by Justin Sevakis, Mar 28th 2014
Also, last week I asked for more questions, and once again you guys really came through and gave me enough for a few weeks' worth of columns. Thanks a ton! I guess people just forget about asking unless I bring it up, so from now on when I'm running dry, I'll keep reminding people to send in their questions.
I just noticed this when browsing through ANN's anime database. Apparently, NBCUniversal Entertainmnet Japan and Warner Bros. Japan have been involved in numerous anime co-productions (both television and movie). WB, for instance, has been involved in production of Accel World, Madoka Magica, and the upcoming Selector Infected WIXOSS. Not to mention live-action film adaptations of manga like Black Butler, Death Note, and Rurouni Kenshin. While Universal... well, they acquired Geneon. But how about their competitors, say, Paramount/Viacom, Fox, and, hell, Disney?" (I didn't count Sony as they already own Aniplex & A1 Pictures). So I tried searching the database and the result was close to nothing. Even when combined, theirs aren't even close to neither WB's nor Universal's awesome list.
This gives me the impression that Japanese branch of those rivaling foreign media giants aren't as active/serious as WB or Universal in term of anime (co-)production. Why is that? What's giving them second thought in joining WB & Universal's footsteps? I mean, it's Japan. The market is right on their nose.
I think you might be a little confused as to the involvement of Hollywood studios in the anime business. In terms of Hollywood's involvement, I don't think any of the studios, Warner Bros. and NBCUniversal included, really give a rat's ass about being involved specifically in anime, either in Japan or abroad.
NBCUniversal bought Geneon Entertainment from their parent company, the giant ad agency Dentsu, when they were looking to beef up their control of distribution in Japan. For years, the Hollywood studios had relied on Japanese studios to distribute their films in Japan, but given how big a business that is, it likely made more sense to them to have their own operation in Japan for that sort of thing. It would allow them much tighter control over the release of their own product (in terms of marketing, timing, etc.), give them direct access to home video distribution channels, and all sorts of other things that make sense for a Hollywood studio. Geneon's existing involvement in anime simply came with the package.
As for Warner Bros. Japan, this a home-grown distribution network that was built starting in the 90s for the same reason, and while they also have started co-producing and distributing a good number of local productions, their contribution is mainly as a distributor. They are not actually producing anime content themselves. At most, they sit as a distributor on a production committee here and there.
Movie distribution in Japan has long been a very locked-down system, with the major distribution companies actually owning the theaters they put their movies into. To this day, Toho, Shochiku and Toei own a good chunk of movie theaters, with Tokyu Recreation, shopping complex developer Aeon Co., and US chain Cinemark owning the rest. (Warner Bros. was a joint owner in the Aeon theaters, which used to be called Warner Mycal, until they sold their share in late 2012.) Between that and a deeply entrenched physical media business, it's extremely important that anyone interested in releasing their own media in Japan have a large, expansive physical presence there.
That physical distribution network can be used for any kind of media, however, and anime being a large chunk of the media Japan produces, is an obvious use for that same network. From the parent companies in the US' point of view, however, anime is not the focus and never has been. They're just part of a large distribution infrastructure that made a lot of sense to invest in.
With Sentai Filmworks announcing that they have picked up the license for Haikyuu!, I have begun to wonder why sports anime tend to do so poorly in the United States? I know of a few (Prince of Tennis, Big Windup!) that were fairly popular in Japan but then flopped when released to the American market--thus the general aversion to dubbing sports anime by US companies. Are most American anime fans just not all that interested in sports? Or, do many not understand sports enough to become interested in these series? As it stands now, the only way a sports anime gets watched in the US is through Crunchyroll, Hulu, etc. Do you think there is any chance that another gets picked up for a North American release in the near future?
Well, never say never. A lot of shows that I thought nobody in their right mind would ever license have indeed been picked up for distribution in the US. Usually by Sentai Filmworks. Why they're getting these titles is anybody's guess -- there's still no evidence that anybody buys sports anime in the US -- so I can only guess it was cheap, or came as part of a package deal with another show they actually wanted. Probably both.
Sports shows don't just bomb in the US, they bomb HARD. Big Windup was a big money loser for Funimation. Fighting Spirit (née, Hajime no Ippo) also tanked miserably. Hoop Days (Dear Boys) did so horribly for Bandai Entertainment that they stopped releasing single volumes, back when everything got released as a single volume. Toei Animation USA's poorly made Slam Dunk DVDs sold in the double digits. The list goes on: Prince of Tennis, Hikaru no Go, EYESHIELD 21... even Initial D ended up disappointing. (Note that martial arts shows, which could be considered sports but still play into both Americans' love of violence and Eastern exoticism, tend to do OK.)
It's not just anime, either. Hollywood has grown wary of sports movies, having virtually stopped making them in the last few years because they just don't do very well. Sports TV shows tend to cling on for a while if they attract a devoted fanbase (see Friday Night Lights), but those could never be called "popular." Americans watch plenty of sports, but with the exception of a few movies here and there, tend to prefer ACTUAL sports rather than fictionalized sports stories. There almost seems like there's an intellectual separation between storytelling and sports, like we use different parts of our brains for each and don't like to mix them. Add to that, the fact that most anime fans are somewhat on the nerdy side (and tend to be uninterested in sports), and you pretty much have a perfect recipe for failure.
The success of Kuroko's Basketball on Crunchyroll and its prominent fanbase is making people take notice of sports anime again. (And that's to say nothing of FREE!, which I suspect is mostly popular due to its muscular, bare-chested male cast -- they could be painting fences instead of swimming and it'd still be a hit.) But what works on streaming doesn't necessarily translate to DVD sales. I can't predict what the anime publishers will do, but it I were them, the last thing I would be investing in is a sports show. They're as close to a surefire failure as these things get.
Hi Justin, I was wondering what ever happen to John O'Donnell since Central Park Media went out of business? I tried to find some info on him but I can't find any information, do you know by chance know what John is doing nowadays?
John O'Donnell, the colorful, verbally rambunctious head of Central Park Media, is a guy that I once worked very closely with. I learned a lot from the guy, and look back on my years under his employ fondly, in spite of them being drenched in the most disturbing hentai imaginable and being paid quite little.
I was able to keep in touch with John up until the point where CPM finally went under. The last long conversation I had with him was when the writing was on the wall, and he had a booth set up at New York Anime Fest with the intent of liquidating as much product as possible before shuttering. He was not the over-caffinated force of nature I remembered working for. He told me he was done with the entertainment business, and opined that he was absolutely not the right person to work in anime if that meant being in tune with the tastes of 14-year-old girls.
I asked him early on, when we were first producing ANNCast, if he wanted to come on the show and chew the fat, but he declined, stating that he was done with anime and didn't really care to discuss what happened. In the years since, he has kept to this statement and despite occasionally popping up around Tokyo Anime Fair (now Anime Japan) to catch up with old friends, has entirely stayed out of the entertainment business. For a while he had invested in a wind turbine technology firm in Japan, but I've heard that he's no longer active in that. He appears to be sticking mostly to investing, and has stayed out of the public eye. The man is in his 60s now, and is likely semi-retired.
John was the sort of guy who would drink two huge pots of coffee a day, work all hours of the night, and exert enough energy by himself to power a small town. I'm quite certain that takes a toll after a while. I haven't spoken to him in a number of years, and would love the chance to catch up. I hope that happens someday.
What the hell is with the food portions in Japan? They can make the entrees at the Heart Attack Grill seem like sensible dining by comparison. You think they're just exaggerating in shows like One Piece in how much they pig out, but then you see their burgers and fries in a bucket, and even more traditional meals, and you realize it's not that far from the truth. And yet the Japanese statistically have the highest life expectancy. So how does that work?
Honestly, Japan's portion sizes are still nothing compared to American portions. While stunt-food promotions involving gigantic portions make for good publicity and get people talking, they're not something that normal people order.
If you actually go to Japan and eat the food there, it's hard not to notice that everything is unexpectedly small. I eat (a lot) more than a normal person, and it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for me to order 2 or 3 entrees plus an appetizer every time I went to a restaurant. At most American restaurants that would be enough food to kill a bear.
So fret not, those depictions you see of anime binge-eating are not the norm. Plates get stacked high because the plates are smaller, people go through more burgers because their burgers are smaller, and while there are legendary food-hoovers in Japan, the vast majority eat fairly little by our standards. A convenience store bento box would probably only barely fill an average American. Most gaijin I know in Japan get one along with a few onigiri.
If you haven't been following Zac and Hope's nerdy travels to Japan, Lotteria's awful-looking Attack on Titan Burger sure SOUNDS intimidating as hell until you actually see it. This is the short stack version of it - you can get it in a few different varieties, and this is the "smallest" version (you can go up to 10 patties and 10 slices of cheese if you want). Zac estimates it at around the size of a 4x4 at In N Out Burger (4 patties, 4 slices of cheese). I can eat 3 of those in one sitting, which means the biggest Titan burger would be not much of a challenge.
Which doesn't mean that Japan doesn't have a problem with people getting fatter. Nearly every industrialized country does. But I think that likely has more to do with what people are eating (and how little exercise they get).
For the record, my conveyor belt sushi plate-stacking record is 36 plates. Somewhere, one of my coworkers has a picture of that, with some random salaryman in the background looking on in shock. Do not attempt.
And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.
Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.
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