Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Hello, people of the universe! This is Brian, and this is Hey, Answerman!
I really like this week's crop of questions, since it kinda cuts to the heart of the worries of the modern-day anime fan; we're getting into licensing questions, copyright, and international piracy. Fun! So, without further ado, let's hop on in:
Hey, Answerman, long time no see! I'm sending a licensing question your way this week- is there a period of time or limited amount of time that western companies have to license a work? I understand why that would obviously be a business decision, but is there an actual LAWFUL statement behind how long a licensor has to license a particular title?
A brief example- the first season of Big Windup! was licensed by Funimation. They announced that because of poor sales that they would not license the second season (which is downright heartbreaking, but whatevs). To get hypothetical for a moment, say this series suddenly hit some kind of jump in popularity and through some miraculous act of Zeus became a hit in the West (humor me here), could Funimation obtain the second season legally, even though the series has been out forever in Japan?
I know that licenses are bought and eventually run out, but could a company purchase a license at ANY TIME or do they have a specific time frame that they have to LEGALLY abide by as far as purchasing their licenses? If a decade old, unlicensed anime became popular or some kind of hit, could a company legally license it?
Is there LAW in the timeframe or is it all BUSINESS? (this question could have just simply been that statement but that's no fun)
Any licensing question like this I like to run by my good buddy Justin Sevakis, since he knows this stuff better than anyone else. Take it away, Justin!
Justin: Of course, there's no law, in any country, prohibiting a certain work from being sold past a certain date. In fact, in 1978 copyright law was revised to last well beyond most people's lifetimes.
Licensing terms, however, last 5-10 years. After that, most contracts give the publisher an option to extend, but that doesn't always happen. Those options usually have a specific time period (a few months, generally) where a publisher is supposed to tell the licensor, "hey, I want to renew this" or "I want the next season", but if they hem and haw, there's quite a bit of leeway for them to pick up the ball again at a later date. An indefinite amount of leeway, in fact, if nobody else wants the show.
Usually an extension or second season requires paying another license fee, and if the show bombed or the market for it appears to be tapped out, it might not be worth the money. So if the publisher does nothing, the show goes back to the licensor. The licensor will try to resell it, but if the original publisher didn't want it anymore, there was probably a reason -- in Big Windup!'s case, the show was a bomb. Funimation or anybody else COULD go to the licensor any time and ask for Season 2, and probably get it if they forked out the money, but they'd be idiots to do so. They lost money the first time, and now that the show is several years old and most fans have forgotten about it, it'll sell even less now. So the licensor will keep the show in their licensing catalog, but not try very hard to sell it.
Older shows take make a lot less money for everyone. And for the licensors, and they're a much bigger pain in the ass. Materials such as artwork get lost all the time (or are stored on grainy old 35mm slides that look terrible), old contracts with everyone from the creators to the voice actors don't cover new technology that is now pretty much requisite in any licensing deal (like internet transmission or Blu-ray) and have to be re-negotiated. And the master tapes themselves might not look very good and need restoration to be brought up to modern standards. Isolated music-and-effects tracks, which are used for dubbing, might not exist, or be stored in a format that can't easily be used today. Taking care of all that is expensive and time consuming.
And old anime generally doesn't sell very much, especially if, barring any mitigating circumstance, it wasn't released here to begin with. Reissues of old, previously-released stuff can tap into a nostalgia factor and do reasonable numbers, but if it's just an ancient show nobody here saw back when it was fresh? You're probably not going to sell very many. So it's a total mix of lack-of-supply, lack-of-demand. There's just no incentive on either side to bother with most of those old shows.
So there you have it. There's plenty of reason currently why it doesn't make sense to release older titles into the Western market. Currently. That may or may not change. Who knows, honestly. Maybe in another ten years, conditions in the home entertainment market will change to the point where there's a drastic need for content, and older anime becomes a hot commodity again. There won't be any definitive legal counterpoint to stop it, at the least! Just, y'know, all that other stuff Justin pointed out.
Hey, Answerman! Greetings from Bogotá, Colombia.
Sadly, here in Latin America, and specifically in my country, the industry of anime is in constant decline, but for you to get the big picture let me explain a little how is everything going around here:
In Latin America, we have very few opportunities to get to the new anime that come out each season. The national channels only broadcast series that where out at least 10 or 15 years ago (Dragon Ball, Ranma ½, InuYasha, maya the bee, heide, Grimm's Brothers stories… stuff like that). The possibilities of buying anime on DVD or BD are few to none since the only country that actually sells some of them is Mexico (rather far away from me) and in my country's particular case, the few series that you can buy have incredibly high prices, and even for rental the price is very, very high. Almost… what, 60 dollars or so for 3 days?
On the streaming area there have been few companies (actually, only one: Crunchyroll) that try unsuccessfully to bring out the legal subbed streaming business here, but they only bring very old series (again, but not as old as the ones broadcast on national TV) or the worst that comes out each season, what is even worst, some of us know english, but the legal streaming sites in English are banned or restricted (at least in Colombia) and for an always growing community, it's very sad for me to see everyone talking about the very same 20 series that everyone knows, most of them from at least 10 years ago… and the “big 3”.
We have a very limited knowledge about the newest anime. Leading me, and some of other fans anime fans to recur to the uncomfortable situation of using illegal web pages that upload fansub-made chapters so we can actually enjoy the anime we love so much. And don't let me get started with the manga.
I always thought this situation came to Colombia since the channels have made very poor decisions when it comes to broadcast anime. (Like Zenki on children's television, and Neon Genesis Evangelion on a AAA schedule). But maybe you have some other thoughts about this situation. Belive me, if I had a way to legalize my always growing collection, I will do it without even blinking and worrying about its cost. Unfortunately, it's not possible… for now.
I do know you might not have full information about what´s happening in here. I realize that since in the United States things are going better and better (you even got Toonami back). But I would like to know, if possible, the real causes of this happening here, or maybe some thoughts about this particular situation. Or even better, a way to reverse this situation and bring the legal distribution and streaming market to Colombia and Latin America.
See, here is that awkward moment that I have - and hopefully the rest of you have as well - where we realize that all this hand-wringing we do about optional, completely superfluous entertainment options is COMPLETELY a first-world problem.
Not that Colombia is a third world country by any means. It's not. It's officially recognized as a "Middle Power" according to Global economic data, and it has a very healthy population of nearly 50 million or so people. But! It's not a "Superpower." Its GDP is in the hundreds of billions, not the trillions. Unfortunately, for other first-world countries - like Japan, the United States, and the European Union - their primary focus is on those places with trillions attached to their GDP.
And that's a problem that extends way beyond the anime industry. We're talking about entertainment as a whole, here. Historically, Western and Eastern entertainment concerns haven't been too interested in directly marketing towards markets like Latin America, at least as a core focus. Not that there hasn't been some surprising success stories there - Saint Seiya notably gained a foothold in Latin America under the name Knights of the Zodiac, where it has been a consistent and popular series while it never even made a dent in the United States market. But, like many things, Knights of the Zodiac's success owes a lot to the sheer, unmitigated demand for programming on television that occurred in the 80's and 90's. Much in the same way that Robotech flourished in the 80's glut of broadcasters eager to fill syndicated programming slots with anything they could get their hands on out here in America, Knights of the Zodiac is the result of the happy accidents that occur when brilliantly clueless overseas TV stations allow these bizarre foreign cartoons on their native soil simply because they're eager for new content.
And of course, savvy readers from Latin America can probably list off any number of popular anime titles that were given broadcast time that otherwise never saw the light of day in the United States. It still blows my mind, to this day, that something like Ranma ½ was shown on television outside of Japan. What the hell?!? Out here in the 90's, TV stations would've lost their collective shit over the idea of a sex-changing cartoon show from Japan that had boobs in it.
It's a shame, then, that Japanese licensors weren't savvy enough to pick up on the fact that there was a dedicated audience for this kind of stuff and nurture it. Demand was there, but the product wasn't. It's hardly surprising that rampant piracy has taken its stead. Who knows who, or what, dropped the ball; the home video market in Latin America simply isn't as robust as it is elsewhere in our "First World" bubble, for one thing. And I'm sure the retail situation is totally different from the way it operates here in America. And then of course, the EXCHANGE RATE! According to Wikipedia at least, 1 US Dollar equals about 1,815 Colombian Pesos. Ouch, ouch, ouch. But that's hardly a symptom exclusive to Latin America - same goes for people living even in cash-abundant places like Canada or Australia, who similarly get the short end of the exchange rate stick.
Either way, now the situation has developed into a nasty Catch 22 of sorts. In the absence of legitimate product, there is rampant piracy. Because there is rampant piracy, it's considered foolish to try and release a legitimate copy. There may still be a viable enough collector's market for a few high-profile things, but the incredibly high exchange rate means that profits will be minimal at best.
There's a lot of things working against anime, here. I honestly have no concrete idea what can be done to stem the tide of piracy in such a place, because it's an entirely different animal to the safer market of the United States that I'm familiar with. But, I will say this - streaming is the future, and its definitely been the de facto method of entertainment consumption here in the US for several years now, and I'm predicting that trend to find its way elsewhere around the world very quickly.
Yes, Crunchyroll's selection outside of the US is paltry. Well, guess what - it was pretty lame here in the US initially as well. Once viewership grew and the venture proved itself to be profitable and popular, Japanese licensors were more than willing to play ball. Nowadays people seem to take for granted the idea that Crunchyroll has just about everything, but it took a few years to get going. Now, it's a monolith. They're on par with Funimation when you think of Western companies synonymous with "releases anime." So, I'll say this - it's worth giving it a shot, everyone. It's a legal option to watch subtitled anime with relatively few hassles and no exorbitant costs, as opposed to importing Region 1 DVDs or something similar. It's not the best, but its a hell of a lot better than anything else out there. Sort of like how Crunchyroll was in its early days, dipping its toes in the streaming video field back in the late 'aughts when YouTube didn't allow any video longer than 10 minutes.
And, you know, maybe Crunchyroll isn't the only option. Maybe there's something else that could take its place. Maybe some enterprising start-up could develop in Latin America that could eat Crunchyroll's lunch, a fitting end for the company considering their name? Honestly, I think there's certainly a value to be had in locally-grown companies that understand their own market a lot better than outside companies looking to expand their empire to other territories. Hell, most of the remaining successful anime publishers in America are the ones that grew completely out of devoted fans from the US, who fought valiantly to acquire and promote these weird Japanese animated things to their fellow Americans.
The field is pretty wide open, to be honest, and there's so many ways to capitalize on anime's untapped potential that to do so would take far longer to discuss than I have time for in this column. And this applies to everywhere around the world, not just Latin America. The internet has become a truly global thing, and it's ubiquitous. Anime shouldn't be limited only to those of us lucky enough to be born into first-world countries like the US and Europe and Japan. There should be a variety of ways to translate and release it around the world to everyone who wants it, in a legal and reasonable way. But that's just pie-in-the-sky daydreaming, I guess.
I know that piracy is definitely the easiest way there is, right now, to get anime and manga to the eyes and ears of folks around the world without the entertainment infrastructure I myself enjoy in the US. There's always another option to compete with piracy. The sad part is, most of the companies don't tend to care that much about "tertiary" markets that aren't Global Superpowers. I mean, most Japanese anime producers barely care about the US and Europe as it is.
What are your thoughts on the Copyright Alert System or "Six Strikes" program that was unveiled last month? It's obviously positioned to pseudo-combat/educate motion picture and TV piracy but it's conceivable that it will make it down to niche markets like pirated anime. Do you see it having any impact on illegal anime viewing whatsoever?
Here's my general thoughts on CAS in a nutshell: it sucks.
That's pretty much in line with the general consensus, though, so I'll elaborate. From what I've read, it seems like a sop to the RIAA and MPAA by the major broadband providers, given that streaming video has become an important facet for entertainment companies. Christ, I can't remember the last album I've actually purchased since I downloaded Spotify. Essentially, I think it's merely a toothless bit of kowtowing by Verizon and Comcast to cater to the whims of these powerful entertainment lobbies, but one that's come too late in the game to have any real impact on anything. I could see this "Six Strikes" thing having any sort of real effect on "casual piracy" maybe six to ten years ago, but, everyone I know uses stuff like Spotify and Netflix now. Nobody that I'm personally aware of is torrenting bad, foreign telesync rips of major movies like Oz the Great and Powerful. There's been plenty of well-informed articles about the uselessness of "Six Strikes" - I know Ars Technica has a good one. So I won't waste anyone's time talking about how wasteful the whole endeavor is.
Instead, let's talk about the ramifications it might have for anime and manga. Personally? I doubt it'll have much, if any, impact whatsoever.
The main reason is: the MPAA and RIAA don't really cover anime and manga. That's not exactly under their purview. The MPAA has ties to major motion picture and television studios, not low-key US anime distributors. Of course, companies like Funimation are more than welcome to use this new anti-piracy campaign on their own free will, but I doubt they will. Funimation is already pretty active in their pursuit of known digital pirates, and they haven't exactly been shy about their efforts to thwart illicit One Piece distribution and so forth. They've proven to be more than interested in handling those sorts of things on their own, so why would they bother with something as broad and far-reaching as the CAS initiative?
Anime and manga are a niche market, and outside of major infractions in copyright law, no anime or manga publisher wants to alienate or enrage their exclusive and VERY vocal fanbase. Us anime fans are typically pretty tech-savvy, and most of us have made lots of noise about how much we dislike and disavow this CAS system. Since this system was proposed way back in 2011, I can't find any record of major US anime or manga publishers voicing any sort of tacit or offhanded approval of the process. Simply because, everybody seems to hate it. Same with SOPA last year; Funimation obviously wants to protect their intellectual property to the fullest extent of the law, but it would be commercial suicide to come out in favor of a system or legislation that has been deemed to be anti-consumer, anti-free-speech by the Reddit-using internet masses that comprises the majority of their clientele.
That's my take, anyway. It's a tough enough market as it is, and coming out in support of something that has been violently opposed by virtually every internet-dwelling human isn't exactly the wisest sales tactic. I'll try to give them some credit on this.
Is it that time already? Darn! Yep, I have to lower myself from my internet soapbox to give a voice to my fellow readers and so forth. Hey, Answerfans! in other words.
Last week, I was grappling with the concept of "having standards" and the bizarre, ironic double-standard that statement tends to have on certain people. So, I figured it was appropriate to get something of a consensus going on. Here's the jpeg that started it all!
Let's start off with Elliot, who gives his best Bob Ducca impression with this list of anime titles that have helped his personal standards through some troubling times:
As a whole, my current standards on Anime are not all that rigorous. I only ask that it maintain my attention and provide me entertainment. Whether it's through crude humor (panty shots or many other troupes found in harem comedies, intense action scenes and gratuitous eye candy, or with an evolving plot that branches out and then finally manages to come to a satisfying conclusion, I am not all that difficult to please.
However, there was a time not all that long ago that I would turn my nose up at a mere title or just from the front cover. Certainly there's a lot to say about a book by it's cover, or a show by it's Blu-ray/DVD case...however I've found that every show deserves to be given the opportunity of a viewing. It took 3 different shows to impart this view upon myself regarding them, and shows in their genre.
First came Please Teacher!. By it's title alone I couldn't help but think it was some pathetic and smutty attempt at a love story, and that I could easily do without it. Then one day, a good buddy of mine mentioned that it was one of his favorite shows, and that he would let me borrow it. So what the hell...the worse it costs me is about an hour of my time. And an hour of my time turned into about 6 when all was said and done. I smashed the whole thing in a single night, and thus my love for the romantic comedy genre was born. In hindsight, it's certainly not the best show compared to many others I've seen, but I'm still fond of it, and I think they handled it well, given the premise and story they were seeking to create.
The second show that was a real turn around for me was Azumanga Daioh. This was a biggie for me as well, as I remember going to Media Play every week to browse their selection, searching to expand a show I already had or find a new one to obsess over. That said, I remember seeing Azumanga Daioh every time, and thinking, " Jeeez, who would want to watch a show about a bunch of dumb high school girls. Probably no plot, and they just go shopping. Plus they look 10...so only creepy old guys would get anything out of this." I kid you not, these were my exact thoughts. And said same friend happened to recommend the show to me, so I finally took him up on his offer and borrowed the first disc and gave it a watch. Afterwards, I rushed out and bought the boxset, and to this day, it is still my favorite of all shows. While my initial thoughts about it weren't far off, I was completely wrong about the show. It doesn't have a real plot, aside from the girls lives in high school, half the cast is arguably unintelligent, and there is minimal action and virtually no romance, and Chiyo-chan is actually 10...but holy crap was it funny, and I found the characters endearing. So yeah...this was almost the nail in the coffin as far as my prejudgement of anime went.
And then came the unfortunately named Mahō Shōjo Tai Arusu, or in Englishland, Tweeny Witches. Yeah, that title alone made me just wanna leave it alone. And I did. Until one day, I was watching something else (I wanna say I was watching Green Green) and I happened upon a trailer for it on the DVD. Giving into a mild bout of morbid curiosity, I decided to watch it...and had to watch it a second time cause I couldn't believe what I had just seen. Whatever trailer I had just watched, look awesome. Interesting and unique designs, good visuals, a slightly dark flair...I was curious, but I also had to make sure that I was correct in thinking that this trailer was good, so I dragged it over to my buddy's house and had him watch it, confirming my thoughts on the matter. Went out, bought the first volume and was surprised by how much I enjoyed the show, in both content and visuals. I thoroughly detest talking about it when having to refer to it's English name, but otherwise will always recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy romp.
So while my standards may or may not be the most stringent, they have certainly broadened in their spectrum thanks to these 3 shows.
Honesty is always the best policy, Pat M.:
If I'm being honest with myself, I'd have to admit that my standards for anime are probably unreasonably high. Bordering on self-indulgently snobbish, really. Gone are the days where I can turn off my brain and satiate myself with generic shounen fighting series and harem hijinks. Maybe I've just seen too much anime, maybe I've matured as a viewer, or maybe anime really was better when I was younger, but I just find it hard to enjoy them anymore. I crave intelligent and well-crafted stories, complex and dynamic characters, and a certain level of artistry or distinctness. That said, I unabashedly love the trainwreck that is Code Geass. It's just as full of plot holes, contrivances, extraneous characters, and shameless fanservice as the most mindless of paint-by-numbers otaku anime, but there's just something about Code Geass that sets it apart. And I think it's just how self-aware the show seems to be. It knows how absurd and overblown it is, and it relishes in it. It never tries to be anything but pure fun. But unlike similar shows that just pretend to have underlying depth, Code Geass has just enough complexity and wit to make it legitimately interesting. The opposing parallels between Lelouch and Suzaku as the events of the story weigh on their characters almost feels like it was written for a completely different show. So not every anime has to be a Madoka Magica, or a Ghost in the Shell, and I guess it's unreasonable to expect them to be. I only have so much time to watch anime, anyways. But I think what it really comes down to is making an anime as close to the best possible version of itself that it can be. That's something I can appreciate, even if it's not necessarily something I'm looking for.
Well duh Andrew, THE MONSTER MANGA IS CLEARLY SUPERIOR:
There's two, I would say.
Now, I'm not the type to nit-pick on either animation/design or storyline. On one hand I enjoy a lot of anime from back when animation technology hasn't progressed to the point it is now, even dating all the way back to the 60s. On the other hand, I watched over 300 episodes of Bleach before I realized "wait a minute... I was so distracted by the well-animated fight scenes that I didn't realize the story is utter bollocks!" My "standards" would be more along the lines of: a) The show has to be "interesting", and b) No ecchi, harems, moe, or any other Japanese anime excuse for a rom-com. There are more, but these are the "standards" that got blown out of the water.
My definition of whether or not a show is "interesting" changed radically after watching Monster. At first, it piqued my curiosity because of its name, but then the fact that it was about an ordinary brain surgeon living in ordinary Germany, plus the drab color scheme and the way the episodes dragged out and nothing exciting happened in the first few episodes, made me think "Nah, forget it". But then after a few friends recommended it to me, I decided to give it a second shot... and a few episodes later I was hooked on the best psychological thriller I have ever seen in my life. Sure, the story dragged out a lot, but that was the anime that opened my eyes and showed me that anime didn't have to always be about bright colors and flashy fights to be "interesting".
The second "standard" I still hold on to, but it's changed from a "standard" to a "rule of thumb". I still can't stand anime with too many panty shots and an abundance of one-dimensional female characters existing only for fanservice. And that's what I thought Shakugan no Shana was like at first, by the way it was animated and such. Then I actually watched it, and I was impressed by the premise, the strong and dynamic lead characters (even the female ones, which I find rare in anime), the intriguing villains, the fantasy elements, and yes, even the way the romance is done. I still don't like the fanservice, Shana still kinda annoys me with her obsession with melon bread and her constant use of the phrase "shut up", and a lot of the episodes seem pointless (especially at the start of the second season), but I like the show in spite of that for all the reasons listed above.
Don't worry, Tamsen. Not even Sailor Moon had anything as bad as 'YO HO HO HE TOOK A BITE O' GUM GUM:
A title I was wary of? One Piece, for sure. I remember, as a kid, seeing a few 4kids dubbed episodes and thinking this was a waste of time (even by the standards of someone who used to enjoy Sailor Moon dubbed, oi). Weird, exaggerated expressions? Nonsensical yelling? Water guns? (this was before I was even aware there was such a thing as anime IN JAPANESE) Heck no, give me the other, cooler stuff airing on Toonami. Even when I skimmed the manga in the now defunct Borders several years later, I tossed it aside thinking it was a mostly comical waste of time.
Then, in my freshman year of college, a couple of my friends couldn't stop talking about it. I ignored them at first - I mean, geez, the main character was rubber. No one took anything seriously. It was a lot of yelling and no substance. Right? Except, no. When I finally sat down and watched it from the beginning, I realized I liked it. It defied expectations. It wasn't just a show about silly characters doing silly things. It tackled things like civil war, and crushing loneliness, and slavery, and while not subtle at all I don't feel there was anything wrong with the messages it shouted (literally!) at viewers. It was about friendship, and spirit, and what it means to be part of a group that can help you chase your dreams. Which, if I have that opinion, means I've been converted, complete 180, the works. It's hard to believe now that I ever dismissed it as just comical fluff, when I've watched 580+ episodes and I'm still not burned out.
After that, my policy now is that if I haven't watched something for myself, really sat down and given it a chance, then I can't say it's awful and I might just enjoy it. Which should probably be common sense? But it took One Piece to teach me that, and for that I am a devoted fan.
Good stuff as always, friends! Now, next week, it's time for me and my US-born compatriots to SHUT UP while my foreign readers sound off on their anime list of grievances:
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.
The sound you're hearing? That's the sound of one columnist who is all out of content! Until next week, don't forget to stuff my inbox full of questioneering and answerficiation over at answerman (at) animenewsnetwork.com! Aloha!