Hey, Answerman!by Brian Hanson,
Yowza! Has it been a week already? It has. Alas.
Welcome back to Hey, Answerman! I'm the guy that answers your questions and you are my wonderful, receptive audience that gives me those questions. I'd like to think, though, that we're all learning a little something from this wondrous, symbiotic experience.
NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT JAPANESE ANIMATED THINGS!
I wonder if you could help me settle a debate with a friend of mine (Or at least supply more fuel for it)!
Considering the United States specifically, is anime more popular than ever in 2009 or has it passed its peak? Do fansubs, internet communities and consistently-increasing anime con attendance grow the ranks of the fandom at a similar or greater rate than anime DVDs, TV blocks and magazines did in the late 90's and early 00's? Is anime's popularity in the US in decline, and if so, when did the decline begin?
Man, this question comes up a lot, since I started taking this gig. Where's the Audacity of Hope? What's with all the Timidity of Gloom? I mean I realize that the world is currently a sunken creature seemingly on the verge of complete collapse and everybody's afraid of losing their job and home and everything they feel like they've worked hard to achieve in life. But. Uh.
Anime! So. I don't think “decline” is really the word to describe anime's current situation in the US. I would say it's a... “lack of growth.” Which, in business-speak, is just as frightening. Anime hit its peak several years ago, back when Toonami was on TV every weekday and Cowboy Bebop was fresh in everyone's mind and Hollywood thought that a 100-million-dollar investment in a Final Fantasy movie was a terrific idea. Toonami isn't on TV anymore, Cowboy Bebop has since run its course (except for in a few years when it will do so again, but with Keanu Reeves!), and Hollywood has learned that both Final Fantasy and Speed Racer movies do not actually make that much money. Still, though, the actual fans themselves haven't gone anywhere – they've stuck around, made their homes on the internet and at conventions, still watching and enjoying Japanese animated programming and films because they actually, earnestly like it.
But even though the fans are still around, it's a scary thought for the business men and women behind this industry that those fans aren't growing like they were several years ago. It's especially troubling when recent trends indicate that globally, amongst everybody, things like DVD sales and TV ratings are dropping significantly. When you're running a niche market that at one time seemed on the precipice of gaining mainstream traction, that kinda sucks. Now you have to fight tooth and nail just to keep your profits steady, and invest in new, untested markets and ideas with money you don't have.
That's really the crux of the whole “ANIME IS FAILING IN THE UNITED STATES! ALERT YOUR CONGRESSMEN AND HIDE ALONE, SHIVERING AND NAKED, IN YOUR UNDERGROUND BUNKERS SURROUNDED WITH YOUR MACROSS DVDS AND KENSHIN WALLSCROLLS!” argument. On the business side, e.g. how anime actually finds its way to us legitimately here in the United States, it's a troubling time. In the grander scheme, though, anime fans are just as vociferous and numerous as they ever were. We tight, dogg.
I've been a fan of anime for 10 years but I only recently noticed something that has me curious. In certain anime, where the domestic household is featured, (a character's room, apartment, etc.) there seems to be a lack of....personality. I usually see this when a character is in their bedroom. The bedding, walls, carpet are all one color with maybe a desk, end table and book case...and that's about it. I don't see things like knick-knacks, stuffed animals, posters or even house plants...or if they do, they are very sparse.
The other thing is that these places are totally free of clutter. I'm not saying that's bad but when I look at my room in comparision to an anime character's room, it seems to lack a certain charm.
I'm curious as to why that is. Does it cost more if more objects are drawn into the background or is this done simply to save time drawing due to anime's tight production deadlines? Are backgrounds completely static, independent from the character's themselves? If that's the case then why do I see such stark (and frankly, boring) rooms? Or this just a reflection on domestic homelife in Japan? (I get the impression that housing is very small and cramped.)
I actually asked this to another one of my friends and she suggested it's to focus more on the character then the background. But wouldn't the addition of personal touches give you a better idea of that character's personality? Hope you can shed some light on this for me.
That's... a really interesting question, and caused me quite a bit of pause and reflection when I first read it. I immediately thought of Code Geass; on the whole, the production design for that show is superb. The characters, the robots, and the whole artistic element behind everything that moves in that show is as good as it gets when it comes to anime shows on TV. But... the backgrounds. They are boring. The school, the cityscapes, and all the interiors – they look like they could've come from any number of anime shows being produced in the past few years, nevermind the nightmarish-future aesthetic of the rest of the show.
But really, the answer to that question is pretty simple, and you already answered it yourself! A common term for animators here in America is “pencil mileage.” Which basically means that even though you can draw just about anything in animation and have it be relatively inexpensive, there's still a limit. Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Mamoru Oshii all have lavish budgets and long lead times to work on their projects, so they are afforded the luxury to obsess over every frame, every shot, every instance of mise-en-scene. They're concerned with every shot being consistent with the whole world of their film, and they all work very closely with their background designers and constantly push them to add extra details, extra layers, and extra everything to accentuate the moving characters in the foreground. The house in My Neighbor Totoro, strictly speaking, was meant to look like an ordinary, run-down shack in the forests of Japan, but every background featuring that house is filled with wonderful little flourishes; cracked floorboards, small patches of dirt and dust, vines and weeds encroaching on the windows, and it's all wonderful.
But, of course, it goes without saying that Miyazaki is not employed by Sunrise, and their edict when it comes to producing a weekly TV series tends to be “faster, cheaper” instead of “more detailed, more better!” Again, chintzy background design isn't something exclusive to just anime – the backgrounds in Avatar: The Last Airbender are just as perfunctory and simple, at least to me. That's not to say that I think they're “bad” in any way – they're just working on a limited budget and a tight schedule, and unlike Miyazaki and Oshii, the animation directors aren't working under the delusion that you're gonna watch each episode over and over again, picking out every small detail in every scene.
Something's been pissing me off lately. I love fullmetal alchemist, a lot, but I just recently bought the show on DVD for the THIRD TIME. That's rediculous! I bought the limited edition tin with the CD when that came out several years ago, but I stopped collecting the single volumes about midway through when I found out the box season sets were coming out. So I bought the two boxsets for season one, and THEN I heard about the NEW boxsets that contain a full season of the show each. Because I hate it when my DVDs for certain things don't match up with each other (it's a problem, I know), I traded the older boxsets in for the big new one.
Why do they do this? Aside from just wanting my money more than once, why is it that shows keep getting put in different boxsets and collections every six months? And not just FMA – Gundam, DBZ, and lots more i'm forgetting. I love getting anime I like in collections, but its now to the point where i'll hold off on buying something I really like because I just think they're gonna put out a better, cheaper collection if I just wait. Which means I don't buy as much as I probably would otherwise. What gives!!!
Ah, Caveat Emptor. Gotta love it. (Probably not as much as I love writing it, especially with italics, in order to emphasize that it's foreign and therefore requiring a special font alteration.)
Honestly, though, I can understand your frustration in just about every way. I've bought Blade Runner on DVD more times than I probably should have; although, if I could have foreseen the advent of Blu-Ray and the awesome Final Cut 4-disc set back in 2001, I probably wouldn't have bothered with that director's cut DVD. But man, was I happy to get it back then.
Anyway, anime studios are in a pinch at the moment – see the first question for gruesome details – so one of their tactics is that they've since realized that the true triple-A titles that overshadow the rest of their catalog; people are willing to buy those titles more than once if they think they're getting a better deal / saving a bit of DVD shelf real estate. Not to imply that your weakness justifies such a philosophy, but hey, it worked.
But aside from Fullmetal and DBZ, I wouldn't be too concerned with holding off on any boxed sets if you're willing to buy them; FMA and DBZ are properties that will survive in the pop-culture consciousness until we're all old and suffering from gooey nuclear-radiation diseases, so whenever a new release format crops up (or just for the hell of it, really), Funimation won't hesitate to remind people that HEY FMA AND DBZ EXIST AND WE HAVE THEM FOR YOU TO BUY. Other shows lack that sort of staying power, so if a boxed set crops up for it, snatch it up immediately! Chances are it'll be out of print within months and impossible to find afterwards. Like, say, the recently-released Kodocha season sets. Get those now! It's a great show that literally died when it was released in the then-typical single-volume format. Not that I'm a corporate shill, I just really, really love that show.
I will now take off my hat that is made out of money.
Oh, look! I got my very first FLAKE OF THE WEEK!!!
I got this very confusing email:
“Excuse me, answerman... I was looking around online, and somebody mentioned porn. What is porn? Is it some insanely popular series? What does it have to do with handcuffs and cell phones? Also, could you show us an example of porn? So many people like it, and it sounds cool!”
So I had to go and ask Mr. Owl.
There were lots and LOTS of great Answerfans responses this week, so let's see what video games you guys'd make.
Here's the question from last week:
From Swirling Vortex:
“Okay, let's start with, as a base, Eyeshield 21. They've already got video game football down to a science, but adding a bit of Murata's over-the-top presentation of athletic power and prowess could add some visual class. Then throw in the character-development, and you've got a potential for RPG aspects-- developing the players both physically and socially in the time between games-- perhaps following a development system similar to the Persona games. Leveling up need not be through simple grinding, but from advancing side-stories.
But let's not stop there. Instead of just the Devil Bats and White Knights, why not stock the game with teams made up from a wide variety of series? Let's run a few of the pirate crews from One Piece as teams, a brace of Bleach shinigami, ACROS from Excel Saga, a team of mecha pilots, maybe even the Hellsing organization. Here's where it gets interesting: Instead of a clear linear progression of power, playing by the rules creates a new set of challenges-- over-the-top attacks that were great against giant robots or demons are more likely to land you with a flag and a 15-yard penalty on the field. The actual football would become more of a game of planning and strategy, not simply raw power. Heavy use of themed "trick" and team-specific plays would add diversity and balance to the play.
Because we'd be drawing from several different universes, the game would have replay value-- once you took a single team through a season, you'd be able to play a completely different set of character development events with a different team.
From Jacob Gehman:
With video games based on existing movies or shows I hate playing through a storyline that I already know. And adding another "chapter" to a movie (ala Enter the Matrix) usually has filler-like quality. So a video game based on an anime generally holds very little appeal for me. However, the one sort of exception I could see would be RPGs based on the worlds of certain anime shows. Imagine the same level of texture and questing as in a blockbuster RPG title like Fable II or Fallout 3, only set in the world of Fullmetal Alchemist or Haibane Renmei... or (more realistically) Naruto. Both Fullmetal Alchemist and Naruto have huge worlds already with a wide span of characters. Haibane Renmei doesn't have a huge world, but the anime sets up potential for an interesting emergence as the player discovers what is outside the walls of the town.
Perhaps for the portable crowd a Professor Layton//Phoenix Wright style investigation-puzzler based on Requiem from the Darkness. That would really work well, actually. There isn't much actual action in the series, but the atmosphere could be recreated very well in that style of game. The game would probably be tragically misunderstood ("there's no fighting!" or "it's too scary for my kids!"), but for those of us wouldn't be expecting Resident Evil or Care Bears it would be a real treat.
From James Pickens:
I'd love the chance to produce a game based off Robotech II: The Sentinels.
Back in the mid to late 80s, Harmony Gold was producing a sequel/side-story TV series of Robotech known as The Sentinels that would tell the story of Admiral Rick Hunter (From the Macross Saga portion of the series) and his journey into the stars to take the fight to the Robotech Masters and eventually get caught up in an ages long war with forces who have been battling for control of space and the legendary Protoculture long before humanity took its first steps into space.
Sadly, for various reasons, this show never came to fruition. Only 3 episodes were produced and most of the material only found life in novels, comics, and the pen and paper role playing game. Yet there are many folks who wish to see this part of the Robotech story while Harmony Gold's primary focus is on its continuation of Robotech via the Shadow Chronicles.
Therefore, Sentinels would be a perfect place for a new Robotech video game. It is a very open-ended setting, as the Expeditionary Fleet planet hops on the other side of the galaxy, liberating worlds from the Invid and dealing with various alien threats. The game play would be perfect for open-ended sandbox style game play either as individual pilots or as commanders of the Expeditionary/Sentinel fleets. In my dream rendition, you would be playing your own new pilot character flying along side the legends of the Robotech universe.
In-depth gameplay along with telling the tale of a rather nebulous era of the Robotech timeline would seems like the perfect place for a new Robotech game instead of just another simple arcade shooter. With next-generation technology and online gaming at the state it is, it does not take much imagination to dream up a game where you could really design semi-realistic squad basic tactics for taking down Invid and accomplishing mission goals. (Liberate alien prisoners, destroy an Invid Brain, etc…)
Lastly, and perhaps as critique towards the Shadow Chronicles, it would establish some background for those Haydonites that are the feature of Shadow Chronicles. It's a real shame that the only people who might understand that plotline are only those who read the books or comics. It would be a perfect chance to tell the story and make a great game while they are at it.
At least, that's how I see it.”
And finally, from Kat:
I have three words for you:
Excel Saga eroge.
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.
Now I'm off to celebrate Valentine's Day! Drunk, alone, and somber. But at least I'll be at an Andrew Bird concert, so I'll be surrounded by like-minded individuals. Send in those questions! I'll see you next time!
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