Hey, Answerman! We Can't Have Nice Things
by Brian Hanson, Oct 7th 2011
Well hey, everybody! How's things?
Boy, everything was nuts there for me last week. In the midst of my usual comedy-type rehearsals, there was the distinct possibility that I would've had to move to L.A. by the end of this week to start a new job. Except that I didn't get it. Oh well, screw it; who wants to work in a cartoon studio that badly, anyhow?
Actually, a lot of people, it turns out. But I lost out to a guy with The Simpsons on his resume, to which I don't have anything nearly that, uh, noticeable in comparison. At least I don't have to move any of my stuff!
To the questions!
I was recently reading an interview with Jonathan Blow (creator of the XBox Live Arcade game Braid). In the interview he was speaking about a hypothetical game that would defy everything people expected from game design, but it was impossible to create due to the limiting factors of both PSN and XBox Live. Head of Xbox infrastructure replied that these were necessary to ensure the overall functionality of the hardware (citing ideas Jonathan Blow wanted to implement in his game would cause confusion amongst the player base). This exchange got me thinking about the process of making anime. Granted the format (and business) of how games and anime are made are both radically different, but do you feel that many anime and manga creators are held back from their fresh and innovative ideas due to publishers and TV studios holding on to old formats and technologies? On the other end of the spectrum do you feel certain anime are made better BECAUSE of the requirements placed by the TV studios?
Do I think that the stringent, tightly-budgeted, hellishly-scheduled factory that is the Television Industry has a negative impact upon creativity? Yes, absolutely.
Do I think that removing much of that infrastructure would make better, more engaging product? Uh... You know, I'm not sure. Potentially, I guess.
To use your example above, there's no one specifically saying that Jonathon Blow can't make his expectation-defying video game. That guy could make whatever the hell game he wants. But if he made that game, he simply wouldn't be able to sell it on XBox Live or PSN. And that's a problem insofar as obtaining potential revenue, in which that is a problem when it comes to getting an obtainable budget, and that's a problem when it of course comes to making the game in the first place.
It's the same thing when it comes to anime and manga and... virtually any entertainment medium under the sun. Actually, let's get more specific: these shows, these manga... these are products. These are products that are made by artists, sure, but they're also packaged, marketed, and distributed by TV networks and publishers so those same artists don't have to sell their work on the street by themselves. I mean I know I'm just boiling things down to their barest essence here, and in fact that relationship is hardly ever that rosy, but still.
Here's the thing about creative people. The Jonathon Blows and the Hideaki Annos and such. They all know, deep down, that their most creative and interesting impulses are not at all palatable to a so-called "mass audience." Unfortunately, whether you're making a video game (even a small one) in order to be published on XBox Live, or you're making an anime series to air on Fuji TV, those impulses need to be dialed back so they can fit within the established format. That's not to say that you can't find ways to be creative and interesting within those confines - for Christ's sakes, Evangelion aired in October of 1995, and it's October of 2011 now and we're still talking about that show as though it's still relevant, because it is!
When we're talking about serialized content, either manga or anime, there is still a real reason that manga have editors and TV anime have producers. Those guys know what makes a successful manga that'll keep people anticipating next week's issue, as well as what makes a solid TV show that'll sustain an audience for a season or two. Most of the time, sadly, those editors and producers simply want some idiotic genre-specific pablum that's hardly dissimilar from things that have come before, because they smartly, albeit cynically, know what sells to a crowd. By that same token, though, they know what an audience wants, and they're able to work well with creative people - like Anno - and help them develop their ideas into something that connects. Anno will always be remembered for Evangelion. But for Love & Pop and Shiki-Jitsu? Not so much.
That's the thing, really - no artist on the planet turns to a serialized magazine like Shonen Sunday or a big TV network like NHK to unleash upon the world their Singular Artistic Vision of Staggering Depth and Intensity. No sir; for that, there's "alternative" comics, films, independently animated short films, novels, and other things. And those are products too, but they're products for a much more specific audience than the vast multitudes that are required to fund a decent manga property or animated series. So, really, I guess I should probably just point out that the "fresh and innovative" ideas are out there, in the aether, swimming about unbeknownst to the general populace. They're not as easy to find as something like Highschool of the Dead, and by God I wish I lived in a world where something like The Tatami Galaxy could sell just as many copies, but I'm not blind to the notion that an audience's general taste is going to prefer the former to the latter.
Okay, I get that the American market for Anime is a small percentage of the whole market, and that the Japanese companies are going to cater to Japanese fans and Japanese tastes. But let me ask this: How big an impact do the American tastes have on what Anime is produced? I ask because American Pop Culture is so damn omnipresent, I wonder if Japan (or some studios in particular) feels compelled to use some of the tropes for higher marketability. For example Tiger & Bunny, while a domestic hit, is based in part on American Superhero comics (or at least their story telling devices). Or am I off my nut, and the Japanese companies don't really care about the periphery markets at all?
Nah, you're not off your nut, and you're right about Tiger & Bunny, specifically. And I just mentioned Highschool of the Dead earlier, which is nothing more than an anime version of a T&A and blood-soaked Grindhouse flick. Hell, the title itself is a nod to George Romero.
In those instances in particular, of course US pop-culture had a hand in their creation. And no, you're not off your nut - the Japanese companies always keep the "secondary" markets in mind whenever they're charting a course for their new series. While Japanese companies seem to have really terrible luck at predicting the collective tastes of Western anime fans, they certainly know that when a show hits here, it can hit pretty damn big. That's always a factor.
But it's not a huge factor, by any means. Since, as mentioned, our good ole American pop-culture machine exports itself well into other countries, there's a basic assumption on behalf of something like Tiger & Bunny that even the Japanese audience is familiar with superheroes, and they know the basic rules of that genre, and so forth. And, considering that show's success in Japan, is a testament to just how freakin' ubiquitous the old standards of superheroes are, that a show like that can be a general audience crowdpleaser. Kids love the show, otaku love the show, adults love the show, fujoshi fans love the sh** out of the show, and so on.
And Tiger & Bunny is sort of an anomaly in the anime world anyhow, since it's NOT based on either a light novel or a manga; the two formats which comprise the rough skeleton of some ninety percent of anime produced each year. I mean, by and large, "marketability" in the Western market doesn't mean much to a TV anime producer who's not in the business of creating anything that's not an adaptation of an existing property. Not that that's something completely endemic to just anime.
Basically, American "tastes" have very little to do with "what" anime is produced and not produced, but definitely plays a role in "how" it's produced. Anime productions are still going to be based around existing properties by a wide margin, but the productions will often have "elements" of Western pop-culture sprinkled over them in an attempt at wider exposure. Like a light dusting of chocolate truffles atop a well-adorned chocolate cake. Yum!
Every so often though, we'll get a show like Cowboy Bebop and Tiger & Bunny - shows that owe their very livelihood to Western and specifically American influences - but obviously those are shows that make up only a small fragment of the anime produced each year. The industry chugs along, much like it always does, relying on existing franchises and popular manga and carbon-copied Otaku bait for most of its seasonal output. Que Sera, Sera.
I am a big fan of the Ninku series. When do you think the show will be licensed?
Oh, I'd say it'll be licensed sometime in the proximity of about
N E V E R.
Look, here's the thing about any series from before the year 2000 that, thus far, has never been licensed before, especially during the brief period of anime-related posterity in the West. That ship... has sailed. It has sailed far, far away, to a distant land, where it hangs out with Magellan and Cortes in search of valuable spices and silk.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but any show with a shelf life older than a couple of years just doesn't stand a chance anymore at turning a profit. This is not a slight against Ninku specifically, but in fact every show that traipsed through the early-aughts Bidding Wars between the likes of ADV and Geneon and Bandai and Funimation... and survived unscathed and unlicensed. Those were the days when you could take something like Yū Yū Hakusho, which in 2002 looked a little rough around the edges but was still quite solid, and make it into a hit. Can't do that anymore, no sir. Sad to say, but any show from around that era that missed that small little window... is lost, lost to the winds of time, blown away by the currents of progress. And so on.
Of course there's never any guarantees in life, and I for one ascribe to chaos theory; you never know, I guess. But the sea change in how anime is consumed, marketed, and purchased has COMPLETELY tossed aside any logistical chance for Ninku and its forgotten 90's ilk to capture the eyes of any potential Western licensee, much less turn an actual profit.
And hey, at least you can find a DVD of that weird little context-free 30-minute "movie" from Media Blasters. I dunno; I guess I just can't get past the kid with the goofy eyeballs.
Oh, goodness! It's an Answerfans with ACTUAL, REAL RESPONSES! I am overjoyed by an unhealthy and illegal amount!
So, last week I had music on the brain, and by God did you all turn out in droves to answer this question:
Starting out on a strong note, Eyeresist picks something calm and ethereal as his favorite:
There are many good anime OPs, but if I had to choose one it would be Crest/Banner of the Stars. I am aware that this seems a very unusual choice. Unlike most OPs, the music is purely orchestral and, even more unusually, the visuals don't show any characters! With the low dramatic fanfare and spectacular spacescapes, you are suddenly thrust out into the universe - not space as a generic background for clashing mecha, but the place itself - the sprawling, colourful nebulae, the dangerous black holes, the drifting particles of ancient planets, and between all these the immense dark vacuum in which humans are less significant than ants. The music swells into a soaring melody for strings, and the viewer is completely transported into the world of the story, which is some achievement for one minute thirty of a TV cartoon show.
The weird thing is that some people hate this OP for pretty much the same reasons I like it: instead of a typical perky J-pop tune, there is "boring Star Trek music"; instead of the standard cute characters doing cute stuff, there are "just boring backgrounds". Well, that's okay. You are welcome to bop along to the pop-by-numbers of Generic Anime X (the collectables are awesome!) - just don't try to take away the unique sense of wonder I get from this brilliant, one of a kind anime OP.
YO HO HO JUWANN TOOK A BITE OF GUM GUM:
I will say I don't know that many anime openings or closings since I grew up with mostly the anime on TV (I.E. Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, Digmon, Lupin the Third, ect...) that had theme songs, not ops/eds.
I will say that my favorite opening is the one for Samurai Champloo because it is one of the first Openings I ever saw and it is still one of the most unique songs out there. The most appropriate Opening of the ones I heard is the one for Gurren Lagann, Sorairo Days, since the songs were able to fit what was going on at the time in the show and did it with the whole song (which seems like a feat to me).
The worst opening was the One Piece Rap, just because all the One Piece OPs are much better then that trash, and also because it reminds me too much of the time when I was a ignorant anime viewer who just knew what was on Toonami/Adult Swim/Saturday Morning cartoons and not how much more varied anime could be.
The only ending of interest I have, and my favorite anime song period, is Ride on Shooting Star from FLCL because, well it just an awesome song to me.
Way down in Pocono / Rex gets there fast and then he takes it slowwww:
I'm going to have to dig into my ipod and give you a top ten OP/ED songs. I have 208 OP/ED/IB songs on my ipod. I keep a Japanese playlist and about once a month I re-evaluate my top ten to balance out stuff I really like and think is epic with the new stuff that is well... new and cool. All of my anime music is listed under the artist category under "Cowboy Bebop" because that's the show that started it all with me and my love of OP/ED Japanese music.
1. Cowboy Bebop - The Real Folk Blues (This has to be number one, as soon as I hear it I just get flooded with nostalgic memories of one the best anime every made).,p>2. Boys Be... - Minna ga Iine (This was an early show in my anime fandom and all the music from the show again fills me with nostalgic memories of early fandom).
3. Cowboy Bebop - Tank! (Nothing really needs to be said about how awesome this OP was).
4. DNA Squared - Blurry Eyes (I'm sure alot of people will respond with L'Arc-en-Ciel I have a few songs from them on the ipod but this one was my favorite).
5. Miami Guns - SEEDS (I didn't really like this show but damn did the song stick with me. I even paid full retail for the single on ebay twice just to get this song on my ipod (the first single wasn't the right version from the show)).
6. Highschool of the Dead - Highschool of the Dead OP (The show is a love it or hate it kind of show but I thought this OP just plain rocked).
7. Highschool of the Dead - The Place of Hope (one of many ending songs for HOTD, it was my favorite and to my surprise it was on iTunes, so I bought it for 99 cents or a $1.29, whatever they charge these days. I was actually glad I got to pay for an anime tune, 99% of my stuff is dowloaded off the web, I wish iTunes would have more anime music for sale I would be a buyer).
8. Fullmetal Alchemist - Rewrite (OP 4) (This was the best FMA opening not just the music but the animation in the OP was so awesome).
9. Fullmetal Alchemist - Ready Steady Go! (It's actually a very close to being number 8, I love them both).
10. Fullmetal Panic - Tomorrow (Another show that was early in my fandom and it's music will always bring back happy memories of the show).
So that's a top ten list for you. As always there were a lot of songs that could have been number 11's. Some new stuff has popped up in the top 20 (Demon King Daimoh, Beelzebub, Oh! Edo Rocket) and the Evangelion OP is in the top 20 (gotta mention that). And I will say Brian that I do listen to my OP/ED songs in the car with the windows down. Even when I worked as a Park Ranger in the Pocono's I still played my favorite Japanese tunes in the patrol car. We are anime fans... it's what we do.
Let's all gather 'round the decorative Alphonse with Rachel for our annual FMA Day celebratory Alchemy Cake:
First of all, let it be known that I am a die-hard FMA fan. (I cried for about an hour when I watched the last episode of Brotherhood.) Aside from that, though, it's an absolutely beautiful song from every aspect: the music, the vocals, the lyrics, even the video.
But what really made it stand out to me was the way it was used in the show. At any pivotal moment in the series --or at least between episodes 15 and 27-- you hear this song, whether it's the (often tear-jerking) final scene of the episode and about to go to the credits, or the montage in episode 27 centered on the characters' strengths and determinations. The song is powerful, emotional, meaningful, and even moving, just like the series itself. It's really no wonder why they decided to use it as a closing theme.
Also, I hope all my fellow fans had a wonderful FMA Day!
BTA makes a good point in that Baccano! has some weirdly inappropriate music sometimes:
My absolute favorite anime OP has to be Clannad After Story's "A Song to Pass the Time" (at least, this is one of several inconsistently translated names). Not only is it a beautiful song, but it's also based on my favorite BGM track from Clannad, "To The Same Heights" (which might just be my favorite piece of music, pathetic as that may be). Clannad being my favorite show certainly doesn't hurt either! And although I don't really have a favorite ED song, I would like to say something about anohana's cover of "Secret Base ~The Thing you Gave Me~": I haven't seen any other show that was able to make me tear up just by starting to play the ED over the show at the right moment, and anohana does this on several occasions.
As far as something negative, I'm probably going to get some hate for this, but: whenever I watch Baccano!, I have to skip the ED. And I'm someone who never skips the OP or ED, and sometimes even goes back to rewatch them before continuing on to the next part or episode! "Calling" is certainly not a bad song, but in my opinion, it just doesn't fit the show very well.
For the "Director's Cut" of Optitron2005's response, please wait another six months for the double-disc version of this week's Answerfans:
I am so glad that after years of reading this column, there's finally a “Hey, Answerfans!” question that I not only want to answer, but that I feel I cannot ignore. Of the many facets that make up a great anime series, music is one of the most important to me, and the opening and closing themes are integral parts of what first grabs a hold of me, draws me into the world of the show, and leaves me feeling satisfied and eagerly anticipating the next episode. The biggest issue for me after seeing this week's question was deciding how I wanted to approach this topic. If I so chose, I could have written quite a bit about any of a dozen themes I consider my favorites, but that doesn't really interest me. The problem is that talking about my favorites feels too subjective; no matter how much I talk about the performance and the style and the nuance, I feel like a kid bringing my favorite toy to show and tell so that I can make everyone see how much better my stuff is compared to theirs. When you're a child that's fine, but as an adult I want to try to write something more substantive. This proves difficult when you consider that most anime themes these days are not made to serve as a functional part of a show. Instead, the opening and closing themes of anime these days are J-pop songs that have nothing to do with the show in which they're featured. Unfortunately this trend describes all of my favorite anime themes. However, it also brings me to what I would like to talk about: The anime theme songs that I think are most effective at serving a greater purpose within the context of their respective series.
As I mentioned before, the purpose of an opening theme is to catch the viewer's interest and draw them into the world of the series. Additionally, an opening theme can act as a sort of overture to the series, drawing the viewer's attention to the story's themes or offering an overview of the series' premise. One of the most effective openers in this regard is “WE WERE LOVERS,” the opening theme of Gankutsuou, the anime adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' Le Comte de Monte Cristo. One aspect of the theme that stands out is that it is performed in English by a French artist named Jean-Jacque Brunel, which makes it much easier for me to critique since I only have a very rudimentary knowledge of the Japanese language. The instrumentation is simple, consisting of only a piano and a violin. The melody has a very classical feel to it, which seems appropriate considering the source material involved. On the surface, the lyrics tell a simplified version of the history of the title character's former life, which in turn becomes the focal point for most of what transpires during the series. The song also introduces the viewer to the themes of friendship, trust, and betrayal that run throughout the series and act as a center point for the changes that occur in the life of the story's protagonist. By the time the song ends and the Count's ominous voice begins to recap the previous episode, the viewer is more than ready for the emotional revelations and treacheries soon to follow.
The duty of an ending theme is a bit more complicated to nail down. In its simplest form, an ending theme exists to try to keep viewers from changing the channel while the show praises the work of its own creative staff for a minute and a half. A more effective use for an ending theme could be to reflect the overarching themes that are consistently presented throughout the series and to offer a final word on the episode's events before leaving you to wait for the next episode. To elaborate, let's say you have a series that explores the dark depths to which humanity can sink by showing children being forced to murder other children and soldiers raping little girls at the behest of their superiors. How would you want to close each episode of a series like this? The answer for the creators of Ima, Sokoni Iru Boku (better known in the States as Now and Then, Here and There) was the ending theme “Komoriuta…” which means lullaby. Understanding what the title means is important because it also describes the sentiment the song evokes perfectly. When one listens to this song, it sounds like a mother singing to her child while a music box softly accompanies her in the background. This might seem inappropriate for a song meant to follow a show about war and death, but I disagree. For me, the effect of the song is cathartic - a lullaby to allow the characters who have suffered and died during the episode to finally be at peace, if only until the story continues next week.
*Whew* I hope that didn't end up being too long-winded. I think that's everything I wanted to write… oh wait there is one more thing I want to add… my favorite opening themes are “RHYTHM EMOTION” (TWO-MIX, Gundam Wing s.2), “synchronicity” (Yui Makino, Tsubasa: Tokyo Revelations), “eX dream” (Myuji, X), “Bokutachi wa Kore Kara” (DoCo, Ranma ½ OVA), and “voice” (CLOUD, Yu-Gi-Oh! s.1); my favorite ending themes are “My will” (dream, Inuyasha s.1), “☆the starry sky☆” (HΛL, Angelic Layer), and “don't be discouraged” (Megumi Hayashibara, Slayers s.3); and my favorite insert theme (I know it's not in the question per se, but it must be mentioned) is “The Revelation of Absolute Destiny” (Suginami jidou gasshodan, Maki Kamiya, Kunihiko Ikuhara, & Shinkichi Mitsumune, Revolutionary Girl Utena). There, I think that successfully invalidated my entire premise… yay!
Closing us out for the night, I always LOVE LOVE LOVE when I get international mail, so we're going with Edward's not-uncommon disdain for the Engrish-y refrains of Berserk:
First and foremost, I'm from Cuba, so sorry for any misspellings. I read your section any time I can, which is not very often considering the poor availability of Internet in my country and I always had the desire to reply one of your sections. I'll try now. The worst intro I've seen so far, in the original Japanese I think is the one from Berserk. The music is plain dull and doesn't relate at all with the theme of the series. When I first saw it (or hear it?) I've already seen the series and was astonished as I expected a more gritty tone or anything else except that song. For the best it's very hard to select. I love the theme for Slayers (Far Away, I think?), both themes for Death Note, the first ending of Naruto (this one is one of the most related to a series I've ever seen), All the intro themes of MS Gundam Seed (love T.M. Revolution).
And that is the cream of the proverbial crop! Thanks again for everybody who sent in responses - and BOY were there a lot of you - and no hard feelings of course if your response didn't make the cut! Because, man, have I got a relevant question for next week's column:
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.
I am finished with my column-ly duties for this week, and so now I'm signing off! But don't forget of course to send me questions, Answerfans responses, and unused promotional materials for Starchaser: The Legend of Orin over at answerman((at))animenewsnetwork.com! So long!
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