Hey, Answerman! Building You A Better Cartoon Show
by Brian Hanson, Apr 13th 2012
Hi, friends and neighbors! Welcome to your weekly dose of Answerman!
Once again I'm under the gun from some rather auspicious deadlines - including a very cool project spearheaded by the luminary himself, Carl Horn - so let's just start plowin' through all of this week's wisdom!
Hey there Answerman,
I have a question for you about some of the North American market releases, more specifically Aniplex's releases. I have heard quite a few people rage over the price of their releases as well as the sound reasoning of ANN contributors and my question is this:
Why exactly is Aniplex's marketing decisions being looked at in such a negative light?
So far they have been releasing titles that they know will sell physical copies and then making the titles available through digital means; Crunchyroll got Oreimo and Madoka and even Garden of Sinners got a digital release. This seems like a wise business move to me. Everyone gets a chance to see it and American fans can pre-order well enough in advance to insure that they have the proper funds. Can you please shed some light on this debate?
Well, if this were a real "debate," that would imply that there might be some sort of "change" in regards to this issue. I think the fact that Aniplex USA's releases continue to sell out, each and every time, makes a pretty good case that they're doing fine, thanks. For all the grousing and grumbling, I don't think anything is likely to change.
Myself, though, I can certainly empathize quite a bit with the frustration that a lot of fans feel about Aniplex. Essentially, they're regressing to the earlier Days of Anime Yore in regards to pricing and distribution - when they're not divvying up shows into single volumes, they're releasing exorbitantly-priced boxed sets in limited quantities. Considering that we've been continually spoiled since 2008 or so with rich, full, easy-to-obtain boxed sets of 11 to 13 episodes apiece, all at a low low price, much of what Aniplex is doing seems so antiquated.
I mean, not so long ago, Bandai Visual's Honneamise label bit the dust by doing the exact same thing - charging, essentially, exorbitant Japanese prices for titles that appealed mostly to the dedicated Otaku, to the consternation of many. I mean, one-hundred bucks for Gunbuster vs. Die Buster? Eighty dollars for Wings of Honneamise? Fast forward a few years, and Bandai Visual is shunted to the side as Bandai Entertainment itself slowly fizzles away. Now, it's this - 65 bucks for the Kenshin OVAs on Blu Ray? Are you guys nuts?
What I think Aniplex USA is doing right this time is... they're more capable insofar as managing fan expectations. They're doing a much better job of explaining to people, "Look, we know this is expensive, but this is really the only way this will make any financial sense, and it's better than NOT getting it on DVD or Blu Ray at all, right?" The messaging is much clearer, and so less people are looking at their high prices and limited availability as a dirty way to swindle their fans, and it's more of a sad but necessary financial reality.
And the other thing is, for the people who actually do buy these sets, I hear nothing but praise. I mean, they're expensive, but lookit all this crap. In a weird way, you're basically getting your money's worth. You get a nice booklet, a soundtrack, a freakin' dub, some posters and cards, and other fun stuff. Thinking about this rationally, the 75 dollar asking price isn't that much more than the myriad of "Limited Editions" that would come out for every volume of everything ADV and Bandai used to dump onto the shelves of every Fry's and Best Buy in the country, and the things Aniplex USA puts out certainly look a lot nicer than the junk ADV would cram in with every volume of Gantz.
So, I think the "complaining" is pretty genuine. On its face, 80 bucks and up for a Blu Ray seems a bit excessive. And it's not the norm for this industry, and hasn't been for a very long time. If it costs more than 50 US dollars, and it has less than 11 or 10 episodes on it, people generally freak out a little bit - because that's what we're used to having now. Nobody ever said that collecting anime was cheap, but, at Aniplex USA's prices, well - that puts it right out of the price range of a lot of folks. And the other thing is, a lot of these shows have pretty broad appeal; Madoka Magica was one of the biggest hits of last year. Kenshin is still huge here, too. There's certainly a healthy throng of people who adore Garden of Sinners and Fate/Zero, too. When people say things like, "I would've bought Fate/Zero, but I simply can't because it's too expensive," I do genuinely believe them.
But at the end of the day, this is all a numbers game, and Aniplex USA is just trying to play it safe - all the while, giving their fans a good reason to pay the kind of prices they do. And, they're selling out DVDs and Blu Rays. I'd say that it's working just fine.
As I stay up a bit to watch the current programs broadcasting on Adult Swim and seeing the old Toonami bumps (Circa version 3.0) really brings back a feeling of nostalgia to me. This may be nothing but an April Fools joke, but at the same time it seems like a nice nod as part of Cartoon Network's twentieth anniversary. I could go on and on about how much the Toonami block was so much a part of my childhood, and growing up with it was the introduction to anime for me.
However, as I watch, I can't help but think that Toonami would fit nicely on the Saturday night block with all the anime it shows. My question is this, do you think that bringing back Toonami on Saturday Nights only would be a good change of pace for Adult Swim? Knowing that Toonami faithfuls are likely old enough to watch Adult Swim now, do you think putting it on that block would work? Or is this simply hoping for a miracle?
I'd say it's not a miracle whatsoever - Adult Swim themselves have been on Twitter actively promoting it. And with good reason, too - I was up all night, along with many others, tweeting and chatting and generally going nuts. I know when I saw "Ryoko" as a trending topic, a nerve was definitely struck.
Now, you may ask yourself, "why didn't Brian cover this question last week?" The answer is simple - I wanted to wait until the ratings came in! And they just did! And they were - not bad. Not great, but, not bad. On the whole, the ratings are slightly-better-than-average for their Saturday nights of anime - and what's encouraging about that is that the "viewer attrition" was pretty slight, even towards the end of the night. Usually, you can expect the viewership to drop by increasing percentages throughout the night as it gets later - meanwhile, even Yū Yū Hakusho, which aired at something like 4 in the morning, managed to pull in around 700,000 viewers, which isn't a terrible drop of eyeballs from Dragon Ball Z's high of nearly 1 million viewers. That's certainly much better than the 400,000 who tuned in to a rerun of InuYasha the previous week.
Of course, those numbers are just rough estimates, and more importantly, they're total viewers. For Adult Swim, the important thing is always demographics. Specifically, that luscious and juicy 18-34 male demo. I have no idea what the actual demographic breakdown is, but either way, the numbers were encouraging enough to make Adult Swim at least ask people on Twitter to gauge interest. I think that speaks volumes, myself.
And speaking of speaking for myself, I grew up with Toonami just as much as... well, everyone else did. I remember watching subtitled episodes of Gundam Wing at my local anime club, and then running home from school to see those same episodes, dubbed, on TV. My nostalgia was delighted and pleased, just like everybody else's. I've done my tweeting to the effect of, "please bring Toonami back, I would enjoy it." Not only that, but it would help distinguish Adult Swim's anime offerings as something more than just the "Anime Part of Adult Swim," which is basically what it is right now.
But that's all up to Cartoon Network and Adult Swim and their marketing and branding team. Still, if you guys want Toonami back on the air in some form, let 'em know on Facebook and Twitter. Also, I know that there's a cadre of folks on Toonzone who are starting a letter writing campaign; so get on it, folks. You want it back? Let them know!
Remember that Youth Ordinance Bill that had everyone crying that the sky was falling awhile back? Whatever happened to that? It's been a year since the self regulation clauses went into effect but there's only ever been that one list of objectionable titles released. Aside from Aki Sora ending, I can't say it's had any impact on my anime and manga consuming. To Love Ru Darkness is still getting published and is even going to get an anime now, so to me it seems to have been a lot of bluster over a bill that has essentially done nothing. Has anything actually changed that I'm just not noticing?
I guess it hasn't had too big of a discernible impact, but still - having the effect of cancelling even one series is one series too much. And besides, Aki Sora is hardly the only victim here.
AND NOW, SOME PERSONAL OPINION ON THE LAW IN QUESTION, just in case it is necessary:
I am not a fan of lolicon in general and even a less a fan of manga that glorify what I find to be, personally, quite offensive. But, because I am an adult, I can be offended by something without demanding that it be banned and burned and destroyed from public record. I am a staunch free-speech advocate and I find any sort of government-imposed censorship to be the death of art in all forms, even if it is targeting a piece of "art" that I personally find indefensible.
There, now that that's out of the way. Did the sky fall? I guess it didn't. There's two things to pay attention to here: One, this is not a very popular piece of legislation, and even though it's been passed and ratified, it's still under an awful lot of scrutiny - scrutiny from some of the biggest and baddest and most popular figures in the manga, anime, and general Japanese entertainment industry. That triumvirate makes for a pretty powerful lobby. Two, this law has only been in effect since last July. Let's give it, I'll say, a good year or more before we can accurately dissect its open wounds and determine its efficacy or lack thereof.
It's a little too early, I think, to consider the law either a total bust, or the destruction of everything good, ever. Right now, it looks like a bureaucratic mess. Whether the Youth Ordinance Bill saves the soul of every Japanese child or ruins the manga and anime industry is yet to be known.
But I do know this - as icky as I find stuff like Aki Sora, and as profoundly disgusted I am at the concept of something like "My Wife Is an Elementary Student," nothing turns my stomach more than needless and baseless knee-jerk censorship.
Actually, mealworms are pretty gross too. If I ever see a YouTube video or something about mealworms I'll start dry heaving. Let's move on.
Moving on to lighter topics, let's check in with my readers for this week's Answerfans! Last time, inspired by the bevy of new content known as "New TV Season," I wanted to hear about those indelible first impressions for anime's past:
Pachy_Boy begins this week's festivities, and includes the nicest thing I think I've ever heard about Angelic Days:
For me, the best first episode of an anime series is a three-way tie between Revolutionary Girl Utena, Haibane Renmei, and Burst Angel, three titles that couldn't be anymore different from each other and yet are superb for different reasons. I've watched a lot of anime series that started out promising enough and only later turn out to be even greater than I first thought. All three series are the rare kind where I was hooked not just from the first episode, but from the first few minutes, the opening theme song included.
From the get-go, Utena was charming. The art style, the music, the characters, the surreal atmosphere, it was all there within those first few minutes, grabbing my senses, persisting for the rest of the episode, and never letting up for 39 episodes. If anything, as the story developed it got even more surrealistic and darkly enchanting.
As for Haibane Renmei, the beauty and poetry of the overall deceptively simple story was there in the opening shot of Rakka falling down through the sky, setting a tone that was consistently reflected for the rest of the episode as we got to meet the angelic-looking cast of characters, as well as the rest of the gorgeous 13-episode series.
Then there's Burst Angel, which opens up with an over-the-top albeit kickass action sequence right before the head-banging opening theme song. From there the viewer finds out whether this show really is for them or not as the first episode lays out everything what this series is all about—girls with guns taking on jobs in a future crime-filled Tokyo with non-stop action, along with some genuine chemistry between the characters. It has its cheesy silliness, but it was all clearly made for the purpose of fun and nothing else. Fun was what I had for its entire 24-episode run.
As for the best opening chapter of a manga, I've read tons of great series, but there is really only one title I can think of with a great opening chapter, and it's the out-of-print Evangelion: Angelic Days from the long-defunct ADV Manga. Like many people, the last episode of the Evangelion anime left me scratching my head, as well as curious about this alternative world that was shown where Shinji, Asuka, and Rei are normal kids who go to a normal school, with Misato as their teacher. Sure, it's a satire of the clichéd romantic comedy series, but in a way it kind of makes me wish the characters really were able to live in that world, where their lives weren't so bleak, and that's the basic premise of the Angelic Days manga. What hooked me about the entire first chapter was not just that it was an adaptation of that alternative-world sequence from episode 26, but also because it really felt like I was meeting these same characters for the first time, getting to know them all over again as it's established that none of them come from screwed-up backgrounds. It was an even nicer surprise to also see that in this world Kaworu is a fellow student and Ritsuko is the school nurse. I was intrigued to see where everything would go from here. Of course, what happens is that the school is a front and the kids are set up to fight the angels, but it's still a different story as the characters are given a chance with their alternative lives and relationships to seek a far different outcome for themselves and everybody else. The artwork may be rough, but its story and characters compensated for it. I was anything but disappointed all the way through its 6-volume run.
I agree with Ashleigh. Lemme see those notepads, anime writers:
Well, I don't know about “best,” or maybe not even “favorite,” but the most impressionable first episode I've seen in anime is the pilot for Fullmetal Alchemist, “Those Who Challenge the Sun.” It is rare nowadays that you watch/read something without knowing anything about it. But back in 2004 when FMA aired on Adult Swim, I didn't know what this show was gonna be about. They ran a ridiculous trailer of a little blond kid kicking people in the face with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture playing in the background. Whatever, I thought, it runs before [another anime I watched that I don't remember, Bebop or Trigun, maybe], I'll check it out. Spoilers ahead!
The episode starts with an experiment gone horribly wrong and just gets more intriguing from there. Philosophy and science collide and combine in a way I hadn't seen in a show before. The brothers Ed and Al insist to Rose that humans who are dead, stay dead and nothing can bring them back, to which Rose insist there's nothing faith can't do. Ed coolly lists off the chemical make-up of a human body, adding that human “are built cheaply.” Al survives getting his head blown off and runs around in a suit of armor because he IS suit of armor. Ed quotes a story from Greece (never you mind about real-world geography) about getting too close to the sun and burning up. The episode is ending and Ed rips off his jacket to show his fake limbs, and screams at Rose to look at the price they paid for a failed human resurrection. THEN IT ENDS.
Well damn if I wasn't gonna tune in next week to see how it turns out.
-Mysterious, yet likeable characters
-Familiar, yet exotic setting
-Just enough questions to make you think, but not so much that you're confused
-Actually revealing what the title means
-Ending the episode with a chimera trying to chew the protagonist's leg off
This, my friends, is a winning combination. Writers, take notes.
Now, invalidname raises some (wait for it) VALID POINTS:
Maybe I'm not remembering great first episodes from 10-20 years ago, but my favorite first episode that I can remember is Clannad. First, it succeeds on a highly pragmatic basis: if you like the first episode, you will likely enjoy the rest of the series, and if you hate it, there is absolutely nothing in the next 24 episodes (or the sequel, Clannad After Story) that will change your mind.
On the one hand, it's efficient at establishing Clannad's comic and storytelling sensibilities. When I reached the first commercial title card (when Tomoyo is about to confront the biker gang and the wind dramatically whisks her hair), I had an odd sense I'd already been watching this show for a long time, that it had already established its groove.
That's helped, of course, by the fact that Clannad benefits from having its whole story worked out in advance, on account of being based on a visual novel. There are no "we'll figure it out later" forward references to yellow umbrellas or opera-house confrontations: the opening titles can show fleeting glimpses of the last scene of Clannad After Story because it already knows where it's going. Foreknowledge also helps set up where the show goes: the first episode is trenchant and sentimental in retrospect for setting up series-defining arc words ("If you like… shall I take you to the place in town where wishes come true?") and the first meeting of leads Tomoya and Nagisa, which will be explicitly revisited (under very different conditions) at the end of After Story.
Emyr reminds us of the many gut-punches prevalent in Ga-Rei: Zero:
This is a pretty tough question. My general philosophy is that it takes two episodes to really get a feel for the series as a whole; taking Death Note as an example, although you get to see Light's nifty little God complex in episode one, his epic battle of wits that makes up the meat of the series doesn't start until episode two.
With that philosophy, I don't usually judge a first episode independent of the second... but there is one exception: Ga-Rei: Zero. Its first episode seems, to me, to be simultaneously completely unrepresentative of the rest of the series and yet represent it perfectly, showing you exactly what you're in for.
We're introduced to our team of heroes. They play off each other, giving us a good idea of their personalities and roles; there's even a dark and tragic backstory hinted at for some of them. The background of the military organization they're part of is explained. They fight a strange group of enemies, explaining to us what's going on. Finally, in a brutal battle against a powerful foe, they manage to pull off an act of desperation to claim victory. All ends well, and the group talks together and laughs with relief...
And they're all murdered within the space of about a minute by one of the actual main characters, who the series follows from episode 2 onward.
This is not a series to pull punches. It will take characters and make you care about them and kill them in the most horrific ways - and worse. The first episode slaps you in the face with that and says, "If you can't handle that, get out." It's a very, very rare sort of series to abuse its viewers like that, and it sets the tone beautifully.
Ian puts his Joseph Campbell knowledge to good use:
I have to go with "Gurren Lagann" as the best first episode of an anime series. There are many great first episodes, often more than last episodes. "Gurren Lagann" succeeds in its unique take of the familiar hero's journey storyline. In the first 3 minutes it sets up a combination of ridiculous overblown action, and drama that manages to be emotionally engaging on many levels. The use of strong visual shows what the story is going to be about while narration sets up the plight of the main character. I watch that first 3 minutes, and how it evolves from there into the whole episode, and I know even if the rest of the show is downhill from there, which it's not, what they accomplish in that first episode stands on its own as great spectacular hero's journey storytelling.
Megan invokes Pink Sparkles, Hilarity:
Hmm....I thought long and hard about all the first episodes for all the shows I own, and all the first chapters of all the manga I own, and the only one that stood out to me was the first one that came to mind: the first episode of Ouran High School Host Club.
I guess it's rather appropriate, since that was one of the first anime series I ever watched (at least, that I watched knowing it was anime, versus just being a kid and being all 'WHEE CARTOONS!'). It stands out to me for two reasons. One, it does what any good first episode should do - it establishes your main cast, their personalities and/or motivations, and sets up the main plot. Indeed, by the time the end credits roll, the viewer has been given the plot of the whole series in a nutshell (poor girl at rich school, poor girl encounters rich boys, rich boys think poor girl is poor boy, accident leads to massive debt and forced host club membership, poor boy is revealed to be poor girl, host club chooses to conceal girl's true gender, wackiness ensues). Secondly, and more importantly to me, it perfectly establishes the tone of that series, that tone being pink, sparkly, and hilarious. It works as both an introduction and a stand-alone episode, which demonstrates the quality of the writing. It's also really, really rewatchable - indeed, I've probably watched that episode half a dozen times, but only watched the whole series through once. I've If all that isn't evidence of a good first episode, I don't know what would be.
And finally, leave it to Alex to remind me of how sad and heartbreaking Cross Game is:
The best first episode of anime I've seen is easily from Cross Game. I've watched it multiple times and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. I'd put it one notch below the opening of Up on the sadness scale. It's not exactly an enjoyable experience to be so depressed by a kids baseball anime, but I was genuinely moved.
Since my pick for "best episode" wasn't particularly enjoyable I'll add that the most enjoyable first episode of anime I've seen is FLCL's. I once ended up watching it 3 times in one day due to various circumstances and loved it every time. In particular, I suspect I could leave Haruko's intro on a loop for hours and not get bored.
Cool intros, everyone! I think I agree with just about all of them. Except for one. I'll let you all try to decipher that amongst yourselves.
And speaking of talking amongst yourselves, I have a new question for next week's Answerfans! Today, I was "inspired," as I so often am, by a conversation I was having with some folks on Twitter, and I came up with this, which is sure to spark a rather fervent discussion, I think:
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.
As always, don't forget to send your questions and answers via email, and point them towards answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Have a great week, ladies and gentleman!
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