Hey, Answerman! Funico in the Island of Magic
by Brian Hanson, Oct 21st 2011
Yikes! I'm back, again!
Man, this is exciting! There's news! Big, huge news!!! Business-type news! Involving big companies getting together and synergizing! Which is of course great for me, because these sorts of announcements cause a certifiable eruption of internet chatter, and that's where I come in. I'm here... to help.
So now, let the healing begin:
After reading Christopher Macdonald's commentary on Funico I can't help but feel apprehensive about it. On the surface he makes it sound like the greatest thing to happen to the anime industry in recent years. Maybe it is for Funimation's coffers, but it sounds like kind of a bum deal for the fans. Niconico is not what I think of when I think “quality professional streaming service.” Its staple attraction is streaming superimposed commentary (usually inappropriate and unrelated). I know Macdonald mentioned that Niconico will be improving their streaming services, but it does not have the atmosphere of a reliable, professional service, and not something I want to end up paying for.
I am also curious to know why they sought a partnership with Niconico and not Crunchyroll, which is already well established as a quality, professional, reasonably priced service. I don't like the idea of having to pay for yet another subscription to enjoy the anime I love.
Finally, I have to wonder if Macdonald was the right person to address this. I found his crass comments about how Funico basically screws all the competition to be very distasteful. I don't think the fans see competing licensors as enemies, but rather, the sign of an industry which has courageously managed to hold on in this economy. We cheer for all of them. Maybe it's just the way he writes but I felt like Macdonald's comments were belittling and discouraging, and they have stained my otherwise noble opinion of Funimation.
How do you feel about this partnership? Do you feel that it is healthy for the industry as a whole? Do you think it jeopardizes the success of other licensing companies?
Yowza! There's a lot to chew on here. Okay, so, let's just start at the top.
First off, if you re-read Chris' comments on the deal a bit closer, I don't think he's saying, at all, that this is the "greatest thing" of anything. He uses words like "online streaming is exceptionally important to the future of the anime industry," and that the Funico partnership is, in fact, a "step in the right direction." Now I know, granted, through the hazy lens of the internet it's hard to take statements like that at face value, which is why he pretty much breaks it down, beat-by-beat, why this partnership is good for both companies and, more importantly, consumers. Simply put, because Funimation and Niconico occupy the same mindshare, it means that more shows get streamed and exposed to a larger audience, and those same shows have a much higher chance, given Funimation's strength in the home video market, to find a place to land on Western shores in comfy, packaged-media format. I think that sort of speaks for itself.
But of course this is all just the potential, and until Funico is up and running and firing on all cylinders it's a bit hard to definitively say either way what the big picture of this whole scenario really is. There could be some hiccups and snares along the way. But potentially, it has a really good chance of bolstering the impact that anime streaming has in the Western market. And notice that Chris isn't all roses-and-sunshine about Niconico's service, either; he pretty much flat-out states that the encoding is severely lacking in comparison to Crunchyroll, which I don't think anyone will argue against. But he seems pretty confident that this will improve, and I'm inclined to believe him. But more on that later.
Now, why did Funimation choose Niconico and not Crunchyroll? When it comes to the liturgical nitty-gritty, that's all under legal lock and key, but it's important to note that Funico is a partnership. Not an acquisition or anything like that. If, say, Funimation was purely interested in gobbling up the biggest and best streaming website around just to have it, of course it would've made sense to set their ironsights on Crunchyroll. Looking at it casually, though, it makes sense, given what Chris pointed out. Funimation no longer has to bear the burden of losing money on streaming anime themselves, while Niconico, being a newcomer in the Western world of streaming, had neither the power nor the leverage to snatch up hot new shows before they wound up on a competitor's service. Now that they've got Funimation's muscle pulling the levers, that alleviates that problem. More high-profile licenses means more views, more views means more revenue, more revenue means better service and so on, so forth.
And honestly I don't know where you're getting the "belittling" vibe from. He was merely speaking, as a guy who's seen the ins and outs of streaming over the years, how Crunchyroll can continue to dominate in the streaming market now that one of their competitors just got juiced up with a boatload of steroids. And he specifically states at the end, "my hope is that these companies will develop similar strategic partnerships that will put them on equal footing with Funimation and Niconico, this would be the ideal situation for consumers." I hardly see how that's belittling. Here's the thing about Chris, and I'm not just saying this because he's the Boss In Charge of Things That I Fear: he's a really sharp guy, and ANN has stood it's ground through thick and thin in this business for over a decade. Remember that ANN had their own streaming initiative not too long ago, either; Chris came to the conclusion, as many have, that it is an exceptionally difficult thing to properly monetize. He's gone through the same streaming rigmarole as everyone else, and he's simply jazzed to see a positive light at the end of the tunnel.
Now lastly, how do I feel? I feel great, actually. Two companies with strengths the other company lacked have entered into a mutually beneficial relationship in order to, quite simply, bring more anime titles out here. The potential for Funico to really shake things up is huge, and honestly it's exciting to see some new initiatives in this industry instead of cost-cutting measures. And the competition?
Hey, I'll get to that in the next question!
I know this might come across as ridiculous, but do we have too many simulcasts going on right now? Because when I looked at the list of Funico shows I couldn't help but think - two of those shows are bottom of the barrel in my opinion (Maken-Ki!, C3), one is trying to be clever and is failing (Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai), and then you have Shakugan no Shana 3 and Future Diary, which I am personally excited about. Not a great average.
We have all come to expect Sentai to pick up the "fanservicey with a plot" shows like Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere, and occasionally something big like Persona, and Crunchyroll will grab anything that might become a hit (20 shows this season). At some point though, do companies need to start worrying about the quality of the shows they are simulcasting, since only 3 shows that American anime fans might be interested in (Bakuman. 2, Ben-To, and Hidamari Sketch to mention a few of the six shows that are not aimed exclusively at kids)?
Also what is keeping these companies from spending the time on finding older shows and getting them released online subtitled only? Seems like if quality is an issue, there's no shortage of great material to choose from.
Alright, so! Here's the thing about competition.
The benefit, for us consumers, of having several different portals, websites, and services to choose from, is that, for each and every show you just derided as being trite or dumb or whatever... those shows still have their fans. Legions of them, at that. Maken-Ki! isn't your cup of tea, neither is it mine, but it's got breasts in it. People like to watch breasts, and they enjoy the situations that breasts find themselves in. They enjoy observing them, studying them. Why not give that to them? Why deprive people of stuff they like? Where's the sense in that?
The nice thing about streaming, and why myself and people like Chris think that it's vitally important to the stable future of anime in the West is that... for the first time, ever, us Western fans have the chance to go through and have just about EVERY SINGLE SERIES that airs in Japan every season. Ten years ago, that was unthinkable. Each year we would have the last season's breakout hit slowly released on DVD, the series that was demographically the "safest" to appeal to the vast majority of anime fans out here, and we'd occasionally nab two or three titles that were a bit more niche. But of course as the DVD market plateaued, those niche shows stopped arriving.
I mean, I hate to sound like an old man, here, but don't look a gift horse in the mouth! Do you know how ****ing AMAZING it is that we get all this crap every year?! And it's legal! Purely legit and one-hundred-percent legal! No fansubs or bittorrents or nothin'! Once the new season starts up, each and every one of us can dive on in and have a look at damn near EVERYTHING that airs in Japan! That's incredible! So what if most of these shows are awful! There are dozens of awful anime shows that have aired every consecutive year in Japan for over 30 years! But at least now, we can actually see for ourselves how bad they are! And you know what, some people actually LIKE them! That's INSANE!! People are able to be exposed, legally, to things that they like! Brilliant!!!
And of course that's where competition comes in. Since those niche titles now have an audience, these separate companies can market those niche titles! And maybe even make a profit! It's nuts! There are audiences now who eagerly look forward every year to watch the next harem show, the next slice-of-life melodrama, the next supernatural-thriller, the next kid-oriented card-battle series, et al. The sheer volume of new content, every year, is too much for one company to conceivably manage, for one thing. Plus, it's not like every single anime company out there operates the same way as Funimation. That's silly. I mean, Funimation obviously tips the scales in their favor just through sheer size alone, but it's not like the smaller studios don't have their own idiosyncratic advantages. And, at the end of the day, we all get more stuff here. Localized, and legal. That's pretty wonderful.
And finally, as for the concept of streaming older, classic titles... well.
Let me just say that nobody would be more in favor of something like that than myself. I would adore, champion, and cherish such a thing. Whoever would be awesome enough to stream older stuff like Heidi of the Alps and Fist of the North Star would be the best person alive and I would probably marry them. But they would never do it, because a) people don't watch them, because they look too old, and b) there's SO MUCH new content every season that it would be difficult for any company to divert attention away from the SHINY NEW THING to push something like that, and c) people wouldn't watch it.
We here at ANN, during our big experiment with streaming, had the gumption to show Nobody's Boy - Remi. And that's a bona-fide masterpiece, that show. But did it have the snap and pizazz of Deadman Wonderland? No, no sir.
Oy. I am burned out on talking about Funico and the business of streaming. My next question is a fun one.
Hey there Answerman,
I was wondering if you could shed some light on a common occurrence in anime; slow paced, ballad like endings that are paired with gritty action or peppy comedies. A few extreme examples being 2005's Guyver and Super GALS endings, or completely random examples like Hitman Reborn with the ending Familia that seem to tie loosely into the story. I understand the function of the opening theme, to get one excited for upcoming program, but what function is the ending? Why have such a sad/goofy little piece that shifts the tone?
Oh, that's a tried-and-true anime tradition that's been around for as long as anyone can remember. Man, speaking of Fist of the North Star, you're doing yourself a serious disservice if you're not subjecting yourself to the dozen or so downbeat, depressing as hell ending themes over that show's run. For a show that opens with the amazing feat of human triumph known as YOU WA SHOCK. It's incredible.
But hey, why did this get started in the first place? Hell if I know. Purely guesstimating, it's probably because the producers of the show probably know just how sad we all are... that we'll have to wait another week for the next episode!!! Ha! And then there's a sad Japanese ballad about fighting for love or something.
Speaking for myself here, I am perfectly okay with the sad, solemn ending themes about love and honor. I hope those never go away, in all their incongruous glory. It's one of those wonderfully inscrutable things about anime that for some reason I just absolutely adore.
Aside from that, though! For your more popular anime series, of course it's a pretty big deal for record labels and pop groups to get their song featured in an anime series - and there's obviously quite a voluminous amount of pop ballads in the musical sphere, so there's no shortage of material for producers to draw from in that department. Super GALS in particular targets a particularly specific demographic, i.e. tween-aged girls. Hitman Reborn is a Shonen Jump deal, so that show is aimed at pre-pubescent lads; those are prime markets for pop music, right there. Makes sense to throw a sappy ballad at the end to cover all their musical bases.
Or, maybe they think that by adding a downbeat and depressing tune at the end, it means they've added another layer of pathos and dramatic tension to the otherwise lighthearted Hitman Reborn? Or maybe this whole thing is a bizarre conspiracy to make every teenaged anime-watching kid in Japan clinically depressed??
Actually the music business angle makes the most sense.
Now I'm sad.
Sadness over! Now it's time for that thing that I like to call... Answerfans. Last week, there was ANOTHER bit of industry-related hubbub, involving one of the titans of our industry rising from its self-imposed grave to do... something. So I wanted you guys to chime in.
First up on the idea block is Dave, so boogie down, Dave:
B: Finish up the popular titles which were left hanging when he shut it down the first time around.
C: Narrow the company focus to Japanese comics. Made by Japanese people originally for Japanese people.
D: Tell Keith Giffen to $*@^ off forever, and have the titles he ruined which are still licensed actually translated and adapted by people who care about the original stories so that he won't ever see another cent of Tokyopop money.
Do the heads down, no-nonsense mindful boogie, so to speak.
Now we hear from st_owly, who seconds the motion to have Stu Levy banished to the Nether Realm:What would I do with Tokyopop as far as manga is concerned? Well, for starters, I'd ban Stu Levy from ever having anything to do with the company again. It's too dangerous and he's too much of a flake. Then I'd ask the fans which series they'd like to see completed/licensed etc. My picks would be Maid-sama, Hetalia (not one of my favourites, but it will make money), Gakuen Alice, Sky Blue Shore, V.B. Rose, Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko and I would've said Alice in the Country of Hearts, but Yen now has that, so too late. Future Diary seems to be a popular one, as well. Bringing back BLU would probably be a sensible idea as well, as Junjou Romantica, and Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi (which never was released, in the end) seem to sell quite well, as do a few other BL series. Rereleasing some long out of print series would be something I'd explore, but I suspect there'd be a lot of problems on the Japanese side with that.
I'd also go on the scan aggregator sites, and look at what's popular, and try and get those titles with potential over here. I know most people who use scan aggregator sites probably won't buy anything ever, but it would at least help to see what's popular in the fan community. A digital viewer, iThing/Android etc apps seem to be a necessity now, but through this I'd try and get something similar to the Digital Manga Guild running, but for the latest chapters of popular series. I'd make a free, ad supported version, as there are some people out there who will never pay for anything. This would have only the most popular series, and a premium version, with a monthly subscription fee, which has no ads, offline viewing, and better image quality etc. Your subscription price would vary depending on how many series you wanted to read, and there'd be free previews of everything, and if you found a new series you liked, you could instantly change your subscription if you needed to. My main thing would be to listen to the fans, and try and publish the series they want to see at a fair price, without blowing all the company's money on stupid reality shows.
Lastly, and this is the one thing that bugs me about digital editions of anything, really. I would set up a deal where say, if you had a subscription and read the latest chapters of Series X online, then you could get a big discount on the printed volumes of that series through the company's online store, if you logged in and purchased them through your online subscription account. I'm not averse to reading things online etc, and would happily pay a reasonable amount each month to read the latest chapters of my favourite series however, I like having the printed copies as well, but I'm not happy paying twice for the same material, especially if there's DRM involved.
And lastly, seabiscuit likens Stu Levy to Lord Voldermort, which I think is pushing it a bit far, but as far as iconic villains are concerned I could see them hanging out for lunch or something:
The first and most important thing I would do is apologize to the Japanese, and show them how serious we were for this being a new start for the company by showing them a restraining against, you know who, that prevents him from talking to members of the company about any of its business, and prevents him from coming with 500 feet of the business.
The second thing I would do is find good a staff, that understands manga, that I could afford, and bringing them on board the company. Third, apologize to fans and (if we decided changing the name is worth the cost of getting everything re-done) let fans chose the new name for the company. Fourth, get back Hetalia, Fruits Basket, Kare Kano and other major titles that sold very well for the company, but have been out of print for a good period of time. Fifth, omnibus compilations for titles that have already been released completely, or for more then 9 volumes (no more of this volume 1-3 only trash), it is easy money, and requires little work outside of Re- Quality Checking, and fixing those areas.
Sixth, get back the titles that had 1-2 volumes left before they were finished and release the rest of the series in an omnibus format. Seventh, get back titles that we were still releasing that were doing well and seem like financially viable options. Eighth, set up a side company for light novels like Viz has done, and get my novels in stores, AND AWAY FROM THE MANGA. Ninth, get the Light Novel and any manga rights to successful Japanese series, such as Twelve Kingdoms, Gosick, and Full Metal Panic!. Re-release Gosick, Full Metal Panic!, and others in a more traditional book format, combining two or three small books into one normal sized book. to help bookstores stock the books properly, following yen press' model of nice Western oriented slipcovers and tasteful (looks at FMP) anime art under that.
Tenth, reclaim properties that are popular and have/had anime airing recently, such as Deadman Wonderland, World's Greatest First Romance, Fate/Stay Zero and others. Eleventh, play nice with Disney and try to get Kingdom Hearts back. Twelfth, get all my titles on JManga for $6 a volume. Finally, consider new properties that are semi-low cost medium return series, or that may becoming an anime soon, and advertise my titles smartly (such as manga ads in the anime release in exchange for the other way around), and get scanlators to stop working on properties I am working on, and get their opinion on what might be good ways to edit certain things in a title, and if they are reasonable accept them.
And the Fifteen-Thirtieth thing? It involves a sensual dance that is so potently erotic it cannot be described in this column.
...anyway. Since we've got even bigger industry news on the horizon, I thought it was pretty relevant to everything to take this Funico nonsense and get a broader perspective from you guys:
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.
And now, I am so tired I am about to fall asleep directly into my netbook! In the meantime, don't forget to send me your questions and answers of import in handy-dandy email form, conveniently located over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Good night, you kings of the coast!
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