Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Hello readers! This is Hey, Answerman! That weekly thing I do where I take time out of my unbusy schedule to answer questions you ask of me, to varying degrees of success!
So, I just finished the new Kingdom Hearts game, and I agree wholeheartedly with Dave Riley's review except for the fact that HE GIVES THE MUSIC A C- SCORE. The music is excellent, I'd say! Lots of full orchestrations and wonderfully jaunty compositions!
But more importantly, the game fully demonstrated the degree to which my cognitive functions are fundamentally broken. One of my favorite pieces of music is Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, because it essentially runs through the gamut of human emotion and is, incontrovertibly, beautiful. Whenever I hear it, I cry. It reaches into my soul and plucks it like a harp. So, spoiler alert, there is a Fantasia level in the game, and of course they use the Nutcracker Suite. Almost the whole thing, even. AND IT IS FULLY ORCHESTRATED. So, as I'm playing the game, whacking Nomura-beasts with magic and silly cartoon blades, tears well up in a powerful and confusing bout of emotional dissonance. I'm crying in my bed, 3DS in hand, while awkwardly cramping my hands to hit the Curaga spell before Sora gets torched by firebreathing chicken-things.
But this is hardly the time or the place to unprofessionally chide with fellow ANN staff members. That's what Twitter and forums are for, right? Let's get to why I'm here in the first place: Helpin' Y'all.
I recently read this article on anime production. It answered a lot of questions I didn't know I had questions to but one big question still lingers: What is the process of choosing which parts of the manga (I am of course assuming that the particular anime is being adapted from source material) will go into the anime adaptation? A recent example would be Kids on the Slope. The manga ended in 2012 according to Wikipedia and the anime started in 2012. So what goes into deciding which parts of the nine volume manga will go into the anime?
A harder part of the same question would be something that only has a few manga volumes out. What goes into choosing what will be in that anime, considering that the anime is likely already planned to be longer than the manga is. So say a manga has three volumes with five chapters each (for a total of 15 chapters) and it's being published monthly. And the anime is slated for 26 episodes. If they adapt a chapter per episode, they'll catch up to the manga material around episode 20, if my math's correct.
So to simplify my wordsy question, what goes into the process of adaptation from manga to anime?
The answer you seek is both simple and complex: it varies depending on both the anime and the manga.
Let's take something like Kids on the Slope. The manga is finished, and a well-respected and beloved creative talent like Shinichiro Watanabe attaches himself to the project. Watanabe is the sort of guy who likes to really immerse himself in a lot of aspects of production - from the scripts to the music - and no doubt his influence upon the series impacted which parts of the original manga to adapt. Watching the show, you notice that each episode has at least one big music scene, while the rest of the show relies heavily upon the expertly crafted interactions between the characters. So, of course, when it comes down to scripting the series, Watanabe has already cherry-picked which parts of the story - aided with Yūki Kodama's blessing - to adapt; those that have the tightest focus around the core group of main characters and the music.
Now, for something a little less, uh, artistically minded would obviously be your longer-form Shonen-type series that are run in perpetuity. What goes through the production committee's mind when they are tasked with adapting something like Toriko? In cases like these, deadlines are stricter and fealty to the source material is most important; chances are, the initial audience tuning in will be avid manga fans who simply want to watch the stories they already know, except animated. Which is the say, the "adaptation" process is relatively straightforward: cram in as much of the original manga as you can, and stretch it out for as long as possible. The series has the possibility of being a cheap and easy moneytrain for everyone involved if it clicks, so if they can stretch half a chapter into a full 22-minute episode, they do it. Occasionally, but not always, they'll work in tandem with the original manga artist once the series is in full sway; if the original author has future story arcs jotted down and outlined, those are shared with the production staff of the anime. Though more often than not, the original authors are pretty much just making things up as they go along - hence the bizarre story structure of things like Bleach and One Piece, since the story arcs there are mostly dictated by whatever Tite Kubo and Eiichiro Oda feel like drawing. Either way, the anime staff - the directors and writers - work with what they're given, weather it's a wealth of story outlines and scripts, or the same manga pages that are produced for the general populace.
And in the middle, you have odd ducks like the original Fullmetal Alchemist, where the manga was still running but the staff had a hard 51-episode quota. With no real promise of a sequel or a second season, the writers are basically tasked with coming up with their own ending. Luckily, they had the insane sometimes-genius of Shou Aikawa to rely on, so the latter half of the series was a mostly-original creation using the characters and basic story templates of the original manga while delving into tricky condemnations of US Foreign Policy and science wackiness. And then the show was a huge hit and they got to make a movie that further muddled things; later they hit the reboot button anyway and basically just adapted the manga, almost beat-for-beat. So it goes.
Every anime adaptation is a combination of utter fealty, inspired adaptation, and complete off-the-rails tangents. Sometimes, with something like Naruto, you wind up with all three. That series has fiendishly slow-paced manga translations, bizarre filler episodes about urination, and a wacky Super-Deformed spinoff series. There is no exact science or method to adaptation; no one series is ever produced in the same way, despite how factory-like it seems the anime industry operates. For as many half-hours of animated programming anime companies are able to produce, this is still a creative industry, and one of the perks is that creative people are allowed to try different things when they are handed the challenge of adapting a manga.
Hello! I have a question about the habits of otaku/anime-fans in the US and Japan I hope you can answer. I've always been the type of nerd who wants to go back and experience things that inspired other things I love. I like JRPGs so I would play Dragon Warrior, I think super robots are cool so I would love to watch Mazinger Z. From what I can tell, most American fans aren't like this - they like watching what's new and appealing and have little interest in exploring the history of the franchise or it's influences. So it's generally a given that "old things don't sell very well" in the US. There are enough fans to keep Discotek in business, but it's a niche.
My question is, are these "focus on what's current" habits true of Japanese anime fans? I know there's a broader age-range of Japanese fandom, but is there a sense that a typical otaku should be familiar with the old Getter Robo or Captain Harlock anime series? Some of the "otaku-in-joke" shows seem to portray this, but I don't know if those sorts of references are thrown in their to appease older fans.
I hope this question makes sense and you're able to answer it! Thanks a lot!
I gotcha. I'm almost exactly the same way; I forced myself to play through several hours' worth of all four of the original NES Dragon Warrior games until I realized how archaic and frustrating they were after years of Final Fantasies. I, too, have watched more 70's Go Nagai cartoons than I'd care to admit, without actually enjoying most of them. (I'll give the original Cutey Honey and Devilman a pass, because at least those catch up to Go Nagai's supreme weirdness.) I think I mentioned a few weeks ago how I have a curiosity in me that connects the dots between things; but I think that's an abnormality inside us, since, at least from what I've noticed, it's pretty uncommon.
And that, too, extends to our Otaku brethren in Japan. A lot of what I've seen from the hardcore Otaku crowd - judging by 2ch postings, Comiket stuff, and so forth - they're just as forgetful and dismissive of older titles as we are. Except, in their case, it's a bit worse by degrees; considering how many newer titles the hardcore Japanese fans are fed every few months, it's sort of a wonder that they can look back fondly upon anything not made within the past two years. Which, to be frank, they do, occasionally.
Much like how us Western fans look back with nostalgia-tinged joy at the titles we enjoyed in our younger days - stuff like Speed Racer, Starblazers, Robotech, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z - Japanese fans always hold a place in their heart for the shows *they* watched as kids. Which is why the original Mobile Suit Gundam will persist in the Japanese consciousness for all time; ditto much of the World Masterpiece Theater shows, most notably Heidi of the Alps; I've also noticed an alarming(ly awesome) amount of Japanese people who watched a lot of Fist of the North Star as kids, so there's certainly a lot of nostalgia for that show out there. Essentially, it's not terribly different from us - the hardcore Japanese fans still hold a nostalgic love for the shows they watched and enjoyed when they were younger, but by and large it is relegated to those titles that broke through mainstream Japanese pop-culture.
Sorta like us! Most of us will always have some sort of fond memories about the gateway shows that got us into this mess. I'll always love Slayers, even though I'm aware of how mostly not-good it is. I'll always love Kenshin and Ranma ½ for the same reason. So, there's definitely some appreciation for older titles out there, but beyond nostalgia, is there an actual demand for older titles in Japan? Not... really. Just like us! We want the new stuff. The new new stuff. And so do they. And, because they, y'know, live in Japan, they get it constantly.
I mean, it's sort of impossible for (most of) us to find the time to watch everything we can through simulcasting - and while we sure do get an awful lot of the newer titles, we certainly don't get all of them. Now imagine living in Japan, where you do literally get everything. How the hell are these guys and girls going to find the time to sit down and watch anything prior to 2008, unless it's either still on TV, or unless it's still in print and available for purchase?
And therein lies the biggest problem for hardcore Otaku to watch older titles. DVD reprints are rare; when they do happen, they're in the form of (SURPRISE!) absurdly limited and quite expensive complete boxed sets. Even with 24-hour premium satellite channels showing nothing but anime (such as Animax), there is purely so much content available that you can fill up an entire years' worth of programming with titles made in the past three years. They *could* potentially make older titles available through online streaming or digital downloads, but... nah. Why would technologically stodgy Japanese producers make their catalog available like that in the hopes of earning a few extra yen? That's silly.
So in a way, it's actually a bit worse, just so far as the sheer volume of stuff available to your average Otaku. We, at least, have things diluted a little bit, considering there's that extra layer of English translation involved to keep literally everything from winding up on Western shores. But if you live in Japan, and you're into anime, you've got anime up to your eyeballs, 24/7, and it gets beamed directly into your TV set. I suppose you could enlighten yourself a bit and catch up on something a little bit "before your time," but why do that when you can check out Utakoi, followed by Kokoro Connect and Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imōto ga Iru!
So, there's the rub. Volume, sheer impressive volume. Although I'm sure that's a problem a lot of us wished we had.
I am 19 years old, live in California, and am a HUGE fan of the anime Code Geass. I attempted to try to make the one of the official wallpapers as my background for my Wells Fargo Debit card. I love that picture so much and it is my background for my laptop! I wrote the words "Code Geass" on it because I wanted to say the name of the epic anime when my friends all see it at school!
Wells Fargo told me today that I needed to have "Proof that I can use the licensed image" so that way it is NOT copyrighted. According to the people from the website I found the image on, "The people from Sunrise Inc./Corporation are the ones that own everything about Code Geass. You have to ask them."
Therefore, I ask that you please give me your blessing and have give me actual licensed proof that I can use this image since you guys are the license holders of the image. I sent this email to everyone I managed to find on your website. According to my bank, Wells Fargo, "For all images you must: Own the image or have permission from the owner to use the image on your card. Have approval from the owner if you use any logo, name, or tag line that isn't yours."
Please help me out so I can have the most awesome background ever on my debit card. Thank you in advanced for your time and help. I truly appreciate it.
SIMPLE, DIRECT ANSWER: I myself don't have Sunrise and CLAMP's phone number, but if you're pretty much dead set on getting an officially unofficial Code Geass debit card, here's what you gotta do:
Find Sunrise's mailing address. That's not hard to get, honestly. Then, write a letter, explaining yourself. Get that letter professionally translated into Japanese. Don't just run it through Google Translate: make sure it's a professionally-made request, otherwise Sunrise will just toss it in the garbage. Then send it off, prepare to wait several weeks as Sunrise is a busy studio that probably sifts through hundreds of letters and emails a day regarding all of their popular properties, and temper your expectation that, in all likelihood, Sunrise may well turn you down.
LONG, INDIRECT ANSWER: This question reinforced something I've written about in the past; something I'm still intensely curious about, regarding this little fandom of ours. Coming back from both Anime Expo and Otakon, you can see the enthusiasm and the love for this stuff all around them. There's this burgeoning, insatiable need for us fans to proudly display our love for this stuff with costumes, artwork, and, yes, Code Geass debit cards. But the majority of the ways we "support" that need... never goes towards the original artists or creators. I mean, I think it's cool that I was able to find a fun dude who was selling felt Katamari Damacy hats at the Artist Alley, and his craftsmanship was such that I felt he earned the 15 dollars I spent on my silly hat, but why isn't there a way for me to do the same for Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi? Or even Namco Bandai? I mean they paid for the damn franchise; they own it, why can't I buy a hat featuring their creation? Why isn't there a way for us to regularly spend our money on these fun fandom-related activities and have that money go directly to the people responsible for it? Instead, we rely on our fellow fans, and God bless them for seizing on that need and putting the effort it.
I've always wondered about this, and why that is. It's one of those things that stymies me - what's the answer, here? There's a million pros and cons against merchandising specific properties to such a degree in the West, I'm sure, but taken as a whole, I think it's a bit stunning how much money we all end up spending on things that we're just making for each other. It stymies me so much, in fact, that it leads me to the next portion of this very column!
Yes, everyone, this is the time and the place for me to stop talking with my big dumb Answer-mouth and place the spotlight upon YOU, the readers! And as always, let us remember what question I wanted to ask you all before I post your answers!
Let's start with Omar, writing all the way from Mexico under what I hope is a debt-and-starvation-free home:
'Sup Brian, and greetings from Mexico! Short answer: Yes, it is worth it.
Now for the long answer, I'll use a kind-of-odd analogy. You see, I'm a particularly active player of that famous children's card game, the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game.
Anyone who knows what a TCG is will also know that not all cards are equally available: The booster packs have random assortments of cards, so there are some “rare” cards which are harder to get, which in turn makes them more expensive.
People who know about these also are aware of the “reprint sets”, where they put the previously hard-to-get cards at lower rarities, making them easily accessible. This usually happens once the card has been out for a while and its popularity is at its peak. Because of this, most people question the reasoning of trying to get rare cards upon release, as they will be eventually reprinted (and thus, easily available) without having to pay a lot for them.
The way I see it (and while I wouldn't really pay that much for shiny cardboard) the value of things is on the eyes of each one. Sure, it's a big sum of money for a single card, but once that reprint comes out, you've already played the card a lot, discovered all the combos involved with it and, why not? You've already enjoyed the card. So when the reprint comes out, your investment wasn't in vain, because you got the most of it before everyone else did.
Returning to the pricey Blu-Ray sets (or anything ever really), I think the same “logic” applies. Sure, it IS a considerable investment, but you'll also get to enjoy that what you wanted a lot sooner. If you like the show that much, then getting it earlier is worth a few bucks.
Money comes and goes, but nothing can take away from you the satisfaction of having enjoyed the show right when you got to know it, right when you were the most hyped about it and exactly at the time where it was the biggest thing. I mean, I know saving up is a good thing, but what's the point on earning cash if you're not gonna enjoy it? If you love something enough, it's okay to blow up some money on it.
…just remember to leave enough to pay the bills and eat. You can't enjoy anything if you're starving and fleeing from debts.
From the Northern spectrum of North America comes Christopher, from Canada! And no, not Cristopher Macdonald, our owner. There Can Be Many Christophers In Canada:
I very recently bought my first Japanese anime import: the Blu-Ray box of Black Rock Shooter TV. It was gut-wrenchingly expensive, and then customs took their steel-toed boots and kicked me in the shins with an additional 25% of taxes and tariffs. Now, let's make something clear here. I love Black Rock Shooter. I AM IN COMPLETE ADORATION OF EVERY ASPECT OF THE BLACK ROCK SHOOTER ANIME!!! And even though it hurt a lot, I don't regret it. I look at my shelf and all the pain goes away like magic.
I bought it because:
1} I adore the show (the only anime that I have watched every newly streamed episode twice in a row)
2} I wanted to support it in the most direct way possible (hopefully encouraging the creation of other shows like it)
3} We probably won't see a North American physical release of BRS for at least a year
4} The NA package is guaranteed to be far inferior to the JP box (which includes an art book and figma)
5} Even though it wasn't advertised, there are English subtitles
I really hope that I don't fall in love with a show on that level for at least another year. My bank account and I are scared of watching Fate/Zero because of where it may lead. I am mostly very happy with streaming a show and waiting for a North American licensed release for the ones I want to add to my shelf. The collector in me loves the Aniplex USA type format, where I can get a show with most of the JP-style limited edition goodness, but still at a third or less the price of an import. If I could perfectly understand Japanese and made three times the income I do now, I would happily support more imports and simultaneous releases. But by purchasing a BD collection after waiting a year or more for a NA release, I spend $45 and save $350. And if I think of it as reverse investing, $450 spent one year from now on ten anime collections will keep $3,500 in my pocket today. I like that math a lot.
Will's will to refrain from Futurama references is strong. SEE WHAT I DID THERE?
I never personally understood the appeal of same-day releases or simulcasts to your typical western anime fan.
Perhaps some of it is due to my having grown to expect the licensing lag-time that the industry has lived with for years. Perhaps it's the apathy in the great subs vs dubs internet debate that a veteran of such forum wars develops. Maybe I'm showing my age here (29 and still refusing to grow up) and I've simply gotten past the need for instant gratification with things like this where streams on Crunchyroll are instant enough gratification for me. Overall, I'm not chomping at the bit to buy it the same day as Japan gets it, thus unwilling to fork over the extra cash on the release date alone.
I'm as frugal as everyone else, but I've always been a bit more frugal than normal (business degree and raised middle-middle class) and I want bang for my buck. If it's $50 to have it the same day as Japan, but then it's $40 in a few weeks (or months) then I'll be waiting out the cheaper BluRay down the road. If no cheaper release is planned, then I'll just have to wait for the laws of supply and demand to kick in and catch it on the cheap at Amazon later on.
Now, if the same-day release has some rather awesome (and especially tangible!) collectors items like posters or audio CDs, then I could justify the extra money. Just for the record, packing it in a bigger box designed to hold the entire set you're expected to buy later on doesn't count as a "collector's item" to me, regardless of whatever pun they may be trying to make with such a label.
Now, I could see some of my friends being more swayed by an earlier release. They really just want it sooner, and wouldn't necessarily care if it was the same day as Japan. I also do have those certain friends whose fanaticism for a series overpowers my own, and those are the kind that would go for the same-day release. They're also the type I could brag to about having a BluRay so early. The main issue there is that they likely already have it, and that would eliminate any jealousy I could get from them and all bragging rights I would have been able to claim. Bragging's no fun unless the other person's flustered, y'know?
Make an earlier release worth the money in a tangible way rather than an emotionally shallow way, and I'll (first reference that Fry meme and then) tell you to take my money!
May the Schwartz Be With You, Mike:
The quick and simple answer to the question of a Blu-ray set costing more for a "zero-day" release, simultaneous to the US and Japan, is basically this: under no circumstances, regardless of the promised rarity of the US licensee's release or the JP licensor's cost requirements, is the exorbitant price asked of consumers justified.
To elaborate: we as consumers have expected top quality; in the past times of mass huge releases of DVDs, compared against the "bad old days" of VHS, used to get it. Now, with the major functioning US licensors countable on one hand, limited-fanbase shows like Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, and the earlier brainbusting US release of Kara no Kyoukai, we have to pay what Japanese consumers are accustomed to pay? It's not often noted that in Japan, noncompetitive markets by virtue of near-monopoly (at least in the sense of larger-scale capital markets) thanks to vertical market integration of companies in the media sector, are the name of the game. In a consumer-driven market, that's rubbish.
American anime consumers don't behave like Japanese anime consumers and Japanese anime-market practices allow limited profit based upon limited production runs. Hell, I'm married, and both my wife and I had full-time jobs when Kara no Kyoukai was announced. We both love Type-Moon and were psyched to buy it, but to pay $450? At that rate I expect something to maintain or appreciate in value as an investment, not to be consumed as a luxury.
Just because Japanese otaku are accustomed to two episodes per BD at around $80ish US equivalent in JPY doesn't meant that we should allow the same to happen. Prices like that make a fan engage in a very rational calculus: "do I pay a seriously high amount of money for a physical copy of something I could torrent, thus saving my disposable income for other luxury purchases?" If that fan is rich enough that $450 is a trifle, then it stands to reason that they would buy the set. For fans where $450 is a major expense on a singular item, it's not a luxury purchase - it has to be counted as some kind of durable goods.
I can go into Lowe's right now and buy a brand new washer or dryer for what Kara no Kyoukai costs. Granted, that's a facetious straw man arguement at worst, but I can watch KnK as many times as I want and it will still be KnK - but that washer's going to last upwards of 15 years. If we're talking the around $225 for all three Madoka Magica sets, or the around $400 for both Fate/Zero box sets, then it makes zero sense to continue to feed this trend by buying into it. My anime dollars these days go into merchandise direct from Japan - figures, model kits, other stuff - which will at least keep the REAL market forces of anime going. The animation is nothing compared to merchandising, where the REAL money is made, to quote from Spaceballs. Slavering over the chance to pay top dollar just to be like someone who lines up in Akihabara to own Box Set X or Zero-Day Release Y doesn't support any industry - it prolongs it to the detriment of the consumers and to the benefit of the people who decide to hang on to their torrented anime.
And we close with Alexander, who makes a pretty simple argument that I can certainly sympathize with:
I'm not too interested in owning an anime day and date with the Japanese release. Frankly, due to my tight budget, I can rarely afford to buy the first wave of DVD releases for any show - unless I get some sort of advance notice months in advance, so I can actually set the money aside - and because sites like Right Stuf generally don't have any sort of layaway plan. Instead, I generally end up having to wait until the show gets a reduced price release later on. It's not because I don't wait the show - I do, I really do. However, with the economy as it is, I simply cannot justify spending $70+ on any entertainment item. This is why I kind of hope that, with Aniplex, we'll later get some more affordable releases of their more successful titles (like Durarara!!) somewhere down the road.
"Entertainment item." Makes it sound so... sadly insignificant, doesn't it? "Deluxe Limited Edition Boxed Set" sounds a lot more exciting. No wonder Aniplex USA calls it that instead of "Entertainment Item."
Anyway, great food for thought, everyone! Discussion fodder, if you will! And speaking of fodder, I wanted to continue the line of thinking from my last question into this week's topic! Take it away, .jpeg!
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.
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