Hey, Answerman! Netflix Violation
by Brian Hanson, May 11th 2012
Hey everybody! Welcome, welcome, once again, to the answer-iffic testament to anime pulchritude that is Hey, Answerman!
In case anybody was ever wondering how I come up with the titles for these columns, here is a beat-by-beat insight into my creative process:
"One of the questions is about (specific thing). I should build a pun out of that."
"Lemme just pull up my iTunes and see if there's any song titles that I can match that up with. Maybe like a Bob Dylan song or something. Nothing? Huhn."
"Maybe a movie pun! Or a Latin phrase!! No, that doesn't work either."
"A common phrase!! COME ON THERE MUST BE SOMETHING - no not really"
"WHY IS THIS WORLD CRUEL AND UNCARING. FROM WHAT DANK PIT OF SOUL-POISON DID I CRAWL OUT OF TO DESERVE THIS CURSE."
"Okay. Just go with the next thing that pops into your head. (writes out lame thing) That works. You always spend too much time on the titles anyway. Pun titles are more Zac's bag, anyway."
So JUST IN CASE anybody's wondering why "Netflix Violation" is the title. The only word that I could think of that reasonably sounded like "Netflix" was "ethics" and there's not a lot to go off of there. Here I am, explaining away my mediocrity.
Let's just get to your questions!
This'll be a two-in-one kind of question so excuse from kinda cheating. Recently I had a discussion with few acquaintances of mine about older anime. I asked them why they profoundly refuse to watch any older series than those made in early 2000's or thereabouts, and their answer was that there is simply no reason to. According to them anime has advanced both in storytelling department and especially in animation since those days so newer stuff is almost guaranteed to be better than almost anything made in, say 80's or 90's (so they feel no obligation to watch Tenchi Muyo! for example because the concept has been made much better since). And since there's so many new series coming out there's no need to watch older stuff because they sure ain't running out of stuff to watch. So my question is this: Why do you think fans should care about older anime, especially if modern anime is automatically better than most of the stuff made decades ago, and do you feel this sort of judgement is justified?
Well, I hate to say it, but in a way, they're actually kind of right. Zac has been gorging himself on 80's and 90's-era anime lately for ANNCast, and his reaction to those shows in 2012 terms isn't exactly... kind. Whereas even something like Slayers once seemed like an unassailable, perfect blend of fantasy and comedy, that was before stuff like Fairy Tail and Legend of Legendary Heroes came by and punched things up a bit. Which one is "better" than the other is merely a matter of personal preference. I'll take Slayers, but that's because I'm an old guy who likes Old Guy Things.
But even I'll be perfectly honest - Slayers is kind of terrible. Fun-terrible, but still terrible. The characters are fun and likeable, but completely one-dimensional. The villains and hardships they find themselves embroiled in are completely rote. And the jokes suck. Fairy Tail struck me as all those things, and to be honest it's more of a shonen action-show than Slayers is I'll admit - but ostensibly, it scratches the same itch. A buncha fun, wacky characters imbued with magic, thrust into perilous situations with boob jokes aplenty. They're both equally rather mediocre but lighthearted enough to be enjoyable. But I can completely and honestly understand why Fairy Tail is a rather popular series with today's modern anime fans - who would probably take one look at Slayers and simply roll their eyes and move along.
And of course, the truth is - this is an endless cycle! This will continue, onward and onward, until the End Of Time Itself. Today's Fairy Tail fans will grouse uncomfortably in 20 years or so as the next, slickly-produced anime series crops up featuring a band of merry magical misfits on wacky adventures. As always, the song remains the same. In that sense, the storytelling *has* advanced, if only in that the audience has a MUCH different set of expectations and demands than you and I did in the 90's. The standards of animation have advanced with better technology, both in production and also distribution. While I and several others lament the hand-crafted look of a cel-animated show shot on film, there's no QUESTION that anime has benefited tremendously from switching to digital and high definition as the standard.
In other words, for your average anime viewer, I completely understand that they're averse to watching older titles. Whether their rationale can be explained away so neatly is up for discussion, though - but that's almost irrelevant. Sure, Cheers is a much better sitcom than Two And A Half Men, but only an insanely small fraction of viewers of the latter are going to be curious enough to seek out the former.
And that curiosity is the key, really. Because there's really no reason, honestly, for most current anime viewers to go back and watch Tenchi Muyo!. Every single element of that show has been done to death by dozens of other shows over the past 20-odd years. Much like how movie audiences yawned at John Carter earlier this year, the individual elements of the original source material have been fed to these younger fans for so long, the original just looks stale and unappetizing. But! BUT!
While stuff like Tenchi Muyo! and Slayers has a direct lineage to current shows, there's an astonishing amount of shows that simply aren't made anymore. In the past 20 years, has there ever been a show remotely comparable to Legend of Galactic Heroes? Or Maison Ikkoku? I've searched high and low for another anime as outright bizarre as Elf Princess Rane, to no avail. What about feature films? OVAs? I don't think we'll ever see something as unique as Take the X Train from a mainstream anime studio like MADHOUSE ever again.
And those "unique" titles are, unfortunately, the ones that suffer in this new-versus-old debate. This silly, silly debate. As an old-timer, which is weird to say as a dude still in his 20's, let me just reiterate - by and large, the majority of anime being produced in Japan is just as good if not better than it ever has been since I first immersed myself in this stuff. Are we just drunk on nostalgia? Absolutely. Except for its excitingly weird and dark ending, there's nothing in Video Girl Ai that's particularly exceptional. I was a younger fan back then, and so I ended up watching as much stuff as I could get my grubby hands on. Considering there was also a lot less of it being made available to me, that meant I ended up watching (and enjoying) a lot of different kinds of shows than I would probably have time for today. If something equivalent to a Video Girl Ai came up nowadays, I'd probably (shamefully) ignore it, until the reviews came in to mark it as a "must see."
Still, nostalgia is a powerful elixir. It's fun to shake our heads in shame at what those poor young kids are into these days. One Direction? Man I remember when I was that age, I was totally into Nirvana and stuff. That was real, man. Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked??? I remember when I watched Gremlins on VHS every day when I was five. That was the real deal, man. It's a delightful little blanket of emotional comfort - it's our brains validating our lives and the entertainment we used to distract us from the callousness of the outside world. But maybe, maybe some of those kids listening to today's "garbage" will be curious enough to pick up a Nirvana record at some point. Maybe some of today's kids, whetting their anime appetite with Fairy Tail, will have that intense curiosity and that urge to discover more about this broad medium. Maybe they'll Google something and wind up here on ANN, click on Justin Sevakis' "Buried Treasure" column, and be intrigued enough to track down any number of wonderful, older titles that are simply unrepresented in today's marketplace.
All of them won't. That much is certain. But a few will. I certainly did.
So I been wondering, companies usually get the license to a series for a few years then the license expires and another can company gets the license and sells the series again. Such as Love Hina. It was first released by Bandai then later re-released by FUNimation.
My question is, how does Harmony Gold manage to keep other companies from releasing Macross related products over here in the west? Has it not been decades since they first licensed Macross? How come that license hasn't expired yet?
You know, a good part of me feels like this whole "Harmony Gold will never allow any Macross-related thing to come out ever again" has just become a self-fulfilling prophecy of our own creation. That we're just re-establishing a narrative that may no longer be accurate, and any company willing to invest in Macross is just reading our constant whinging and shrugging their shoulders like "WELL guess that's impossible."
But then I realize, "Oh, that's right, Harmony Gold was trying to get a Robotech movie made." Ah!
Here's the problem - the "Robotech" name and property is still worth quite a bit of money to Harmony Gold. There's a new TV channel that airs an updated and very successful version of My Little Pony. There's a second G.I. Joe movie coming out in a couple months. And the three Transformers movies have made over a billion dollars around the world.
And, more importantly, the merchandising opportunities created by those three resurrected properties bring in millions of dollars for Hasbro.
And by the way, what's happening with that Robotech movie? Hell if anyone knows. Last I checked, there hasn't been any real news on it since three years ago. IMDB still has it listed as "in development" with a very loose "2016" release date. Can't wait for the news that Warner Bros. let its option on the film expire! So then Harmony Gold can shop around the abandoned project to other uninterested movie studios who do the same thing!!
But, here's the thing about movie projects that are "in development": there's still a *LOT* of money being thrown around there. Writers are being hired and fired by the truckload. It's not uncommon for films like this, at this stage, to go through over 20 writers and even more "script doctors." I mean they hired Lawrence freakin' Kasdan to write a script, and I don't think the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back works for cheap. (Although he should. Dreamcatcher was pure, distilled awful.) Producers and agents are cashing checks while Warner Bros. throws money in the air, hoping that at some point this will be considered a wise "investment" when this dead project finally lurches to theaters and potentially becomes a huge hit.
Is it a ton of money? Not really, but it's certainly not nothing. Also keep in mind - that recent original Robotech direct-to-DVD movie they made, Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, actually sold pretty well. For all of our cries to the Gods to release unfettered Macross product once more, an awful lot of people, outside of anime, still remember Robotech.
And besides, ADV released unfettered Macross not that long ago. It... didn't do so well. See the answer to the above question.
Now, that's no reason to let perfectly fine stuff like Macross Zero and Macross Frontier sit in Harmony Gold's warehouse of death. "Why are they sitting on FREE MONEY??? WHY WON'T THEY LET ME BUY THINGS FROM THEM???" fans often ask. Because, in the mind of Harmony Gold - if they're able to make this Robotech movie, *or* maybe another original animated film or series, they can make even more money than they would releasing an anime series on DVD. Their original Robotech-branded product could reach beyond us niche anime fans and into the broader market! All four quadrants, even!! And the merchandising!!!
But, as a wise man once said, Mo' Money, Mo' Problems - and the problem is that Harmony Gold is simply sowing nothing but acrimony from fans that WOULD give them their money. If you read the movie industry trades (like I do, because I am a sad man), no studio on the face of this Earth would be foolish enough to fund a movie with the budget something like Robotech needs. The only movies Hollywood wants to spend any money on are superhero movies and young-adult novels. Pop sci-fi? Pssh. Unless you've got J.J. Abrams producing, forget it.
But still - that sweet, sweet Hasbro lucre is just too tempting. If a small company like Harmony Gold could harvest even a fraction of that money, they could probably legally kill Harmony Korine and coat his corpse in solid gold. (HARMONY GOLD!!! ugh)
Sorry, Macross fans! Nostalgia-mining is where it's at right now. But it certainly wouldn't hurt to keep up the noise and the enthusiasm. Coordinated fan-based campaigns to have these properties revisited have certainly worked in the past. There's no reason minds cannot be changed. Keep hope alive, folks. Keep reaching for that Robotech rainbow!
I have been blessed with the gift of Netflix for some time now, and recently I've been marathoning a few of my favorite anime. I know this can't possibly hurt the industry, as it's entirely legal, but in what way -if any- do streaming services help? Is it simply a form of advertisement, like, "If you like watching this show for Free!, why not shell out the cash for it?" (Of course, I'm not saying this is wrong or unethical. Just a little inconvenient to those of us with empty wallets.) Or do the anime big-shots get some sort of royalty when a show is streamed?
I've gotten versions of this question a lot, recently. Turns out a lot of you are concerned that your Netflix habits are actually, in some way, hurting anime companies. Aw! You guys do care!
So, here's the absolute honest skinny on where money goes regarding Netflix. They do, in fact, get an up-front royalty payment, from Netflix, for every title that Netflix "licenses" essentially. And, it should be noted, Netflix is a little light in the cash department lately - lots of expensive purchases from Hollywood studios has drained a lot of their capital - so watching any of their anime content is a good way to let Netflix know that their money was well-spent. "Thanks for spending money on Trigun, Netflix! Here are my eyeballs." With something like Hulu, that's still ad-based - and, due to their huge subscriber base, they pay their rights-holders the best share of ad-rates in the streaming video business. And if the show is popular - like I dunno Naruto Shippūden or something - those ad dollars add up to a lot.
More important than the royalties, though, is the simple fact that these services are HUGE now. Huge to the point that it's actually a pretty terrific way for new fans to discover these shows - or, possibly maybe, new fans to discover anime itself! And new fans are always a good thing; statistically speaking, the better a show performs on Netflix, the more DVDs and Blu Rays tend to sell. And that is a definitive Good Thing for everybody.
So, make no mistake - no anime company out there is getting "burned" by your Netflix binging. They're pleased as punch, to be frank. Anime companies take it as a sign that their content is still valuable and that their license still has audience appeal. Major movie and television studios, on the other hand, are the ones that are having a problem with Netflix and its ilk - they see it as a threat to cable networks, as cable subscriptions decline while Netflix and Hulu continue to rise. (Hence the kerfluffle recently where Hulu threatened to pull its services to anyone without an accompanying cable subscription.) Cable networks, of course, pay outrageous sums of money to acquire major films and TV shows. Will any of those same cable networks pay anything to acquire any anime? Probably not. And if they do, it's a pittance. Unlikely to be any more lucrative than Netflix, at least.
So, it's a good thing. Don't feel guilty. Be glad! Your Netflix subscription and Hulu watching puts honest money in the right pockets and everybody but the greediest and most frightened major studios are happy with the arrangement. So don't pack your bags for the Guilt Trip just yet.
(I think that's my new lamest joke.)
Hey, you know what? Let's toss another question in here. Why not.
With this season's anime well underway I wanted to ask you, how can us foreigners show our support for the series that we enjoy that are currently airing? I'm watching them on Crunchyroll and Hulu but are the Japanese companies really paying attention to the foreign streaming market or are they just concerned with how many people are tuning in in their own country? I recently had an experience where a non-anime show I was watching got cut short by two episodes and ended HORRIBLY. I really don't want that to happen to any of the anime I'm watching. Please help!
Oh, they're paying very close attention. Almost too much attention, sometimes.
But of course, their main priority is how their various shows are performing in their main market - Japan, obviously. That's where they're going to make most of their money in merchandising and DVD and Blu Ray sales. But they are closely watching their shows' performance on Crunchyroll and Hulu for a number of reasons. One very big reason is piracy - they are scared to death that evil pirates are going to steal every anime they upload. Of which, sadly, there is precedent, given the One Piece leaks and HorribleSubs and such.
But beyond the constant worry that the foreign audience is going to steal everything they produce, there's also the fact that us US fans, on occasion, buy DVDs and Blu Rays as well. Those DVDs and Blu Rays tend not to cost as much as their Japanese counterparts (Aniplex USA notwithstanding), so the profit margin is a lot slimmer - nonetheless, every Japanese production company enjoys it when they know they've got a title on their hands that can sell overseas. But because there's no real place on Western television anymore for anime, the one outlet to gauge potential interest is by monitoring the simulcasts.
I don't think you should be *terribly* concerned that Japanese companies would pull a series two episodes before completion. I don't think there's any real precedent for that aside from the live-action incident you mentioned. There's certainly been delays that've upset people, but nothing so drastic as an outright removal of content.
You know what? Let's do one more question.
Why isn't there more ninja anime? I am not trolling you, if you look it up on ANN and just think about there is a surprising lack of ninja anime.
Huh. You know what? You're right. That is a little weird.
Ninja anime tend to do pretty well over here. Naruto, Ninja Scroll, Dagger of Kamui. Meanwhile there's at least one or two samurai dramas every season, or shows like Sengoku Collection that revel in samurai cliches. The only new ninja show this season is a Naruto spinoff. Last season, it was... that boob-ninjutsu show that I can't remember the name of and why bother, because life's too short, and I right? No? Okay fine, Manyuu Hiken-cho.
My guess is that there simply isn't a long, storied history of ninja... stuff like there is with samurai dramas. Meanwhile, us kids here in the West grew up with ninjas. Ninjas of the Teenaged Mutant Turtle variety, ninjas of the Sho Kosugi variety, and of course Ninjer Empires.
Ninja stuff sells well here. Maybe they just didn't get the memo that kids in the West are kind of obsessed with ninjas. And thanks for telling me you're not trolling! Always appreciated.
And I'm not trolling about being appreciative about being told you weren't trolling. Just so we're clear.
Hey, why did I answer five questions? It's another light week on the Answerfan front, I'm afraid.
I got one, though! Just for giggles, here was the question I posed to y'all last week:
And here is our sole Answerfan for this week, mcghee5:
I think there is a place still for OVA's and movies. I think movies would do real good, as long as they are a real movie, and not just a condensed version of an existing TV series. You have had Summer Wars and all those Miyazaki movies. The Evangelion movies seem to be doing okay also.
Think it really comes down to whether or not the anime movie is created as a true movie and whether or not it is good. Too many anime movies today are just condensed compilations of an anime TV series or rapidly produced crap made solely to milk a TV franchise.
I have a lot of Japanese laserdisc anime movies. People will buy anime OVA's and movies if they are good. I know I will.
Thanks mcghee5! It's nice to know that I can at least get one good response, no matter the question!
Alright, so - note taken. This week! Ah, this week!! This week is a fun question, requiring fun anecdotes instead of postulation! So dig open those memory banks of yours, 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.
Good luck with your fun convention stories! Remember, as I always say, to make an email deposit in my inbox over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! I'll see you next week for another round of answerin'! Good day to all!
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