Hey, Answerman! - Abnormal Activity 2by Brian Hanson, Oct 29th 2010
Alright, well then! It's Halloween weekend and I'm in a mighty voracious mood for some booze and Halloween candy, so let's make this intro brief!
One positive note though, it looks like everybody got the hint - nobody sent me any questions about working in the anime industry this week! My non-denominational prayers have been answered!
I'm generally in a conundrum of loving anime and manga, but having almost no money, so the prices of anime figures frustrates me. Why are some of them so expensive? I was looking at figures from a few series (such as Toaru Majutsu no Index and Spice and Wolf among others), and the prices are pretty staggering, generally upwards of $100. I've heard the arguments of anime figures having great attention to detail and therefore costing more to produce, but figures from other series (such as big ones like Bleach and Naruto, but others as well) can seem to be similar in quality and only cost around $20 each. Are these others really that inferior and only worth a fraction as much? Are they more expensive because they don't sell as much? Or because they sell more? Is it only this expensive because those series aren't as popular in the US and have to be bought from overseas? Or am I just looking to buy them in the wrong places?
The general metric, for figurines at least, is that the price isn't exactly equivalent to the supposed "quality" of the figure. The price is usually determined by its own scarcity.
By which I mean, these figures aren't simply "toys." These are models and figures aimed at a post-adolescent collector's market. A market that they, perhaps incorrectly, assume has nothing but disposable income at their fingertips. So at that point, it becomes a matter of simple math; how many individual figures can they conceivably sell, and still make a profit?
With a show like Bleach or Naruto, that's an easy question. They can crank out over 10,000 or so figures from numerous characters and the fans'll eat them up, and quick. Those are popular shows with devoted fans around the globe. Something like Spice & Wolf, though? That show has its fans, I know, but... how many of those fans are also toy collectors? Once you start fracturing a niche audience from an already niche audience, suddenly it doesn't make any sense to produce tens of thousands of figurines anymore.
Which is why those figures you want and crave and covet cost upwards of 100 or 200 dollars. Those figures are limited, in scarce quantities, and marketed solely to the hardcorest of the hardcore. And the hobby shops that peddle these figures know this, hence the seemingly outrageous markup.
As much as I'd like to be in your court and go to bat for you and stand up and say "yeah, those prices sure suck!" I can't really say much else other than... that's just the way it is, dude. Those high prices for figures based on shows that aren't super-popular global powerhouses are just gonna stay. Unless you want them to forgo "quality" and crap out a bunch of janky, low-quality toys of Happy-Meal caliber to better suit your budget.
As far as "buying them from the wrong places," no. Discounting second-hand eBay retailers, if you're looking at a good-quality figure for a lesser-known show and the cheapest you can seem to find it is for about 100 dollars, it means you aren't going to open up a package from Taiwan that contains a shoddy bootleg and a plastic facsimile of disappointment. If you stumble upon a website that's got the figure you've always wanted for a price that's too good to be true, it probably is. Any legit hobby shop worth their salt is savvy about knowing the precise worth of their figures.
I'll be frank, I had to quell my sickly, diseased urge for toy collecting pretty early on in my formative years of fandom. Weeks of drooling over "perfect" scale models of Veritechs from HobbyLink Japan was too brutal for my young mind, and I quickly had to massage that instinct out of my brain. It still pops up now and again when I'm at conventions and brave the hallowed halls of the dealer's room, but I manage to conquer that usually by buying a small, six-dollar capsule toy or a keychain and calling it a day.
With the creation of shows based upon primarily non-Japanese works and mediums such as Romeo X Juliet, Powerpuff Girls Z, Deltora Quest and the like and others influenced by outside elements and events (Le Chevalier D'Eon and Scrapped Princess), I was wondering if it could be possible for the Japanese anime industry to expand their material outside of their own cultural borders or whether these will remain Anime with little reach outside of their native country?
Just real quick, it should be noted that Anime has been cribbing from Western books and cartoons and movies for quite some time now - Just ask Mike Toole!
I'd really *like* to say that I think these shows could have a broader appeal simply based on their origins as Western books and properties, I'm going to posit the theory that they, sadly, won't. Anime's reputation in the Western world of media consumption is pretty much poisonous now - without a solid string of hits to coast off the initial anime boom of the early 2000's, anime has been written off as irrelevant. (Aside from the odd Miyazaki film or two.) And high-profile flops like Dragonball: Evolution and the Speed Racer movie have only confirmed this fact in the minds of people who have already decided that they Simply Don't Care Anymore.
So, no, even with the allure of Shakespeare or Western-friendly kids' fantasy, I don't see any of those shows having much, if any, real impact outside of the small and jaded but caring community of anime fans that already exist here. The big problem with that, I think, is that none of those shows you mentioned - and I'm blanking on any other Western-thing-inspired series of recent note either - are really "good" enough to merit a mainstream response. The two that stood the best shot at achieving that success are probably Le Chevalier D'Eon and Scrapped Princess - the former for its outlandish and interesting style, and the latter for its straightforward fantasy story - but in the end it's hard to push for a wider audience to watch ANY anime series, no matter it's origins, if it's only "pretty good."
And really, when you look back at the few anime titles that truly *did* hit it big in the mainstream - Akira, Dragon Ball Z, Spirited Away, FLCL, Ghost in the Shell - you'll notice that there is absolutely nothing "Western inspired" about them. Cowboy Bebop is the lone exception in this instance. The reason people responded to those shows and ignored the rest is all a matter of quality. People saw in those shows things that they don't normally see, and normally don't see done that well. The reason Bebop worked is because it wasn't just a show of Western references through a uniquely Japanese lens; people loved that show because it was resonant and superbly well-made, and the references and Western aesthetic were just icing.
I know that Crunchyroll is far and away having there best season in terms of streaming. However I am worried about the lack of simulcasting from 2 out of the 4 companies who have done them up until now, and about the current loss of 3 simulcast for the aniplex titles. I am worried in particular by the silence from Funimation about their simulcast, since I know everyone in the fansubbing community had been avoiding doing shows like index 2 and soredemo since they assumed they would go to Funimation based on what they have done in the past. Do you have an idea why there is the contradiction between decreased sources of simulcasts and their increased popularity?
For perhaps the best answer to the Funimation question, check out last week's ANNcast, where Zac grilled Funimation guru Lance Heiskell on a variety of topics. To summarize the simulcast question, when Funimation acquires a show for simulcast, they're not *just* owning the simulcast. They like to own the rights for DVDs, broadcast, and everything else. And since when you simulcasting, you have really no clue as to how the rest of the show will look or perform, it's a tricky business venture for a company that's still making its bread and butter on DVD sales. The reason they're cutting back on simulcasting this season isn't because simulcasting is dead, or it doesn't work, or any of that stuff - there simply isn't any big, big title on Funimation's radar this season that's worth that instant investment. They aren't giving up on it, not at all. They're just waiting for something big to come by that's worth their time.
Regarding the Aniplex shows; oftentimes when the contracts for streaming shows are ironed out, they're only allowed streaming rights for a certain duration of time. It's an old move Carl Macek used often in the 80's - it's how he got a dubbed print of Castle in the Sky in US theaters for about a year or so, before the rights reverted back to Tokuma Shoten. It's a way to get licenses for big shows relatively cheaply, basically. And it's also no different, really, than the way certain movies and TV shows work on Netflix. You'll notice on several high-profile American TV shows on Instant Watch have an expiration date, and once that date is passed, the show passes through the emerald tubes of the internet, waving farewell with a wistful expression.
Basically, the reason there's a bit of a discrepancy at all with simulcasts is all due to different contracts, and rights issues, and the sort of legal wrangling that always hampers new and useful technology. It's not ideal, no, but it's the best we got right now.
No flakes this week!!!!
And now for the SPOOKIEST ANSWERFANS EVER!!!
Okay so that's a total lie. Here was last week's question you all took to answering:
Sam starts us out by sayin' that maybe he's got some good ideas, who knows, whatever:
While I believe that manga creators should write their stories as they see fit, I think they should hear what the fans have to say, take it into consideration, and if it's something that sounds like a good idea they should use it, at least to some degree (I myself have a few ideas that would've helped Bleach). And if not, don't use it. It's the creators' stories and they should do what they think is best for them, but a little input from the people they're making mangas for every now and then wouldn't hurt to give them some (hopefully good) ideas.
Ben can Tenchi it up as many times as he wants, according to me:
"If I ran my business by what the message boards and the Internet wanted, I would have been out of the business." -Joe Quesada, Marvel Comic Editor-In-Chief, in a 2004 interview with Wizard Magazine
The above quote pretty much sums up my feelings towards fan input. Sure, popularity polls are all fine and good, but there's a world of difference between pleasing the fanbase and making something original. There's an old saying from Walt Disney that you should "always leave them wanting more", but clearly, those fans who wanted more Dragon Ball, more Tenchi Muyo!*, more Gundam Seed, more Gundam 00 and more Haruhi didn't take heed of the above quote (and as a result, we got stuck with Dragon Ball GT, Tenchi in Tokyo*, Tenchi Muyo! OVA 3*, Gundam Seed Destiny, and the hideous abomination known as "Endless Eight"). Sometimes, moderation is a good thing, and knowing when to get off the stage may be the smartest move for a particular show (like Cowboy Bebop or Gurren Lagann).
Then, of course, there are domestic anime companies that bet their entire fortune on a series that was ultra-popular in Japan, yet end up completely self-destructing when said series bombs stateside (*cough*bandaiandluckystar*cough*). And yet, around the same time, two other series that were brilliant and free of fan influence (namely FLAG and Zegapain) end up by the wayside (unloved by many anime fans who missed out on a pair of gems) as a result of a certain domestic distributor backing the wrong horse. (Now that I think about it, not even a license-rescue could keep the brilliant-yet-underrated Kamichu! from wallowing in the depths of obscurity, and that series didn't have to succumb to such ridiculous demands as giving Yurie a fully-animated musical dance number or making Matsuri and Mitsue into a vaguely hinted-at couple.)
The theory that some of the best series have the least amount of fan input isn't without flaws, however, as once upon a time, a series that was pretty much ignored by everyone for being awfully generic (despite zero fan input) somehow arrived stateside from Geneon a few years ago despite the fact that no one had heard of it and it had nothing that made it stand out (that series was known as Cybuster; bet you thought I was going to say ANNCast's most-beloved series, didn't you?)
In summation, as I stated above, some of the best TV series and movies (at least the ones I've seen) have the least amount of fan input. (I mean, could you imagine if fan feedback forced the staff of "Junkers Come Here" to change the title character from a dog into a cat? And what if said fans also got into a frenzy over Kotaro from "Sword of the Stranger" not being a little girl, or Makoto from "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" not looking cute enough? UGH!)
(*Note: I swear, this is the last time I'll mention anything Tenchi-related in "Hey Answerfans!".)
I could give Kayla a rough estimate on the amount of prostitutes I've forced into Faye Valentine costumes, but I won't:
The "character rankings" bit caught my attention right away. I've got a lot of ground to cover first, but bear with me because I do have an answer to this question. I recently read a list of the most popular female anime characters as they were voted upon by Japanese viewers. Let's face it, female characters make the anime industry. The Japanese Schoolgirl is iconic enough to be acknowledged even by non-anime-fans. The majority of shows that come out these days have, to varying degrees, casts of mostly female characters, for a long list of reasons, the most prominent being that they're marketable. Whether you're selling an adorable Tsukasa Hiiragi or some curvaceous and half-naked heroine, the female characters are usually key. Anyway, getting back to the list. I was initially in a mix of shock, disgust and secondhand embarrassment when I saw some of the high-ranking characters.
One of the most popular girls: Mikuru Asahina of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. In a series that I admittedly like, this character makes me want to rip off my own ears if it would stop the sound of her incessant whining and crying. The most useless, pointless blob of a character I've ever seen, the girl who has the voice of a five year old and starts crying if so much as a bug lands on her. A character who exists for little more reason than to have huge gravity-defying boobs and be subjected to constant humiliation and torture at Haruhi's hands while onlookers either recoil or snap pictures with their cell phones. Her very existence in the show borders on being offensive, and it's hard to decide if her ability to put up with Haruhi's antics could even be considered her one redeeming quality, because really, she just has no backbone. Her rank on the list said to me: THIS is what Japanese men consider an ideal woman, or at least a woman who's more perfect than anyone they can find in real life. If their greatest wishes could be fulfilled, every last otaku would undoubtedly have a baby-faced, squeaky-voiced pushover as their girlfriend, who will dress up as a maid and wait on them hand and foot.
I have to think that a poll of American fans would look different. The culture is different, and what we consider a good or interesting character may not always be exactly the same. I didn't find Haruko Haruhara or Makoto Kusanagi or any other badasses on the rankings; just a lot more pushovers, or in some cases, tsunderes. (Don't even get me started on Haruhi....entertaining to watch she may be, but in real life, you'd be around someone like that for maybe five minutes before you punched them in the face.) But the real problem is the way otaku dominate the Japanese market. Their wants dictate what's produced because of the amount of money they throw at hug pillows and little plastic women with removable clothes. Moe is, of course, rapidly gaining popularity with anime fans here in the states, and the American market reflects it. Not all moe shows are bad, I would never make such a claim; I ADORE Air, for example; but my problem with MOST moe characters is that because they're so calculatingly designed to hook that lonely male viewer, they don't even come close to being believable as human beings, and worse yet, they aren't anything that anyone would aspire to be. My aforementioned badasses are increasingly rare, and the ones that exist are drowning in fanservice. I could like Yoko Littner or Faye Valentine a lot more if they didn't dress like cheap prostitutes. (Okay, I like Faye anyway.)
So, to answer the question. In a perfect world, nothing would interfere with the artist's vision. It's far from a perfect world so I can understand that to keep the industry afloat, some of us will have to bite the bullet and tolerate the existence of those popular, but infuriating, characters and shows. So long as I can still watch decent anime with female characters that aren't pathetic invertebrates. However, when you boil it down, I believe the artist's vision would ideally take priority. If the only way to sell a manga is for the author to begrudgingly dumb down and slut up his/her lead character, all hope is lost.
Cherie advocates a happy medium:
From an artist's point of view, I find my best work has never depended upon what anyone else likes or dislikes, or what is considered classic art or the popular movement of the time. Just getting lost in the creation of a work of art, being totally focused on my work to the point of blocking everything else out - - - this has always resulted in my very best work.
I'm not saying that an idea couldn't be pitched to a manga artist (after all, Sailor Moon would not have been born if the publisher hadn't suggested sailor-suited girls as the characters for Miss Takeuchi's new manga...). Rather, once an idea is chosen (either by such a pitch or, better yet, by the artist's own inspiration), the artist should be allowed a free hand - and a totally open mind - when creating his work. He has the talent to create something wonderful or he wouldn't have been hired. So, let him have the freedom to enjoy his work and to do his very best!
James advocates sticking to your guns:
I can all too easily see a creator ending up overexposing a character that polls well, or introducing deus ex machina to keep bad things from happening to fan favorites. I can think of a certain character in Gurren Lagann that most fans probably did not want to see die, but the series wouldn't have been the same if executives had pressured the writers to let him live because he polled well, and other characters wouldn't have had as much of a chance to shine. If the ending to Princess Tutu were decided by fan vote, it likely would have been a cop-out instead of a bittersweet coda befitting the narrative and overall tone of the series. Ok, these are anime rather than manga, but you get the idea. Popularity polling and such may make creators more prone to pulling their punches, even if it would make the story worse.
A preposterous folly, says Greg! Folly!
I honestly believe that targeting the fanbase when creating a work is sheer folly. Over the last fifteen or twenty years, the American comics industry has degenerated into a self-serving closed loop for this very reason and it has the poor sales that go hand in hand with a well-served but insular fandom. Western comics creators pander to the aging, established base that demands continuity with the comics they read in the '80s as early teenagers. There's a balance between creativity and market considerations that should always be carefully walked, but fan considerations should be come up a distant second when stacked against creating stellar content first.
Andrea is firmly aligned in the "balance" camp:
Fan influence has always been a two-edged sword. In some cases, the author pays no heed to it and loses followers (like Takahashi Yoichi, Captain Tsubasa's author) by doing whatever he or she wants, or sometimes may fall to the influence of fanmail and probably even his editors (Kishimoto Masashi, I'm looking at you!)
So I'll keep it short and clear: There should be balance. No utter dependency on fans (and possibly editors) nor the authour should ignore what the fans may say.
Fans at times have a better view of what's happening in a series, which may help, but the author has a say too in what he/she wants to do. Particularly when overly hardcore fangirls/fanboys may say "OMG!! MORE SASUKE PLZ!" or "I WNT MOAR HITSUGAYA!" which only makes it stray from what originally is the main plot (if any). So at least being aware of what the fans would like to see while still having a sense of direction in the story and relevance when it comes to characters should actually be the key to success.
That and a really good story. That's all.
The last line of Lise's response is so acute and spot-on that I wish it were framed on the office mantle of every manga artist, screenwriter, director, and producer, and that it were bolted to the door of every bathroom in George Lucas' house. Which is to say that this is a good response to end on:
It's a tough question, because from one perspective, popularity polls are good because they allow fans to voice their opinions, and maybe even take fan opinions into account when determining the direction of the story. However, most of the time, I feel like these popularity polls are unnecessary fan pandering that can ruin the direction of a story. It is the publisher's job to sell books, so pandering to fans becomes the order of the day. The publisher may pressure the manga-ka to change some of the characters personalities, or increase the appearances of a character that was only ever peripheral to the story in the first place. In my opinion, the manga-ka's job should be to create a memorable story, and creating a good story is often about exceeding fan expectations, rather than catering to them.
And that's a wrap for Answerfans. Next week! Gorge yourself on leftover Halloween candy and smashed pumpkin entrails and attempt (IF YOU DARRREEE) to answer this devious, HELLISH QUESTION OF THE DAMNED!
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 have 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, that's all for me and have an awesome Halloween, everyone! Don't forget to send in questions and Answerfans things to Answerman(at)AnimeNewsNetwork.com!
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