Hey, Answerman! Pop-Tarts of Darkness
by Brian Hanson, Jul 27th 2012
Greetings, fans and fair-weather readers alike! This is Hey, Answerman!
This is gonna be one crazy weekend - for us East Coasters, the big game in town is Otakon, obviously. Keep your eyes plugged to ANN throughout the weekend, as I will be providing convention coverage alongside ANN's best and brightest for those of you unable to attend. And if you are attending, come by the ANN panel at 10am and say hello! Or you can tweet me and ply me with free food and booze.
More than likely, much like what happened at Anime Expo, by the end of this I'll be sick as a dog with some sort of unholy virus, praying for death. So it goes!
I'm sure you will receive many emails about this one question: Is Media Blasters a zombie?
By that I mean, will Media Blasters continue to be an active part of licensing and distributing anime for North American viewers even though they laid off almost 60% of their staff? Not only have they re-released Fushigi Yugi (with Season 2 coming out soon), but they have licensed 2012's remake of Ai no Kusabi (which is rather convenient since a few weeks ago, the OVA was mentioned in another question) and the hentai Aki Sora: Yume no Naka. It seems like the company is picking up shows that will be mild successes for their respectable demographics but will this be enough to keep Media Blasters from facing the same fate as other previous anime companies?
Hey, look, I understand; we're all a little on edge these days about *every* anime company. We've been burned one too many times by companies announcing titles that were never to truly be, as they crumbled under the tremendous weight of their modest ambitions in defiance of the cooling DVD market. Every title announcement, as I discussed when people were concerned with Sentai Filmworks a few weeks ago, is greeted with excitement followed immediately by intense trepidation. We're all scared.
But where, exactly, does that fear get us? I'll tell you where it gets us - it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We're all scared that these companies are going out of business, so sales drop. The sales drop, and the companies go out of business.
Now, I know that's just a Doomsday Scenario - Bandai Entertainment would've bowed out of the licensing business no matter how strong the pre-orders for Turn A Gundam were. Speaking for myself, though, I think we're getting a little too skittish about these things. These companies are trying to release these titles on DVD, in a slow economy, in a stagnant DVD market. If the "fans" are apparently too scared to buy them, then why *don't* they just go out of business?
So I'll just say this - you want that second season of Fushigi Yuugi? Pre-order it. The new Ai no Kusabi show is up your yaoi alley? Pre-order it. (Sidenote: if you actually have a literal "yaoi alley" please tweet me pictures of it.) Say Media Blasters goes out of business before your DVD is sent into your hot little hands? No worries - if you pre-order it through Amazon or Right Stuf, you're not out of any money. You don't technically "lose" anything. Maybe you lose a little bit of hope, but at least you don't have a hole in your credit card balance.
"B-b-but what if they go under *after* they start releasing these things, and my DVD collections are woefully incomplete?!?" you say. I dunno, deal with it, maybe? I still can't get the final season of The Adventures of Pete & Pete on DVD, and that's owned by ****ing Nickelodeon and Viacom, a healthy media conglomerate. On that same nostalgia tip, I still can't get every episode of Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs on DVD. MURDEROUS RAGE. But did that eventual disappointment and existential despair stop me from purchasing the preceding DVDs? Hell no! They had my money at "hello." And also, "here is the Amazon pre-order page."
So, those are my thoughts. You want it? Pre-order it. It sends a nice message, and beyond that, it helps ensure, in some small part, that there might be more of this stuff to come. "Put your money where your mouth is," or so they say.
Not that anyone actually says that anymore these days in a completely non-ironic way. But you know what I mean. Companies go out of business all the time due to mismanagement and idiocy, sure. But all too often, they go out of business because people simply aren't buying what they're selling. Let's all make sure it's not the latter option, because that's on us, and that's a shame.
You may have Batman on the brain, but I have Spider-Man on mine. The recent "The Amazing Spider-Man" film has been released to some mixed reviews. Most of the negative reviews I've come across seem to mention the fact that the film was rushed to theaters in order for Sony to keep the Spider-Man film rights from reverting back to Disney. Similarly, I've read that Fox is rushing a new "Fantastic Four" movie out to keep the film rights to those characters. So my question is, has this ever happened in the anime industry? Has an animation studio ever been forced to rush out a sub-par anime just to hold on to the rights for a manga series? Or do anime rights work differently then film rights?
Anime rights work very differently then film rights, and not just due to cultural differences.
The biggest difference is that, for an overwhelming majority of manga and light novels and other original properties, the rights to those properties are held by their individual creators. Or their agents. Either way, they're in charge of who gets to handle their properties, for how long, and so forth. As I explained earlier, though, they don't often get to exercise any sort of creative control over their anime adaptations - and most of the time they simply don't have the time nor the inclination to do so - but the rights to the property are theirs. They may not control every single piece of merchandise that flows out into the world, but their say is what goes when it's time to start up an anime adaptation.
Contrast that with the way these comic book properties work out; the characters owned by Marvel were, quite literally, owned by Marvel. Just look at the legal wrangling about the guy who co-created Ghost Rider earlier this year, and how Marvel launched a (unpopular, but legally justified) lawsuit to prevent him from selling images of the character at conventions. Nope - when you work at Marvel and create a character, they own that character. Same story at DC Comics. And now that they're both owned by media conglomerates - Disney and Warner Bros. - the "rights" to own that character become even more impossible.
The weird thing with Marvel is that their deal with Disney is recent, and Marvel Studios - Marvel's film company, pre-Disney buyout - was technically an independent studio, even though they had significant financial support from Paramount. Marvel Studios itself was launched as a way to combat the feeling amongst Marvel staff that their characters in film had far greater value than the characters themselves. The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies made billions, but only a small percentage of that money ever made its way back to Marvel. (Speaking of Spider-Man, here's an interesting article about all the weird rights-wrangling that happened over the course of 30 years, and includes such weirdness as Columbia Pictures agreeing to trade off the rights to the James Bond franchise to keep Spider-Man, despite Columbia/Sony purchasing Bond back from MGM a decade ago.)
The case with the Fantastic Four and 20th Century Fox is a bizarre story as well. I'm sure, as good geeks, you've all heard of - and perhaps even seen - the infamously horrific Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie. That film was never intended to see the light of day; it was made on the cheap so that the production company, Constantin Films, could hold on to the Fantastic Four film rights (their contract on the property would expire unless they started filming anything in December of 1992) for the explicit purpose of selling them off, at an inflated price, to a major studio - like 20th Century Fox. The sad irony in this case is that the 100-million-dollar Fantastic Four movie, co-produced by Constantin Films and Fox in 2005, sucks just as bad, but in a less watchable, more aggravating fashion.
And in a sick world where stuff like that is commonplace, I'm rather glad that manga creators and Japanese authors are able to retain such stringent control over their work. Sometimes that's not always a good thing - there are a plethora of OAVs and one-offs that can no longer be released by their original publishers, because their rights to adapt those specific properties have lapsed - but at least nothing as heinously calculated as Fantastic Four have come about.
And I keep hearing mixed things about The Amazing Spider-Man. I'm with everyone else - I don't really want to see another God damn superhero origin story - but apparently the movie has enough of a different flavor and zeal compared to the Sam Raimi movies that it stands on its own? Ehh I'll wait for the matinee regardless.
Recently I wrote a trilogy of articles on "Case Closed" (AKA: "Detective Conan") in America. The first article was me assessing why the show didn't catch on in America. This article was fairly well received. The second was how I felt the show COULD be a success in America! This article was praised by some, criticized by others as being ignorant... and I think both groups were right to a certain extent. The reason I wrote these articles though was to promote the third article, where I gave several suggestions on how the show could POTENTIALLY be saved in America (long story short: buy the DVD's and request the show be streamed on Hulu)! However this last article received neither praise nor criticism. In fact, what I largely got was a great big shrug. Even from some fans who run websites in favor of getting more of the show over here sort of just gave me a "well, it's probably too late to save the show, and there are fansubs available, so why bother" response.
Now, I know that this show didn't make a lot of money for Funimation. They haven't clarified whether they lost money on the property or simply didn't make enough to justify continuing it, but they are a business and they put money first. This I understand. And maybe I'm being a little ignorant here, but it seems that this show is fairly popular in America. I mean, whether or not the show is going to continue is an FAQ on Funimations own homepage, the (illegal) YouTube streams tends to get hundreds of thousands of views for most episodes, and the manga has been on the New York Times best sellers list several times (most recently in January for volume 42). Yet for some reason rallying the fans (even the ones who claim they really do want to save the show) seems to be like moving rocks. Never mind buying a cheap DVD, most fans don't seem interested to even take two minutes to send Hulu or Crunchyroll a request to stream is.
So my question is this: are anime fans less passionate about the shows that come to America? I remember the days of SOS (Save Our Sailors) who managed to get Sailor Moon fans to buy Pop-Tarts to get the show saved. I don't know how that was going to help, but they got fans to do it anyway. When Disney decided to sit on Studio Ghibli's films for an undetermined amount of time, people rallied against Disney and Disney (eventually) released the rest of them. Now though you can go to any forum of an anime series, give them a call of action, and most people just shrug it off. Why do you think this is? Are fansubs too prevalent? Is there so much anime out there that people can't be concerned with one show? Is the fact that "Case Closed" just isn't important enough to fans to get behind (even if it's a FAQ and NYT best seller)? A little of everything? Oh, and this situation isn't unique to "Case Closed." I've seen this with other series like "Lupin III" and "Hikaru no Go," but those shows really do seem very unpopular."
First things first: I've been an adamant Case Closed supporter for close to a decade now. I love the show so much, Funimation put my words of effusive praise on the cover of the 3rd season's DVD boxed set. There's nobody out there who doesn't want more Case Closed more than me.
But I'm not stupid. You make a lot of good points in your articles, but there's one thing that you didn't address that I feel is important to note regarding Case Closed's success - demographically speaking, Case Closed was (and still is) a hard sell. To any audience. Funimation did their best, and they had some success with it - when the show aired on Adult Swim, it frequently showed up in the top-rated programs for *all* viewers aged 12-17, although a good portion of that was probably owed to InuYasha, which was the most popular show on the entire network in that demographic back in 2004.
Ah, but there's the rub. Viewers 12-17? Unless you're MTV, that demographic is toxic. They don't buy anything, especially DVDs. Adult Swim, specifically, seeks out viewers aged 18-34 for that very reason.
The important thing to note about Case Closed is that in Japan, it's a family show. It airs on YTV, one of the bigger Japanese networks. It airs in prime-time; a rarity for anime shows. The yearly Detective Conan films often rank among the highest-grossing films in the Japanese box office, bested only by Hollywood blockbusters like Batman and Spider-man. The show is an often bizarre marriage of the saccharine and the sadistic; gruesome murders and twisted tales solved by cute, bug-eyed kids with kooky gadgets. Kids tune in for the wacky antics, while their parents tune in to play along and try to crack the case along with Conan.
Replicating that broad, four-quadrant success in America was always going to be tricky - Americans never seem to enjoy realistic violence in their cartoons unless it's played for laughs, and the people who flock to crime dramas certainly aren't going to waste their time watching some cartoon show. But the show is such a cash cow for Tokyo Movie Shinsha that they've tried and tried to bring the show around to Western audiences - before Funimation's attempt, the show was originally slated for a stint on Fox Kids on Saturday mornings. This was around the same time they gave Escaflowne and Crayon Shin-chan the old college try. You can imagine how "well" this would've worked out for everyone involved.
With all that information, I draw one conclusion - Case Closed did about as well as Funimation could've hoped for. And they tried their best, God bless 'em, to make it work. They put the work in; they agonized over those dub scripts, and worked closely with Tokyo Movie Shinsha to attempt the same broad reach the show enjoys in Japan. They had several months of decent ratings on Adult Swim with teenagers, they dubbed 130 episodes and six movies, all of which are available on DVD, and considering the monumental task it took to get that done, I'd call that a success. Considering, as I've said, everything Case Closed has going against it, 130 episodes released is no small feat.
Essentially, I think you need to re-frame your argument here. That Case Closed is essentially a "failure." No, it wasn't. I'm sure TMS and Funimation would've enjoyed Case Closed to be successful in perpetuity, as it is in Japan - but nobody's so stupid as to think that that's common. That's rare. Consider the fact that Funimation has only dubbed the first season of Kodocha, and has no plans to finish it. For Case Closed to make it as far as it did in a similar climate is rather remarkable. But because it's not a cross-cultural global smash hit, it's somehow a "failure"? I'm a little confused by that.
But nothing is ever written in stone, as it were, and I'm sure there could be a potential scenario where Case Closed could come back. At this point, there's over 600 episodes and 16 movies to pick from; the likelihood of ever seeing all of Detective Conan released in English are nil, but there's such a wealth of content to choose from that you never quite know how Tokyo Movie Shinsha will proceed with the property. If only, if only there were some sort of Pop Tarts "buycott" in place to support it!
Not to be a Negative Nelly here, but I don't exactly see the Save Our Sailors method of positive reinforcement holding much sway with advertisers and producers in 2012. I mean, for one thing, the show's been off the air for a number of years, and it's been about two years since the last DVD was released in English; organizing an event for fans to purchase DVDs is something I applaud, but we're not talking about the rest of Kodocha here - we're talking about a 600-episode-plus behemoth of a multimedia franchise that is the crown money-making-jewel in the crown of a major Japanese animation studio. Funimation's commitment to release Case Closed wasn't short-term, and it certainly wasn't cheap. We're talking about, potentially, millions of dollars here. Increased sales would certainly help instill some confidence in the property, but this is one of those rare cases where there's actually more at stake than just sales numbers.
All of that out of the way, if you desperately want Case Closed back, I think you've got the right idea. Organize a mass DVD purchase spree. Get proactive about it. Spread the word, and so forth. But I've got a hunch that the reason most of the fans who read your last piece reacted with a sigh is because they feel the same way that I do - that the show wasn't a "failure." That it worked as well as it ever could have, and lasted far longer than other, similar shows. Shin-chan only lasted 3 seasons despite similar effort on Funimation's part, for example. I celebrate the show for what it was able to accomplish, despite every single piece of evidence pointing towards Funimation being insane.
Still, let's head down to the Food Lion and buy up all the Pop-Tarts. Or at least just the cinnamon and strawberry ones.
Man, it's hot as blazes out here. Remember to hydrate yourselves at Otakon, folks. And, what luck! I get to take a (figurative) break and let you fine folks out there chime in! Because it's Answerfans! Last week, culminating in the release of a certain now-controversial feature film, I wanted all of you to chime in on this question!
Let's start with Jason, who gets a bit more academical than I expected from my first responder:
Y'know, this really got me thinking, and I'm probably going to give what sounds like the stereotypical answer, but for a different reason.,p>I honestly don't think that any Japanese creators have anything to learn from western creators, at all. Anything I can think of is already been done by Japanese creators. Not because they're better, but because they've already learned it and are already influenced by it. I've seen countless references to a lot of the great western comic creators in bio's from Japanese ones, and the best are already very influenced by them. The same is true of Western creators learning from the Japanese ones. It may not be obvious all the time, but it's there.
I think at this point, it's all just the differences between the audiences and their expectations. There's also the way that manga is read differently, and I'm not talking about right to left. According to a study from McGill University, if I remember correctly from a couple of decades back, Japanese and English text are processed by different parts of the brain. While English is processed by the same part that parses our spoken language, while written Japanese is processed by that part the parses visual stimuli, and this is why manga is usually paced differently than western comics. With this is mind, you can see why tropes that work for one, don't work for the other.
So, again, I think they've learned and adapted all they can.
Binyamin echoes a similar statement but from a purely cultural context:
I really don't think there IS anything that manga artists could learn from American comic book artists. The artistic contexts are just too different. Japan has no real equivalent to the superhero comics of DC and Marvel, which are still the dominant form of American comics. So advice about managing a shared universe and how to use continuity and syncronizing multiple approaches to an open-ended character and such, that's totally irrelevant to them.
In the realm of independent American comics ("independent" in this context meaning "not published by the main imprints of DC or Marvel"), I still don't think there's anything the Japanese could learn. One of the great appeals that manga held for Westerners was that manga could be about ANYTHING, and often were. The range of story-types and target demographics was HUMONGOUS compared to the American market, which was dominated by superheroes and artsy realistic dramas. These days, that's changed, and the world of independent comics in America is churning out new, inventive works in every genre. But that's a market reality that the Japanese have already had, so I don't see how they'd learn from it. If anything, there's a strong argument to be made that we learnt it from them.
Manga artists have been inspired by American comics in the past. There's the famous example of Tezuka and Disney, of course, but even more recently, Nobuhiro Watsuki has said that a lot of characters in Rurouni Kenshin were inspired by various X-Men. But while particular manga-ka have taken inspiration from particular American works that caught their interest, I don't think there was ever a wave of manga artists who all took inspiration from a BODY of American comic work, and I don't think there ever will be. Our comic traditions are too different. American and Japanese comics tell different types of stories in different ways, and I really don't see what we could offer them. The only case in which I could see Japan turning to America for inspiration would be if the Japanese comic market started to feel stale and repressive, like the American one did 15-20 years ago when the manga boom started. But as things are now, I don't think there's anything we do that they aren't doing already, or which wouldn't be rendered impossible to bring over to Japan due to differences in the market.
Max's answer is self-contained, indeed:
I think the one thing Japanese works do best is self-containment. For every isolated and understandable title like "All-Star Superman," or "The Dark Knight Returns," you get tons of reboots, retcons, and continuity issues simply because the main series for a lot of American franchises are a cluster-screw of arbitrary resurrections, deaths, and god knows what else. But the one thing I think anime/manga could do better is character designs. I love the art of The Big O, which is clearly based on the early 90's Batman series since both share some of the staff involved. But I also think styles like the ones from Katsuhiro Otomo, Satoshi Kon, or Naoki Urasawa have that slightly realistic approach that makes their styles more appealing to westerners. Maybe have more Japanese artists have a shot at some of our own heroes, like Otomo did in "Batman: Black and White." I, for one, would love to see him do an entire Batman story rather than the eight pages that follows Black and White's format.
Wow, all the answerers agreed with each other. Interesting. Well, hopefully with NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION, we'll get a diverse amount of responses;
Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.
For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.
Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.
That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.
Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!
Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.
We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.
Things To Do:
* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.
Things Not To Do:
* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.
* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.
I'm all tapped out folks, and if I type just one more run-on sentence, I'm liable to pass out in this heat. So enjoy Otakon, my East Coast friends, and I'll see you all there! Potentially! Everyone else, don't forget to cram my inbox full of questions and answers, located handily at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Adieu!
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