The Resurrection of Answerman

by Zac Bertschy,

I'm back! That was a long hiatus. I actually missed writing this column. Amazing, no?

Let's get to it.

Dear Answerman,
I have recently begun watching romantic comedy anime and I have a question. Why are the male heros always so wimpy? In shows like Love Hina the main male character is always kind of a loser geek. Then I thought back to some of the action shows I have seen like Escaflowne or Gundam and the heros are strong leader types. Why in romantic comedies are the guys nerds?

Short answer: it's a formula that has proven successful. "Nerdy spineless milquetoast surrounded by hot women who are inexplicably attracted to him" has been done again and again and it usually rakes in viewers and merchandise sales.

The long answer is a lot more depressing than that.

When it comes to shonen romance, the fact is that the audience for shows like that - where the loser hero gets the smoking hot chick who throws herself at him in spite of his complete lack of positive personality traits - primarily consists of guys who identify with the hero. "Guys who likely self-identify as nerds and have trouble with the ladies as a result" pretty much constitute the core demographic for harem shows. People don't like to hear it, but it's true; these shows are popular because they have a mountain of attractive girls and a lead male character that can be easily be identified with by people who see a bit of themselves in him. No, not everyone who watches or enjoys shonen romance is like this, but they are a significant portion of the audience. Simply put, shonen romance series are successful because they're extremely good at pandering to a very specific audience that gobbles it up every time.

For once, I'd like to see a harem comedy or a shonen romance have a male character who starts out being a pathetic loser and learns that in order to actually attract an adult woman you have to bathe, pay attention to your wardrobe, learn social skills, stop being a social leper and actually become a functioning, normal adult, rather than suggesting that some day a buxom alien girl with little knowledge of human sexual behavior will fall into your lap and find your toxic personality charming and sexy.

But I guess the escapism is a little too much to resist, considering how easily it rakes in the cash.

I was reading through your latest column, or ummm, the one with nothing but Answerfan responses, and I kept noticing something people were saying that just irritated me.  It's something I've seen many times before as well.  Basically, when talking about Fansubbers, several different people were talking about the quality of various fansub groups and how some are much better than others.  Specifically, they made mention of how some groups are doing a really good job and are very accurate in their work, translations, and/or how they accurately reflect how the character is talking, etc...

I'm sorry, but I have to ask...  Just how do these people know if the Fansubbers are getting it right or not?  This has been bugging me for a while and I figured I'd send this email to you to see what you thought.  When people say fansubbers are good at translating, or in some cases, they are even better than the companies...  How do they know this?  I can't imagine very many people at all know enough Japanese to be able to effectively back-up this claim.  I just don't understand how/why they can say this in their arguments.  I understand if you like a particular fansub group or think they are doing a good job, but unless you yourself have taken many, many years of Japanese, it would be impossible for you to know for sure if they are actually doing the good job you think they are.

Sorry to get so riled-up about it, I just don't think people should be arguing that point unless they can actually back-up what they are saying with experience and proof.  What's your take on this?

I'll admit this is a softball but I'll take it anyway.

Basically it's just posturing. If you don't actually speak the language beyond knowing a few basic phrases here and there, you have no business criticizing a translation whatsoever, aside from basic stylistic choices that stem from completely subjective personal standards. However, there is a massive rash of elitism among the fansub community, and "I don't speak Japanese but the fan translations are WAY more accurate than the translations on the DVDs I specifically go on and on about not ever buying!" is a popular meme in that crowd. It's another specious excuse why fansubs are superior to R1 DVD releases, and it's one of the most transparent because it's completely obvious that 99 percent of the people making that argument don't speak a lick of Japanese other than knowing what "baka" "neko" and "sugoi" mean.

Sadly it's been parroted so many times over the years that people take it as "common wisdom" that the fansubs are always more accurate and always better than R1 jobs. I won't argue that they never are - and I'm not saying that R1 translations are always better, even though I firmly believe in the notion that a paid professional is generally going to turn in better results than an amateur doing it for personal glory - but it's important to point out the rampant stupidity that leads to this being accepted as "common wisdom", and it's important to deflate the people who argue endlessly that because they prefer fan translations (for whatever reason) that means they are universally, objectively "better".

Frankly it's one of the more upsetting arguments I've seen tossed around over the years. If you don't actually speak the language that's being translated, you have zero credibility when criticizing the translation. Not to mention the fact that translation itself is an incredibly subjective task, one where the final result is based entirely on the personal choices made by the person who's doing the translation. It's not a precise science in any way - two people with the exact same knowledge and experience might translate the same sentence in two very different ways. The meaning will still be the same (and I should add that a lot of the negative criticism that gets passed around about translation jobs is based completely on obnoxious, self-righteous pedantry rather than legitimate sincere complaints about the meaning of the original dialogue being changed too much), and that's what's important.

Hey Answerman,

I saw the preview images for the Batman anime DVD and I thought they looked good, what do you think of these movie anime DVDs like the Animatrix, are they good for anime or bad.

I'm not really sure how they would be "bad for anime", but I think things like the Batman: Gotham Knight project are incredibly helpful to the industry as a whole.

Warner has proven to be a remarkably progressive and accepting media conglomerate when it comes to embracing anime as a creative medium; they acknowledge its popularity with the audience for its sci-fi and superhero action franchises and are making the right moves when it comes to producing things like this. Yes, it's just a way to make more cash off of the Batman brand, but they're allowing the creative teams behind these things to do what they like, and if The Animatrix is any
indicator of what we can expect from Gotham Knight, it'll be a real treat. I always thought The Animatrix turned out to be more interesting creatively and conceptually than either of the sequels (although I maintain my incredibly unpopular opinion that The Matrix Reloaded was a pretty good action movie and remains so to this day), so it's refreshing to see a major corporation produce something like this.

Not only that, but as certain segments of fandom are going on and on and on about the death of anime as a medium, my argument is that these Hollywood remakes and co-productions can only be a good thing. They're infusing the Japanese industry with cash, making it possible for smaller productions to be realized. Not only that, but they also expose a massive audience to anime as a medium, much moreso than any traditional anime company could do. People like to bitch and moan about Hollywood, but as far as I'm concerned, there are nothing but positive returns.

Plus Batman is my childhood hero so I'm looking forward to geeking out over that DVD.

I just wanted to print this for the hell of it.

Hey Zach,

  My name's Matt and I'm a reformed anime downloader.  There was a time, not too long ago, when I rushed home from school to check the progress of my torrents with all the thrill of opening gifts on Christmas morning.  I compiled series after series, put them on CD and even made my own labels for them with photoshop.  But it was a speech made at AnimeFest in Texas by Greg Ayres that got me to stop.  I didn't understand just what effect I had been having on the Region 1 industry by joining the ranks of other downloaders out there.  The industry was ailing and like a distracted medieval physician asked for a second opinion I was just prescribing more blood-letting.  Since then I've reformed and have been buying more and more of the series I had downloaded on legit DVDs.  I want to help the anime industry continue here in the US.  Anime is an immersive, vibrant, fascinating art form from a culture that, as an outsider, I will never fully understand.  But understand the Japanese or not, I love the art form they've created and I want it to continue and I understand that the best way to do that is the buy the DVDs, watch the shows on television, watch the shows via sanctioned websites, etc.  I know you're a cynical bastard, that much is clear from your column, but I hope this reaffirms that there is a group (perhaps an all too quiet group) who do want to support the shows we enjoy. 

Also, in response to your idea about a derisive name for the fansubbers and downloaders I'd like to suggest one:  Anime Lamprey.
It's got consonance and it's got a oily, tube-like parasite that attaches itself to its victim and feeds on it's lifeblood.  Slap that on a t-shirt with cartoon lamprey and you've got your next big thing.

Thanks for writing in, Matt.

I love letters like these.

anime should be free to the people

Keep on fighting the good fight there little buddy.

My hope is that shortly after this photo was taken, the cat rode the deer.

Here's last week's question:

First, from "Shadowblack":

I think listening to the fans can be good or bad, depending on which “fans” the producers listen to.

Listening to a small but very vocal group of fans who want something (no matter how unreasonable it may be) is generally a bad idea. Examples that come to mind:
When a small group of fans want to see Girl A and Guy B become a couple at the end of the series despite the fact the two have spent less than five minutes together and have never shown any indication they want to be more than friends.
Or when the same fans want to see a change in the art just because one or more characters are not drawn the way they want them to be.

Listening to the majority of the fans seems like a good idea. If the majority of the fans want something and the producers can give it to them without much trouble, then why not? Everyone's happy, right?

This is the real issue here, I believe: Can the producers find the balance between giving the fans what the fans want, and doing what they want (or what they have planned) to do, even if it means ignoring the fans’ demands? Fan feedback and commentary should be taken into account (especially from fans who sincerely want to help in improving their favorite titles), but they should not be the most important thing. Sometimes fans can have better ideas than the makers, but that is hardly a common occurrence. However the opposite is also true – the producers are not always right and the fans can show them their mistakes.

Since anime production is getting influenced more and more by fan reaction and commentary we can only hope that the producers will be able to find the balance and not get too influenced. Because paying too much attention to fan demands can be just as bad as not listening to the fans at all.

From Chris Gregory:

I do think it's a good thing that companies are listening. In many industries the voice of what the people really want often gets lost when the CEO sets his strategy to increase profits. The anime industry, out of all other of the major media companies so far has, in my opinion, been the least hostile and most willing to compromise from the start of any of the major media segments because of this willingness to listen and think before they resort to their legal division. Obviously they shouldn't listen to every fan who says "OMG u suk bcuz gaara shud b teh star!1!!11" about Naruto, but every company needs to be receptive and take into consideration the commentary of the public when it comes to their wares and the use of them. Many corporations forget in this day and age that their job is to please the customer and not to find a loophole to force the customer into a situation where they have no choice but to pay them money anyway. So I sincerely hope this trend continues and spreads to every other major industry that isn't doing this already, it's the only way we can hope to all reach a compromise and avert what seems to be the imminent crisis in media that has the movie, music and anime industry up in arms.

From "Rednal".:

For the serious question, though, that's very difficult to say. It can be argued quite fairly that the purpose of entertainment is to entertain, and because of this should be whatever entertains people the most. On the other hand, both Japan and America have impressive histories of using entertainment as a medium to get a message or social commentary across. Miyazaki's 'Grave of the Fireflies', for example, is widely considered to be a brilliant work, and is rather widely known despite the lack of jiggling, oversized female body parts. More recently, 'The Place Promised in our Early Days' (winner of numerous awards) offers a creative and well-thought out storyline. Despite the surprising lack of large robots and larger swords.

However, while reviewed well, neither of those movies has hit the top level of status for widespread entertainment, not the way fan-favorite 'The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya' has. Granted, movies and actual series are different, with movies generally more geared towards a point of some sort, but both fall indisputably under the general category of 'entertainment'. Some anime also work to make points. An excellent example of this is Petite Princess Yucie, which up until the last two episodes is your typical shoujo show, about some girls competing for the chance to put on a fancy Tiara and have their wish granted. In the second-to-last episode, however, the show makes it seem as if all the girls except for the main character die because the contest is, in fact, horribly unfair. They give up their lives, Yucie is sent out to be the princess, and the ending credits scroll with no music or background. I viewed this series through Comcast's "On Demand", and found myself honestly shocked at the way they could do something like that. Fortunately, there was another episode, and the series had a happy ending, but watching that episode I couldn't stop thinking about how, exactly, such a normal show had pulled a stunt wild enough to really get me thinking.

Most anime series have nothing like that, of course, but occasionally one does crop up. Yucie, also, is entertainment. While not as popular as Haruhi, it is nevertheless a series that gives rise to questions about human nature. Now, these movies and shows (with the exception of Haruhi) have generally not been overly influenced by the ideas of fans. What about those that have?

Haruhi is indisputably a hit. From the moment a link was posted to the "first" episode (because of the scrambled airing, first is relative), and everybody who looked at it went "What the frick?" as they saw high quality characters and backgrounds put together with the cheesiest possible beams and attacks, along with a story that doesn't even begin to make sense, it was popular. This is on top of the initial popularity that got it turned into an anime in the first place. The series itself has an outspoken, completely insane female lead who might just be a deity, a time-travelling maid with a lolita face and a large chest, a bookwormish clone of Rei Ayanami, and assorted other interesting characters. Most of these characters are actually just twists on the usual, with massive amounts of in-jokes for real fans of anime. You can't deny the popularity of this series. The same is with School Days, which has officially been talked to death; despite the horribly bloody ending and the fact that the male lead deserved exactly what he got, this series is popular among fans because it gives them precisely what they want.

Anime production in Japan is, as with all businesses, a way to make money. The best way to make money is to convince people they want or need something you're selling, and often, an intelligent approach to that is through things they already enjoy. Anime is a major business in Japan, and what better way to make even more money than by giving fans exactly what they want? However, while fan influence should play some part in the creation of anime (who's going to watch it if it's not appealing to them?), I do not believe that it should play too major of a role.

Some genres have been worked to death. ESPECIALLY harem anime. Some of them are very fun to watch, but ultimately, they're predictable. If you just dish up whatever Moe thing your mind comes up with over and over, it will get stale among the fans, and people might start to enjoy it less. Giving people exactly what they want may not ultimately be the best route to take, not if it winds up with fans getting tired of watching it. That is why creativity is needed. That's why companies should not go with opinion polls for everything, but why in the creation of anime they should experiment, take a few risks, and see just how far they can go. It is never a good idea to stay at the level things are currently at. For better or for worse, change keeps new things coming. I am almost literally addicted to anime, but I can honestly say that if all we ever got were Naruto/One Piece/DBZ/Sailor Moon style shows over, and over, and over, and over, I'd probably get sick of it. That is why increasing levels of influence from the fans are not a good thing. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and it cannot be too far back.

Finally, from Beatrice:

No way.

If a mangaka originally intended their series to be a certain way, they should not begin catering to the anime fans. Not in Japan, not anywhere. If a fan does not like the anime, it probably means they weren't meant to like the anime. No questions asked. If mangaka only catered to their fans' interests, we'd start seeing, for shojo series, cute fluffy generic romances with no originality, and for shonen series, violent generic fantasies with no originality. Simply put, you can't please everyone, and therefore should not try to please everyone.

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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