generally reveres Osamu Tezuka as the godfather of manga and anime and I'm sure we thank him for it.  But what does go unappreciated is his own stories and works.  The guy just didn't do lot of stuff, he did a lot of stuff REALLY WELL!!  And he should be known, not just as the guy who gave anime and manga life, but as an incredible creator, writer, and artist within his medium.

And here's Mira's Tezuka-love:

That would be easy. Single person unappreciated by my thoughts (at least over here in the states) is Osamu Tezuka. For those who don't know who he is; He is the Creator of Astro Boy, Black Jack and Kimba. This guy is just...amazing. In Japan, he is like Walt Disney over here, if not bigger. In fact, he was inspired by Disney. His comics had great influence in Japanese culture-Heck, even I didn't know about him until I went panel about him at a con. It is amazing that the western anime fandom knows so little about the guy, considering that  single-handedly he created the majority of Character archtypes and geners we see in anime today. Although I will guess many know about the guy, it just boggles my mind as to how little of the 14 to 20 somethings don't even know about him....

Flaed gives some love to an unseen but not unloved director:

When I think about under-appreciated talent right now, Takahiro Omori is springing to mind - because people seem to really love the shows he directs, but nobody seems to be aware that he's directing them! But I just got through the amazing (if gory) third volume of Baccano! (absolutely worth the price of singles, guys! buy buy buy!), I think Koi Kaze is one of the best anime I've ever seen, and am making my leisurely way through Natsume Yuujin-Cho on Crunchyroll and also loving it. If lightning strikes three times like that, I think it can't be an accident.

Not to mention Gakuen Alice (on pre-order) and Hell Girl (will buy sometime in the near future), concerning which I have seen mostly good things.

Everyone else I can think of gets some degree of recognition. But if Takahiro Omori got a new show announced tomorrow, I don't think he'd draw even "Omori sux he's gonna ruin this just like he did Baccano! what a hack" people, and you know you are not making the big time when people do not even bother to hate you on the Internet. I guess Tsuneo Kobayashi could also deserve some love - everything he does seems to be classified as "a refreshing take on a standard subject" with no attention to the man behind the curtain, but I've only seen Emma and bits of Super GALS! so I don't feel qualified to say that.

Animators seem to be generally ignored by most people, but I am honestly as guilty of that as anyone else aside from a handful of names.

Well, and there were three dub actresses that I really noticed near the end of ADV's heyday that I thought were fantastic - Natalie Arneson (Sayuri, Kanon), Tiffany Terrell (Makoto, same), and Stephanie Wittels (Misaki, Welcome to the NHK) - but they seem to have not gotten much attention and disappeared in all the chaos last summer. A shame.

For Christ's sake I asked for one person, Nicholas! But I agree with you so:

The most underappreciated people in the anime industry, I would argue, would be the background artists.  The style of character designers can be easily reconized like Naru Nanao or Noizi Ito, but it seems like people often gloss over the backgrounds, many of which are highly detailed.

Finally, Hakojo is felled by a gentle seiyuu:

I'm sure there's plenty of talent out there in the anime and manga industry that doesn't get nearly as much attention as it should, but my personal choice for the most underappreciated person in the entire realm of anime and manga would have to be voice actress Satou Yuuko.

I wouldn't be surprised if you've never heard of her. She's had about three or four remotely major roles in her entire 10+ years of sporadic voice acting, the most widely known of which was probably Lust in the Japanese dub of Fullmetal Alchemist, where she got to show off her beautiful low, mellow voice to great effect. She's one of those talents who's instantly recognizable, yet has the ability to fit perfectly into whatever role she's given and make it completely captivating. I loved her as Lust, forlornly staring through a broken window and pondering where she'd come from and where she'd be going. I lost my heart to her as Asakura Yoh from Shaman King, where she portrayed brilliantly each of the character's moods, from sunny, unshakable optimism to unbridled rage. Even now, few things cheer me up like hearing "nantoka narutte" in Ms. Satou's gentle voice, accompanied by the sweet, vaguely annoying laugh she used. Heck, I even enjoyed her as Genzou's mother in Oh! Edo Rocket, as miniscule a part as that was. She just shines so brilliantly in each and every one of her roles, and I wish that she was more widely recognized, even if she doesn't get much in the way of screentime to show off her gorgeous voice and wonderful acting skills.

Ms. Satou can also be an incredible singer, not that anyone would know. If you've heard her singing voice at all, it was probably in either "Silent Weapon" or "Tamashii Kasanete", both insert songs from Shaman King (they were really adamant about making all of the seiyuu sing for that show), and both of which are passable at best. If you do a bit of digging outside the actual content of that anime, though, and move into the character albums, you'll find the song "With Determined Passion", a more serious, emotional piece which features some truly haunting vocals. If there was an entire album of her that actually stylistically fit her voice instead of being the same uniform, pop sludge that all seiyuu seem to have have to slog through and that very few can actually do well, I would import it at the drop of at hat. Actually, I would probably import a pop sludge album too, just because there is not nearly enough of Ms. Satou's voice out there, good or bad. The last I heard from her, she was only singing backup for Paku Romi, and even there she was amazing. It's a shame that such talent should go to waste.

Given that Ms. Satou is such a versatile actress and that she can actually sing, I'm surprised that she doesn't have more major roles in merchendise-driven anime where likeable characters and seiyuu willing to record single albums for marketing purposes are a must. Instead, she remains under the rock of relative obscurity, coming out a few times a year to lend her talents to some bit character or other. I can only hope that sooner or later she'll do justice to another prominent role, one that will land her some much-deserved recognition and appreciation. In the meantime, at least I've made you consider her in the time it took you to read these few paragraphs, and if they can spawn an "Oh yeah, I remember that voice! She was great!" or two, they will not have been written in vain.

And now, here's your question for next week. Get crackin'!




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.

Parting is such sweet something something. I'll be around next week to do more of this thing, unless I explode or die of pig-flu!


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