Hey, Answerman!by Brian Hanson, Jun 12th 2009
Hey guys! It's that glorious time of the week, yet again - when I assault your various senses with my biting wit and acerbic bon mots, as always with the questions and the answers. Maybe.
Moving along, then, to the first question:
I've been reading the column for a while now and I have noticed that you have been hit by a barrage of questions relating to working for the animation industry. I've also noticed that everyone wants to be in the art field or otherwise doing the illustrations. So here is my question: What about the writers? How does a studio go about hiring or otherwise selecting the writers for a show? Do studios have large collections of writers or only a small handful? Personally, I have felt that as great as the visuals of a show may be, without a decent script the whole thing just falls flat. What do you think?
Actually, getting hired to write for animation isn't that different of a process than getting hired as an artist; it involves the same amount of personal toil and uncertainty and formal training and odds so overwhelming that most people give up before they start.
As for the particulars of your question: "writing" for anime, especially largely commercial properties like TV shows and such, is typically driven by the needs of the production committee (as Justin Sevakis pointed out in a past column, the army of producers and financiers that bankroll a particular project) as well as the director. These people tend to seek out writers they've either worked well with in the past - like the prolific ones, such as Sadayuki Murai or Keiko Nobumoto - or writers they admire from live-action work or novels. It's unusual to see more than one or two writers attached to any project; a stark contrast to animation in the US, where each new animated film or TV series tends to have an army of staff writers, freelancers, and others trying to put their own stamp on a cartoon. That's not to say that one method is superior to the other, it's just a different approach.
But, anyway. Trying to make it as a writer in animation? Write. Write lots. Write spec scripts, write real scripts, write plays and screenplays and short stories and everything else you can potentially think of, and get it published. Avoid getting things self-published if you can, unless you're the next Nabokov. Only talented and connected people make it in the entertainment industry, but it's far easier to be connected if you're talented. And voluminous.
When one has a product they want to sell, TV commercials are usually a great way to go, so my question is why we don't see commercials sponsored by ADV or Funimation promoting their most recent acquisition in the anime market? Granted it wouldn't make much sense to show the commercial during House or Bones or something, but surely there are some time blocks and major networks where these commercials would hit the desired demographic? I'm just wondering because it seems that the current anime market revolves heavily around word of mouth recommendations and information that's passed down through ANN, and this word of mouth, friend-to-friend method may be an element in the popularity of fansubs.
TV commercials for anime aren't entirely unheard of; Tokyopop, in their heyday a few years ago, used to routinely push TV commercials showcasing a variety of new manga on networks like Spike TV and Adult Swim. Bandai, Viz, and Funimation have also made commercials for Adult Swim promoting a few DVDs of their top-tier titles.
Unfortunately, TV ratings are down, revenue for DVD sales are down all around, and the liquid cash needed to justify such an unessential expenditure has all but dried up. The general consensus seems to be that their top-tier titles don't really need TV commercials in order to sell to their audience, and using commercials to promote anything smaller than an A-list product is a waste of resources.
Essentially, anime is back in its little niche. I doubt we'll even see too many commercials for Disney's release of Ponyo in August; even though it's opening "wide" on over 800 movie screens, Disney is probably wise to the fact that the core anime fans will already be well aware of its existence, and will likely drop a few ads on The Disney Channel or ABC Family since they own those networks, and that will be the end of that. The bigger coup for advertising these days is the internet, naturally. Big, gaudy, screen-halting flash ads that clutter up IMDB when all I'm trying to do is remember that movie with Michael Ironsides. Guh.
Personally, I think TV ads for anime is kind of a waste. As of right now, there is no "wider audience" for anime and manga. This has been proven time and again in recent years. Once I see proof otherwise, I might reconsider my statement.
I got a new book in from amazon last week, Simon Richmond's "A Rough Guide to Anime". I have read several books about anime already (Gillies Poitras "Anime Essentials" and his "Anime Companion" volume one and two, and Patrick Drazen's "Anime Explosion").
It's interesting that a lot of the same early titles come up (Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Gigantor, Macross, Gundum, etc.), but as time rolls on we have more and more anime coming out. As we are rounding out our "00" decade, what English market released titles will make the books in 30-40 years. Anything from 2000 to today and feel free to include anything on the horizon that will be released that you think will make an impact in 09 or 2010.
As has been said by some guy that I'm too lazy to research on Wikipedia, "history is written by the winners." And by that I mean that the titles with the biggest impact are what's likely to wind up in those books 30 years from now. Sadly, there aren't too many of those, and many of the shows that started to hit it big in the early part of the decade, like Dragon Ball Z and Cowboy Bebop, were several years old before they gained their notoriety from TV broadcasts.
So, Spirited Away is, of course, the prime candidate for the history books. Mainly due to the simple and shallow fact that it won an Academy Award, a feat that literally guarantees psuedo-intellectual wankery decades hence. I'd put FLCL on that list as well, not just because it's awesome, but because it's awesome *and* popular. Fullmetal Alchemist is another show I'd wager on, ditto InuYasha and Naruto. In a perfect world I would be the one writing this book in 30 years, and I would spend pages waxing B.S. philosophy about Mind Game and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and the Rebuild of Evangelion, but by then I'll probably be a shallow shell of a man wrecked by a life of drugs and failed relationships, so my anime book in 2039 would be a largely William S. Burroughs-esque acid trip of insanity with as little to do with anime as possible.
Of course, that's all speculative. As for anything on the horizon that might make it? I hope that Mamoru Hosoda's upcoming Summer Wars is a breakout transformative hit that everybody loves, but aside from that, nothing terribly exciting springs to mind.
Last week I wondered aloud why I don't get hate mail. And I got several responses!
I'm going to go ahead and tell you why you don't get any hate mail and Zac did. Your a nice guy, and Zac was a caustic, condescending, thoroughly unsocial tool. Thats cool though, cause we loved him for his merciless campaign against stupidty. So if you really want more flakes, simply put your conscience in a jar and start taking interpersonal relationship advice from Zac.
P.S. More bunnie pics plz.
KARBLE MAJIGGER SUBBALE FACKTURE FALONE DAGNABIT ARSEFACE HOTPOTATO
You Shuld Really Think Mor About Wat You Sai, Coz When You Where All Angry At That One Piece Downloadguy You totally Forgot About Non-usa Fans of The Show! We Cant Watch One Piece On The FUNimation So He Upload It For US! I Think you We're Smart Butt Your really Just STupid! I'll Will Never Read Your Colum Again EVER!
How Do You Like That huh?! Bet It Pisses you Off Allright!
I'm passing out some well desired hate cuz reading your crappy articles every week is mentally painful; "I hate you and you suck." *evil hugs*
Thanks to everyone who wrote in! I feel much better now.
And now it's Hey, Answerfans time! I step down effervescently from my soapbox and hand my spit-stained megaphone to you, the readers. Here's last week's question for those who don't remember these things:
Starting things out! I uncensored Lambdadriver's language because I want to be involved in lowering the bar on national discourse:
Streaming is like the Red-headed bastard stepchild of anime. Know anyone who makes a living off of making streaming videos? I don't. All the streaming attempts to make anime legally available haven't made a dent in fansubs and they won't. Ever. Because fans don't want to have to re-download an ep every time they watch it (which is essentially the definition of streaming) they want to DL a file that can play on their preferred media player anytime they want, without depending on an internet connection constantly. Then there is the issue of quality, a higher quality stream increases the demand for bandwidth and increases needed buffering times, ironically streaming is a self defeating system once you get into HD quality ranges. Of course the solution to that is to just stream at crappy quality levels. Download to own is the future of digital distribution, if it wants to survive. Streaming is too transitory/fad based to be the basis of a stable business model. Also there is a difference between a streaming based social networking site(YouTube) and a primary content provider(CR) thou both entities use streaming they have very different goals/business models so drawing comparisons between such things is risky.
Kyle offers a dissenting view from that above:
As it is something that I've grown to like over the years as I have grown, I can't tell what the future holds, but I do believe that online video streaming could be indeed the future of Anime. However, that also keeps in mind that FUNi doesn't have any more hiccups when it comes to their video streaming. I have enjoyed countless hours of watching miscellaneous old anime from the original series of those anime series online on YouTube. (Watching the First Season of Yu-Gi-Oh! brought fond memories of playing the card game as a kid!), and I do believe that what you said in response to my question before is indeed correct. These network stations are dying out as we're headed into a more technology age. CN is heading further down the tubes, but Anime has lost a lot of ground on TV unfortunately, but it is great that we live in an age in which we can watch shows on the internet and enjoy them without much trouble, as long as things stay the course, and we don't have idiots like the one who stole the One Piece episode.
Nick cuts a swath right down the middle of the debate. Yes, that's right. A swath:
Streaming video seems to be what everyone points to as the alternative to fansubs, as the cure for what ails the anime industry. I think it has an important role to play, but that role is not as a primary distribution channel.
When stacked up against the alternatives - DVD release, fansubs, or digital downloads, streaming video, quite frankly, sucks in comparison to any of them in video quality. You can expand a smaller streamed video, but that generally makes the visual quality worse. It's not something that would be a deal-breaker, but if I know I'm liking a series and I want to get the most enjoyment out of it, I'm going to aim for a distribution format with better video and audio quality. In addition to this, although high-speed internet has become relatively common in the U.S. (I can't really speak for other countries' situation on this front), streaming video can still be choppy, depending on the amount of internet traffic in your area or the overall speed of your connection.
Streaming video has one ace category, though, and that's accessibility. Streaming video has no codecs to download, no file formats one need concern themselves with, and is, in general, about as easy as slapping a DVD into the a tray and hitting "Play." That is the strength of streaming video. If I hear about a series and it sounds interesting but I don't know much about it, streaming video is an excellent way to find out if it's something I'm going to like. Being able to see the first 5-8 episodes of a series in this fashion could feasibly clinch a purchase later down the line.
The other issue here is that a lot of the anime-watching audience doesn't have all that much in the way of disposeable income, and to those for whom buying the DVDs aren't an easy option, streaming video may easily represent a viable way to watch an entire series, in which case, there has to be some way of monetizing that - ad-support being the primary one I can think of.
So, as I see things, streaming video is well prepared to assume the role of the universal "deluxe sampler" for series, but as a viable method for full-series distribution, I think it loses to DVDs and digital downloads.
Chelsea cuts a non-swatch of cheery optimism:
In answer to your question about the role of streaming video online impacting the future of anime, I think its going to turn into one of the best things that has happened to the business. Having worked for a large anime company at a couple of anime conventions, I was able to help promote upcoming titles while in costume, and found that I was more recognized and had more people who were interested in asking me questions about the series and the character, than if I had been wearing something from an anime that wasn't streamed or released in the US (also note, most of these people admitted to watching the series on the company website, and how happy they were to see it before it was released). I've never been a big supporter of fansubs (although a lot of my friends are), and have been hearing a lot lately about how fewer and fewer groups are subbing animes, because companies like FUNimation are streaming them on their sites for free.
It's a good PR move on the companies part, and will most likely boost sales of the anime when its released on DVD, in my opinion. I know a lot of people who are anxiously awaiting the DVD release of the title Romeo X Juliet, after seeing the subbed version on the FUNimation site. A synopsis of an anime can only tell you so much; being able to watch it, and see the characters on the screen, and the uses of color, and the scenery, etc. is really what anime is all about. So, to be able to preview things like this, and decide based on that whether or not you actually want to purchase the anime is in the long run going to boost sales.
In short? Streaming is going to change the industry, from the inside out, and it will be for the best.
Ashkahchan has the future on his/her mind:
I actually do believe that steaming video can have a big influence on anime in the future. Unfortunately, it has to evolve from its current state to do so. As it is now, I only see it backfiring in on itself. Streaming anime online has huge potential for the distribution companies, but right now, it's untapped potential.
The main purpose for streaming videos currently seems to be to deter the distribution of fansubs. Moralistically, that is a great thing to try to do. Is it practical? If gone about it the right way, yes, it is. Is it profitable to the companies? At the moment... absolutely not. Whether it is legal or illegal, free is still free, and the companies don't benifit at all in that department. Is it sensible? Again, if done the right way, then yes, it is. But, right now, the companies are not going about it the way they need to, to garner the best results.
The companies are putting all their focus on what holds the most popularity. Yes, Naruto is popular. Bleach. One Piece. FMA. All popular. But you know what, they also have more then 300+ episodes to them, and simulcasting One Piece starting from episode 376 is going to confuse a crap-load of people. I mean think about it, Naruto: Shippuuden is currently up to episode 112, okay? Lets say that your loyal amercan fanbase has only seen dubbed up to episode 98 of the original Naruto, yet here you are, simulcasting ep.112 of Shippuuden. You have just alienated your entire profitting demographic in one go. Why? Because they are watching this simulcasted episode going "What's going on? Who in the world are they? Why are those two fighting when they are supposed to be friends? Where did that move come from? And what do they MEAN such-in-such is DEAD?!" They have absolutely no clue what is going on. And it's not like they could go back and catch up, because ep.99 of the original thru ep.111 of Shippuuden is not legally available to them.
On the fan-subbers side, people who download fansubs are not likely to switch subbing groups in the middle of a series, especially not one as long-running as those mentioned above. Why? Because any person who downloads fansubs knows that the translation of a series can differ from group to group, and if you have to change in the middle of a series, the discrepensies in translations can have the potential to drive you up the wall.One very prominant example being the use of shinigami vs. death god vs. soal reaper in Bleach. For that reason, people who download fansubs tend to try to stay with one group for as long as they can for continuity purposes.
I think that if a company is going to simulcast a series, they need to start with a series that they can air from episode one to the end of the series. That is the best way to deter fansubbers, because a group is more likely not to pick up a series at all, than to drop one they're in the middle of, and have already committed time and resourses into subbing. But that's just the tip of the iceburg. There is a lot more potential to be had with streaming videos, if the companies using the option can find a way to unlock it. But that is a whole nother discussion in of itself.
Mark sheds a tear for Blu-Ray Disc:
Streaming video is most certainly going play a big role in the way anime is distributed. Honestly I'm surprised how fast the Japanese have allowed this to happen, back when everything was switching to DVD the Japanese wanted the Americans to stick to the dying dinosaur that was VHS. But ever since Gonzo posted their shows on YouTube last year, it seems one by one other companies were jumping on the bandwagon. Now almost everyone has a YouTube channel, or a place on another site like Crunchyroll. Some people have said that this is the future and I kind of agree. With a generation that has gotten use to downloading stuff and watching what they want when they want, there's probably no way they'd go back to waiting until something comes out or being told what time on what day to watch a show.
Will this practice effect production of hard copies, like blu-ray? Some "experts" not only say yes, but go as far to say wipeout hard copies completely. I know a few people who've downloaded fansubs back when it was a huge problem and would later go on to buy the shows the really enjoyed, because there is something about having the hard copy. If people think a show is really worth not only their time, but their money they will spend both on it. If this streaming video thing does take off like we all think, the most we'll probably see is just less blu-rays being produced and marketed to those who are avid video collectors.
Michael isn't so sure about all this:
As long as there's no centralized, easy-to-follow, idiot-level guide, with screenshots and tutorial videos, available for free on regular DVD and/or the Internet; no guarantee of steady, reliable broadband Internet connectivity for the entire country, and no native English-speaking 24-7-365 phone call center, there will never be any use for streaming video replacing DVDs. The vocal minority of tech-savvy Internet users that watch anime is greatly outnumbered by the silent majority that just knows how to double-click a file to play it after installing CCCP.
Beyond that, you're opening the gates to all kinds of issues: you can bet that no matter how secure a video stream is, someone will find a way to rip and distribute it. Encode it all you want - look at DeCSS' spread and all the DVD codebreaker programs that the above vocal minority knows how to use. Hell, the One Piece leak was just someone getting the directory contents and entering a link into their browser, then downloading the .flv file once they had the source.
Also, how long will these streams be available? If I'm paying X amount to "purchase" a stream I darn well better have access to it in perpetuity. Buying a DVD means it's yours as long as you keep it intact. But if some IT policymaker decides that it's time to free up some space on the customer-facing servers to improve performance, and my stream of Project A-Ko is gone because of it, you're basically stealing and destroying my personal property and it's under interstate commerce. Bam, instant federal case.
There won't be any changes to piracy - the secured streams coming out of Japan will be cracked and distro'ed like they already are no matter what the quality, and there's no market for the business model so long as piracy is cheaper than the official stream.
And finally, Luke offers his professional insight into the matter:
As a runner of an Anime Streaming website (a completely legal one I hesitate to add) and also a user of the Funimation streaming service, I beleive I am reasonably well placed to discuss the constraints of the Anime Streaming market.
Streaming has always been seen to be for those who did not know or did not have the computing capabilities to download fansubs. Therefor streaming sites such as mine are often the first resource for many newcomers of anime. The sheer ease of use as having hundreds of titles a click away means that streaming will always be the easiest option for most users and many will probably see no need to convert to another source. But the significant drop in quality and strain on some people's internet can also make unnappealing.
"AHA!" I hear you say, what about funimations 720p and other higher quality streaming options? Without going into a rant about how funimation fail at aspect ratio's and the resulting distorted pixilation, the difficulty with this high quality is that you may as well download the fansubs and have them available whenever you like, rather than having to buffer each time you want to watch an episode or have to go through Funimation's website repeatedly. Its far easier to download a series overnight, whatever your download speed, and then watch at your own discretion at the improved quality.
Lets not forget that the fansubbers are professionals themselves, nor are they going to stand back and let streaming sites get the better of them, they too will evolve to stay one step ahead and will always be the chosen option for 'elitist' online anime viewers.
Thus streaming I beleive should remain lower quality and accessible to all, for those seeking higher quality who have the internet capabilities, fansubs will always be superior, perhaps a sad fact, but true. Instead they should focus on a simple, fast and reliable service so that anime newcomers never feel the need to download fansubs, and thus streaming site can retain their share of the market. After all, the benefits of streaming are fantastic both for the provider and consumer as transportaion, storage and (according to Funimation) security costs are cut, allowing the provider a greater share of the profit and the consumer a reduced price. Granted servers need to be set up but this service is still relatively inexpensive.
I guess my conclusion is that anime streaming will always remain, but I wish companies like Funimation would stop trying to compete with fansubbers, and focus instead on providing an effective if minimalistic system. This in my view is what will allow streaming to become the platform on which anime reaches a wider audience in the future.
Thanks and I hope Funi sort out their security properly this time!
Really terrific responses, everyone! And now to the all-important question for next week, which is printed below in typeface resembling .jpeg artifacts:
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.
And now, gentle readers, I'm off to parts unknown for unspecified reasons in order to return sometime with something else, maybe.
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