Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson, Jan 16th 2009


Hello again, faithful, intelligent, wonderful, sunny, bright, beautiful readers. Is it time for another Hey, Answerman!? Oh yes.

As you can tell, I'm terrible at flattery. Almost as terrible as I am at sarcasm. So we're just going to get with the questions and the answering.


Why is it that I never hear anime voice actors in anything other than anime and anime video games. Are they not permitted to do anything outside or anime?

Why don't anime companies hire some B-list or C-list actors to perform in their dubs or at least do a main role? Outside of the top 20 voice actors (David Lucas, Wendee Lee, Michelle Ruff, etc) everybody else sounds mediocre-poor to bad. Wouldn't hiring people who have acting experience and experience in reading a script with feeling make sense?

Right now I'm picturing every dub actor and actress reading this question (or at least, the ones that bother to read my column – I'm realistic about this), gritting their teeth in abject anger and cursing those most taboo of cusses at the screen. And then discovering that they should use that anger for their latest performance at the community theater.

...Right. Actually, it's really more about the simple things like time and money than it is the caliber of the actors. Not that there aren't a gaggle of dub actors whose grating voices and crappy delivery drive me up ten separate walls (David Moo, oy), but there are numerous external factors involving how dubs are actually produced that work against even the most talented actors.

In regards to US cartoons, apologies if this seems rather obvious, but they aren't dubbing anything. The voice tracks are recorded before any animation is started, allowing the animation to match the performance – giving the actors and writers and directors a whole host of creative freedom that's unavailable to dub actors. They don't have to strain and shorten lines to fit within lip flaps, they can ad-lib, they can even do re-writes. Aside from the whole voices-being-used-in-cartoons aspect, dubs require a completely, radically different set of disciplines in its production, so it's not really fair to compare them.

Apologies again for stating the obvious, but anime dubs have a tendency – scratch that, a necessity – to be produced on the cheap, and on a very, very tight schedule. I posit the theory that anime dubs, by and large, would be 100% better all around if the ADR writers had double the time to work and re-work their scripts, instead of simply being tasked with tweaking a direct translation of the original Japanese dialog to fit the allotted time, crafting something natural-sounding and coherent. Ditto for the ADR directors to have some extra time to work with their actors and polish their performances. That's obviously the luxury that Disney gets whenever they produce the English version of a Studio Ghibli film, but Funimation and Bang Zoom obviously don't have John Lasseter or Steven Spielberg's coffers to raid.

As for seeing anime actors in non-Japanese productions: what, you've never patronized the Dallas-Ft. Worth theater community? C'mon, man! Kidding aside, of course they do many other things on their non-anime time, but much of it honestly wouldn't be of much interest to you. (See above joke.) And yes, they do plenty of non-anime voice work; go check out Steve Blum's or Wendee Lee's IMDB page if you're curious. There's commercials, radio, you name it.

Now, “stunt casting” relatively well-known stars for roles in anime has been done a few times, outside of the usual Disney/Ghibli dubs, to no particularly great effect. I didn't think Matthew Lillard's contributions to the dub of Karas (or Michelle Rodriguez in IGPX, or Kiefer Sutherland in Armitage, or or...) justified Manga's probably costly expenditure. So why bother with some middling celebrity when, as a dub producer, you're good friends with Johnny Yong Bosch?

On the whole, though, I mostly agree with your assertions on anime dubs. The readings tend to be flat, the scripts tend to be weak, and they rarely rise above the gamut form passable to mediocre, even for big titles like Naruto and Bleach. Thankfully for myself, I find the Japanese actors for those shows to be just as forgettable, so I don't feel completely slighted. So, until one of you kind souls drops off a dumpster full of money to Animaze or whoever, or maybe invent some kind of time-warping device that gives Funimation an extra two weeks to dub an episode, things are going to stay the way they are. Acceptance is the first step toward healing. Or somesuch new-agey bullcrap.


I have a question that has been bothering me for quite sometime, and I was hoping you could help answer it. Or at least explain it to me. How do American anime compinies decide on what anime to license? Is it entirely based on how popular the series is in Japan? Or how the American fans will react to it? For example, when Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry) anime was released in Japan a few years ago, I thought that this series would never make it over to America. But it was released, and I was excited. Now the manga is being released. I have also noticed that when manga is released the anime is soon to follow. So how do they decide?

“They,” in this case being “Statuo Licentia Orientales Alacritas,” an ancient cabal full of secrets and darkness, call upon the powers of Ba'al beneath the crusts of the earth. Every first Sunday of October, a hooded figure appears under the Masonic ruins of Masonic, California, clutching a bloodied skull and a stone tablet, forged from the sediments from Christ's tomb. This stone tablet contains the names, written in the blood of children, of the shows They have deemed worthy of being licensed.

And I could go on and on like that. Realistically speaking, there are a variety of business-minded decisions behind why and how and what eventually winds up being licensed. Especially these days; only a few years ago, companies like ADV made it a habit of licensing everything they could potentially afford (or in some famous instances, couldn't) just in the mind that out of perhaps a dozen or so titles, a few might stick and turn enough of a profit to subsidize the rest. It was at this point that most of the Japanese companies that owned these shows still didn't really care about the Western market, and were more than willing to let their properties go to whoever for whatever price.

Now, though, everybody's hurtin' for money all around. The Japanese companies are eager to have their shows catch on in America now that they know there's a built-in market for them, but at a higher price. US anime companies have had, if you can recall, had a bit of trouble lately. So, there's a huge litany of things they consider before making the plunge and acquiring the license. Here's the official scoop from a guy “in the know,” our very own Justin Sevakis:

"Probably the big thing that we all take for granted is the retail market. Shelf space, these days, is a big issue – Best Buy has recently cut back on their DVD orders, and stores that used to really cater to the anime market like FYE are closing stores left and right. The end result is, of course, companies are looking for shows that are going to move units with their small allotted space. Each company has a different method of doing this – companies like Viz are looking to mainstream the entire industry, so they're obviously looking for shows that are accessible to a wider audience. Funimation likes to play both sides of the fence, and supplements their mainstream hits with a few niche titles. The rest, like Media Blasters and Right Stuf, tend to look for stuff that has a small but dedicated fan following."

Thanks, Justin! I knew all these things too, of course.  I just. You know, get so tired of feeling so smart all the time. Is all.


Aside from Mutineer's Moon, the old Spiderman and Hulk manga, and the Batman OAVs, is there any other anime/manga based off American novels or comic books?

Oh, there's lots. You overlooked the wonderful and obvious Gankutsuou, and the mostly-OK Romeo X Juliet. Ooh, or the completely retarded two-episode OAV series promoting a line of Japan-only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Toys: Legend of the Supermutants! Featuring a hilarious scene of the Foot Clan on the beach in Hawaiian shirts, having a barbecue. Before they are crushed to death by a tidal wave. Something really, really cool that came out recently is a book called “Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan” that collects a series of officially licensed Batman manga created in the late 1960's by 8-Man creator Jiro Kuwata. If one of your dreams involves the campy 60's Batman & Robin fighting giant monsters and robots, this book is a necessity, especially since they have never been collected or reprinted in any form before.

However, there's probably a reason why you don't see many more anime based off of western novels and comic books. Two reasons, actually: Lensman, and Highlander: The Search for Vengeance. (Coincidentally enough, both are directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Hmm.) Lensman was based upon the short stories of 1930's pulp sci-fi author E.E. “Doc” Smith, whose imaginative sci-fi tableau begat the assorted elements that would later crystallize when “Star Wars” came into existence; Lensman the film, once made popular by Streamline Pictures in the late 80's,  is a boring, boring, boring movie, consisting mostly of inane chase sequences and unintelligible exposition. Back when I was young and naïve and assumed that every Japanese Anime was the Best Thing Ever, Lensman was the one example that, yes, even anime can be dull and uninteresting.

Highlander: The Search for Vengeance is just terrible and stupid in every way, though supposedly Kawajiri's director's cut is “much better.” I'll just take their word for it, because I never want to see it again. See, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (I'm repeating the subtitle as much as possible, because it's probably the worst subtitle ever given to a movie) is what happens when US companies attempt to cash in on the anime craze by creating an anime version of one of their languid, ailing, once-notable intellectual properties. Remember that there was an awful lot of this going on just a couple of years ago; thankfully, most of them died ignominious deaths, like the once-planned Escape From New York anime, but the ones that didn't, got made into Highlander: The Search for Vengeance. (I'll stop now).

So go make a double feature out of both Lensman and Highlander: The Search for... whatever. With any luck, Lensman will put you to sleep before Highlander starts. Otherwise you just might puncture your own brain.




Now for the fun stuff! If you'll notice above, Hey, Answerman! desperately needs a new banner; the one you see above is only a temporary placeholder.

We're moving away from using licensed characters, so here's the challenge: the banner has to include some anime or manga-fied version of me. ME! That's right. I assure you this is not the product of ego, rather my horrifying overlords demanding I ask you to draw me for this contest. Perhaps they're doing this for their own amusement - the world may never know.

Some mild rules:

1. Stick to the standard banner size this column uses. Just check the pixel width on the banner that heads up this column, and you're all good.
2. Nothing profane or dirty. This is a family show!

3. The banner has to include the column's title - "Hey, Answerman" - along with a vaguely anime or manga-style visage of yours truly.

For reference, here is a picture of myself. Note the sunken eyes and distressing lack of character.



So go nuts and be as creative and fun and artistic as you all can be!

What do you win? A permanent thank you credit in every column, my eternal gratitude and a the warm fuzzy feeling that you've contributed something to the world. And what's better than that?





Here's the question from last week:


From Eric Schumacher:

First time writer here.  Attached are photos of the most precious and unique jewel of my collection.  It's a copy of Junji Ito's Hellstar Remina straight from the Land of the Rising Sun.  Back in Summer 2008, I got really into Ito's works.  I finished Gyo and Uzumaki in the Spring but I was itching for more of his material.  The news on forum boards was that Ito had recently completed a chilling sci-fi tale but it had not been translated to English yet.  Unable to control my passion for collecting his work, I found a store in Japan that was willing to ship a paperback copy of it.  After waiting almost a month, the book came delivered to me in a taped up cardboard box covered with stamps.  I hurriedly opened the box and read the entire thing in one night.  Unfortunately, I can't read Japanese, so I made up most of the dialogue as I read.  My girlfriend at the time could read and speak Japanese so I begged her to translate as much as possible.  The time we spent together was very wonderful.  We would have to take things slowly and translate only a few pages at a time.  Spending the summer nights learning Japanese characters and freaking out to Ito's scary stories was one of the best memories of 2008 for me.




From Lancen:

I consider all of my collection special, but the one that stands out the most is my Gunslinger Girl Boxed Set.  This set is the first boxed set I ever bought, and I was able to get it autographed by Monica Rial and Luci Christian.  The series was really enjoyable, and I loved the music used in it.  I really liked the art on the box too.  And...that's all I have to say.  Thanks for allowing me to share.







From 'darkinnocence':

The jewel of my anime and manga collection is my Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa autographed DVD. I attended Anime Central 2008, where Vic Mignogna, Travis Willingham, Caitlin Glass, and Aaron Dismuke were all attending as guests. They also had an autograph session together, and of course as a major FMA fan I had to attend and get my DVD signed. After much waiting around (and squealing; I admit to turning into a bit of a fangirl after seeing them), I finally got it signed, and now it's become the number one item displayed in my small and modest collection of anime and manga.





From 'Tu101k':

Until last March, I didn't really have anything in my collection that stood out. However, I stumbled upon some rare (and relatively inexpensive) DVD sets on eBay that helped (almost) complete one of my favourite series of all time.
 
Since then, my jewel of my sparse anime collection has been my Tenchi Muyo! collection, consisting of:
Though, for completists, I may be missing a few spinoffs (Magical Project S, Tenchi Muyo GXP and Sasami: Magical Girl Club), for me personally, this is a priceless collection. I remember when I got into anime good and proper, watching Tenchi Muyo! on Toonami and recording every single episode (barring the first half of the last episode of Tenchi in Tokyo, which I missed) onto VHS (I've still got the tapes in my cupboard).
 
It's always been my favourite anime series, and buying the Tenchi Universe and Tenchi in Tokyo sets on eBay was a stroke of good fortune, and made me a happy geek.
 
Enclosed is a photo of the set. Enjoy.







Finally, from SDShamshel:

The jewel of my collection is a single doujinshi. Its actual contents matter little, as it's the way in which I eventually obtained it that I cherish more than anything else.

In 2005 I studied abroad in Japan. Japanese. It was there that I discovered the Genshiken character Ogiue Chika. Fascinated by her personality which belies tremendous inner turmoil, she quickly became one of my favorite characters ever. I purchased every Japanese volume that was out at the time, and when I returned to America I made sure to keep up with the chapter releases in Monthly Afternoon and eventually buy the remaining volumes.

It was in Japan that I met Shingo, the currently-missing creator of Heisei Democracy, who had been reviewing Genshiken chapters as they were coming out. It was also around the same time that I found an actual Japanese fansite dedicated to Ogiue. It was called "Ogilove." I informed Shingo of the site's existence, which eventually made Ogilove aware of Heisei Democracy and its Genshiken reviews. While being amazed that an actual foreigner (Shingo) was reading Genshiken, Ogilove's owner had wondered aloud if there were any foreign Ogiue fans out there. Naturally, I had to respond. I sent an e-mail, telling them about myself, how I discovered Ogiue, and that she had gained many admirers after debuting in Del Rey's US release of Genshiken Volume 4. I received a response, and eventually got to know this Japanese community of Ogiue otaku. I joked with them in their chatroom, participated on their oekaki boards, and genuinely had a good time.

It was 2006 and Comic Market 70 eventually drew near. I was not able to go, but I talked with Ogilove about their plans for Comic Market. After Comic Market 70 had passed, Shingo informed me that he had actually met with the members of Ogilove and that they had given him a copy of their collaborative Ogiue-themed doujinshi so that Shingo could in turn send it to me.

I was moved. I was proud to be an Ogiue fan, thankful that I had been lucky enough to go to Japan to find Ogiue and become more fluent in the language, and grateful that my fellow Genshiken and Ogiue fans halfway across the world would be so thoughtful. I eventually got the doujinshi in the mail, and I held it in my hands knowing that I was,in fact, an otaku.




Here's next week's question:



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.

I will now bestow upon myself the Most Outstanding-est Columnist of This Week, and my award will be a nice, generous good night's sleep for once. I bid you all adieu, so good night, good luck, good times. See you next week!



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