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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Good evening, everyone. Allow us now to morosely and seriously discuss, analyze, and dissect the delicate ins and outs of pop-cultural minutiae as it applies directly to the Japanese animated artform. “Anime” as it is commonly known. “Japanacartoons” in some circles. “The stuff with robots and tentacles” to the uneducated, swollen hoi-polloi.

..actually that sounds boring and lame. I'm here to answer your questions! So let's get to it. The questions.

I've been an Anime fan for about 4 years. So I'm sort of a new-ish fan. But something I've noticed thats diffrent between American Cartoons and Japanese Anime (besides the artwork) is the diversity in the genre that Anime has. Anime has Romance, Horror, Comedy, Action...Hentai. As were American Cartoons (now days) seem to only be a childish comedy. There was a time when America had some Action Cartoons. Like the days of SpiderMan the Animated series and other such Comic Book Hero shows. But now it's just stuff like Chowder or what ever.

So my question, is what made Japan decide to make serious Cartoons? Is it just that Japan is a much more serious nation than America? Or did they just do it to fit a Demographic?

Well, the first thing I'll mention is that your notions on “western” animation are a little bit... misconstrued, to say the least. To begin with, I hate the term “genre” when it's applied to animation. And I mean, I hate it. Hate hate hate it. It's not a “genre” at all – genre implies that there's almost a set formula for the way that animation is produced, which is totally wrong. Animation has been as diverse a storytelling medium as any since its inception in the early 20th century, and has, both inside and outside of Japan, has dallied in every conceivable story imaginable, and continues to progress leaps and bounds with talented new artists experimenting in exciting ways.

But then, of course, I realize that you're speaking specifically about “cartoons vs. anime” here, so. Yeah, I guess that “anime” covers a more varied range of topics than “cartoons” on TV. But that's not really a fair comparison – percentage-wise, Japan has a staggering amount of new, original animated programming that airs every season. In the US and Europe, though, most TV executives tend to be of the mindset that cartoons are now passe, and take up valuable airtime that could be devoted to Musicals Set Inside of High Schools and reality TV shows involving midgets building houses for smaller, less successful midgets. The few animated shows that make it to air by and large are just carbon copies of successful cartoon shows before it – Spongebob Squarepants was popular, so you'll get shows like Chowder. Family Guy is a huge hit, so let's give the guy that made Family Guy lots more money to make two more shows that are exactly like Family Guy. In my opinion, the last truly creatively successful “action cartoon” on television was the original Batman the Animated Series, which spawned an entire legion of superhero cartoons that continues to this day (what with Batman: The Brave and the Bold and all those upcoming Marvel shows starring Hulk and Wolverine and whatnot, not to mention the legion of straight-to-DVD animated movies based on Marvel and DC properties). It also helps that the lion's share of new anime airing in Japan is based off of previously successful manga series, which of course guarantees that it'll have a dedicated, built-in audience; an audience that is already receptive to the idea of drawn characters covering a wider variety of subject matter.

So basically, it's a business issue, and not an artistic issue. Because outside of whatever you see on TV, there's a literal bevy of amazing animation out there from around the world that is rewarding and brave and fascinating, but in an era of declining TV viewership, nobody's interested in any of that stuff. They just want to make sure that the people still watching keep on watching.

Is it just me, or is yaoi more "acceptable" to publish and write reviews on than hentai in America? It seems like I see a lot more yaoi titles published and discussed on anime websites (including your own) than hentai. Or is it just that there's a bigger market for yaoi? I know that hentai titles are published in the states, but it seems like yaoi is definitely more out there in the open.

Just wondering....

Setting aside my own personal, sordid proclivities for a moment, I'm going to go out on a limb and admit that talking about yaoi is, for some reason, a lot less, well... creepy than talking about hentai.

The main reason is because yaoi, by and large, is just as much about the love story as it is about the vicious man-on-man boning. In my various states of boredom I've flipped through quite a large number of yaoi books in my lifetime, or at least the ones that find themselves on store shelves, and I've noticed that you'll only find a few brief pages in each chapter dedicated to the characters actually doing it. The rest of the time, the pages are devoted to the characters, and usually (key word: usually) attempts to give them some amount of dimensionality. There's a distinctly human element at work, there.

As opposed to hentai, in which the story is, largely, a prop to set the various body parts in different scenarios to accentuate the undulations. There is no attempt to create a human element, or if there is, as in the case of Urotsukidoji, it becomes sickeningly weird on a variety of levels.

So, there's the key difference. Yaoi is just as concerned with creating characters and finding reasons for them to have sex as it is with them having sex. Hentai is, more or less, just about sex. Incredibly aberrant sex. Which is cool; I'm no prude. But if it's just about sex... there really isn't a whole lot to discuss.

Hey Answerman,

I was wondering why aren't more theatrical anime movies don't air in American theaters world wide?  I know Ponyo is set to air this year, which I am excited about, but there have to be other quality movies not made by Hayao Miyazaki or Gonzo. Is it all about reliable franchises, or is it easier to release these movies on DVD?

As a quick aside, I just watched Gonzo's Brave Story recently for the first time. I had one of those moments where I knew a guy with an import copy, and had heard about it briefly over the past few years, and thought to myself “Why haven't I seen this? A big-budget Gonzo family fantasy movie that's based upon a kid's book that is supposed to be incredibly excellent? Hell yes!” Then, I watched Brave Story. Afterwards, I felt a sad pit of despair eat away my inner organs. Aside from being one of the worst-looking big-budget anime films of recent memory, the story is a mash of bizarre coincidences held together haphazardly by forced and annoying bouts of exposition, with irritating and one-dimensional characters chirping throughout. Bleh.

So, no! In regards to non-Miyazaki anime films that might actually have a shot at a theatrical release, there really aren't any that are truly worthy of the expenditure. Seriously, they'd have to be Miyazaki-level quality or better to qualify for any sort of theatrical release. Nevermind the cost of licensing and marketing; it costs a fortune just to develop your average feature-length, 35mm film print. Around one-thousand dollars, to be exact. Multiply that by however many prints are needed for a theatrical run, plus the cost of shipping those 75 pound film reels all across the country, and suddenly it just makes more sense to release, say, the new Evangelion films on DVD only, rather than taking the gamble and hoping that large amounts of anime nerds are willing to drive long distances to see them in some crappy art-house theater. Even though Spirited Away was a bestseller on DVD, it only made a measly 10 million dollars at the US box office. The US box office returns for anime films like Cowboy Bebop The Movie, Steamboy, and Ghost in the Shell 2 are pathetic by any sort of box-office barometer.

Despite this, I love seeing anime on film. I will do crazy things like, say, wake up early during Anime Expo to stalk out the 35mm projection room in order to watch something ridiculous like Gundam F91. It's a sickness.

I got this email from “Mike Banana” that is confusing on a variety of levels.

“How many animes can i get for one American dollar? I heard that girls like them so i want some for my apartment. Also, are animes communist? My granpa says they are, that punk ass bitch.”

Also, somebody was complaining about the lack of bunnies since I took over this column. So, here's a cartoon response involving a bunny.

As is typical, some terrific responses abound! I asked you what you would change about certain anime and change is what you would, in fact, do.

Here's the question from last week:

CowsAteMyElbows starts us off:

I am an unregenerate Miyazaki chauvinist pig. I'd never found anything in Miyazaki's work that I didn't like. Then I saw the ending of Howl's Moving Castle.

After a reasonably interesting film with involving characters, a good antiwar message, and the usual wonderful Miyazaki whimsy, there occurs a thrilling downhill slide where our beloved characters were saved from certain death by the Hopping Scarecrow. At a kiss from Sophie in gratitude for his bravery he was turned back into a prince, specifically the missing prince whose mysterious absence had spawned the idiotic war that was the center of the major conflict of the movie. And he was turned into one of the dorkiest character designs I've ever seen anywhere, any time. A bulbous, misshapen suit, a foppish hat, and a ludicrous tan pageboy hairdo. A pathetic, limp, throwaway explanation and ending. A perfectly serviceable film turned to crap at the end. Even the decent smoochy final scene couldn't redeem the idiocy of the dork prince. I didn't feel betrayed, just terribly disappointed.

Jeez, it was painful. A decent character design would not have sounded such a false note. A less flat-footed, ham-handed explanation, just a couple of more minutes, could have saved the end. Maybe a little foreshadowing, hint of mystery left. Maybe even a stray Totoro or Kodama. Some of the old Miyazaki magic. Just not the Dork Prince leaving on his magical pogo stick.

Laura wrote:

Every week, I read the Hey Answerfans! question and think, "I should answer this," but never get around to it by the time the next column is out. This week, however, I had an answer before I could even think "I should answer this," and that was how I knew that I would be writing to you right now.

About a month ago, I watched the series Toward the Terra (also known as Terra e) and fell absolutely in love with it. It's occupied at least half of my waking thoughts ever since. The characters, the plot, the music, the animation - everything about it had me hooked from the word "Go." It has its flaws, but those mostly just endear it to me even more. If I could change just one thing about it, though, I know exactly what it would be.

Sam's sideburns.

What is with those things?! They're like hamsters on the sides of his face! They poof! In the beginning of the series, he's not even fourteen yet and he has large, bushy sideburns. He shouldn't be able to grow sideburns for at least two more years! Most seventeen-year-old guys I know couldn't grow sideburns even if they wanted to. I can't even imagine what my fourteen-year-old brother would look like with Sam's sideburns. To be fair, the original manga was written in the seventies, so Sam's sideburns were probably a little more fashionable back then. But then again, this isn't the seventies, and sideburns are not in fashion. In fact, many people (such as myself) find sideburns like Sam's downright ugly. Couldn't the production staff have downplayed them a bit or something? Throughout the whole show, I kept expecting them to fill with air and lift him into the sky. But like I said, Toward the Terra has been the best anime experience I've had in quite a while, and despite Sam's character design, I still like him as a character. He isn't my favorite, but if he hadn't had those sideburns, I could have liked him more.

Vashfanatic says:

In the course of a series, especially over longer ones, I will pretty much always comes across something I don't like, some significant gripe with the show. That's why I give out so few “masterpiece” ratings; if I can immediately thing of something I'd want done differently, or something that could be improved, it gets an “excellent” instead.

One series, though, that I think is about as perfect as you could ever hope to get, would be Gankutsuou, GONZO's amazing adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. I love the music, the animation, the story, the characters...I consider it to be without a doubt the best anime series I have ever seen.

There is, however, one liiiiiitle thing about it that has always sort of irked me. The main characters – Albert, Franz, Eugenie – are all supposed to be fifteen. Now, I know, all anime characters are fifteen, even if they don't act like it, and you sort of get used to it. But in Gankutsuou it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Never in the series do they mention attending school. They're already engaged to be married. Two of their friends (only slightly older than the leads) have just come back from military campaigns, and another (again, only slightly older) is a member of the government. And let's not even get into Andrea Cavalcanti, who's supposed to be a mere sixteen... I'm not asking that they be in their twenties or thirties; if you'd made everyone just three years older, so that the characters who are fifteen would be eighteen, it would make a lot more sense. They'd have graduated from school, would be young adults ready to get married, and their somewhat-older friends could easily have been in the military or be serving in the government (or have spent some time in jail...). It wouldn't even mess up the timeline a lot. Just three years – that's not much to ask! As it is, I just pretend that in the distant future when Gankutsuou takes place people measure ages differently, and that fifteen years is the equivalent of eighteen in the present day. Silly, I know, but so is having them be that young.

Mue90000 wrote:

“When i saw the question for this week it took me about a minute to think of the series that would fit this perfectly The series that this question definitely applies to is Death Note. If i had godlike powers I would have changed the ending to what it should be, Light killing everyone that is against him. In the last episode of Death Note all of the characters that were evil acted completely out of place. Light who planned everything to a T, acted completely irrationally and so did the other guy who was working for light This ending was the worst ending i have ever seen in an anime, it made me angry for a very long time. Great Series BAD ENDING.”

Haryo Sumowidagdo says:

There are two things which I personally would like see to happen.

First is reanimation of classic anime series, which due to unexpected circumstances, were produced under tight budget. Yet the series survived the ordeal, and later turn out to be a masterpiece. In this case, reanimation of the series while keeping the audio intact, in my opinion, will give the production team a second chance to overcome their past budget problem.

Second, production of new animation for an unfinished story. This has always been a problem for anime series which are adapted on other media like manga or novels.

In the first case, I really would like to see two classic series reanimated. They are Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) and Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982). Both suffered from tight budget and schedule.  The character and mecha designs can really use a lot of improvement, as well as the animation of mecha fights. In the case of Gundam, one can try to use the character designs from Zeta Gundam (released 6 year later) and retcon back.

Macross is really (in)famous for the inconsistencies of animation quality. One character may appear beautifully drawn in one scene, only to become someone with a disfigured face a few seconds later.  Misa in particular suffer more than Minmay. For Macross, the character and mecha designs from the movie version 'Ai Oboe te ima suka' would be ideal if they can be put into reanimation.

In the second case, there are already a lot of examples and cases: Nausicaa, Rurouni Kenshin, Claymore, Fullmetal Alchemist, Twelve Kingdom, Love Hina, Ouran High School Host Club, His and Her Circumstances ... you name it. I think animation production studio in Japan should really learn to be patient and not to make the animation adaptation of a story too different from the original media.  Animate only story arcs which are done, and wait until more part/story arcs are done or the whole story is finished. Getting cash is good, but getting cash AND a potential for your production to be long-lived is EVEN better.

In some cases, the final animation adaptation managed to pull off a closure of its own, and then became decoupled from the original media. Nausicaa, Ocean Waves, Ouran, Fullmetal Alchemist are examples who successfully achieved this feat. While it would be great to see the Nausicaa manga adapted to animation completely, or to see an animation of the sequel of Saeko Himuro's I Can Hear The Sea, the current adaptation are pretty much self-contained.

Some other anime adaptation don't ! Rurouni Kenshin and His and Her Circumstances are some of better anime who fail in story continuation toward a proper closure and ending.

Top item in my list of anime series which *really should* see a final closure is Rurouni Kenshin. I really commended the great effort put by the animation team in producing the first two arcs: Tokyo Arc (Episode 1-27) and Kyoto Arc (Episodes 28-62). There are not many deviations from the original. The Tokyo+Kyoto Arc, to this day, ranks really high in my list of recommended anime. The Kyoto Arc where not only Kenshin, but his friends and even former adversaries (Saito and Aoshi) had to join forces for the better of all, is a real example how in life things are not always black and white.

But the last arc in the TV series is a joke in my opinion. We have to admit that post-Kyoto, Kenshin and his friends really does need a stronger enemy than Shishio. This simple storybuilding element is absent from the third part of the TV series. The whole Shimabara Arc is a joke ! I personally resent the third part and never watch it completely !

The first set of Rurouni Kenshin OVAs (Trust and Betrayal) which tells about Kenshin and Tomoe also ranks high, as they also stay true to the story. This is as close as possible to a truthful adaptation of Jinchuu Arc you can get.

However, the animation production team never really try to finish Kenshin properly by animating the Jinchuu Arc. They even destroy the whole happy ending of Rurouni Kenshin manga with the last OVA, where Kenshin and Kaoru dies in a very heartbreaking way. As a fans, I really fell cheated when I learned about the original story.

To this day, I always recommend my friend to watch Kenshin in this following sequence:
Tokyo Arc (1-27)
Kyoto Arc (28-62)
OVA Trust and Betrayal.
And then read the manga.
Don't bother watch the third part of the TV series or the second OVA. In this way, new Rurouni Kenshin fans do not have to see the 'improvized' version of Rurouni Kenshin, and they will enjoy the story in the way the original creator, Watsuki, wants.

GVentola writes:

The thing I would change most about most of my fave series is the ending episode. I've gotten used to the "anything can happen" style of anime, and psych myself so that even if I don't like the ending, I won't turn against the show completely. Most of the time it's lack of romance--the guy and gal you want to get together don't even kiss. (Trigun, Kaze no Yojimbo, Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid). The rest of the time it's a character leaving his friends for no apparent reason at all, breaking up the gang. (Heat Guy J, Black Cat, Gun x Sword, Samurai Champloo). s-CRY-ed was especially disappointing--Ryuho and Kazuma fighting each other for no reason at all when they should have been friends by now. Then there's the ending that did turn me against a series--Legend of the Dragon Kings). It was so anti-American, including burning down the Pentagon.

Conrad Collins says:

I thought pretty hard about what element of a show I'd want to change, and really didn't want to pick something too large. Instead, I turned to my alltime favorite anime, Eureka Seven, which is nearly flawless. The couple of mistakes in the show are so minuscule that they do nothing to weaken my enjoyment of it, however there was exactly one episode that I thought was very poorly done and have wanted to change.

This was, I believe, episode 18. The Gekkostate is hiding out in a cavernous mountainside while they do maintenance on their ship, and in the meantime tensions rise between Renton and Eureka. In this episode, they meet an old man in the cave who has been mining there for some 20 years and is determined to keep going. Renton, who grew up with his grandfather, feels a kinship with the stubborn old man and befriends him. Things are going fine with them until the old man discovers the Nirvash and decides that it is the solution to what he's been searching for and decides to steal it. He ends up kidnapping Renton at gunpoint and stealing the mech.

After the rest of Gekkostate catches up they get rid of the old man and take the Nirvash back. Renton feels extremely betrayed by the old man and becomes depressed. However, I just never understood why in the hell the old man did it. He kept saying how he 'wanted his son to see it' and that his son will be 'proud of him' but we never really learn why his son would even give a damn. How come this old man, who was so determined to mine this cave, randomly decided that the Nirvash was good enough? It was executed so poorly that it was actually dizzying at first since I kept wondering when there'd be more to it. After the old man is gone, he is gone, and his only place in the story was to depress Renton. Stealing the Nirvash and all that didn't really need to happen - anything would have been fine to depress Renton, and I feel like this whole episode was what happened when the writers weren't sure what to do and just came up with something on the spot. It is, for me, the only disappointing episode of this otherwise perfect show, and I'd love to change it into something more befitting such a masterpiece.

Lor Tress laments:

Don't blame me for this, I don't even really like Naruto, but if I could make one huge overhaul possible, I would cut it down to just the first arc. The Zabuza saga was amazing. It made me cry at the end, but afterwards all the characters turn around and say 'Let's go be ninjas!' and people start to think badly about it. All the characters seemed a lot more balenced in the begining, untill Sasuke turned emo and Naruto... somehow he got more annoying. At least in my humble opinion. I see Zabuza and Haku as some of the best characters in the series, but they were the begining of some big epic quest of the ninja world. It was just fine at the land of waves. It all went downhill from there.

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.

Alright, well. That's all I've got. All be around next week, of course! Barring any unforeseen fatal accidents or sudden influxes of millions of dollars. Either one. Keep it real, guys!

Thanks to Phillip Harrington for the Hey, Answerman! banner. We are forever in his debt.

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