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Who Answers The Answerman?

by Zac Bertschy,

We're back to our usual format this week and I'm attempting to create content for the site that does not result in a 20-page forum thread about fansubs, so I'm sticking mostly to straight questions about anime and manga (and, okay, one about manga sales). Sounds like fun! Let's get started!

hey answerman, here's an old question for you: what do you think of Evangelion? Is it a masterpiece or trash?

Evangelion is a pretty good show. I rewatch it once every few years and it's still entertaining and fairly gripping even now. I really liked the film, The End of Evangelion, as well. Hell, I liked both endings, to be honest. Even that silly slapped-together TV ending with the folding chairs and recycled footage.

Honestly, these days, the "debate" over whether or not Evangelion is worth anything seems to have eclipsed any kind of real "fandom" the show may have had, at least in America. I find the only people who still seem to be really vocal about the series are the ones who apparently find it their sworn solemn duty to make sure everyone on the planet knows Evangelion sucked and all the symbolism and iconography in it is pointless hollow wankery. Maybe it's just the communities I dwell in, but the "frothing rabid EVA fanboy who defends it against all criticisms" who was out in force when the show was originally coming out on VHS is basically an extinct stereotype. Maybe there are one or two left out there but the haters appear to far outnumber the fans when it comes to being vocal about the show.

For my part, I've always felt that even if the symbolism and iconography in the show was pretentious empty posturing on Anno's part, I still dug it. It gave me something to chew on, and I liked all the psychological horror stuff, too; it felt like the show meant something more than your average robot show at the time (a genre the series basically reinvented), even if so many people now claim that it means nothing whatsoever. Having something to think about and dig into, even if at the end of your digging you come to an empty room... well, at least there was something to dig through. Not many shows can claim to have that. Deep subtext and meaning are often rare things in the world of television anime.

I do stand by my conceit that Raxephon improved on what Evangelion started and remains, all things considered, the best example of the "psychological robot show".

Hi Answerman! Sorry if this is too long, but let's talk Tokyopop.

OEL/Ameri-manga: With few exceptions, it just seems like they're all boring and/or dumb. Why do they continue to expand their line and is it actually doing well; are they making much money off of it? I know they reeeeaallly push that Princess Ai. Is it as big a hit as they make it out to be?

Cine-manga: Oh man...Suite Life of Zack and Cody? Madagascar? Who reads this stuff? Are they bringing in a new demographic that usually wouldn't know what manga is?

In General: Aside from the cine and ameri-manga, I applaud their efforts to bring in all those novels (never thought I'd get to read the original The 12 Kingdoms). I also remember how they were the ones to release all of that great shojo manga back when manga only had a little shelf space at my local bookstore (Paradise Kiss, Mars, Peach Girl). But I hate that giant red stamp thing at the top of the books!

What do you think of Tokyopop?

I'll take these one at a time, starting from the top.

From what I've been told, the quality of the OEL manga Tokyopop releases has steadily been growing; they're still releasing plenty of junk but series like the always-has-to-be-mentioned-as-an-exception-to-the-rule Dramacon have helped turn public opinion around, and I've been seeing more and more fans embrace it as a result. Generally when someone busts out the "all OEL manga
sucks!" argument in a discussion, they're shouted down by a bunch of people who disagree. It used to be the other way around.

So I suppose "it's not all bad" is the reigning consensus on OEL. As for its performance, according to this 2006 Bookscan report by the fine folks over at Newsarama, Tokyopop sold 8761 copies of Return to Labyrinth, over 33,000 copies of the first two Warcraft volumes combined, 12,326 copies of Bizenghast across the first two volumes, with similar numbers for I Luv Halloween and Dramacon (which sold closer to 20,000 copies across two volumes). Princess Ai didn't place on the 2006 Bookscan in spite of moving more than 22,000 copies of the first two volumes combined in 2005, but there are likely reasons for that more closely related to the book's irregular publishing schedule than its popularity. All of these are pretty solid numbers, although they're not anywhere near the numbers Viz's popular titles do, they do well enough. But these are also Tokyopop's most visible, most heavily marketed and most talked-about OEL titles; there's clearly a lot of OEL manga that obviously isn't doing very well, based on the sheer number of titles they release every year.

"Cine-manga" sells to people who are not you, meaning kids and tweens who live and die by Nickelodeon's programming schedule and whose chief concern is whether or not Mom got Pizza Lunchables or Taco Lunchables. It's no different from any other piece of merchandising for those shows. Complaining about them is like being upset that Target sells High School Musical tee-shirts and also Stanley Kubrick DVDs. It's not really "manga", but Tokyopop sells it that way for the one-two punch of getting the word "manga" out to a different audience and also selling loads of Spongebob books.

In general, although they've stretched the meaning of the word "manga" too far for some fans and they've made a lot of very unique business decisions over the past few years, they're remaining at least somewhat competitive with Viz and more healthy manga companies with strong sales is a good thing no matter how you slice it.

Hey Answerman, I was reading Anime Insider's letters section the other day and in it, the guy writing it said that Gundam has never been all that popular in America. I was wondering why that is, if it is true.

Well, of course it's true. Rob Bricken would never lie to you.

Gundam's seemingly baffling lack of popularity in America has puzzled industry vets and fans for some time now. In spite of the many, many releases, after Gundam Wing faded, the franchise really lost whatever steam it had. Gundam SEED never caught on - the ratings on Cartoon Network were abysmal and it quickly got scuttled to the 3:30AM "death slot" usually reserved for other ratings stinkers like .hack:// Legend of the Twilight Bracelet. Bandai keeps releasing the DVDs, so I have to assume someone is buying them, but the DVDs haven't ever been hot sellers.

Simply put, the franchise never caught on here. It's the "Star Trek" of Japan, and so when Bandai started to push it here in the States and backed it up with a lot of DVD releases, TV runs and marketing dollars, everyone expected it to take off. But it never really did. Instead, the only people who seemed to care much for it were the hardcore superfans, the people who loved it before it ever saw the light of day in America.

One thing that's important to understand is that Gundam is such a phenominal success in Japan mostly due to nostalgia for the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, which was essentially the biggest thing since sliced bread there in 1979. That series, which pioneered an entire genre and laid the groundwork for decades of nostalgia-fueled sequels, spinoffs, toys and games, didn't debut here in the States until 2001, to an audience of anime fans and kids who were used to anime that looked like Cowboy Bebop rather than something their parents would've watched when they were kids. It never really stood a chance; Bandai waited 20 years to show Americans why the Japanese were so nutty for Gundam, and by then the response was a shrug, followed by a swift change of the channel.

That's not to say the Gundam franchise is a total failure in the US - the toys sell pretty well to my knowledge and the video games, in spite of almost always getting drubbed critically, keep coming out so I assume the investment continues to be worth something to Bandai. But the anime has floundered, it's true.

Additionally, I think a small part of it has to do with the daunting amount of material that's out there. It's difficult to be a "casual" Gundam fan - either you're into it or you're not, and the whole franchise is so vast that hardcore fans are more likely to self-identify as "Gundam Fans" rather than "Anime Fans".

Ahhhh, fuleku-san!

i am so sick of american companies buchering japanese names!!!!! it is NALUUTOH not "NARUTO". KULAUDO STULAIFU not "cloud strife". tell the companys to stop doing that!!!

This is probably a fake but I wanted to say "fuleku-san".

Cats enjoy warmth.

Our question last week was "What's the worst manga you've ever read and why?"

From reader Lily Judd:

I will never be able to comprehend how something of such ridiculously inferior quality has such a large (and frothingly rabid!) fanbase.

POINT ONE: The art. If any of the characters are actually intended to be vaguely good-looking, it didn't work. Not only that, the proportions jump around weirdly from panel to panel, the characters look different from panel to panel, and when anyone's face is shown at a half-turned away angle their cheeks bloat. It's like the artist hadn't drawn enough to settle on an art style, and thusly switched between pointy-headed sorts and round-headed, gaping-mouthed ones with astonishing frequency. Oh, and the mouths and noses don't line up right and that just looks creepy. There's simple rules of perspective and proportion that one learns in even the most basic of art-instruction, and they're conspicuously absent here.

POINT TWO: The storyline. "Your song sucks, small whelp." "Tear tear wail. But I am for some reason drawn to you." "Away with you." "No." "Seriously, away with you." "No. Oh look, now I'm in your house." "I am kissing you. Oh, and I'm dark and enigmatic."
The least romantic romance I've ever seen in my life. It's halfway through volume ONE and they're already kissing, for NO REAL REASON AT ALL THAT I CAN TELL. HUMAN INTERACTION DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. (unless it's yaoi. But that's specifically supposed to be improbable romance. I expect BL to have more character development.)
And before anyone says "But madam, manga doesn't have to be believable!", I'd like to be able to relate to the characters I'm reading about - especially if it's a drama or romance - and the sheer impossibility (or at least staggering unlikeliness) of the plotline of Gravitation makes that utterly impossible. Sorry. 

I finished the first volume and was utterly confounded. Surely this wasn't the same thing that all my friends had squeed over and told me that I 'JUST HAD TO READ IT BECAUSE IT WAS SO SO GOOOD'.
I'm sorry, all of you people out there, but I have tried your series, and it gave me the fear.

(tied for also-worst is Bobobo Bobobobo, but I haven't even the SLIGHTEST idea how to write about that series. O____O;
it causes all sorts of horrid head-warpage.)

Another, from "Mason":

The worst manga I've ever read, hands down, was Di Gi Charat. Of course, not everyone has read it, so here's the general idea behind it: first imagine Azumanga Daioh, then add a little crack, multiply by randomness, and subtract Sakaki (I know Azumanga Daioh is hard toimagine without Sakaki, but try). Di Gi Charat was supposed to be a comedy manga, but I did not laugh. Not once. Apparently, more than one author contributed to the series, making things awkward to begin with, but then Azumanga Daioh's lack of plot (few animes can pull that off) came into play, the few running jokes started sucking, and I found myself trying not to burn the ten dollar piece of paper in my hands.

What was even more surprising was that I only made it half way through the manga before giving up; I always give things a full unit of time to impress me; even Lucky Star made it to episode two before I quit. Or, maybe, as my last statement might suggest, random anime/manga just isn't my forte; but still. I've seen some really good manga in my day, but this book does not appear anywhere on the list. Good thing my friend bought it. On the other hand, if anyone were to buy me a new volume of Chibi Vampire, we'd have a whole other story…

From "Rendakor":

The worst manga I've ever read is Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days, the spinoff by Fumino Hayashi, for several reasons.

First, there's the art. The character designs, when compared with either the TV series or Sadamoto's manga, are godawful. All the standard comedy manga corner cutting practices are here in full force: frequently blank backgrounds, heads drawn without faces, etc. Which might be forgiveable in a doujin, but this is Evangelion! People have been drawing Eva fanart for years, but somehow a mangaka who makes Professor Fuyutsuki look like an old woman gets published?

And speaking of doujins, that's really all Angelic Days is: a spinoff of the alternate reality in the last episode of the TV series, extended into a love comedy. Except that in the second volume, the author throws the Angels back at the characters! When the first unoriginal idea got tired, the author just reused something ELSE from the show.

There is nothing in Angelic Days that can't be had elsewhere in higher quality. Want Evangelion? There's the original series + 2 movies, Sadamoto's manga which is excellent and might maybe be ending sometime soon (please?), and 4 new movies, one of which is alreadyout in japan: You are (not) Alone. Want romantic comedy? It's out there in droves, all with better art and story. Want an uninspired, poorly drawn alterverse Eva? Then I guess Angelic Days is for you...

From Sarah Wolinsky:

The worst manga I've ever read actually started out very well. Tomoko Hayakawa's 'Perfect Girl Evolution' ('The Wallflower' in the Del Rey localizations) was really funny and very well-drawn at first- a charming story about four sexy guys moving into a mansion for three years for free with the condition that they turn the landlady's horror-movie-watching, all-black-wearing, socially deprived niece Sunako into a 'lady' within that time period.

And while this plays out cute and sometimes hilarious at first, it degrades extremely quickly. The characters go from pallets waiting to be painted to paper-thin stock garbage. There's the crazy goth girl (Sunako), the angry hot guy (Kyohei), the smart hot guy (Takenaga), the philandering hot guy (Ranmaru), and the cute hot guy (Yuki). Oh, and the smart hot guy's sexy-but-brainless girlfriend (Noi) and the uncaring landlady. And that's it. There are no other characters in the story- if they appear in one chapter, they're sure to be gone before the volume is finished if not by the end of the chapter.

Backgrounds have all but disappeared by the second volume. The art style is iffy at first but becomes completely laughable, in which the only characters with any kind of cohesion in their look are the five main ones (two of which interchange hairstyles, which the artist herself confessed, making the stories somewhat confusing). Sunako goes from a five-foot-something human being to a one-foot mess of random pencil strokes. Her nose is two points, her mouth one stroke, her eyes are not included, and the whole effect is one of a second-grader learning to make ball-and-stick people. One needs to see it for themselves- it's absolutely terrible, perhaps even embarrassing, that someone could succeed with such slipshod artwork.

Finally, the plot all but falls on itself. Rather than offer a concrete story about a woman coming to terms with her own past, apparently Hayakawa can't get beyond her love of mindless fanservice to write anything more than her four sexy men doing something sexy. Gothic photo shoot? Check. Cross-dressing? Check. Bathing in a hot springs? Check, and this is just in the first three volumes. Unlike other fanservice manga, Perfect Girl Evolution tries much too hard. It can barely disguise its complete lack of tact and direction. This compounds on the one-dimensional characters, where pathetic attempts at humour amount to Kyohei breaking things, Takenaga reading things, Ranmaru accidentally making dates with three girls at the same time and Yuki making cute faces.

I could at least appreciate the effort put into Perfect Girl Evolution a little bit more if Hayakawa was, say, a busy mother of three who works in an office. Naturally, she's got a whole team behind her (yet she's still the one drawing the main characters, including the unbelievably crappy Sunako). From her incoherent ramblings in the notes, I kind of get the idea that her heart's not in it- she's a huge fan of J-Rock, and loves to talk about how she's always late for deadlines because she just had to go to this concert and see this artist and leave this many articles of clothing behind. (Of course, her four sexy men are all based on her four favourite J-Rock artists- who would have guessed?)

It's a shame that such a good idea was wasted on an artist whose work amounts to whatever she could scribble down fifteen minutes before a deadline. Definitely something to avoid if you value your aesthetic sense.

Finally, from Marcelo Gomes:

The worst manga I've ever read was Medabots. I don't hate the Medabots franchise. In fact, I used to have a good time while watching the anime because it was really funny, but the manga is simply unreadable. The whole story doesn't make any sense because the characters have no real objective: in the first 2 pages of a chapter they say something, which is completely irrelevant to page 3. Than in page 4 we see a completely out-of-the-blue battle that stands for the rest of the chapter - and that's about it. If there is an attempt of comedy in the manga (which I don't remember seeing), it fails because this manga is the boredom in form of paper.

The art doesn't help one little bit: honestly, even I could do better! The manga has almost no background artistry (and, when it does, it's pathethic) and the characters all seem to have the same age (even though some characters are not children). The battles are barely comprehensible thanks to the lack of details. But the worst part is that almost all the human characters are drawn in one single position (front), in all (yes, all) pages. Reading one volume was simply one of the worst experiences of my life (except maybe watching Musashi Gun-Doh).

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!

See you all next week!

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