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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Hello everyone! While ZAC and EVERYONE ELSE except for ME and perhaps a few OTHER PEOPLE are over in JAPAN right now, probably ENJOYING THEMSELVES in a FOREIGN COUNTRY, I am STUCK HERE in the DESERT and RANDOMLY CAPITALIZING WORDS in order to WORK OUT MY FRUSTRATION over this FACT. It's not exactly WORKING however so I'm probably going to STOP DOING IT and just WRITE THE COLUMN as per NORMAL.


Welcome back to Hey, Answeman! Sorry for the unannounced little break; these things happen when folks do things like, say, fly to Japan to cover the Tokyo Anime Fair, but not before taking ANN's Corporate Jet out for a little whiskey-inspired spin after cashing in over 175 million dollars in contractually-obligated bonuses, personally visiting each and every contributing ANN columnist in order to kick them in the crotch and puke all over their couch.

I'm joking, of course! He missed the couch by about a foot. Anyway! You've obviously had questions waiting to be answered over the week, and here I am to perform that very task.

“Hi there!

I was watching ToraDora the other day which guest-starred one of those pretty cloth bags of cookies that ladies in anime like to give the boys they like. What are these nondescript, flat brown cookies that come in many cute shapes? Gingersnaps? They don't appear to be the almighty chocolate chip. If I knew the recipe I'd make some and share them with everyone on the internet.

I just wanted to offhandedly mention that ToraDora and other shows of its ilk are like the highly sexualized anime equivalent of all those cartoons we had in the 90's about kids just bein' in school, doing school things. Y'know: Doug, Recess, Hey Arnold, and dozens more I'm currently unable to name off the top of my head. Except that occasionally, the main character-guy will fall into a girl's breasts, or perhaps accidentally see her panties, and his nose will bleed! By which I mean to say that I find those shows to be boring and predictable.

Off-topic rant aside! Those cookies have no specific cookie-related identity. If I had to guess, based upon the (animated) size, shape, and presumed texture and crunchiness, is that they would be analogous to some kind of animal cracker-type snack. But, I would say, to hell with it, make up your own delicious cookie recipe, and share it with the internet anyway! It sounds fun and adorable and I'm completely on board with it. And, should this embolden you to actually complete this idea, you have my word that you'll receive a hearty plug for it.

Cookies are good, guys.

Hey Answerman,

Long time reader, first time writer (man I finally get to use that line).

I've been brewing over a couple questions last night, and I was wondering if I could get some insight from you, seeing as you basically do this as a living. My first question revolves around anime. I've only really been watching anime for about 4 years or so now, though I've really expanded genres within anime to include almost anything. To my surprise (and a little bit of research), I find that most anime come from basically three sources; manga (i.e. Naruto and Beach), light novels (most recently To Aru Majutsu no Index, Chrome Shelled Regios), or games (i.e. Clannad). No matter where I look, most everything is based on these three main categories (and for good reason I'm sure). My question is this though: Can you think of any anime you have seen (either recently or in the past) that was not based on those three sources or were completely original, and if so how were they? Good? Bad? Mediocre?

My other question has to do with light novels. They seem to be a rather big hit in Japan, and they even have entire magazines devoted to weekly, semi-weekly, or monthly collections of continuous or short story writings. Seeing as manga has had a large influence on the expansion of Japanese culture in print media, I'm wondering why we haven't seen a similar surge in light novels as well. I know some publishers are translating light novels into English, but why hasn't there been a move to say a magazine like Jump in the US for light novels? I assume us Americans still read (outside of main stream popular, non-vampire or wizard books).”

Normally when people try to cheat and post two questions in an email, I'll snip one out; but it's been a week, so I can bend a little. Just don't get used to it. (The italics are meant to be somewhat threatening. I mean, if that's cool. If not, then, whatever.)

So, honestly, the only show currently airing in Japan that I'm following like an obsessive, drooling idiot is the Golgo 13 remake. Because why not, honestly. Beyond that, manglobe's newest show, Michiko to Hatchin, sounds completely nuts and I can't wait to watch it; unfortunately it'll probably be a little while before that happens. Between working and trying to write and act in silly plays (plug!! PLUUUUG!!!!) as well as my general disdain for fansubs and the strain of attempting to watch a show in raw Japanese, it looks rather unlikely. So I can't speak personally on it's quality, but simply judging by the pedigree behind the show itself, you can't go wrong. Even manglobe's weakest television outing so far, Ergo Proxy, is a far, far greater thing than the depressingly long list of generic, clichéd anime productions currently airing, about robots or gender-swapping high schoolers or shows about magical pre-pubescent boys that fall into breasts a lot.

Nonetheless, every season or so there's usually one or two completely original shows that seem to falter behind in the public consciousness merely because they don't have robots in them or boys that fall into breasts that are also dressed like girls for the purposes of idiotic comedic pratfalls. Might I recommend Kemonozume? Or at least, I'd cautiously recommend Kemonozume; the weird factor is immensely high, but it has some of the best animation I've ever seen on a television show. And the story behind the weirdness is captivating and good!

As far as getting “Light Novels” published in the US; Sure! Compiled into a magazine? Dear sweet good lord no. I don't know if you remembered a little magazine called “Newtype USA” that recently crumbled, as well as it's subsequent replacement that died during childbirth, but now really isn't the time to be launching a new anime or manga-based magazine in the west. Shonen Jump and Shoujo Beat are still around because, luckily, they were able to establish themselves as a brand name before people stopped buying magazines anymore. And besides, I don't really see how there could be such a thing as a “surge” in popularity for Light Novels; they're basically just romance novels written for men, which is, uh, not a terribly large demographic here in America.

Hey Answerman!

I've heard lots of "older" anime fans complain about how many younger fans only want to watch the newest anime released, and ignore many of the older shows produced before they came into the fandom (though I'm sure this is not the case with all young/new fans). I was wondering, is this true in Japan as well? Do younger anime fans have the same reluctance to watch shows that haven't recently been made, or do they possess a greater drive to have older classics in their arsenals of otaku-dom?

You kiddin'? The nation of Japan will be watching repeats of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Tetsuwan Atom, and Lupin III, as well as new episodes of ancient, ancient shows like Doraemon and Sazae-San, until the Sun explodes in a fiery cosmic burst of epic, destructive beauty. But, of course, that's because those shows extend well beyond the standard, smelly grasp of otakus and into the grander realm of Japanese culture, whereas anime here in the west has really only existed in its current form over the past decade or so. There hasn't been enough time for any particular show to pass that sort of test, unless you want to count cult-related oddities like Speed Racer or, dare I say it, Robotech.

Besides, sucks hard though it does, it's just nearly impossible for older anime shows to find an audience here in America, for some damn reason. ADV and Geneon did a terrific job of adapting Macross and Lupin, respectively, but those DVDs just sat alone and unwanted on store shelves before being sent back to their lonely warehouses. It's something that angers and frustrates me, that for some reason every anime-related thing produced before 1990 is anathema to the current anime-watching public, who still willingly lap up every lame new teenage sex-change harem comedy that comes around every season. Grr.

One of my readers alerted me to some POTENTIAL ANIME NEWS NETWORK DRAMA!

“Did you see Rob Bricken's latest column? Are you going to take that?”

This of course referring to the fact that the lovely and supremely talented artist Philip Harrington, who recently blessed Rob's Astro Toy column with a shiny new banner. Then Rob told me to “suck it.”

But you know? If anyone's gonna tell me to suck it, it should be Rob. And not just because I've contributed a half-dozen or so articles to Rob's other web shindig, Topless Robot! Actually, yeah, it is mostly that, but also because Rob is a terrifically cool dude. Also also because Mr. Harrington made me two banners, so even if his banner was better (which it isn't), I still have one more banner. And that's, like, one more better than... his. Mathematically. Somehow.

Again, this isn't really a “flake” per se, but even pretend bitterness is still bitterness. At some level.

Thumbs up!! Awesome!!

Here's the question from last week:

As per usual, great responses, all! Here's the cream of the proverbial crop.

Derick Jones starts us off:

“I've been a mecha fan for a bit, so I think my answer may be a bit biased, but I see that mecha, like many other genres in anime does seem to be in a rut lately.
There's been a few shows that have had notable success such as Xam'd and Code Geass. However, we have been getting a lot of tripe out there that is made solely to sell the toys. I'm aware that action figure sales are important to the continued success of a show, however many animation companies use these action figure sales to design the story instead of vice versa.

That's when we get such things as a Gundam show where characters are killed and brought back to life because they were popular. That's why we get shows where every episode there's a new kit to be added to the robot, or a new helper robot.
But this doesn't seem to be indicative of just the mecha genre. The shonen genre has been like that for decades now. The shoujo area has been like that for quite a while as well.

While many would say that this is disheartening, I actually find joy in it. It's when a genre is getting it's most stale that the best things are about to come out.
In the late 70's when we were inundated with crappy super robots, we got the first gundam series. In the mid-90's when we had so much crappy gundam knock-offs we got Evangelion. On the super robot side we had wearied of the Brave series when we got GaoGaiGar. In the modern era when everyone had gotten sick of the mopey evangelion knock offs we got Gurren Lagaan.

So we might be getting some less than stellar shows right now, but I have hope for the future.

At the very least we'll have this Mazinger thing which should be fun if nothing else.”

Eric P. has some thoughts, with words:

“Hey Answerman,

I must emphatically argue against the notion that giant robot shows have grown stale in recent years. In fact, I feel that the last ten years have seen some of the most innovative and intriguing entries in the genre. Since Neon Genesis Evangelion deconstructed many of the conventions of the genre in the mid 90s, several productions have sought to breath new life into it by slightly tweaking established norms. These alterations have led to periodic yet thought provoking series such as Gurren Lagaan, notions of combining mecha as a stand in for gender politics in Vandread and Godannar, and homage pieces like Diebuster. It is truly an exciting time to be a mecha fan.

Like all genres, giant mecha shows have evolved slowly over time. Initially, shows like Gigantor and Golion sought to do nothing more than entertain kids with stories of brave heroes (oftentimes the same age as the target audience) whose courage and cooperation helped them overcome the monster of the week and, ultimately, the big bad. In those days, robots were depicted as an extension of the heroes. Mecha strengthened and united, sometimes literally, a band of brothers and symbolized their bond. As with most fledgling genres, mecha shows often drew from other, similar genres to tell their stories. Consider, for example, Gunbuster's references to Fantastic Voyage and Blade Runner.

By the time Evangelion was released, giant mecha conventions firmly established and it was able to stand on its own as, at the very least, a sub-genre of science fiction. Evangelion took many of the ideas presented in the shows that came before it and turned them around, often with horrifying or grotesque results. The connection between pilot and machine became all too literal, resulting in intense pain any time the mecha took damage. Piloting robots no longer united the protagonists, it isolated them, forcing them to confront the pressures of the heavy responsibilities being thrust on them at such an early age. It seemed like no established rule was sacred: people died, heroes failed, went insane, and were ultimately left with nothing. It was a far cry from the messages of hope and togetherness that came before it.

Evangelion represents, to me, the tipping point into self-referential and innovative mecha shows. Though I could expound on a number of them, I feel the best and, incidentally, most recent example would be Gurren Lagaan. This show manages an amazing feat by successfully incorporating genre criticism and parody into a show that maintains the core ideals of the genre. We learn somewhat late in the series that the spiral power, which allows the protagonists’ mechas to repair damages and manifest huge weapons, is actually a very dangerous ability that will inevitably destroy the universe because it flies in the face of the law of conservation of mass. The idea of mecha drawing weapons out of nowhere or dramatically changing size or shape has been a trope of the genre as far back as Golion and Getter Robo, yet this is the first time I've seen them being brought into question. What's truly brilliant about the series, I feel, is that this knowledge doesn't deter the heroes, as it very easily could. Instead, they fight on with just as much passion, vowing to use their power responsibly in a manner consistent with their classic counterparts.

If Gurren Lagaan's amusing play on conventions is any indication, I would wager that the next ten years will see a number of shows that continue to question and subvert what we have come to expect a giant robot show to be. Perhaps we'll see mecha cross into genres it otherwise hasn't explored. Maybe it will become so stylized as to invent an offshoot genre, much like the 40s gangster film evolved into the film noir of the 50s. Only time will tell.”

J.C. is succinct:

“Generally, I would say yes, but there is occasionally some life in it. I had originally written off Code Geass as just another lame mecha show, until I sat down and watched it. I'm glad I did, it's one of the best shows I've seen in a while. Plus, it has a true rarity - a good anime ending.”

Andrew has his two cents, and not just in stock values:

“Dear Answerman,

Hello. I would have to say yes to the overdone factor. While there have been several very well done battle scenes in said genre, there does come a time when the dead horse certainly isn't worth beating. More than 2/3 of the anime involving giant robot battles have followed the same cookie cutter formula for everything from character relations and development to reason for all the fighting... it even manages to squeeze in the doormat protagonist far too often. Said protagonist usually has to play unwilling babysitter each episode. The protagonist is usually a miracle ace in his/her suit, but is so stuck on one or two minor inadequacies that they can't pull their heads out of their butts for two seconds and stop some colossal calamity. And on the note of what is causing the war; it always seems to be some elitist shmuck and a few of his closest friends managing to pull some serious strings. One foul act or two and suddenly a war breaks out. I mean come on, can't there be a few shows where the evil that needs to be faced and defeated be some alien force or something else like that. I'm pretty sure that if the ones scripting all these new shows don't soon pull a new animal out of their hats we may have to sit through something like Gundam Wing Destiny, or some other overdone rehash. I would like to see something serious change in the formula- strike that... I would like to see someone totally deviate from the pre-established formula all-together.”

Joshua states it thus:

“Mecha series as a genre, especially in recent years, have become unique in that the ubiquitous robots are now less important to the story, while still being present enough to draw people in.  Shows like Code Geass and Eureka Seven, while still containing plenty of the machine violence we've all come to love, are grounded on elaborate plots that do not inherently depend on the existence of robots.

With the mecha fading into the background, entire episodes may pass without a single robot firing its beam cannon, and the focus zeroes in (shameless pun, I know) on the characters. In my opinion, the fact that this is acceptable to fans shows that, if anything, the mecha genre has grown rather than become stale.

So my answer to the question would be no, mecha shows have not become too formulaic, because while the scene is still set by the robots, the story is now driven entirely by the characters who pilot them.”

Ryan likes GaoGaiGar and I like it too, so we're cool:

“Do I think giant robot and mecha shows are becoming too played out and formulaic in recent years...?

As a die-hard fan of this genre whose apartment is littered with plastic models and makes it a point to pick up every Super Robot Taisen game that comes out, I spend a lot of my time obsessing over and discussing these shows. Honestly, I think the genre isn't going anywhere and shouldn't, for two big reasons.

First, I value those shows that serve as a bridge to the past, fondly recalling their forefathers back in the 70's and 80's. It's nice to see the medium develop and all, but at the same time there's an irresistable charm when you're watching a series that keeps it simple and just goes out of its way to present you with something ridiculous. I gobble up new iterations of Getter Robo, Mazinger Z, Koutetsu Jeeg or even all-new takes on the genre like Gurren-Lagann, Heroic Age and Gravion because it's just plain fun to see the sorts of ridiculous mecha designs and characters that come out of them. In a lot of ways, they're similar to the recent wave of nostalgia-heavy superhero comics we've had in the past decade or so. Taking old concepts and affectionately paying homage to them with new techniques and updating them for modern sensibilities is something that no other genre does quite as well as the Super Robot genre, and you can really feel the love that's put into a lot of these shows. You can call it formulaic and rehashed garbage, but I don't care. It lights a fire in my heart that I hope never dies out.

Secondly, there are many shows in the genre that I definitely wouldn't label formulaic. Could you really point out to me the formula behind Code Geass? There are so many plot twists and cool new elements like a strategically thinking, calculating and ruthless hero that it's obvious it tries to define convention at every turn, still swinging strong even when it misses at bat. Or we have Gurren-Lagann, which plays with old tropes but develops them into something greater, becoming an unparalleled epic. And even though our latest Gundam show, Gundam 00, seems to intentionally be riffing off Gundam Wing and Zeta Gundam, it clearly is a series that could not come from any time other than the 21st century, skillfully incorporating touches of the real world into its backdrop in a way that's rarely been seen in this genre before. The same can be said for Full Metal Panic!, which also successfully interweaves its intrigue and action with lighthearted school comedy that really increases your appreciation for the characters. There have been so many series in this genre that have effects on the entire anime climate, from Mazinger Z to Gundam to Evangelion and GaoGaiGar, that I'd go so far as to say that even if it isn't the backbone that the industry is built around, it's definitely the heart and soul that keeps it going.”

And lastly, “s0uji” has an odd opening sentence:

“Personally, I being a heterosexual male, favor yaoi over mech anime in general. Out of the majority of the genres in anime, mech seems to take a lot more effort to initiate "the suspension of disbelief". I guess it usually seems like just another excuse for robots to beat each other up. For instance, Kannazuki no Miko appears to be an anime that had a shot at being genuinely good. Then they just threw mechs in there for no real reason at all it seems. Mech isn't actually a genre it's an element that aids the main story. For instance, animes such as Fooly Cooly and Full Metal Panic have mech elements in them but don't fall victim to mediocre mech genre limbo because they use the mechs/robots in such a way that they aren't the primary focus of the anime. They just turn into an awesome plus that helps push the characters to another level.

And another thing too, why is it always a young boy who can pilot the best mech in the show and turns out to be a damn good pilot with natural skill?! Common elements of story such as romance and friendships/rivalries seem to be minor elements that hold up the mech genre as a whole instead of the mech elements supporting the story's basic elements. Basically when the mechs overshadow the characters...Houston, we have a problem.

To say the least, I'm very picky with my mech anime. I know Gurren Lagann is good but the mech element seems a little ridiculous at times. I'm still hesistant to check out the show. Mech anime needs to remember, memorable character come before a kick ass mech.”

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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