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Hey, Answerman!

by Zac Bertschy,

Originally this week's column was going to be titled "Ghosts of the Past". I had a whole new banner ready and everything for it.

Then all this smoke started coming out of ADV Films and I thought it would be irresponsible for me to not discuss the health of the industry right now. So what we have is kind of a Frankenstein
column, with some bits of the old one and then one of the many letters I received asking about ADV's recent woes and the general state of things.

Maybe someday I'll get to use that banner I made, but not this week. Let's get to it.

OK, ADV has cancelled Newtype and closed their British office and now Germany too and cancelled their club program. Everyone keeps saying everythings fine or whatever but is it really? Is ADV going out of business? What do you think? Is there even going to be a R1 industry anymore?

Let's get one thing straight - it is not at all unreasonable to be concerned about the repeated cutback announcements coming out of ADV. The folks who seem hell-bent on dismissing any kind of reasonable pessimism about either ADV or the health of the R1 industry as "sky is falling" reactionary panic are, to be honest, sticking their heads in the sand.

The R1 industry is not doing very well right now. Geneon collapsed, and now ADV is starting to look worrisome. Regardless of how you can spin the news, the fact is they've announced a long string of cutbacks, and no matter your take on the issue that's usually not an indicator of positive business growth.

What I see happening at ADV is, to me, pretty clear - they're trimming the fat, tightening an obviously already-tight belt, getting rid of nonessential expenses. Most of the programs they've announced as being dismantled all seemed like money losers to me - Newtype USA was a fantastically expensive publication to produce, the linear Anime Network channel must've been costing them a fortune and never saw any kind of real penetration into the mainstream cable market, the ADV clubs thing was essentially charity combined with the hope that sending out thousands of free DVDs to anime clubs would stimulate sales, and the Euro markets I don't think have ever been a cornerstone of solid business for any R1 anime company I've ever known.

While it could be explained away as simple fat-trimming, many of these are long-term projects that seeded years ago. These are expensive failures. There's nothing to indicate that ADV's real business - licensing, marketing and distributing anime on DVD - is in trouble, but all of those expensive, risky projects must add up. It's possible that this is the smoke before the fire, but we have no new information and so it's irresponsible to say that there's something going on otherwise, but this is a lot of smoke, in my estimation. But this could be it, just some essential fat-trimming; we might not see any more announcements. Nobody really knows at this point, except the people inside ADV, and they're not talking.

Frankly, I think it all speaks to the way things are going right now: not good. We're seeing a dramatic shift in the way business needs to be done. Do I think the R1 industry as it exists right now will continue on? For a while, maybe; obviously there are enough people buying DVDs to keep these companies afloat. But the fact is, and this has been pointed out a bazillion times, that the market has proven that there are a LOT of anime fans who want to watch it but not have to buy a DVD. So they absolutely have to find a way to monetize that, a way to make money off of those eyeballs. I think pessimism about the way things are right now, especially if you're worried about more companies going down or having trouble, is completely reasonable.
I don't think the ship is sinking, but it's pretty battered and bruised and we're still navigating the reef and fighting off pirates, and I'm not sure when the coast guard is going to show up. They might not.

Nautical metaphors. Love 'em.

I heard from a friend who has been an anime guy longer than me that people used to trade fansubs on VHS. Is that true?! how did that work??

Ah, the VHS fansub days. Yep, that's how we used to do things.

It worked basically like this: somehow, either through buying them straight up from a fansub trader website (many of them offered fansub copies for $5-8 per tape, which in hindsight it's pretty obvious some of the less scrupulous VHS traders were profiting from this system), or borrowing them from a friend and making your own copies, you'd get yourself a handful of VHS fansub tapes. Maybe they'd be popular shows like Rurouni Kenshin, Fushigi Yuugi or Escaflowne, or maybe they'd be more obscure things like Combustible Campus Guardess or Neighborhood Stories or what-have-you. Eventually you stockpile enough tapes to where you can trade back and forth with other people on the internet or at your local anime club, and your collection would expand from there. If you want brand-new fansubs right away and didn't want to wait for them to come through the trade channels, you'd still have to buy them from the people offering them online - usually the sub groups themselves, or third-party traders with big collections and multiple VCRs - but once you get those, they became powerful trading fodder and you'd be able to fill in gaps in long series or get older titles you desperately wanted in exchange for making copies of the new stuff.

The biggest outfit I can remember was actually founded by our own Justin Sevakis and his friend John Pfeiffer, called Kodocha Anime. They were famous for subbing Kodomo no Omocha, which was pretty popular back then.
They also had an absolutely sterling reputation for being honest, getting tapes out really quickly, offering really high-quality copies and never making one red cent of profit from their service. They also had a signature VHS cassette, dubbed the "Barney tape" because it was made of this nigh-indestructible purple plastic, with sturdy clear plastic sleeves and nicely-printed labels. They were basically the model on which most other outfits based their service. Generally if you wanted something and you knew you wanted it from an honest source and in good quality, you'd use Kodocha. They didn't always immediately have the latest hot-title-of-the-moment available on hand as soon as some other subber had it ready, but it was always preferable to get stuff from them.

I had a mountain of VHS fansub tapes. I was really, really in to it in high school; I grew up in a rural area and getting 6 tapes of anime in the mail every few days was basically like striking gold. At one point in those early days, I had hooked up with a college anime club and became really involved in it, and they had their own subtitling operation going so they could show fresh subs of new shows at their screenings - I actually pre-ordered the first Laserdisc of Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou, sight unseen, so they could sub it and screen it. I became known for having a really big library of tapes and a bank of 4 S-VHS decks, and wound up supplying most of their screening fodder over the years.

As digital fansubs came around in the early part of this decade, I slowly phased out the VHS tapes, giving them away to club members and friends. I'd bring in giant boxes of them and set them out in front of the screening room, and people actually fought over them sometimes. I never really managed to get rid of all of them until about 3 years back when my mother was finally getting around to cleaning out the closet in my old room back home (3 or 4 years after I'd moved out, mind you, so at this point they'd been sitting in there untouched for 7 years or so) and found a box full of Nurse Angel Ririka SOS tapes, and promptly called me and asked me why I'd left pornography there. I laughed and explained that it wasn't porn, it was a show where this girl transformed into a superpowered nurse... honestly I think she would've preferred it had actually been porn, since that would've seemed at least somewhat normal.

So yes, VHS tape trading was how it was done until less than a decade ago. My how things have changed.

Hey Answerman,

I have a question about what I like to call "evergreen" anime shows. Things like Tenchi Muyo! or Trigun or Ah! My Goddess! or Fushigi Yuugi. The bedrock foundation of anime fandom! How come these series are not as popular with new fans as they should be? People still talk about the Godfather movies now, and Tenchi is like The Godfather of anime, so why don't todays fans still talk about it and revere it? Are they only interested in new shows?

First off, please don't compare Tenchi Muyo! to The Godfather films. Please. Please just don't. It makes me want to weep.

Secondly, the fact of the matter is, those shows seem like "evergreen" masterpieces that should stand the test of time to you because you started watching anime during that era and those seem like they're the "bedrock of anime fandom" to you as a result. Yes, Tenchi was popular, and still sorta is, but mostly with old-school types who just wanted them to conclude the OVA series (which they did although I don't know anyone who was happy with the result). Ah! My Goddess! has been kept alive thanks to the anime series, but again, it's really only popular with old-school fans who loved it in the 90's. Trigun had one super-popular series and died. Fushigi Yuugi, despite getting increasingly more ridiculous over time, remained pretty popular until they finished that last (awful) OVA series and then it faded too, like everything else.

New fans will always be interested in new things. You have to put this into perspective; what Tenchi Muyo! is to you is what Gurren Lagann or Haruhi Suzumiya is to some other new fan. 10 years from now I'll get a letter from someone complaining that kids today just don't appreciate Kanon like they should. Times change.

I got about a zillion of these last week. I'll just print the shortest one.

how dare you attack dr. ron paul i will no longer read your column.

Fine by me!

This is my own beloved pet bunny rabbit. She has a response for you:

That's what I thought, too. Great (peanut-sized) minds think alike, I guess.

Here's last week's question:

First, from Victoria Gadson:

I'm not going to be pretentious. Honestly I would choose anime I, myself think is great. I would be a complete selfish dictator...i mean CEO of an anime company.

I would choose titles that are high quality in both animation and story. I will choose them myself with a panel of trusted judges before we spend the cash on them. For a starter line I would choose an anime from each major genre. None of them will be overly long series. Just 26 to 52 episodes.

I will market them to the masses. Not just anime fans but people in general. I want to show that this "Japanimation thingy" isn't just for kids. That's why I have one from every genre. That way anyone despite anything can find something for them. I wouldn't forget my fellow fans of course. I would also give a sampler disc of an episode from each of the starting line titles. I would try hard to make it a freebie inside the grab bags at Otakon, Anime Expo and A-Kon. Online I would do ads on sites as well as stream the samplers at the company's website. Also, I would find out how to get these shows picked up on YTV or Adult Swim/Cartoon Network.

I'd release the titles as box sets. For a 26 episode series it will have 2 sets. Each set for 30 dollars. 52 episodes will be split into fours and sold the same way. I wont splurge on doing a dub right away. I'll start out with subs. If I gain more capital I'd higher voice actors and acquire the people to chip in. I can't really go for all the big names right away. I would have to higher some no names and maybe one big name to gain attention to my product. Needless to say I would make sure they can act and that they work for the character they are portraying.

I would basically license a lot of things. What I wont license is moe or harem. Under my reign as leader I will never release a moe or harem show EVER! I will fully take advantage of my power to abolish the travesties of anime I personally hate more than anything! Like I said before I would be the evil, selfish anime CEO of doom! A mixture of Kubo, Madarame and Risa Hawkeye, except eccentric. Serious business indeed, Zac. Serious business!

Then I will build Otakuland. Or make an American Akihabara somewhere. Or bankroll Dramacon the series. Meh.

From Charles Dawson:

Ah, a question I can truly answer.  I know exactly the kinda shows I'd want to bring over. The sad truth is, if I DID bring them over, I'd go out of business before too long. The kinda shows I'd want to bring over are things like Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, the original Cutie Honey, Combattler V, Tekkaman, Cashern, Hurricane Polymar, and other older mecha shows. But also older non-mecha shows. Heck, I'd even want to bring over classic Tokusatsu like the original Kamen Rider and Space Shariff Gavan. The problem is, aside from the more so-called hardcore fans, the majority of fans seem to only be interested in stuff from this decade. Anything that looks even slightly old is ignored, unless it's been aired on TV, like Dragon Ball Z or Voltron (nothing against those shows, of course). The problem is, there are lots of shows made in the 90's, 80's, even 70's that are being completely ignored, not because they aren't good, but because most American fans would rather go out and buy the newest volume of Bleach then they would a volume of 70's show. The anime companies know this. Can you think of ONE pre-1995 anime to be released in America lately? And I don't mean re-releases of old TV or VHS dubs or Miyazaki films. I mean newly dubbed/subbed shows. The only one that comes to mind is Gatchaman, which wouldn't have even gotten a release if not for the fact it was already known for the Battle of the Planets and G-Force dubs. This is made obvious by the other Tatsunoko superhero shows that have NOT Been released. I mean. I love modern stuff. Gainax, Gonzo and Shaft are my personal favorite studios. But I also love the classic giant robots of Toei, or the superheros of Tatsunoko. It's a curse to love this kind of animation. It's impossible to get legally in America, yet you'd have to be crazy to actually MOVE to Japan just for anime and manga. And speaking of manga, manga companies seem to be less against reaching to the past for things to release, so I'm hoping someday, someone will grab some of those older titles from Gō Nagai and Shōtarō Ishinomori. Although, I know this too is likely an empty hope.

From "Datenshiumba":

Simple, I'd license popular titles, despite genre.  If I was running a company, the goal would be to make money.  I would have a title throughly researched before putting in a bid.  The information I would want before making a decision would be;

Ratings - Not just over all ratings but how the title did from first to last (or current) episode.  I wouldn't waste my time on a show that people stopped watching after the 5th episode.

Manga - If it's an adaptation, I would want to know how much attention the original work gained (in Japan as well as the US if it is licensed here).  Obviously if the manga is popular then those fans will likely watch the adaptation. 

Gossip - I'd want to know how much attention a title is getting in magazines and on the internet, public opinion.

The Market - Up-to-date information on what genres seem to sell better than others.  What genres the audience wants to see or see more of available. This would also include the manga market as generally both are intertwined. 

Once all the information was in my hands I would make judgments based on the collective outcome.   Once the company has been doing well, I might take risks on lesser known titles.

For arguments sake lets say my marketing budget was limitless.  I would have TV spots during similarly themed shows or any channel that reached my target audience.  Ads in both anime and entertainment magazines as well as popular anime sites.  Also, and the method would depend on the type of series it was, but I would have businesses that sold anime and/or anime related products place advertisements in their store(s).  Eye Catching DVD cover designs.  This is already practiced, and though I hate to use this word but, a gimmick with the first or first few volumes.  And, of course, I would make sure titles received plenty of coverage at conventions. 

From Jack Higgins:

Given the recent downturn in (and generally low) DVD sales, I'd be a bit more selective than other companies.  I've seen several industry personnel and anime journalists comment on how the increased number of new licenses has, contrary to intent, decreased profits for companies that have done so.  Despite all you hear about anime's "rising popularity," it is still a very niche market, one that has been oversaturated with titles in the past couple of years.  Thus, I believe being more selective with licenses is a necessity, at least for the time being.  Considering that the release delay experienced with almost all domestic releases is a major concern for consumers, being more selective might sound as if it would cause even further delay.  What I mean by being more selective, however, is that I'd simply license fewer shows, not that I'd take longer to evaluate them.  In fact, I firmly agree with the notion that quicker licensing is key in alleviating the domestic release delay.  The difficulty with that is how to pick out the flops from the hits, which is, of course, is really impossible to do 100% of the time.

I would spend most of my time and resources on titles with lots of pre-release hype, especially those with popular and quality original material (i.e. games, manga, light novels, etc.) that I, and a few others whose opinions I trust, would judge.  Of course, popular titles aren't always as good as their fanbases try to make you believe, hence the judgment, but often there are titles that sell well despite their mediocrity, such as sequels to popular series.  I would take that into consideration as well.
For any given year, I'd have a set range of how many new licenses I'd like to make.  The slots would first be filled with the popular titles that made the cut.  The remaining licenses would be for the niche titles that I feel deserve a domestic release for their quality and/or untapped market potential.  Finding such titles would take more time and effort than weeding out which popular ones I'm interested in, thus I probably wouldn't license more than just a few.

As for genres, I'm not very picky, and as the head honcho of a licensing company, nobody should be.  However, there are significant differences between the amount of sales of titles within certain genres.  Overlooking that would be a terrible mistake, one that I would not make, even if it meant bypassing a series I really liked.  Bottom line, I wouldn't touch any series that I wasn't sure I could turn a profit with.

A recent trend with some domestic releases is to not include an English dub.  I believe this is a good move for the more niche titles, but popular titles and those with strong market potential would all be accompanied with an English track, as titles with English tracks have consistently sold better than those without.

One thing I think American licensing companies don't do enough of right now is advertising.  I assume that most of them don't do it because they don't think it would have a large enough impact on sales.  This is true with many forms of advertising, but given the steady decline in sales, something must be done.  TV commercials are expensive, and would most likely be ineffective even on most of the major cable channels.  However, given the recent rise in popularity of Heroes and other similar shows, I believe even just a few properly placed commercials would do the anime industry a world of good.  Of course, TV isn't the only avenue for marketing.  I was in New York City a couple years ago, before The Boondocks, now a popular comedy series, premiered on Adult Swim.  I was only driving through on my way to Dartmouth, but I saw an ad for it on a billboard and a few on the sides of buses.  Such ads are significantly cheaper than TV ads, and despite the limited exposure they provide, it's better than nothing.  I would invest in those and other similar marketing strategies for a year or two, evaluate their impact on sales, and unless they contributed to a loss in profit, I would continue with them.  Additionally, I would sink some money into a TV ad every now and then.  One reason I think such marketing tends to fail is because companies don't stick with it long enough.  Having regular commercials is fiscally impossible, which is why I'd stagger them.  Have a couple short ads one day every couple months, and evaluate it the same way as the other marketing schemes, though not nearly as leniently.  If they don't show any significant positive impact on profits, I'd still continue to use them, but spread them out even further, putting an extra couple months between them until they break even.

That's all I have in terms of what American companies can do, but I have another suggestion that I believe Japanese companies should consider, one that would help both the American and Japanese markets.  In every recent statement made concerning the state of the anime industry, fansubs have been given lots of attention, and for good reason.  I know several people who don't buy anime simply because they can download fansubs and/or rips of American releases.  There is no simple solution to this problem, for all attempts at stopping fansubbing activity have proven unsuccessful, save C&D letters, but those can only do so much.  One of the most common defenses for fansubbers is the lack of simultaneous broadcast, or anything even remotely close to it, outside Japan.  This is a genuine problem, but I believe it can be resolved without spending too much money.  While licensing broadcast rights to TV networks in America would make the Japanese companies some extra money, I seriously doubt anyone would be interested.  Moreover, the fanbase we're trying to provide for here consists of downloaders, not TV viewers, thus the method for addressing this complaint is over the Internet.  Fansubbers do what they do because they believe their work is necessary for generating interest.  If a similar legal alternative was implemented by the Japanese companies, fansubbers would have no reason to continue their work.  Naturally, some would continue for one reason or another, but with a "legal fansub" already out there, the companies would have a much stronger case for fighting against the remaining groups.  What I think the Japanese
companies should seriously consider is asking translators (and possibly editors) from some of the better fansubbing groups to work for them, rather than independently.  Some would probably turn the offer down, but at least the offer was made.  Whether they have a newly hired, former fansubber doing the work or a veteran translator already on staff is inconsequential.  The effort to include the fansubbers was made, and whether they accept the offer or not, there would be someone translating and editing the dialogue and screen text into English, which the company would then use for an online release.  Given its massive popularity among the online anime community, BitTorrent would be an ideal avenue for release.  Of course, such a release would be no different from a fansub, other than its legality.  In order for the parent company to make a profit, they could edit commercials into the episodes, and considerably longer ones than those included in the Japanese broadcast.  Of course, Japanese companies wouldn't be very interested in investing in such ads, but I'd wager there are some American and/or online companies that would be.  This is merely a rough idea from some random fan, but I firmly believe it, or some revised version of it, could seriously help the anime industry on both sides of the Pacific.

Finally, from Nathan Sanzone-McDowell:

Well, I'd hate to restrict my fictional company's scope to any specific genre, but I would like to see more titles available in the market that have an intended adult audience, but for reasons other then the inclusion of "adult" levels of graphic violence and sexual themes. Less important then a show's setting would be the style of animation (not necessarily "realistic", but avoiding the use of overly-exaggerated "cartoonish" gags), the plot's plausibility (within the context of its setting), and the quality of the dialogue. So, without in any way disparaging other types of anime (or viewers), my [fictional] company would license the sort of material that appeals more readily to adult sophistication, including qualities such as complex—but not convoluted—plots, believable, less stereotypical characterizations, and subtle, thought-provoking outcomes.

As for how I'd sell it, allow me to further divide that portion of your question. First, I'll address the manner in which my company  would prepare the anime for a local audience. To begin with, all efforts to preserve the original context and tone of any given property would me paramount. That means not changing character's names to more familiar local equivalents, no tampering with the dialogue to change the meaning or intent, or substituting context-inappropriate English for Japanese idiom or slang. No altering the original score, and absolutely no, clipping, editing, or reanimating portions of the video for any reason. If a title is not presentable to the local market with its original content intact, then it would not be an appropriate property for my company to license. Continuing in that vein, while every attempt would be made to translate anime so as to be easily understood by an English-speaking audience with no prior knowledge of Japanese language or culture, the use of optional annotation (with additional explanatory material available depending on viewing format) would be available to inform viewers (when necessary) as to the meaning of various idioms, colloquialisms, slang-words, culture references, and bodily gestures that typical localizations tend to either omit, or extensively alter. In regards to English-language overdubbing, every attempt would be made to match the vocal qualities of the original voice actors, and the English actor's lines would be recorded so as to follow the pacing, tone, and inflection of the original Japanese dialog as closely as possible. In addition, when in the context of an explicit or apparent Japanese setting (as opposed to a non-Japanese local or setting, either non-fictional or fictional), manners of address would not be altered from their original form (either in the English-language overdub or in the subtitles). To reiterate, any alterations that would result in a loss meaning, context, or intended tone would be avoided wherever possible.

To finish the second half of your question, I'd like to look at distribution methods. To begin with, I think that traditional broadcast television is a poor outlets for the medium, being too restrictive for a number of reasons which should be unnecessary to address here (in regards to viewer choices regarding the audio dub, subtitling, on-screen annotations, and additional reference material), however, the imminent arrival of mandatory digital broadcasting may alleviate some of the restrictions to that method of distribution. In regards to cable and satellite broadcast, "on-demand" and other advanced features utilized with those technologies could adequately provide for sufficient viewing choices. In regards to the sale of DVDs, my company would not follow the industry trend of selling highly priced "volumes" of 2-3 episodes each, followed by an equally overpriced "box sets". Anime would be sold in collections of single seasons (where applicable), at a price comparable to mainstream DVD releases (as opposed to the "collectors' market" pricing of most anime DVDs on the market). Furthermore, methods of digital distribution would be aggressively pursued, from advertising-supported streaming video, to both purchase and rental structured downloads (iTunes Store, XBox Live, Sony PSN, IPTV, etc.). Finally, my company would attempt to pursue the viability of licensing and localizing anime concurrent with its production and broadcast in Japan, to reduce or eliminate the time-gap between anime's availability in the Japanese market, and its availability in the R1 market.

As even a cursory survey will show, Japan's most popular properties have achieved immense success in other markets worldwide, and while it may take several years for that material to be licensed, localized, and distributed to other markets through legitimate, commercial channels, millions of viewers worldwide routinely watch these properties through illegitimate means, in a variety of languages, and in many cases less then a single week after an anime may have been broadcast on Japan's own television networks. If we look at the music industry, where some studies have reported that users who illegally download music simultaneously represent the portion of music consumers who purchase the most significant quantity of music through legitimate means, then we might make the assertion that the consumers of anime who download illegal fansubs also represents the most significant portion of anime consumption through legal channels. If we accept that the previous statement is true, then we might assert that the illicit consumption of anime is the result of the failure of the industry to meet the needs of its consumers, in delivering it's product in a timely and suitable manner (a vacuum in the the market which continues to be filled by illicit fansubbers). I believe that my company might potentially achieve significant success, by significantly reducing the time in which it takes to deliver localized anime to the R1 market, and by using digital distribution as the primary means by which to reach its audience.

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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