ANN at one year old

Apr 27th 1999
Editorial: One year in the can...

by Justin Sevakis, Editor-in-chief

Wow. I've been doing this for an entire year. I have to admit, I'm plenty freaked out that I've lasted this long.

ANN has been an incredible experience. In just one short year, ANN has gone from being the dream of an overactive fan to being the leading anime news source on the internet. In one day, we serve nearly 3,000 pages (not hits, individual HTML files) of information to English-speaking anime fans around the world. Readers from nearly every company associated with anime (including Central Park Media, ADV Films, SyCo Distribution, Costal Recording, and Bang Zoom! Entertainment) frequent the site. We were also one of only a handful of sites to attain the coveted Anime Web Turnpike "Year's Best Pages" awards for 1998.

Let's take this occasion to take a look back at the changes and history of the last year... and take a sneak-peek at what's to come!



A Suicidal Idea


After being active in anime fandom for a while (read: years) I decide it's time to do something big, and different. Something that would benefit the commercial companies as well as the fan. (And preferably make money in the process!) Although anime had been around quite a while by this point, there were plenty of holes that needed to be filled. No ratings on tape boxes, for example.

That was my first idea: come up with a universal rating system, icons, and rate each commercial release for content, then charge the companies a fee to use the copyrighted icons. Then everyone started using Pioneer's "Suggested X Up" labels and that was the end of that idea.

One other problem was the lack of one universal place for fans to get the latest information, filtered of rumor and gossip, but with enough substantial information to keep the reader coming back regularly. Curious, I ran the idea past John Sirabella (president of Media Blasters) while in the CompuServe anime forum. "i think its a great idea," he wrote.

A few months later, towards the end of July, I began writing down all of the news stories in short article form, while I began work constructing a web page. I had done web pages before, but none quite like this one. I just pulled it together as best I could.

At this point, the site was operable, but looked like garbage. I registered ANN in August with the various places needed to have a domain name, and began work. The result finally looked like a news page. The site was officially open.



Word spread fairly quickly about the often-updated new publication, a web site with content, that finally offered something different than the standard "So and so licensed this anime and I think everyone should buy it 'cause it's really good" style of fan reporting. I took a few journalism classes and decided that ANN should abide by the code of ethics that most news organizations practice (local television news notwithstanding).



The beginnings of an audience


I got lots of e-mail from people who saw the potential in ANN and wanted to offer their support. One of them offered to help me construct ANN into one better designed and supported, but he disappeared... Another, by the name of Isaac Alexander, started sending me news clippings that he found on his tireless searches for news bits, giving me time to concentrate on some of the bigger issues of running the site.

Then I got the big one. Shawne Kleckner, owner of the Right Stuf, sent me an e-mail. I couldn't believe it. "Love the site," he wrote, "Let me know what we can do to help each other."

Needless to say, I was happy. I expected to have to really sell the site to potential advertisers, and here was the king of potential advertisers coming to ME! Even today, I credit Right Stuf with helping me really get ANN going, and their endorsement has not only sent new readers our way, but new advertisers as well. Finally, the site was starting to make money!



Milestones


Probably the biggest story we've ever covered is (still) the first cover story about the troubles Mixx Entertainment had in the PR department last year. The product of weeks of research, lack of sleep, and plenty of coffee, the story was unparalleled, boasting lengthy interviews with key players, conclusions drawn from major sources of controversy, and an editorial to wrap it all up. The article was widely acclaimed, but I'm sure it scared away some potential advertisers. Oh well... making money was secondary anyway.

But there is one story that has come pretty close: AnimeVillage. The newest anime company was just up and running at that point, and was having plenty of PR and mail order problems. Through a few friends, we were able to talk to Bandai USA president Ken Iyadomi, who gave us the phone number of Associate Producer Nobu Yamamoto. After an exclusive interview that cleared up nearly all of the questions asked by fans, we were contacted by Jerry Chu, who also wanted to advertise, as well as send us screener copies.

We were the first (and I believe still the only) internet-based publication to receive screener copies of AnimeVillage releases, and I considered this an extreme honor. A few weeks later, we were greeted at our doorstep with a big honking box filled with tapes -- 36 of them to be exact. This was the start of the review backlog. At its peak, we had 50 tapes left to review, but by now we have it down to about 27 (most of them still from the initial AnimeVillage shipment). I'm trying to get them all done before the end of the month. (I won't post them right away, of course.) @_@



Headaches


Problems? Oh, GOD there were plenty! Aside from our relationships with various vendors (who we always want to treat well but screw up sometimes), two of the biggest problems have had to do with the readers directly:

The first is a conflict I'll never forget. I decided that it would be fun to have some polls on ANN, so I put in a "top ten list" style voting booth that allowed users to suggest new entries. After a "worst anime ever" contest with questionable results, I put up a new question: "What would you most like to see on DVD?" I restricted submissions to titles that were licensed in North America already.

One day, someone suggested a title I'd never heard of before: Mysterious Cities of Gold. I'd never heard that name before, and knew it wasn't licensed because I would have heard about it by that point, so I rejected it. The person that suggested it insisted that it was licensed, so I reinstated it without checking it out first. BIG mistake.

Over the next week and a half, I witnessed what must have been the most popular anime programs of all time take a nosedive in the polls in favor of something I'd never heard of before! Unlikely, but not unthinkable. I began to pay closer attention to the poll and noticed something: Mysterious Cities of Gold jumped 50 votes in a matter of minutes and then nothing for hours. Then Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind would do something similar. Two polls in a numerical game of chicken.

Needless to say, I smelled a rat. Obviously, some people were NOT playing fair. The polling program wasn't advanced enough to restrict IP numbers or keep track of who was voting, so I had no data to back this up, but I don't think it would have mattered. I removed Mysterious Cities of Gold, now armed with the knowledge that NOBODY had home video rights to this title in America.

I checked my mailbox the next day to see about ten angry e-mails from Mysterious Cities of Gold fans, demanding why their favorite title had been removed, accusing me of removing it because I hadn't seen it, and essentially calling me the antichrist. I answered each one, and softened the notice I had put on the page to make it a bit less accusatory. I still got nasty e-mails, and so I decided this was a no-win situation. The poll was quietly removed, not to be seen again for months later.

Another, more serious problem occurred with the web board. A friend of mine e-mailed me one day to tell me that some people were causing trouble on my site, and disrupting the peace. Entire conversations became hate-drenched strings of expletives. A few people started posting grotesque racist jokes. After a few feeble attempts to edit what everyone else had written, I decided this wasn't working. The board was removed, replaced only with the statement that the web board would be back eventually, after a cooling off period and after I found a better web board program. I hinted that the board would only be gone a few weeks.

Weeks turn into months. I couldn't find a good program, one that suited ANN. Six months later, I finally find CDboard, a steal at only $22, and institute it on the page. A few problem people came back, but I could easily ban them, and the program automatically filtered bad words. There was a problem, though: It found bad words that weren't even there, or rather were in other words (or even multiple words)! Things like "Ashitaka" and" Gas Station couldn't even be posted! After bugging the piss out of the developers, they politely sent me a patch to turn off this "feature". I still can't have banners on there, but at least I have a board now!



Readers


Since then, the web board has been a source of constant amazement to me. This wasn't the typical internet "I'm anonymous so I'll act like an idiot and flame everyone" way of doing things -- these were all intelligent people! Where a thread about the Tenchi Muyo! dubs would probably end in name calling anywhere else, ANN's web board offered a striking back and forth argument on the casualties of war and whether an entire people should be blamed for the fascist policies of its government. Where a thread about Evangelion would end in a string of one-line posts in alternating caps about Misato's breasts on the newsgroups, ANN's web board discussed Shakespearian storytelling and its influence on anime!

I didn't know conversation this intelligent was POSSIBLE on the internet, let alone that I would be hosting it. But I think this indicates something more: ANN's readers are the best, most intelligent people on the internet. I suppose you'd have to have some modicum of intelligence to care about the news happenings in the world of anime, but the letters I get and the posts on the bulletin board prove so much more. You guys make it all possible, and to you and my wonderful sponsors, I have to say, thanks for a wonderful year!



Future


So, what can you expect to see from us in the future? A bit more of the same. We'll start having some new features and columns (we'd like to add a videophile section), but for the most part, it's stuff we can't talk about yet. Let's just say that our second year should be just as interesting as the first!

Here's just a bit of what we're planning for the near future (remember, no promises!):

  • An improved search engine
  • A SherlockTM Plug-in for Apple Macintosh® OS 8.5 users
  • Support for palmtop PC's
  • Active ChannelTM support
  • Complete coverage of the North American premiere of Perfect Blue
  • More graphics (including screen shots for reviews)
  • New feature: Overlooked commercial releases
  • A special ANN original manga -- "Super Licensing Unit Hack-Job". (You can guess what THAT'S about...)

Thanks for reading, and thanks for being there!

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