Hey, Answerman!

by Zac Bertschy,

I'm not sure what's harder: sifting through rants or coming up with something original to say every time I open a column.
I'm gonna go with the latter. Let's get busy.

It certainly seems, to me anyway, that there has been a drastic decline in the number of titles getting licensed for release here in America.  Outside of a few big names like Eureka 7 and Bleach getting picked up, there doesn't seem to be that much activity out of any domestic licensor at all.  The impact on the American scene is pretty obvious, but my question has to do with anime makers in Japan.  ANN's Editor in Chief (aka Tempest) has mentioned a few times on the forums that Japanese animation companies expect foreign licensing revenues as a part of their business plans. 

So, if the American licensing market stays as it is or diminishes even further what, if any, is the likely impact on the Japanese industry itself?

Well, if things keep going they way they're going, odds are the Japanese will finally be forced to wake up and start playing fair.

Here's a big part of the problem: a few years back when anime was this big new thing and it was getting lots of mainstream exposure and top-shelf retail placement, the various and sundry anime licensees in the US went nuts and started gobbling up anything that seemed like it might find some kind of audience here in the States. The Japanese, sensing a big market trend in the US, almost immediately started raising the prices - and when it turned out that maybe one out of every 30 shows would actually well well enough to justify the cost of the license, it became clear that the Japanese were severely overvaluing these series. Unfortunately, the Japanese didn't really seem to pick up on that and continued to raise prices as though anime were still a booming market in America, which it isn't anymore. Fast forward to present day and we're still basically in the same situation; the Japanese are still overvaluing many of their series, assuming that these American anime companies are flush with cash, anime is still a huge deal in America and that niche genre shows that would be lucky to sell 1,000 units per volume in the states are still worth $10,000-$12,000 per episode.
While the price for some licenses has since dropped, the reality is that the market simply isn't as large as a whole lot of people once thought and for a lot of titles, it isn't worth licensing them in the first place.

The result? Only the surefire hits are really being picked up anymore; Geneon still seems to be taking a few risks but by and large, the market is now dominated by huge guaranteed bestsellers like Naruto and Bleach. Since American licensing fees are factored in to the Japanese bottom line, yeah, it'll probably have an impact on the Japanese market, but to what extent is anyone's guess.

Like so many others, I want to move into a career involving anime/manga in some way. Most people want to break in as artists, original writers, voice actors, etc., but I'm interested in working at just about any level - hell, I'd be satisfied being a secretary at Tokyopop. Thing is, I'm not entirely sure what kinds of position I should aim for. Thus far, I'm planning to get a major in English and a minor in graphic design. Armed with that, what kind of positions should I shoot for? What kind of other experience would I need? What would be the most solid, long term job choice?

This is a tough question; I'm not sure your head is in the right place.

Why do you want to work in the anime & manga industry? Because you're a fan? If that's the only reason, you should probably rethink things. The fact that you're salivating over a job as a secretary at Tokyopop is worrisome. Believe it or not, the anime industry is just like every other industry; working low-level jobs is repetitive, the pay sucks, and it's pretty monotonous. People don't take jobs in the mail room at Geneon because they're big anime fans and just want to say that they work at Geneon, they take that job because it's going to put food on the table temporarily until they find something better. Right now it seems like you're willing to sacrifice decent pay and a good job just to say you work in the anime and manga industry, and while you're welcome to do that, you're going to find out pretty quickly that your plan isn't really going to work out the way you might like. Anime and manga companies aren't super-fun dream factories where you hang out with Naruto and read comics all day; they're just businesses, like everywhere else.

Consider this scenario:

I really like videogames, specifically videogames made by Capcom. I decide I really want to work for Capcom, and that this is my first career choice. So I take a job as a janitor at Capcom, which is what they had available for someone like me with my limited experience and my bachelor's degree in history.

2 months later, how happy am I that I'm cleaning garbage out of the trash bins at Capcom? Is it worth it just to tell people "Oh, I work at Capcom", when immediately afterward I have to say "...as a janitor"? Do I go home at night (or possibly to a second job) and dream wistfully of going back to work at Capcom the next day? Do I love videogames so much that it's such an honor to work a crappy, menial job "in the industry" (which I'm not really a part of; it's not like they send me to E3 or ask my opinion on videogames)?

If you're getting your degree in English with a minor in graphic design, then you need to be aiming higher than a position as a secretary at Tokyopop. Hell, you might not even want to work in the anime and manga industry; on the other side of college, you're going to be thinking about this very differently. With a degree in English and graphic design, you're going to be qualified to work at much larger publishing companies that will be able to pay you a lot more than any anime or manga company in America.
The anime industry - while it isn't in any danger of collapse - isn't the most stable or high-paying industry; there aren't any jobs out there right now in the field where I could say with no reservations "yeah, this is a long-term position that will provide for you and your family for a long time".

If you're interested in working with anime and manga but still want to bring home a decent paycheck, consider going into PR or marketing. You'll have extremely valuable skills that will help you get a foothold in the anime industry, but will also provide you with a safety net, since every corporation in America needs PR and marketing people. That said, with an English degree and experience in graphic design, you might be able to get work doing layout at an American manga company... but even that isn't really going to provide you with a healthy long-term career unless you specialize in graphic design enough to leap over to a higher-paying, higher-prestige position at a larger publication.

Again, I can't stress this enough: just because you're a manga fan doesn't mean that a job in the manga industry is going to be right for you, or provide you with the happiness you think it will. Don't settle for mail room or clerical jobs just because you enjoy comic books. If you're getting a college degree, aim as high as you possibly can; find a field you like to work in (publishing, engineering, etc) and a specialization that you enjoy doing (writing, graphic design, etc), and then look for a job that uses your skills, makes you happy and nets you the kind of salary you desire. If that plan includes the anime industry, great, but otherwise, your focus should be "finding a great job that's going to provide for me", not "working for Viz Media".

This is my first attempt at writing to you for the "Hey, Answerman!" column so I hope this is the correct procedure.  I was wondering if it is possible for a popular anime series to stop being distributed on DVD.  For example, Rurouni Kenshin is still on the market even though it's a few years old but will I still be able to purchase a brand new set, say, twenty years down the road?  Thanks for your time.

Er, just as a general rule, most media formats rarely last 20 years. If you're still buying DVDs 20 years from now, then good luck with that. Odds are you're going to want Rurouni Kenshin on whatever the newfangled media format is rather than DVD. You could always get the old sets on eBay or something, I suppose, but I'm not sure why you'd want to.

Anyway, yes, it is very possible for an anime series to stop being distributed; in fact, it happens all the time. Take Sailor Moon, for example. The American rights expired and Toei yanked it, and now you can't really buy it anywhere anymore. When an American company licenses something, it's a contract, an agreement, and it has a time limit. Once the rights expire, they can renew (if the Japanese company allows them to) or not. If they choose not to, the title goes out of print and it becomes fairly difficult to find. There's no guarantee that Media Blasters will hold on to the Kenshin rights for the next two decades, so using that example, I can't tell you one way or the other.

Ultimately, maybe you shouldn't be waiting 20 years to buy something in the first place.

hello, I'm confused about bootlegs because I go to the mall about once or twice or month and whatever money I have  goes towards anime or live action dvds. I go into the store and they have live action dvds in their original languages with subtitles. I just want to know if they're straight from asia and imported to the states or if they're just illegal copies. I bought 2 live action dvds, and I want to know if the same thing applies to imported anime. thank you.

It depends on where you're buying it from, really. Lately I've noticed in my local malls that there are a handful of little carts in the halls (alongside the bootleg Nintendos and scented candles) that sell obviously bootlegged subtitled martial arts flicks. If you're buying those, yeah, they're bootlegs. If you're buying from a store like Suncoast or Sam Goody or Best Buy or any of those, you're not buying bootlegged merchandise. If you're buying from a locally owned store that happens to sell anime DVDs, then you're going to want to double-check; a lot of those places do sell bootlegs. Just check out the closest major retail chain that sells anime and compare product; if what's in the anime shop doesn't match up, odds are they're selling bootlegs.

I sure do like to say "bootlegs"!. I think that word should have a double meaning; maybe a girl who looks great in cowboy boots could be called "One fine-lookin' bootlegs!". Or perhaps if you have a pair of boots that have lasted you many years, you could claim that your boots have "great bootlegs".

Or not.

Here's this week's rant, courtesy of Lauren Chicoine. A reminder: the following is in no way representative of the opinions of Anime News Network, Zac Bertschy, or anyone else save the person who wrote it.

There's one aspect of my anime hobby that wanders up and kicks me in the shins from time to time: fanservice. Ouch! No, it's not the series I'm being assaulted by, it's the people who happen to notice what I'm watching and immediately accuse me (and all other otaku) of being a weird sort of cartoon porn addict. How is this fair? We can go to the cinema and watch Heather Graham's pieces parts without anyone pointing fingers, but not curvaceous characters on the TV set? We can watch partially-plastic, impossibly thin women flaunt themselves before the paparazzi, but not innocently inhabit made-up storylines that never presume to mimic reality? Some of the more … interesting examples I can think of include Grenadier, Go Dannar and Melody of Oblivion, whose overall worth are not under scrutiny at the moment.

Here's the thing. The reasons fanservice exist do not need to be explained - take this moment to list the few that there are and move on. The problem is how to justify its existence to someone who can't conceive of enjoying a series that so blatantly panders to male lust.

At the worst, you are stuck insisting that fanservice bears no impact on the reason you've chosen to watch a series and therefore does not significantly contribute or detract from your enjoyment of it. Yes, excessive jiggling can become distracting and certainly annoying, but there are few anime that are stellar in spite of their fanservice; any issues in this department are likely to accompany flawed animation, storylines, character development, etc.

When defending fanservice, it's best to point out that, while not all of it is worth defending, sometimes it certainly has its place. After all, fanservice is most successful when it's included NOT as mere fanservice, but for the same reason any other plot device is - in support of the story. You'll find it far easier to justify excessive cleavage in, say, Cowboy Bebop than Karin. Though both use the breast sizes of the leading ladies for all kinds of purposes, the former would definitely suffer without it - Faye's character and much of what she does is heavily influenced by her sex appeal - while the latter series would remain 99.9 percent unchanged were Maaka's cup size reduced to realistic proportions.

So what about Grenadier, Go Dannar and Melody of Oblivion? Is it a lost cause to uphold the fanservice factor in those series? If you're doing so in an attempt to claim fanservice is not what it is - pandering to the audience - then no one and nothing is going to save you. NEVER get into an argument about fanservice by taking the position that it's NOT pandering…no one's going to make much headway defending a murder by insisting it isn't an act of killing someone, after all.

Fanservice really comes back to imagination, marketing and how many ways writers can spin the same stories over and over again. It's a fact that pretty much all hentai is about the same thing - sex - which is all fanservice is in its most extreme form. It's also a fact that hentai is generally boring, uninspired and unmemorable but for its sexual components (there are exceptions, of course, i.e. Night Shift Nurses, and anyone who's seen it should know why). When you're starting out with a series stripped of fanservice, however, and someone hits upon the idea of having the heroine not only be a crack shot, BUT load bullets at lightning speed by giving her bosom a hefty bounce, this is going to get attention. It's a pretty incredible concept, it's never been done before (I'm 99 percent sure of this) and it's something that will make viewers more interested in the series than they would otherwise be. So in it goes. For good measure, the series creators make sure the other women are similarly well endowed, because otherwise it would all just be too unbelievable. And hey, if you're going to go with fanservice, go all the way, right?

Viola, fanservice has been justified. What? Yes! It's a gimmick used to attract viewers, to make a series stand out from a crowd, to give it a shot of excitement that otherwise wouldn't be there. Whether it works as intended and a given viewer appreciates gratuitious panty shots, bikinis and hot spring visits is entirely another matter. I really don't care about fanservice UNLESS it's used wisely, a la Cowboy Bebop - this is the only time it makes me sit up and take notice. Ok, so I'm female, but still. Someone lecturing me for enjoying a particular series that happens to aim for men's pants is completely missing the point because I just don't take in the fanservice in the way they're accusing me of. Go lecture the series creators, go lecture the guys who - let's face it - will never stop being guys, but don't lecture me. Just because it's there doesn't mean I have to love it, but I'm not going to stop watching anime because it happens to exist.

Whew. So what do you think? Does Lauren have a point? Sound off on our forums and let the discussion begin!

If you have a rant of your own and would like to see your work in this space, just follow the rules below and you could be the next featured fan in RANT RANT RANT!:

Welcome to the newest segment in Hey, Answerman: RANT RANT RANT!

What I'm looking for are your best and brightest rants: no shorter than 300 words, on any topic you like related to anime. I'm expecting decent writing, and a modicum of sensibility. Send me a well-written and thoughtful rant that's a decent length, and I'll print it in this space, regardless of whether or not I agree with it, with no further commentary from me. The goal is to provide a more visible and public space for those of you with intelligent things to say about anime, the industry, anything you like related to the subject; discussion in our forums will surely follow.

The rules? Well, here they are:

1. No excessive swearing. "Damn" and "Hell" are fine, anything stronger than that needs to be excluded or censored.
2. Personal attacks will not be tolerated.
3. The word "Rant" must be in your email subject line.
4. Your rant must be at least 300 words, and use proper spelling and grammar. Internet speak, like 'lol' or 'u' instead of 'you' will not be tolerated.

Remember, your editorial doesn't have to be negative at all - feel free to write whatever you like, so long as it's on-topic. We're looking for solid, well-stated opinions, not simply excessive negativity.

Send your rants to [email protected], and watch this space next week for our first installment!

We're still on hiatus. Remember, if you've won an Answerman prize in the last month or two and haven't received your item yet, email me with your name, mailing address and the prize you won and I'll look in to it.

See you next week!

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