Answerman
Stress Eating

by Justin Sevakis, Apr 25th 2014

The stress of the last few weeks is over, and work is slowing down to a more normal pace. I'm pretty happy about this. What I'm less happy about, however, is the realization that for the last two weeks I've been stress eating like crazy. I've been going to my favorite gourmet burger joint and/or my favorite sushi place on a near-daily basis. I don't want to even think about how many calories I've consumed. It's a lot.

So now I'm back in diet mode. If I start to get crotchety we'll know why.

Time for some questions.


Craig asks:

Just finished watching the third Berserk film, The Advent and in the credits I saw your name for Video post production. What exactly do you do in terms of post production(clean up, video/audio compression, restoration?)? Do all companies who release home videos have their own in-house team or do they outsource to people like you? For Viz, it's clear they send the work to you but does a company like Funimation or Sentai do it in house or would they send it out? Could you please explain the process behind the actual post production and how do companies decide to keep it in house or outsource it?

"Video Post-Production" is one of those technical jobs on the US side of things that nobody ever thinks about. When the master tape arrives from Japan, the first step is that the whole thing gets captured to a file. (The format normally used in the pro video world is QuickTime ProRes HQ.) Those files usually come with a test pattern, excessive amounts of black at the beginning and end (and sometimes where the commercial breaks were during broadcast), and maybe some extras like text-free versions of openings, endings, and other places where there was a bunch of Japanese text in the original broadcast. The master also usually has both the Japanese stereo audio, as well as stereo "M&E" tracks, or isolated music and effects tracks that are used to make a dub.

The first thing you have to do is trim down the video so that it plays back exactly like it should: all the excess black is removed, the weird screens where a sponsor message would've gone are removed, and all that good stuff. You then have to make work files -- small, portable and low quality versions -- for whoever is making your subtitles and your dub, so that everything will line up in its proper place once you're putting everything together.

From there, it's up to the individual company how far they want to go in adapting the presentation for Western audiences. Some companies prefer to -- and some licensors insist on -- replacing all of the credits and/or the show logo with English titles, and in that case, it's your job to lay out and typeset all of those credits. Sometimes that's easy (some licensors only provide a handful of credits they want you to use); sometimes that's a nightmare (a big-budget movie can mean laying out several thousand names into a neatly formatted scroll). If the English logo needs to be animated, that also might fall to you. If the show has an old dub that you're trying to match up against new masters, synchronizing that old audio also becomes your personal hell.

Anything you do usually has to be approved by SOMEBODY, so you'll usually need to export everything and send it off to the licensor. Once everything looks OK, you add in the dub audio (if there is one) and export the final "formatted" video for use on DVDs, Blu-rays, online streaming services, and whatever else. Someone will probably want to back up that final video to a master tape as well.

So you see, it's not a glamorous or even a creative job -- it's quite robotic, in fact. That said, I rather enjoy it -- pouring over and perfecting credit rolls is something that appeals deeply to my OCD side. Funimation, Sentai, NIS America, Media Blasters and Right Stuf do this in-house, although how much work they put in varies wildly from studio to studio, and from project to project. Discotek does some in-house and some out-of-house, depending on what needs to be done. Viz, Aniplex of America, and in the past tense, Bandai and Pioneer all rely on the dub studio to handle such duties. Prior to 2005 or so it all needed to be done at a large online video editing facility, but with the advent of Final Cut Pro, publishers were able to do it themselves.


Brandon asks:

So Bandai went under a while ago, and I have been pondering lately what exactly lead to such a fate. What was Bandai doing unlike its peers to lead to a collapse? Also, while it seems that most notable titles were picked up by other companies, there have been a few titles that slipped through the cracks, perhaps most notably Haruhi and Lucky Star. Do you know why this might be? I find it difficult to think anybody would find that old Hirano scandal enough of an issue as to negatively affect sales in any significant way in the United States.

Bandai Entertainment didn't collapse so much as get the plug pulled on them by their parent company. We may never fully understand the reasons why that happened (listen to our ANNCast interview with Robert Napton for the play-by-play from the American side). Given the state of the anime business at the time, I'm sure sales were nowhere near what they were at the peak of the anime boom, although from what we've heard, things seemed like they were turning a corner. For whatever reason, Bandai Namco decided they just didn't want a physical media distribution infrastructure in America anymore.

There are quite a few noteworthy titles from Bandai that have not yet been license rescued by anyone. The Haruhi Suzumiya franchise and Lucky Star are two of them; both were monster hits in Japan that sort of disappointed sales-wise in the American market (Lucky Star more than Haruhi); licensor Kadokawa might want more for them than American publishers think they're worth. Titles that were heavily liquidated during the market crash, like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, are still so easily available that no publisher would want to make more copies of them. Some just weren't great sellers to begin with. I certainly hope that some of them get picked up again, but we can only wait and see what shakes out.

Don't worry about the Aya Hirano scandal, though. Nobody on the professional end of things follows any of that nonsense. Voice actors are seldom considered a selling point outside of Japan.


Kristen asks:

While they are not the norm, there are a few very successful American cartoons that are written, produced, directed, and voiced by the same person(s). Trey Parker and Matt Stone write, direct, and provide voices for South Park. Seth McFarlane has written, directed, and voiced three different series (Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show). The Venture Brothers is written, directed, and voiced by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer. I was wondering if there were any anime shows out there that are the same. A series where one or two people are involved in both creating a story and acting in it.

Not really. The closest comparison I can come up with is Voice of a Distant Star, which was animated almost entirely by Makoto Shinkai, and voiced initially by him and his then-girlfriend Mika Shinohara. Many low-budget student anime shorts are made like this, usually for budgetary reasons, and frankly most animators stink as voice actors. Even Shinkai eventually redubbed Voice of a Distant Star with real voice actors.

Anime voice work is a very specific skill, and although a lot of anime nerds think they would make good voice actors, it really is much harder than it looks. The people who are really good at it -- and acting in general -- tend to be energetic, larger-than-life personalities, and that's pretty much the opposite of the sort of people who tend to go into animation: studious, quiet and methodical. These are stereotypes of course, but they hold true most of the time.

There are a few anime directors who HAVE voice acted, but not in their own work: Hideaki Anno immediately comes to mind, having been in The Wind Rises, and a few live action films. Hisashi Eguchi is a prominent animator who's made appearances in Grrl Power and Fruits Basket. There are probably a handful of others. Frankly, anime work is so demanding that I can't imagine any director has time to both direct and voice act in the same project. They're usually already pulling all-nighters as it is. Those aren't good for the vocal chords!


Nick asks:

A few years ago you mentionned that most companies weren't making significant revenue from ads on streaming websites like Hulu or YouTube. Recently, I've noticed that a lot of FUNimation dubs and new releases (the Fairy Tail movie for example) are now available faster than ever on Hulu. Sentai Filmworks has also added pretty much their entire back catalog there too. I would like to know how much the situation has evolved since the early days of streaming? Is Crunchyroll still the dominant player as far as revenues go?

Yeah, that's changed a LOT since the last time I wrote about that. Nowadays the revenues from online streaming are meaningful, sometimes VERY meaningful. Hulu alone pays literally MILLIONS of dollars in revenue to anime companies each month. Netflix licensing fees can be quite substantial, the amount Crunchyroll pays for streaming rights is nothing to sneeze at, and paid download services like iTunes and XBox Live also really add up. These days, the way anime makes money has become very diverse indeed.

But there really isn't a clear winner in terms of dominance or importance: every title has a slightly different audience, and that changes the game substantially. For a borderline-mainstream show like Naruto, Hulu is definitely tops. Most late-night simulcasts do their best on Crunchyroll, but Hulu can sometimes attract more eyeballs in the long run. For dubbed shows, the paid download services and Netflix are much more dominant, particularly if boobs are involved. It isn't always clear what title belongs in what category, though, so Japanese producers are increasingly trying to cast as wide of a net as possible. That's why you see Attack on Titan showing up on both Crunchyroll and Hulu via Funimation.

The digital video business is becoming more and more developed, and bringing in a lot more revenue than it once did. That said, it's still maturing, and companies are still experimenting. There is no winner, and there won't be a winner for many years, if ever. All of the major players are doing pretty well for now, and that's pretty nice.


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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