Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Hello and welcome, Answerman-ateers! Answerman-atees! Actually that last one's not that flattering. Ahem.
So, in this post-Christmas season, I've been very busy hunching over my computer for the past week or so, attempting to finish up a bunch of scripts and other things under pretty strict deadlines, and the end result is that I've got a terrible sinus infection. Seriously I look like some sort of genetic hybrid between a Krampus and one of the infected zombie-people from 28 Days Later. But you know me, I don't like to complain. (Cue knowing, sarcastic laughter.)
In spite of illness and exhaustion, however! I am here, as per usual, to take to heart your earnest questions. And I've got some good ones that run the gamut.
I was jumping for joy when I heard Oreimo was getting a release in the US. I knew it was a limited edition but I didn't know it was going to be THAT limited, I figured it would still be floating around in time for me to get it with my Christmas money, but I now see that was a major miscalculation on my part. I am very angry with Aniplex, but rather than go into some rant I'll ask ya some questions:
First off, do companies actually stand to lose anything by releasing a popular show in the US (or any other country)? I sort of figured "if the show sells, sell more" but maybe there are other factors at work here. And second, is there anything we, as fans, can do to see Oreimo released again?
Ah. The sad, sad thing is that actually, YES, companies do stand to lose quite a bit when they release a title in the West. Hence why Aniplex's recent experiments regarding limited shipments and print runs seems to be working for them.
The obvious reason is that these are actual, physical products that need to be manufactured, printed, and shipped across the many Western lands of English-speaking anime fans. I know everyone makes a stink about how DVDs are "so cheap to make," which I mean, yes, the physical format of DVDs themselves are inexpensive, but that's not taking into account things like, say... authoring. Maybe some re-encoding. And packaging. Shipping.
When Aniplex makes these limited-run boxsets, they tend not to screw around. With the Oreimo set, the lucky few who were able to snap up a copy are also getting postcards, booklets, and a poster. Aniplex isn't just putting out a single disc of something inside some generic Amaray cases that are given away by the palette-full. They're pretty serious about making sure their "Premium, Limited" boxed sets are both "Premium" and "Limited."
So, of course, they set out to manufacture just as many as they think they can conceivably sell while still making an earnest profit, and then they call it a day. Nobody at Aniplex USA wants to be the guy who just lost the company over 100,000 dollars with a few dozen boxes of unsold Oreimo inventory, because printing all that stuff sure isn't cheap. And with the profit margins on these sets so slim as it is, that's a pretty significant loss.
Now, insofar as getting more copies of Oreimo out into the atmosphere... I hate to say it, but I doubt it. I can certainly say that this specific set is done for, and you're probably never going to see another print run of it ever again. To that end, if you're desperate, your only real option is to linger around and try to pick one up from a reseller, which, I know, means paying a gross markup. The only other option I can think of, that has precedent in both the anime industry and the home video market as a whole, is that perhaps, perhaps you might see some slimmed-down, booklet-less Oreimo DVDs in cheap packaging down the line. But that's a gamble, too; Oreimo itself is such a specific show about Otaku and for Otaku, so I can't imagine that too many fans who didn't already spring for the box set would be eager to buy a cheaper release in any significant numbers.
So, not a lot of good news, I'm afraid. Suffice to say that producing any significant quantities of a DVD set in and of itself - especially with goodies and such stuffed in every nook and cranny - is hardly as "cheap" as people like to think it is. Just for kicks, maybe do a little search online and see how expensive it is to author a DVD and then mass-produce 25,000 or so copies. Cheap it ain't.
Naturally, anime that features English dubs sell better than anime that are sub-only, and companies like Bandai, Sentai, and Media Blasters have to choose which ones will get them or not. But would a pre-order program to determine whether a title gets a dub or not be a bad idea? For example, a company could team up with a specific retailer, such as TRSI, RACS, or AnimeNation, and put up a pre-order with no set date. The idea would be that the pre-order would be set under a price point as if it was going be a dual-audio release, but in order for the release to actually get a dub the pre-order count has to reach a certain point within a certain amount of time. If pre-orders get to that number, or at least are encouraging enough, then the company can start looking into giving the title a dub and the pre-orders can become available at other places. If the pre-order numbers aren't looking good enough for a dub then they announce that the title will be released sub-only (complete with a price drop that's more in line with other sub-only price points), the pre-orders become available at other places, and that any who don't want the title anymore can cancel their order. Either way the title does get released, and all this program does is help determine if the title gets a dual-audio release or a sub-only release. Many fans of dubs want to show their support for more dubbed anime, and this lets them speak their mind with their wallets, at least potentially.
Naturally you can't please everyone with this, like with many things, but I wonder if anyone has ever tried this before. The closest I can think of was when AnimEigo said that if they got enough pre-orders for Yawara then they would lower the MSRP, which they didn't in the end, but that title was going to be sub-only in the first place. So, would this be a neat idea that you could see happening, or would it just be a interesting experiment that would go nowhere?
That's certainly a noble idea in principle, but in practice, it just doesn't work, I'm afraid.
I'm going to be a hoary old cliche and mindlessly parrot the age-old axiom that "time is money," my good sir. And what is making a dub of a show if not a huge time commitment? It takes months to hammer out a decent ADR script that pleases both the directors and the Japanese licensors, it takes weeks to assemble a decent cast, it takes another several months to bring all the actors in, one-by-one, to read their lines, and then it takes another several months to mix all those dialog tracks in with the original music and sound effects, and then author that to the DVD. Essentially you would be asking for folks to put up some money for a DVD with no firm release date, and, should the numbers reach the appointed goals, then make those same patient fans wait for upwards of half a year as the dub is produced.
Not only that, but in the chance that the pre-orders don't hit their target, you're basically asking these companies to prepare to commit to packaging and releasing a completely separate product. It's not like you can make a sub-only DVD and then just slide the dub track in at the last minute. If sub-only is the way to go, that is a completely different product for a completely different audience than a dual-audio disc with a dub. Because that also means changing the packaging, changing the marketing, and everything else that's fundamentally important when it come to releasing a physical product.
And see, that's just not in the DNA of these companies like Media Blasters or Sentai or Bandai. When they license a show or a movie for DVD, they know full well, from the get-go, whether or not they're going to bother with a dub. Because if they are, then that means they need to get going full-stop before the ink is dry in getting all their ducks in a row, their dubbing ducks if you will, in order to hit their target release date. Putting a dub together also means that they're going to need to spend a bit more on marketing, promotional materials, convention appearances, and other things that are pivotal to a dubbed anime's success. All of these things are just sort of, well... impossible to do unless there is a one-hundred percent commitment to providing a dub from the get-go.
Look, guys, I'm a dub fan too! I grew up with dubs, I was a fan in the 90's, I *prefer* them, honestly! But there's just no real financial sense to doing them anymore unless it's a very specific kind of title that benefits from a dub! It either has to be a one-hundred percent "Yes, it needs a dub" or it doesn't get a dub. There's too many headaches, hassles, and unknown elements to prepare for a "It's possible it needs a dub, if we think we'll sell enough copies based on pre-orders" scenario.
I've noticed that in countless anime and manga, it seems that many characters, usually supporting, are homosexual or have those tendencies. Furthermore, many manga and anime have cross-dressing as a major element, or as something a "wacky" side character does. I've seen this in all kinds of shows, from the macho shonen ones to cute and romantic shojos. And of course, we can't forget the huge yaoi market, and to a much lesser extent, the yuri one. I remember when I first started reading manga and watching anime just how surprised I was by the plethora of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) characters there were. I mean, yeah, the US has those characters too, but it certainly doesn't seem as common. Maybe I'm just sheltered, but I've certainly never seen that many US shows deal with those issues. Anyway, it seems that most every manga/anime I pick up has something involving the LGBT community, or at least an androgynous character. This leads me to my question: is Japanese society, as a whole, more accepting than the US of the LGBT community? I have a hard time believing that if this permeates entertainment so much it wouldn't be more accepted, but I could be wrong. Another way to word this question could be: Why are these issues so mainstream in manga/anime and yet not in other forms of entertainment?
Alright, let's just get this out in the open right up front: while I certainly agree that there's a significant percentage of anime and manga that make the tacit agreement that yes gay people exist, let's not go overboard and start giving anime and manga credit for any stunning insight into cultural identities here. For the vast, VAST majority of anime and manga out there, most LGBT characters are not actual characters. They are simply caricatures. Much in the same way that Will & Grace didn't win any Peabody awards for LGBT rights, anime and manga is primarily an entertainment medium and it treats its gay and lesbian characters in the exact same way. Which is to say with overwrought, slightly offensive stereotypes.
I mean, your average yaoi and yuri manga has as much to say about the lifestyle choices of gay and lesbian people as Tenchi Muyo! has any real connection with straight people. Which is actually fine! Because it's just entertainment, really. More than anything, these characters are treated as jokes, written with such one-dimensional clarity because the people who write most anime and manga think it's super funny when a gay dude tries to grope the main dude character. I mean, I suppose it's nice that Gurren Lagann has a spot for a gay character, but at the same time, that character's a flamboyant, lisping stereotype. Not that it matters really, because Gurren Lagann is a silly, zany colorful action show with robots in it. Not worth getting upset over stereotypes there. Because there's also a female character who never bothers to be seen in anything more than a bikini top and tight Daisy Dukes. Meh.
The one thing that I'll agree with is that there's certainly more LGBT relationships in your average anime series than any contemporaneous animated series meant for the same age group here in the West. I doubt Ben 10 is ever going to attempt anything as potentially salacious as some of the implied relationships in Sailor Moon. But, hey, again, let's not give the entire nation of Japan some sort of Gold Star For Cultural Understanding. There's still no proper recognition for same-sex partnerships in Japan, something even we in the US are slowly starting to grasp is not that terrible of an idea. Also it's important to note that Japanese Civil Rights make no exemptions for discrimination against sexual orientation in places like, say, the workplace, academia, health care, and all that. Japan is hardly a cornerstone of justice for the LGBT community. I mean it's certainly not as bad as certain states here in the US, but that's not saying much.
Either way, I personally just feel that it's important to note that just because there are gay and lesbian characters in much of the anime and manga we consume regularly, much of those same characters suffer from the same unfortunate stereotypes and one-note gags that plague the perception of gay and lesbians in entertainment the world over. I mean, just listen to this bit from Patton Oswalt to get what I'm talking about.
Hey there, it's time for me to shut up! That's right! Two weeks ago, before all the Christmas vacationing and everything, I wanted to give 2011 a proper, nice little sendoff. Instead, though, I wanted all of you to respond to this very simple prompt:
Mitamaking begins this week, by reminding me that I should probably watch more of Ano Hana because I enjoyed the first two episodes:
From January to April of 2011 I was certain that Madoka was going to be my favorite show of the year, it had the best anime twist ever arguably, and was just magnificent.
Late in Spring this year Noitamina aired a show called Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai. and I fell in love. Basically it is a show steeped in nostalgia from one summer 10 years ago, for me that was when I was first getting into anime and video games and where I really started to become the person I am today. Also, the characters had to face the past and move forward, something I have been slowly doing myself after becoming basically a hikikomori after high school, and a character in the show faced it too. I didn't face tragedy to become one, but I related to his conflict, and to a point the conflict of all of the characters.
I am buying the limited edition Blu-rays of Madoka, and am happy for it, but the one show I will always say was the best of 2011 was Ano Hana. Truly this was a great year for anime, Hanasaku no Iroha, Chihayafuru, Kimi ni Todoke 2, Natusme Yuujinchou 3, World God Only Knows 2, Nichijō, Infinite Stratos, and that is just the second layer after the top 2.
Yotaru Vegeta and I share the same answer for this question, minus the swears:
Damn. Damn this question. I've taken a look at all the anime I've watched this year, and I am fighting the urge to list them all to you, before I pick just one.
So after sacrificing all of these wonderful children of 2011, I am left with Tiger and Bunny. Like most people, I looked at the name and a promo image said "What the hell is this? What's with the armor"
You know what Tiger and Bunny is? GREAT! On the surface, it's a goofy show about superheroes, but as you go along, it's a mature show that beautifully merges American and Japanese sensibilities concerning the capes and tights set. This is a great new example of a show that has crossover potential without being too desperate to please the non-Japanese.
Otaking 09 throws out props and disses in equal measure:
I'm guessing the majority of responses will go to the asininely overrated Madoka, but, really, the real star of this year even swoops off Persona 4's sublime adapting magic; the hilariously cute, highly accessible, crazy inventive Mawaru Penguindrum. Like my last year's selection to be the masterpiece Tatami Galaxy, Mawaru Penguindrum is an eclectic madcap satire, that gleefully delves into quirky "nit-picky" psychological analysis mode. If this "mode" is used correctly, we can turn a cast of stereotypes into Leaving Las Vagas-class characters. And yes, Penguindrum has mastered this "mode". You just have to wonder what director, Ikuhara has been doing/researching/cultivating these last decade... The best thing I can say about Penguindrum when it comes to technical improvements is that it's better paced, more diverse with its gender audience, and, for being a comedy, it's simply comedy gold. These mascot tiny critters will be milked "oh-so" deservedly for their cute, ingenious resourcefulness. As a side-bonus, these penguins serve as reflective character development so it just adds... and adds... and adds.
I guess the overall best thing about Penguindrum is that it's intelligence is very modern; more modern than the typical anime made nowadays, and with that intelligence, it's reach is far and wide. There is simply something for everyone in this show.
Madoka will only please moe/SHAFT/Kajura fans (keyword is "fans") at best, and Persona 4 will, at best, please hardened PS2 fans ("fans" the word here....), but Penguindrum is OD'd on sophisticated storytelling, creative art, and energetic enthusiasm that makes it a definitive entry in the anime medium itself. Will Ikuhara be with the modern geniuses like Morio Asaka, Takahiro Omori and Masaaki Yuasa? There's no doubt in my mind...
Stuart and Otaking 09 need to hang out, because you guys have a lot in common:
Although I suspect many people will hail Puella Magi Madoka Magica as the best thing to come out of 2011, being one of the smartest and most ambitious deconstructions the anime community has seen in a while, my own heart goes out to a little show called Mawaru Penguindrum. Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara of Revolutionary Girl Utena fame, Mawaru Penguindrum is a rare example of what happens when a director gains rather than loses skill over time; the show bears none of the filler or repetitive episodes that tended to weigh Utena down.
Still, all the key elements that made Utena memorable are there. Deep, well-written characters interact in environments that lean toward the surreal. Serious drama is punctuated by humor that ranges from the absurdist to the slapstick to the unexpectedly crude. Significant questions are asked concerning family, fate, and love, then examined from many unique viewpoints. Even as I found myself watching an increasingly serious show speeding at a breakneck pace towards an epic conclusion, the show somehow never loses the sense of fun it had in the earlier, more light-hearted episodes.
Simply put, no other show this year has reflected a love for both story-telling and the medium of animation in general to the extent that Mawaru Penguindrum has, which leaves me incredibly surprised at the relative lack of coverage it has received, both on Anime News Network and the Internet as a whole. Let this be a notice to all who have let it slip under their radar: Mawaru Penguindrum is like no other anime in recent memory, and watching it would be doing yourself a huge favor.
Aaron bucks the trend and picks a manga series, and an ongoing one at that:
Gunslinger Girl by Yu Aida is the best Manga of 2011. Why would I pick this title? Simply put this is a series that has it all. You want pulse pounding action with fight sequences including a pre teen girl getting gouged in the eye with a car key while in gunfight with a knife wielding assassin? It's got that along with slowly revealed torturous emotional relationships between the characters, be it Jose and Henrietta's borderline codependent relationship with him realizing no matter how hard he wants her to be Henritta can never be his sister, with Henrietta harboring an almost unhealthy schoolgirl like crush on her handler but not even knowing why.
The part in volume eight where crying she throws herself around Jose sobbing “I don't know when I fell in love with you!” hits me right in the heart. Then there's Triela, who tries to be the “cool older sister” but has her own conflicting emotions for her handler Hilshire (and if the cover for the next omnibus is anything to go on it's going to go there). The characters are a mess emotionally speaking and to see this in a Shonen Manga, a genre demographic described by Rurouni Kenshin creator Nobuhiro Watsuki as all about “smiles and happy endings,” is refreshingly honest. That sometimes the “good guys” are just as bad or worse than the villains. Or that the villains can have seemingly purer motives for fighting than the protagonists speaks to the workmanlike craftsmanship this series has been handled with and shows a bravery and honesty that is lacking in most Shonen Manga that are quick to wrap it all up with a friendship speech.
But to also subtly keep some of the elements of Shonen Manga with out it coming off as needlessly saccharine or trite, be it Trilla's mini “training arc” with the special forces or Petra encouraging Claes to keep her promise even though she can't remember who she made the promise to. Not to mention subtle writing that rewards you for paying attention much like a well-crafted novel; for instance Alessandro's dislike of redheads. A petty personal preference? Think again my friend! Pay attention and you will be rewarded, even in non verbal scenes where it's the touch of a hand or the look on a face, like the scene where Triela is caught off guard playing with one of the bears Hillshire has given her and then, flustered, tries to hide it, giving insight that maybe she's not as stoic as she would have us believe.
In a world of disposable mass produced voter-driven Manga that only proves more every day what Takeo Udagawa was trying to say in Manga Zombie when he called on people to “burn their Manga.” Where characters are given no more motivation that “I want to be the best” or some such trite phrase Gunslinger Girl makes you think about the consequences of the characters actions and what strength really is or the true meaning of humanity, love, and the many gray areas of morality. Not bad for a series originally based on Hentai Lolicon doujinshi.
For those reasons I nominate this series as the best title of 2011. And to think I owe my interest in this series to a recommendation of the Anime from my church's Deacon. Strange world eh? I also didn't get to mention the numerous cultural and historical references that litter this series like Diamonds in the street from Savonarola, Tosca, and even Russian Ballet and the history of Florence. It's like a gift that keeps on giving so again Gunslinger Girl - read it love, it best of 2011 with a bullet.
Chantel, meanwhile, picks a show that's not gotten much love in these end-of-the-year roundups:
My favorite show from 2011? I would have to say "Beelzebub", which began this past summer. It's a charming mix of hot-blooded shonen fighting, and comedy. It's not afraid to break the fourth wall repeatedly, and enjoys making immense fun of itself. The animation may not be amazing, but it's colorful, and the characters are easily distinguishable from one another. You don't really find yourself disliking anyone - even the villians, which is rather nice for a change. I hope it continues to run for a long time to come, because it brightens my week every new episode, and hasn't let me down yet!
Sho Shinjo has a Faustian conversation with himself about his pick for best of last year:
Last year was interesting in new releases. From eye candy for fans like Persona 4 The Animation (which I'm really enjoying BTW) to your regular harem/moeblob series, we had a bit of everything. I'm currently enjoying the last episodes of The IDOLM@STER and the second half of Fate/Zero as well. But, if I have to choose one... It would be a tie between Steins;Gate and the Carnival Phantasm OAVs. Spoilers ahead, so I apologize in advance.
Stein's;Gate was pretty awesome. It might not have the best animation in the world, but the visuals were just right IMO for the story it developed. The characters were interesting, and you had a lot of plot twists as well. Some of them were predictable, but there were ones which just blew your mind (like the whole Mayuri thing... It was unexpected and depressing). The whole theme of messing up with time continuity was pretty well done too, and there are some fun things around to balance all the seriousness as well, like Kurisu being a 2channer or the Gelbanas. Or Ookabe's silliness. Also, once you figure out who's Suzuha's mother, you start wondering how in hell Daru hooked up with her!
On the other hand, Carnival Phantasm is merely eye-candy for Type Moon fans. No real plot, and lots of nonsense. You need to be familiar beforehand with the Nasuverse to get most of the jokes, but they're hilarious once you get the references. The recurring joke of Lancer dying, Satsuki's corner, Phantas-Moon, discovering Saber can trigger her "Alter" mode by removing her ahoge, the Sakura drama, Berserker's Errand, Bazett as a showgirl, Arcueid being just everywhere in almost all segments and assaulting Nrvnsqr like a pervert, Aoko's plan to raise Shiki then marry him, even the Lancer-eating Saber Lion and Nero from Fate/Extra make their appearance! And let's not forget the Tiger Dojo, which are probably the best next episode previews ever. And then the "d'awww" moments, like Saber's or most importantly, Caster's. Who'd have thought they would actually give her the ending she wished for? And let's not forget all those awesome Neco-Arcs.
Anyways. I probably can't choose one from those 2, but those were definitely my favorites from this year. I hope we get great series the next year as well!
And finally, Brandon's answer is brief but sharp. You may cut yourself, so exercise caution:
Well, Angel Beats! was released over here this year, but it is a 2010 title so I will not count it. This year: Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I'm not going to bother explaining why; chances are the people reading the column have already seen it. If not they should.
Good show, everyone! And now that we've finished dissecting our favorites of the past year, it's time, now to look forward to the bright and shining future that is 2012! And to that end, I've prepared this little question:
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 so, from myself and everyone here at ANN, I wanna wish you all a happy, merry, safe and wonderful New Year's, and I'll see you next week in 2012! But until then, don't be shy and drop on by my little slice of e-mail heaven by asking me a question or answering an Answerfan thing and letting me know over at answerman(AT!)animenewsnetwork.com! See you next week, and enjoy the celebratory bacchanalia!