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Hey, Answerman!

by Zac Bertschy,

Too much to do, not enough time to do it, so let's get down to business.

What is exactly missing from North American animation that would make them look like their Japanese counterparts?  Is it the shading?  The color palette?  The backgrounds?  The framerates?  The closest thing NA has come up with is Avatar, but something still feels lacking.  Can you provide an analysis using this show as a basis?

I can't provide you with an analysis because your conclusion is "American animation doesn't look like Japanese animation, and therefore that is a bad thing", which I don't agree with and most rational people wouldn't agree with either. There isn't anything "missing". It's simply different.

Having all American animation look like anime is not a desirable goal, unless you're one of these die-hard "anime is always better, all hail glorious nippon" types that assumes everything Japanese is superior. Like anime, American animation encompasses a huge variety of visual styles;
it's never going to all look the same, much less ape the style of a foreign country's output. Frankly, I want as wide a variety of aesthetic as possible - if every animated TV series or film on the planet looked like Naruto, I'd drive my car off a cliff.

I swear I'll only ever answer self-indulgent questions like this when I'm in a hurry. No really. Promise. Pinky promise, even.  

I know that in order for you to do this article: Hey Answerman! you have to be some kind of an anime fan. I don't know too much about you or where you stand on subjects outside of anime (@ least not yet). So I was wondering how you personally feel as a fan of anime, do you think that this craze that's swept the nation will be popular in about 5-10 years from now?

I usually get a lot of crap for saying this publically, but I'll go ahead and say it because it's the only honest answer to the question.

I'm not really an anime fan, in the basic sense of the word. I'm sure that will be quoted out of context every time someone wants to slam me for being a phony, but it is basically the truth (with a lot of caveats).

I started out as a superfan back in the mid-late 90's; I was then like a lot of fans are now, devouring everything in site (although back then
we had to rely on VHS tapes coming in the mail and anime clubs so the flow of material wasn't as hose-like as it is now). I was a devout fan of - believe it or not - Tenchi Muyo, the harem comedy that a lot of people now blame for stuff like Happy Lesson. My favorite show was Escaflowne (which I still watch once every few years or so) followed by Evangelion. I was even in to Slayers for a time, which I now find basically unwatchable.

Then the digital fansub thing came along and I started devouring those, too. I got on that train when the first digisubs of Pilot Candidate (sorry, "Candidate for the Goddess") started showing up, with those kids in those fruity little shorts with garter belts, and Love Hina. I was a devout fansub watcher all through college, downloading like crazy. I even downloaded raws of the new shows in Japan. I went to a lot of conventions, bought a hell of a lot of merchandise.

Things changed for me when I started getting seriously professional about my writing career, which was a little later on in college. Once you're being paid full-time to write about something - and edit articles about something - and create features about something - and endlessly watch something, even things you're not interested in - the magic of it starts to fade, and it becomes your job. Don't get me wrong, I love my job. But to me, it's disingenuous to call myself a real anime fan when I don't really do the things fans do; generally I only have time to watch anime when it's for something work-related. I don't buy a lot of merchandise, mostly because there aren't that many shows I'm really into enough to want to drop $50 on a statue. Generally there are only a few things I actually get really personally excited about: a new episode of Hellsing Ultimate, a new Satoshi Kon movie, a new Miyazaki movie, and generally whatever Mahiro Maeda is working on, depending on the subject matter. That's kinda it. Nearly a decade working with something will do that to you.

It's important to note that while I say "only a few things excite me these days", that isn't a statement of negativity toward everything else. I'm neutral toward most anime I see, largely because I'm watching it for work. I see plenty of stuff that I would consider cool or noteworthy, but I don't get all worked up over it anymore; it's part of the job.

I still follow the fan community and the R1 industry religiously, but that's because it's my job to be informed about these things. I still keep up with the new shows that are out there, in order to be current and be able to produce content both for this website and our magazine, Protoculture Addicts. That's the long and short of it.

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but most people who have been working with anime for more than a few years are the same way. Once something becomes your job - and again, you probably love your job at that point - you stop being a "fan" in the truest sense of the word. Living and breathing anime at work for 9 hours a day doesn't instill the deep desire to come home and watch anime. You probably want to watch House reruns. Makes sense, right?

To answer the rest of your questions there, anime will still be popular in 5-10 years; it isn't going away anytime soon. It's too widespread, too mainstream, too recognized as a legitimate medium rather than a genre to go the way of pogs or those slap bracelets kids used to cut their wrists open in the third grade. The method that we get it (legally) here in America will probably change, though.

Long time reader, always enjoyer, first time questioner.  This question is regarding the selling of fanfiction.

I'm a long time writer and reader of fanfiction.  I enjoy it in many forms and in many fandoms.  I also enjoy reading books and have a massive library collection of published authors that I keep to reread the stories.

The other day I was doing my weekly lounging around in a coffeehouse reading a book and felt the urge to be able to read a favorite fanfic of mine instead, but this fic is only available online unless I print it out on 8 1/2 by 11 stock for my own personal use.  It got me to thinking, and then I did some research. I was able to find a site that sold a personal book binder; a press of sorts that, combined with some inexpensive software and materials, could easily provide me at least two shelves or more worth of fanfic entertainment in easy to read book format and book size.  Unfortunately the startup costs of the venture would have me out of pocket a bit more than I could afford right now, but it led another question to begin brewing in my capitalistic American mind.

Why aren't fanfictions sold the same way some fanart is?

Now I am a long time anime fan, but I've only been to two conventions and those were admittedly cruddy ones.  I noticed the loveliness that is the Artist's Alley where purveyors of fanart and original art sold images of licensed and copyrighted characters seemingly without fear of censure from above.  I've seen the topic come up elsewhere about the legality of said sales and recall the shrugging answer to be only 'Company X knows these artists are never going to make a living off of selling $3 bookmarks at an anime convention and so they don't pursue.'

There's also the argument of doujinshi being thrown into the mix.  I understand there is some sort of legal loophole that allows Japanese artists to sell them and they seem to even be quite lucrative if you're one of the better and more beloved artists. I'd like to see the same toleration and blind eye turned to fanfics.  I might be a bit off, but I see fanfics as America's doujinshi.  I'd like to see them sold and cherished as fervently as some of our favorite doujinshi artists; placed on a shelf next to my Anne McCaffrey and David Edding's novels to be stuffed in a purse or read on a plane without use of a laptop or handheld computer-like device.  Some of these author's spin stories of incredible depth and emotional twists, but are never to be rewarded because their 300+ page story is based on someone else's world.

So, if a person were to purchase a book binder and gain some fanfic author's permissions then attempt to sell these for minimal profit (material costs are huge based upon some of the epics I enjoy reading) do you think there would be a market, and do you think the American and Japanese license holders would allow it as long as the fics did not defame their characters or steal their revenue? I'm not talking about publishing them complete with UPCs and ISBNs, but more a fancopy done on a manual binder.

Also, just for numbers sake so you have an idea; I drew up a business model with a 40/60 author to business cost.  I would have to sell $1500.00 worth of books just to make my startup money back while continuing to purchase materials (print paper, toner, glue, cover pages) and even after that my profit for labor would be a fourth of what the actual author would receive. Truly, I'm not in this to make money, but to add to my own and other's bookshelves.  This is for the benefit of the fans and not my pocketbook.

So, what do you think?  Could this truly be a step forward for fanfiction or should I keep it among friends instead of offering it to the public?

I don't know if it would be a "step forward" for fanfiction; fanart sells well and gets good exposure at anime conventions because it's artwork and you can just glance at it and decide if you want it or not. The quality of it is easy to judge right off the bat. People generally know what they like and know what they're getting upfront.

Fanfiction is a different beast entirely. Here you have a work that's already of questionable quality (I realize you just compared fanfiction to Anne McCaffrey and David Eddings but most people would probably be skeptical that someone writing 400 pages of angsty Ranma 1/2 fanfiction could measure up to any professional novelist) and isn't supposed to turn a profit, and you're selling it to people who largely won't know what they're getting when they pick it up off the shelves. If I'm choosing a book from a shelf full of self-published amateurs, I'm not going to be as confident that I'm getting something worth my money as I am when selecting from the fiction shelves at Barnes & Noble. You can go on and on all day about how there's a lot of crappy published fiction out there but the gold-to-crap ratio is still higher than the archives of fanfiction.net, like it or not.

If you're worried about the legality of it, I doubt you would suffer any consequences so long as you sold it in exactly the same manner fanart is sold - mostly at conventions, at no great profit to yourself, and never with any kind of pretension that this is a professional product with endorsement by the original creator. All in all it doesn't sound like you're doing anything really different from what fanartists do, really, except that the product isn't nearly as appealing because it isn't artwork, which is much easier to shop for. That and you're talking about "startup money" and "recouping costs" like this is a real business, which is an attitude I would suggest you scrap if you really want to avoid the ire of Japanese copyright holders. Do it to fulfill your own personal love of fanfiction, and no other reason; be prepared to sink $1500 into this without seeing a dime of it back. Otherwise you're venturing into the "I'm doing this to break even and maybe turn a profit" territory which is the whole "Rumiko Takahashi makes money on these characters and therefore so should I because I like her cartoons and that entitles me to a piece of the pie" selfish-ass thinking some fanartists fall into.

Personally, I'm not sure the "market" for published fanfics is as large as you might think; you might be better off functioning as a vanity publisher, offering fanfic authors bound copies of their work, with the option to print more if they like for their friends. The person most likely to buy a printed version of a fanfic is the author.

Here it is: our first flake from the Hey, Answerfans! section.

if i could change anything about the way anime is released in america it would be to keep the origanal art. becuase i have seen naruto on cartoon network and yes they say its for kids but they take out all the blood, cussing and most of what jiriya does. i watch naruto on the internet and i feel sorry for the american watchers who dont get to see everything. i would also so dont change the theam songs or take them out you have to have a theme song! this is my first time emailing the answerman thing so this might not have been what you are looking for but arigatou!

Yeah, Viz totally hacked out that scene in episode 87 where Naruto chops off Sasuke's head and then makes love to his eye socket while screaming the F-word. I hate it when they butcher my animes!!!

This kitten soothes my aching soul.

Our question last week was "If you could change anything about the way anime is handled and released in America, what would it be?"

From reader "Benjamin Walters":

It's funny. If this question had been posed a few years ago, the answer would be the same from everyone: stop editting/changing/bastardizing anime when shown on american television. Now that edits have become fewer and less obtrusive (Naruto being a good example), chopped up anime has become the exception, not the rule.

The one thing I would change is increase the amount of anime shown on television and try to bring anime into the mainstream. It's no secret that anime as of now is a niche market. Outside of the odd Pokemon/Miyazaki movie, anime is almost completely unknown outside the anime fan community. And this whole direct-to-DVD thing does not help things at all. If anything, it keeps anime in obscurity, since the only people who would buy them are people who've seen it already, or at the very least have a good idea of what they're buying. The best way in my opinion to change that is to show more anime on american television. Heck, I owe a lot of anime's popularity right now to Toonami, a programming block on Cartoon Network that is well known for showing anime.

All it would take would be one licensee willing to risk the cash and one network willing to risk the airtime. Could you imagine an anime like Baccano! or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex being shown alongside shows like Lost and 24? I'd like to think it would do for anime what The Simpsons did for animated comedies. There's no doubt it would surprise some people to see animated shows that discuss such mature themes. There's no better time to do it either. With the success of superhero movies and shows like Heroes, what used to be considered the stuff of nerds is becoming more and more popular amongst normal people.

Another, from Audrea Lynn:

I would make three things happen.

- First, those working on an anime should watch it. They need to have a better feel for the characters, the story, and the overall environment the creator was going for. Those working on the music need to get a good feel for the type of music that works well with a show. (Admittedly, some anime have music that doesn't work well, in my opinion, but it gives the American music editor an idea of where to start.) The translators need to not just translate the words, but also try to grasp, to the best of their abilities, the fundamental concepts and underlying meanings, which are all best noted when viewing the original and seeing how what is said can be interpreted. And the voice actors need to listen and watch carefully, to know not only the words and the general gist of what is being said, but also how it is said; sometimes, the words, the voice, and the animated body language have to sync before the audience understands completely the full meaning of some scenes. If they don't sync correctly, then grand misunderstandings can occur.

- Second, editors need to be allowed to leave some "controversial" material in. For this, I use One Piece as a prime example. There were cuts and changes that made absolutely no sense. One of the men on Buggy's crew was black in the original. I didn't even really pay the detail much mind until I saw the edited, American version, where he was white. Now, I also saw the edits where they took guns and such like that out and replaced them with ridiculous contraptions, which was also a bit of overzealous editing in my humble opinion, but I could better understand why it was done. But why change the skin color of a single crew member? Wouldn't the fact that it was changed be more incendiary than leaving it there? This is an example where the editor should have left the original as it was.

- Third, I would have the anime companies, all of the companies and sub-companies that release anime in America, get together and agree to promote anime in general to a wider audience. The R1 companies complain that the anime market is a bit less profitable than other markets, making anime DVDs among the most expensive for consumers to buy. But the biggest problem they have is getting the word out about what anime really is. If they worked together to spread the idea of what anime really is and how varied it is, a broader audience may be more attracted to it. I mean, I know a great number of people who are usually quite well-informed who either have never heard of anime or have radical misconceptions about what anime is and what could possibly be in it for them. My mom happened to be one of the latter; she had the entirely mistaken idea that all anime was either hentai or yaoi. As such, she forbade it be in the house. It took her watching Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away before she conceded that a tiny sliver of anime was borderline decent, and she finally conceded that anime was okay when she heard some of the music I made her listen to without her knowing that it came from anime. And she is a fairly open-minded person, with a daughter who is very much into anime. Think of the people who are more closed-minded and/or do not have relations or friends who can introduce them to anime and offer suggestions and guidance of what shows would be appropriate for their unique situations and interests. These are the people that the companies, the whole American anime industry together, need to educate about the anime world.

In short, I would have anime be treated like we expect our shows to be treated abroad: as something valued highly enough to be understood, worked with gently, and promoted appropriately.

From "Binarysunset":

1) Release products as close to the Japanese date as possible. (This links to the fansub question.)
2) Release an authentic as possible product -- no cultural, violence, or sexual edits -- period. If people can't handle the story, then don't watch.

Finally, from "jeant":

So, although I know perfectly well it'd be the kiss of death for sales, I'd be perfectly happy if all the dubs were eliminated. I can't say I've listened to more than one or two dubs on the dvds I've bought, and those only because people said the jokes were better or  the lyrics were vastly different or whatever.

I mean, there's the dubs I was pretty much forced to watch, because  that's all there was (at that time), like Voltron and Robotech and  suchlike, but I can't say I was 100% happy with them. Not that, on reflection, I'd have been much happier with a subbed version (haven't  tested that with Go Lion yet because Media Blasters hasn't gotten  there, but still), because I really don't like mecha shows that much, because I did buy the subbed box sets for Southern Cross and Mospeada,  and I didn't like them either. Much. The casts were adorable, though,  which is probably why I really don't like it when I get the dubs instead.

(Nothing against the dub actors. Fine people, the ones I've met. And  they speak English, which is a big plus. Seriously, if people came with subtitles, I'd be a lot happier about going to cons and meeting the foreign jobs.)

It's just, we get the Funi anime block, or whatever it's called, on our Japanese station, and it just doesn't work that the shows are  dubbed. If there's any station in the whole United States that subbed  versions of Kare Kano, Utena, Fruits Basket, Spiral and whatever else  was playing would work, we've got it, and yet they've still got the dubs. And I've complained to them about it already, and the station people don't seem to have the ability to get the subbed tracks. But subbed Abarenbo Shogun followed by dubbed Kare Kano just grates. Where's the otaku level in that?

Here's our topic for this week:

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 hve 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.

So check this space next week for your answers to my questions!

I sat down to write the column last month and decided I was pretty sick and tired of staring at Howl. So I cracked open Photoshop to craft a new banner for Hey, Answerman!, but the inspiration just didn't come!

What's the obvious solution? Ask my readers to do it for me!

Here's the deal. You take this banner:

And, using those same dimensions, make something crazy or creative or funny and submit it. Each week I'll pick a new one and post it. You don't have to use any specific anime character (in fact, you don't HAVE to use an anime character at all); go wild! Animated banners are A-OK, too.

A few rules:

1. Don't use real people in the banner, no matter how famous they may be.
2. No profanity.
3. The banner must have the Hey, Answerman! logo in it featured prominently, although you may change the font to whatever you like.
4. Submissions must use the same dimensions as the current banner, in terms of pixel width and height.
A little bigger or smaller is OK, but don't go overboard.

Every week a new banner will be chosen and posted at the top of the column, along with a credit so the creator can bask in his or her amazing fame and glory. What's the prize for winning, you may ask? Well, every week a new banner will be chosen and posted at the top of the column, along with a credit so the creator can bask in his or her amazing fame and glory!

Email your submissions to answerman (at) animenewsnetwork.com. Good luck! Have fun!

See you all next week!

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