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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Hey guys! I'm the Answerman; that's me, and that's what I do. I answer stuff.

And, god, do I have a lot to answer for this week. You see, sometimes, when somebody is given the wrong impression of some thing because he thinks the first episode of Toradora! is lame, he will paint in broad, sweeping strokes not intending to flout his ignorance and end up looking like a fool.

But, well, that's exactly what happened. That first episode of Toradora! that I saw was… not impressive, and so I lumped it in with any number dull, cookie-cutter high-school harem “romances” that aren't really “romances” so much as “sad Japanese shut-in wish fulfillment with lots of breasts and panties.” Which Toradora! isn't!

I can say this because, after the outcry over the forums in the intervening week, I made it my duty to watch a bit more of the series. And I did! I have now seen five episodes of Toradora! And it's… not for me, I'm afraid. I mentioned this in the forums, but I am done with teenage romances set inside high school. Maybe it's because I'm still a young guy in my twenties and fully entrenched in the romantic travails prevalent at such an age, and am therefore too preoccupied to feel at all nostalgic for my high school years? Or maybe it's just fatigue, since there are so many high school-set romances both animated and not that have bombarded the pop-cultural miasma; either way, I'm kind of over it. Toradora! is alright, though; it's low key, mostly genuine, and I can at least feel the intent of the writers to make dimensional characters rather than archetypes.

And yes I was totally wrong. It's not a fanservice show, the main dude doesn't fall into the comedically oversized breasts of a girl he's known since kindergarten who secretly wishes to marry him and is also really shy about everything for reasons that are never explained. But anyway, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Thus far, at least; if they end up producing a one-episode Toradora! OAV episode where they go to a hot spring and fondle each other comically, I will be retroactively vindicated and all will be well. That's unlikely to happen, though, so I'm forced to swallow whatever pitiful, malnourished bit of pride that I have and admit that I was dumb to categorize it like that.

If anybody still wants to keep reading after that, I'm going to answer some questions below! Maybe I'll get them right this time! (??!) Oy.

Hey Brian,

Now that you've been Answerman for a few months, tell us a little about your tastes in anime and manga, so we can know where you come from. What's your favorite anime series? Anime movie? What's your favorite manga series? What is your least favorite anime/manga? What's your guilty pleasure? What do you think about... shounen? shoujo? moe? mecha? magical girls? harem? fansubs? scanlations? the cost of licensed DVDs? etc...?

Woah, yikes. I tend to avoid these sorts of things because, aside from being self-indulgent, they're a bit meaningless, really. I mean, sure, I love Ranma ½, but that really doesn't say much about me personally, unless you're the sort of jerk that likes to assume things about people because of the kinds of popular junk they enjoy. I also like reading James Joyce and listening to everything Madlib has ever produced. I like lots of things. Like I said; pure self-indulgence.

Now, a quick rundown about what I think about whatever:

Shounen – that depends on the series, of course. I love One Piece and Yū Yū Hakusho to death, but the weird, sluggish pacing and overwrought emotional weirdness of other shounen shows tends to bug me a bit.

Shoujo – um, not really for me. I love Kodocha to death, too, but overwrought romances are (see above) not quite my cup of animated tea. I don't have anything against it, personally, and whenever something comes along that fits the shoujo mold but is so good that it transcends it, I'll check it out.

Moeso not for me. I think it's creepy and weird. I don't judge, though. You like moe? Good. Like what you like. I'm cool with that. Just don't expect me to believe you when you say that Mao-chan has meaningful subtextual elements or something.

Mecha – again, good shows stand on their own merits, not on what crazy-ass genre they belong to. That said, robots are neat. Gaogaigar and Patlabor rock my stupid world.

Magical Girls – there hasn't been a good mahou shoujo series in a while, right? That said, I would watch Sailor Moon every morning on the USA Network as a child for reasons that are still unclear to me.

Harem – these shows need to die, and I need to be the one to swing that proverbial rusty hatchet into the exposed jugular of the “harem” genre. What have we come to as a society, that there is a harem genre? What kind of a just and caring God could allow this?!

Fansubs and scanlations – both of those are filled with so many grey areas and have people so bitterly divided that it's a bit pointless to post my own thoughts on them, but I *will* say offhandedly that the place for fansubs and scanlations has been pretty much eradicated as companies have wizened up and started embracing immediate, digital distribution models instead of fighting them, and it's important that the die-hard, gotta-get-these-episodes-and-chapters-of-Naruto-NOW fans understand and appreciate that.

Cost of licensed DVDs – Geneon's complete collapse and ADV's current comatose status has really shocked the status quo in the DVD market, and I think that now things are about where they should be.

Pirates vs. Ninjas – stop. Please, just… stop. It's not funny. It never was. This is one of the rare instances that we're laughing at you, and not with you.

Hello Brian

I am currently in Japan where amongst other things I have been feasting on the obscene amounts of anime available in this place and enjoying the Anime Festival and various museums, etc.
As Doraemon is still so universally popular here in Japan (its on TV right now!) I was wondering why this series has never been translated into English for the non-Japanese masses. It seems the merchandising for kids would be through the roof if done right which makes me wonder why this has never happened. Care to shed some light on the subject? Its certainly better than some of the stuff that does manage to make it through!

Shogakukan's US branch has been attempting to get Doraemon into the United States since before they merged with Viz. Unfortunately, Doraemon is a such a tough sell for the mainstream American audience that Viz targets that it's probably going to be stuck in licensing limbo for quite a while.

Doraemon is such a ubiquitous, massive, and quintessentially Japanese production that I really don't envy anyone attempting to bring it over; the cost and workload required to properly sell it to it's intended audience, namely children, would be exhaustive. Also, it's really, super-duper weird. It's a blue cat robot from the future, who has a pocket in his stomach that can pull out random crap from the 4th Dimension. And he has no ears. What.

That said, I don't understand why they don't start small and at least bring the manga out here. I know there're thousands and thousands of volumes of it, but they could at least test it out first by translating the first few books and see how it goes from there.

The question has to do with the use of graphic content in anime. [Well, the debate has encompassed multiple media, but this is a anime site.] I am not talking about shows that use graphic content for shock and exploitation, but rather, shows in which such content is intended to be inseparable from the story, because it is both a driving force and symbolic element. Let us use shows like Elfen Lied, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Kodomo no Jikan as examples. They have their fair share of controversial elements: Elfen Lied is filled with detailed nudity and shocking violence; Evangelion is packed with disturbing imagery, sometimes violent, sometimes sexual [especially the movie]; and Kodomo no Jikan has often been accused of promoting the lollicon fetish. [For the record, I have never seen Kodomo no Jikan]

Many feel that this graphic content is unnecessary, and thus avoid these shows. They find the content morally objectionable, or possibly cannot see past the extreme nature of it all to see the deeper meaning of it. Ultimately, it becomes very divisive among fans. Sometimes, this public outcry completely overrides the original intent of the work.

Others, including the original creators, maintain that the content is symbolic, and that without it, the story would not be as powerful or relevant. In a way, it is through extreme imagery that the story is really told.

As an artist myself, I tend to side with the creators in this issue. However, where do you stand? Should the creators' intentions be cancelled out by public outcry?”

Oh, heavens no. I think the answer here is pretty cut and dry, and you said it yourself. Such “controversial elements,” regardless of intent, should remain. Censorship is censorship, plain and simple.

Evangelion would be just another proto-Gundam lost to the annals of time were it not for all the crazy religious iconography and entire episodes taking place entirely within a whiny teenager's psyche. Elfen Lied would be the most boring show ever made were it not for all the excessive, disturbing violence. For the sake of me sleeping well at night I'm just going to ignore Kodomo no Jikan here.

That said, I'm all for whatever nutty sex and violence the creators feel is appropriate for their story, within the confines of good taste of course. If the season finale of Gundam 00 ends with the corpse of Joseph Smith being sodomized, I'm not going to send angry letters to Mainichi Broadcasting on behalf of my Mormon relatives demanding that the show be taken off the air and the original tapes burnt. But I will cock my head to the side slightly and wonder why on earth they thought that was necessary.

But that's purely hypothetical. The only anime-related thing I can think of would fit that description (aside from the bizarrest of hentai and the aforementioned Kodomo no Jikan, but I can simply chalk those up to a simple case of personal preference) would be the oddly unsettling anti-Semitism of Angel Cop. If you're unfamiliar, take a trip to the archives of Justin Sevakis’ “Buried Garbage” column and read up. Your insides will churn a little, guaranteed!

Somebody with the handle “sorrowsincarnati” sent me fourteen emails containing no actual message. Except for the last one, which read:

You would dismiss Casshern Sins purely because it has robots? Lol The ANN wouldn't be the ANN if the reviewers were actually aware of the product they review.

That dog wants that cookie so bad. I love this picture.

Here's the question from last week:

Good job, everyone. I knew if I rankled people to arms and let their bitterness at anime clichés flow forth, I'd get some great responses. And I did! And now I will post them.

David has a lot to say:

“How do you do Answer man?
I've always wanted to write in and this time a friend gave me the push I needed to do it.  There are several clichés & predictable events of anime that always irritate me, good guys always come though, bad guys are bad for no reason, the stupidly naive peace ideals are always the right way, and I could go on and on, but the one I want to focus on is anime romances.

A cliché I only really see in anime is in "anime romance".  What I mean by the term "anime romance" is that with few exceptions, they follow the same recipe.  At the start of the anime, the two characters will meet and they will have some type of connection.  As a side note, if the anime has a multiple guys / girls "harem element" the one who will be the main love interest can be determined within the first episode or two.  Either one or both of them will deny this throughout the entire anime, when there is obvious chemistry between the two.  They will go through many experiences together and the "there is nothing between us" commentary will be all they say.  At the climax, the characters will admit their true feelings to each other and kiss and then the curtains drop.  Some example animes include, Slayers Next, Full Metal Panic!, Love Hina.

Is this supposed to be the happily ever after ending of anime?  I believe too many anime's end a series at the start of the romance.  Why does no anime ever have two characters get together sometime before the end?  I want to see an anime where two characters fall for each other and then the viewers get to see the characters actually try to be in a relationship.  There should be more to the romance element of an anime than just trying to start the relationship; actually being in the relationship should be an element as well.

I don't mean the anime that beings with the relationship already in place like SaiKano or the little to no time to develop the characters, pre-relationship, like School Days.  When Gurren Lagann understood that Kamina and Yoko were a couple they had a chance to proceed and see the relationship develop, but then infamous episode happened.  I haven't seen all of it, (only up to episode 8) but Welcome to the NHK, has the potential to break the mold.  Although the predictability was still present in whom the other character was early on, it has time to change its mind.

I attribute most of the blame for the cliché to the male lead who is always either far too innocent (Syaoran form Tsubasa), incredibly oblivious (Ichigo from Bleach), or not tolerable enough for anyone to want him (Naruto from well Naruto). The part that is usually annoying about the female lead, (Kaname form Full Metal Panic!) is the usual stubbornness she has.  Even when there is a male lead that acts on his feelings the girl decides she'll have no part in it.  Of course that only lasts until the end of the anime.

Here is an example of something I'd like to see.  First, we are introduced to some characters, and they develop as do their interactions.  Next, the character's romantic love interest turns into a relationship, which they both acknowledge.  For this to have merit, it needs to happen before the final 10% of the series.  Finally, progress the series, with the relationship affecting the characters in positive and negative aspects, for example, Berserk the manga.

For harem / triangle setups this can be modified slightly.  First, make it less obvious who the main character is going to end up with.  A good example here would be in the Air Gear Manga.  Next, other characters involved with the love triangle that don't end up with the lead need some light at the end of the tunnel.  Far too often they end up so so lonely and broken looking by the end of the show.  There is a time and place for good tragedy but when that is not the goal, leaving the Third Wheel character with no positive things to look forward to, leaves the viewer with a bad taste in the mouth.  This gripe is assuming both option of the triangle are valid options, and not mere fodder charactersIf this other character, who we liked, is represented as having to be lonely and missing out on their one true love, Its hard to focus on the happiness of the successful couple.  This can turn what is supposed to be a positive experience into a negative one for viewers.  That entire issue could be easily fixed if my first criteria were met.  Then there would be time to watch the other characters either become stronger / more independent or find another cool nice guy that harem anime never have.”

Bryan (with a “y,” people) has this to add:

“The one anime cliché that bugs me to no end, which I have come to realize recently, is when the characters' personalities and traits (what they actually do) do not match the characters themselves (what a character such as that would normally do).  Primarily the "tsundre" type characters.

This applies to my most loathed anime, Full Metal Panic!.  The military elite teenager (a teenager cannot be a military elite, even if raised for the purpose) is unable to even come close to accurately judging a situation and responding appropriately (which is sad for anyone, especially an elite, in the military) and is lacking in basic common sense.
The highschool 'femme fatal' (although only her unshakable stupidity kills me) cannot come to grips that it is a bad idea to beat the man who risked his life to save you in the middle of a gunfight (the clash there being that her character is human and any human would be grateful).

Character designers seem to love to make characters tsundre just for the moe factor, even if it is not appropriate. A lower middle class average girl as tsundre? This makes no sense, how could a girl coming from such a background be raised to turn out like that? Sometimes a spoiled princess type character is appropriate... for example, a spoilt princess (excluding actually acting out the violence herself) ... but it does not suit just anybody.

Basically, giving a character a trait which it is not possible for a character in such a situation to have, really drives me up the wall... "tsundre" just being the most popular and aggravating example. Other examples include where an actual princess would stoop to flirting and cooking for a commoner (shuffle!), military/police of any kind would perform acrobatic maneuvers involving getting into your partner's line of fire simply to switch sides for no reason (Appleseed: Ex Machina), a ninja code of honor (doesn't anyone remember that they were assassins meant to kill people by any means, not honorable warriors?... Naruto et al.  should take a page from basilisk, who captured that perfectly, even if it was supernatural).

I'm saying a man with an inferiority complex could never become a superhero.  Sometimes personalities simply do not match the characters they have been assigned, and that can spoil an otherwise good anime.”

Annatar the Great has issues with narcoleptic anime characters:

“Let me set the scene. It's the first five minutes of the first episode of an anime. The hero of the story, always a teenager, usually a girl, is asleep in bed. She rolls over lazily, glances at the alarm clock and....GASP!! OH NOES!! I'm late for school!!! Did the alarm not go off?? Did I hit the snooze?? Oh my, now I have to rush and skip breakfast and run to school and be all amusingly flustered, and probably arrive late so as to be embarrassed for more comic effect! Woe is me!!

It's just.....so.....horribly......annoying. After all these years, there has to be a better way to start a story. After seeing it for the umphundreth time it nearly makes me squirm. It's sadly common in mahou shoujo stories, like Tokyo Mew Mew and Sailor Moon, but even a Ghibli movie, The Cat Returns, falls victim to the formulaic opening. However I think animators have begun to move past it, and thank God for that. I don't know if I can handle seeing it again.”

Henry will protect you from clichéd dialog!

“My most annoying Anime cliche is when hear or read phrase "protect him/her" on many Anime titles and their epsiodes. It just irritates to see protagonist says obligatory "I will or have to protect him/her" line. It sounds noble and everything, but it's overused and sometimes pointless. For example, when I was watching "Escaflowne" TV and movie, protagonists Van and Allen simply say something like "I will protect Hitomi".  I just don't see no point of hearing that line because audience can see that they're already doing dangerous and selfless acts to defend the weak. So why audience has to hear their lines over and over again? Sometimes I wonder if Japanese writers can't come up with better line.”

Nina is a woman after my own heart. We should probably get married:

“Hey Brian,

This is probably late in coming, but the "mid-season" acid-trip/recap episode in general makes me roll my eyes. When said episode takes an otherwise serious, not-a-panty-shot-in-48-episodes drama into Agent Aika-land, then I grrr. The latest example was in Str.A.In. Great story that wasn't served by that fanservice phantasm episode at all (the one nod to plot continuity could've been done without the extras). If you want to go beyond the realm of goofiness in a show where it doesn't otherwise happen, do like Full Metal Panic! and do a side series or an OVA. Don't blow all the other elemenets of the story and characters you worked so hard to develop. Few have done that episode well. Samurai Champloo comes to mind. Mostly, the concept should get Spirited Away and never come back.”


“"What! You can still stand?" - from nearly every action/fighting anime made.
Most of the time its funny, but after a while it makes you wonder why you want to see the next episode.”

Ellen has bullet points! If this were a game show she'd win a new Lexus. Instead she has won… my heart:

“Dear Brian,

There are many tropes in anime that irritate me, from your own favorite, man falling into breasts, to the stupid "in the name of the moon" catch phrase. Don't get me wrong; I love it just as much as any other rabid reader of your column (and yes, I check it at midnight on Thursday night to see if it's up and it usually is), just as I love Japan and its culture while still criticizing the things I disagree with.

But the one thing that really gets me steamed, and I mean steamed, is the portrayal of male/female interaction in anime. Now, I understand that the Japanese have a different take on how men and women think and do things. The two sexes don't hang out together casually, and I think as a result there's a real psychological barrier between them. It's a mutual misunderstanding that goes beyond the "I'll never understand men" and "women are so complicated" of sitcoms. Unfortunately this misunderstanding is portrayed and perpetuated in anime.

There are a number of tropes that fall into the male/female interation category, and can be classified into target audiences:

1. Shonen

  • No Actually Means Yes - A young woman is forced into kissing or more by a man, and initially struggles but then gives up any semblance of control and grows to enjoy it. Think School Days; Motoko's version of "come on baby, you know I love you" never fails, to the point of ridiculousness.
  • You Don't Have To Do Anything For A Woman To Fall Hopelessly In Love With You - Well, gosh darn it, Keitaro of Love Hina is about as witty and charming as my living room rug, and yet, somehow, all the inn's tenants just can't avoid having some sort of attraction to him. Big freakin' surprise.
  • Breasts Are Ubiquitous, Large, And Open For Business - Ai Yori Aoshi is a great example. Another harem classic, it doesn't just feature many large, available mammaries, but one of the female characters (who herself is well-endowed) actually greets the others by groping their chests, and nobody rebuffs her for how totally invasive and inappropriate it is. 'Nuff said.

2. Shojo

  • The Love Triangle - Now I love shojo, but do we really need any more series with a strong, stolid one and a fun, impish and slightly mysterious one? I think not. I wouldn't object so much if there was ever a surprise ending. Consider Peach Girl, Paradise Kiss (even though I have so much love for Yazawa Ai) or Ayashi no Ceres.
  • The Confession - Please kill me now before we have another "by the way, I've been in love with you for so long." As if your stalking is really going to facilitate a healthy relationship. Both male and female characters are guilty of this heinous crime. Sentence: dating first before you decide who your soulmate is. I can guarantee a higher success rate. Example: Lovely Complex, if you even needed one.
  • The Constant Miscommunication - I know that this is a very Japanese thing. I also think that people would have much happier lives if they just TALKED to each other about their interpersonal issues, instead of (a) asking friends and believing a misinterpretation or (b) stressing out about things that never even happened. This is so lame and so common that I'm not going to give you any specific examples. You've probably had enough anyway.

There are, of course, a lot of exceptions to these categories, but mostly in stuff geared toward older audiences. I do understand that both of these categories are mainly about fantasy. I just think that the idea that these fantasies are universal is pretty ludicrous. I think partly it's that Japanese society - and thus the anime industry at large - is male-dominated and so the female mind is grossly misrepresented, even in anime made for women (I know about CLAMP but it's definitely the exception). The other reason is that people in general just aren't sensible. It's a shame that these tropes are so common in media for young people. Guess we gotta get 'em while their minds are still malleable.

Thanks for your time and patience with my long-windedness.”

And finally, for Ff Gearg, brevity is wit:


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.

Is that my cue to leave? I think so. Have I spoken out of turn and said something completely, utterly incorrect? It's possible. Does it make me a bad person? Definitely. See you guys next week!

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

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