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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Hello to almost everyone out there! I'm tearing myself away from the deluge of E3-related video game coverage to bring you Answerman, as per my weekly duties. So enjoy.

This first question is a bit long, but bear with it. It's pretty interesting:

Hey Answerman,
I'm an animation student from the UK. Now, I always used to get the impression that, aside from a few blips (the release of Akira, for example), most of the animation enthusiasts in the English-speaking world only started caring about Japanese animation very recently (with the release of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away's Oscar in, or thereabouts) . The specialised anime fandom watched it, of course, but I figured that all the wider animation community overlooked it.

But now I know that's not really the case. My art school library has a lot of books on animation going back decades, and it's pretty clear that the English-speaking animation community has been interested in Japanese animation for some time now - just a totally different cross-section of Japanese animation to the stuff watched by self-identified anime fans.

Take Masters of Animation, a 1987 book by the British animator John Halas. Amongst the animators spotlighted, three are from Japan: predictably Osamu Tezuka is amongst them, but the other two - Kihachiro Kawamoto and Renzo Kinoshita - don't seem quite as well known to anime fandom. Tellingly, the section on Tezuka focuses more on the experimental shorts he made towards the end of his life than on his more mainstream work. Kinoshita also turns up in another British book from the 80s, Roger Noake's Animation: A Guide to Animated Film Tehniques.

Going back a bit, I also dug up a 1973 book (British, again) called The Animated Film, by Ralph Stephenson. It has a brief section on Japanese animation; the author's pretty dismissive about commercial Japanese animation but discusses some independent animators - Yoji Kuri, Taku Furukawa and Sadao Tsukioka.

And then we have Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation by Giannalberto Bendazzi (this one's from Italy, but it's still a big influence on English-language animation studies), which again writes dismissively about commercial anime while praising Yoji Kuri, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Renzo Kinoshita, Taku Furukawa, Harugutsu Fukushima, Sadeo Tsukioka, Koh Nakajima, Masaki Fujihata and Shinichi Suzuki.

My art school library also has some video tapes of TV documentaries about animation (from Channel 4, a major British TV station, as opposed to a niche channel); Renzo Kinoshita and Kihachiro Kawamoto turn up on them, too.

This isn't just a phenomenon of the past, either: Clare Kitson published a book on British animation last year, and even that managed to squeeze in a mention of Kawamoto (comparing his work to a Japanese-themed film from the UK). And a couple f years ago my local animation festival played host to Naoyuki Tsuji, a truly fascinating animator who seems to have been totally overlooked by anime fandom - even though his films are readily available on R1 DVD.

So I'm kind of wondering - if the likes of Kihachiro Kawamoto, Yoji Kuri, Sadao Tsukioka and Renzo Kinoshita have received so much acclaim from the English-speaking animation community, how come they're so seldom discussed by English-speaking anime fans?

A quick aside, much of Naoyuki Tsuji's best short films can be found on this terrific DVD. If you're at all curious about the more experimental aspects of animation, it's worth your time.

Unfortunately for most people, they don't think that stuff IS worth their time. It all seems too avant-garde and hi-falutin'. Notice, for example, the "hardcore anime fan's" complete indifference towards Koji Yamamura, He just won a damn Academy Award last year! And all of his short films are fabulous in nearly every respect; they're touching and engaging as well as being exquisitely drawn.

For some reason, there's this common perception in the general public that so-called "experimental" short films are too challenging and uninteresting to be worth their time. Look at Ain't It Cool News, for example - everyone who writes for and visits that site likes to paint themselves as serious cineastes and film buffs. But they'll go nuts and piss themselves whenever anything related to Transformers or X-Men leaks online - occasionally there'll be a quick review or blurb about a new Guy Maddin film, but that will quickly slide off of their front page and die in their archives to make room for more news about the G.I. Joe movie.

There's this perception that completely baffles me, that experimental shorts and films are too "challenging" to be enjoyed on the same level as popcorn entertainment. It's wholly untrue on every level, as you can be just as entertained on a more cerebral and artistic level by Koji Yamamura's Atama-Yama than, I dunno, Code Geass, with all it's cornball stylistic excess. And the thing that really sucks is that trying to explain this concept to people usually makes you come off as some head-up-your-own-ass elitist. Which is again wholly untrue; I enjoy cornball stylistic excess as well, for all the same reasons that everyone else enjoys them.

If you're looking for some place that DOES talk about any of the artists you've mentioned, AniPages Daily is the spot. And I challenge you all, good readers, to maybe set aside your most recent fansub of K-ON or whatever and take some time to delve a little bit into any of the artists mentioned here and just watch. There's untold depths to the medium of animation that would literally take a lifetime to fully explore, and the closer you get to the fringes of it, the more fascinating and creative it is.

Good afternoon, sir,

In regards to this whole incident with the person/group downloading One Piece from Funi's site early and distributing it online, what is most likely to happen with the Funimation and Toei relationship now?

Before I get into any sort of speculation: seriously, f*** that guy. That guy that wormed his way through Funimation's servers and gained access to the episode's video file and then posted it for other like-minded leeches. F*** him. Why would any person do that, aside from being a nefarious little f***-up trying to ruin everything? If he really, really wanted an episode to download to his hard drive, he could've waited a day or two for the other bajillion fansub groups who for one reason or another would have "issues" with Funimation's translation and do their own. F*** that guy and I hope that all his hopes and dreams are crushed and he leads a sad, lonely life devoid of purpose and meaning.

As for what's going to happen going forward, nobody really knows. Aside from Toei, I mean. I'd have to imagine that this leak was sort of a worst-case-scenario for Toei. This was a big deal, and a real litmus test that would probably have great bearing on Toei's decision to follow this model with their other properties. And Toei, as I'm sure everyone knows, has a LOT of great shows. I can understand why Toei totally freaked out and pulled the plug on the whole thing, but it really feels like the Kindergarten teacher putting the whole class in Time-Out because one kid farted during his A-B-C's. Just ask 20th Century Fox: leaks happen, and the best thing you can do is simply move on and deliver the product you promised. Wolverine's 172 million dollars is a testament to that. Nevermind that it sucks and is terrible, but that's neither here nor there.

The idealist in me says that Toei and Funimation have already sunk enough time and money into the infrastructure in getting One Piece online that, given some time to lick their wounds and improve their security, it's pretty likely you'll see new One Piece simulcasted very soon. The pessimist in me says that Toei is a grouchy company that takes joy in depriving fans, especially Western fans, of the things that they want, so it's also likely that we may never see legit streaming One Piece for a long, long time.

But, keep up hope. I'm confident that cooler heads will prevail, and I have confidence that Funimation will do everything in their power to get everything up and running again. Also: F*** that guy.

Hey Answerman,

I've seen demo's in stores about Blu-Ray and I have not yet taken the plunge into the hi-def world. But I have not seen anything animated on Blu-Ray yet. My thinking is that how could animated movies and shows get any better in high def? Is it going to look more..... animated? In your opinion is Blu-Ray anime better then regular anime? Do I need to go out and empty my wallet on Blu-Ray titles that I already own the regular version of? Oh and by the way, how much Blu-Ray anime is out there? And is it profitable to our major anime companies? Thanks for your input.

As for whether or not Blu-Ray is "profitable" for anime companies, Justin already answered that question on a previous installment of Hey, Answerman. Blu-Ray's are quite expensive to produce and manufacture, simply put, so that's why anime on Blu-Ray is few and far between.

As for my opinion? Animation, specifically 2D animation, benefits the greatest from the added clarity of high-definition than even live-action, at least for myself. I've watched Pinnochio and Wings of Honneamise dozens of times on Blu-Ray, pouring over every minute detail in each of those films, pointing out like a little geek to my friends when you can make out the shadows over the individual cels of the characters, stuff like that. Basically, animated films that are renowned for their fantastic visuals - like Honneamise, and also Paprika and obviously Akira - look completely phenomenal in HD.

Now, do I want to re-buy everything I already own on Blu-Ray? Not really; being a nerdy videophile, I probably couldn't help myself if they released Ranma 1/2 in Blu-Ray, but that show isn't quite predicated on having striking visuals and vibrant colors, so I'm okay with just having the DVDs handy. By the way, Disney? Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray discs, now. Please. Get on that. Ok.

I got another email!!!!!

Hey, can we pretend that this is a flake and that I'm yelling at you in cap locks and bad english? I need a bigger e-peen.

Seriously, what's a guy gotta do to earn some earnest hate-mail or confusing jibberish? The only people I know online that actually hate me are King Hippo at Toonzone and the entirety of 4chan, and 4chan doesn't really count because they hate everybody and everything that isn't a lonely, depressed 16-year old girl on a webcam.

I mean, what's a guy gotta do to earn some hate? Jeez.

Off to the lighter, dulcet tones of Hey Answerfans! Here was/is last week's question:

As per the usual, lots of good ones to go through. Everyone had lots to say, so we're starting off with Lianna, who is right about not being able to download a T-shirt, though God knows I've tried:

Honestly, I would rather be homeless than be the head of a huge corporation, but ignoring that, I would probably have people start poking around the internet to see what's popular in the fansub circles. I know that big-time, veteran anime fans and the kids hanging around the 'net are going to have different opinions, but those kids are what's happening in America (and about a billion other places) today, so chances are what's popular with them will be popular with other TV-brainwashed kids with a ton of allowance money weighing their pockets down. Shugo Chara, for example, is already a fairly popular manga in the US, but there are a ton of kids online watching the anime. Peek in at Crunchyroll, for example, and you'd be surprised by the number of teenaged (and probably younger – no matter how many times a website says "13 or older" no ten year old with enough brains to figure out what his birthday should be if he was thirteen's gonna listen) kids, mostly girls, who absolutely adore the series. Stick a dubbed version on Cartoon Network or something and boom, instant hit with all of the kids with money to spend. It might just be the next Sailor Moon. And even if it flops with the kids that don't care about anime, think of all the cash that could be gotten out of the merchandise. You can't download a T-shirt, after all.

Swirling Vortex would like to perform his namesake upon TokyoPop's website:

If I were named director of Tokyopop, my first act would be to summon their web staff into my presence.

"You've spent probably hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of man-hours trying to engage our customers. And I'd still rather go to a fan-ran forum that has about 15 users and goes idle for three months at a time between releases and spoilers. You, web development team, are the living embodiment of epic fail."

While I wait for them to process this statement, I'd find wherever the they host the site, rip the still-running server right out of the rack, and drop it from a plane at 30,000 feet.

Rednal has strong ideals, that would ideally work in such an ideal world:

I would open talks with the Japanese production companies so my company could release their titles faster. Please allow me explain. Currently, it can take months, or even years, for a title in Japan to be brought over to the US. I understand that there are a lot of reasons for this, legal hurdles to go through, people to talk to, things like that. What I would really like to do is convince them to sign onto a contract that would streamline things; pre-approval in as many areas as possible, you might say. The reasoning for this is fairly simple. Ideally, I would like to release a subtitle-only box set of a show within two weeks of the show finishing its airing in Japan. I know that some of the biggest complaints of the anime industry are that we just can't see shows as quickly outside of Japan, and on top of that, the price is too high when we do get it, so I want to address these concerns directly. Fansubs alone show that people don't particularly mind reading subtitles, and even if fansubs were being watched for the popular series, I do believe that if titles could be released very quickly in box sets for $1.00-$1.50 an episode (or, for the one season, 12-13 episode shows, perhaps $20), people would buy them. Perhaps I'm a little unrealistic. I don't know every aspect of the industry, or everything that has to be done to localize a title. The above is my ideal, and I'm enough of a realist to change things if necessary, though I would prefer to extend the time before release instead of raising the price.

s0uji is a vicious bastard:

If I was to take complete control of an anime company, my first line of business would be to strengthen Asset Protection in cyberspace and start choking the chain on piracy. Anime would be able to be sampled via streaming video on our homepage. The first few episodes will be available for free and there after either A, you would have to buy the boxset release to finish it up (which box setting anime would become mandatory for all titles, including hot titles). Each set would be required to hold anywhere from 7 to 13 episodes a set. All available for $35. or B, pay 75 cents an episode to be streamed and accessable for a week. Very cut throat, but piracy needs to be dealt with.

Fraser from the UK has his own insights:

If I was suddenly head of a major US anime company, the first thing I'd do is to expand European and UK (i.e. Region 2) distribution. As a UK based anime fan, I am consistently frustrated with the lack of commitment on the part of anime companies in distributing their products in the UK. Most of my favourite anime (mostly mecha shows like Gundam UC, Macross, and Code Geass) and the anime I am interested in seeing are unavailable in the UK, and I am therefore forced to look in collector's stores or on the internet for US releases (usually with jacked-up prices). Bandai in particular are abysmal in their provision for the UK - the only Bandai series available in the UK appears to be Gundam SEED/SEED Destiny. The other companies are a little better, but for the most part there is much less variety in the anime available in the UK than in the US, and most DVD stores just stock the same boring stuff month after month and year after year. This needs to change.

However, if I specifically found myself head of Harmony Gold, my first priority would be to sort out the whole debacle that is the Macross distribution rights. Harmony Gold has been at least partly responsible for this, since it used the Macross footage to create Robotech in 1985, and I think that it's high time something positive was done about it. Thanks to the massive entanglement of rights ownership between Big West (sponsors of the original show), Studio Nue (creative rights), Tatsunoko (production rights), and Harmony Gold (foreign distribution rights), the whole world minus Japan has been cheated out of every Macross series except for SDF Macross (US, but nowhere else), and Macross Plus, and all because some companies owns some rights to Macross and some owns some others. It's a pretty sorry mess. Harmony Gold have reportedly said that they're willing to distribute the various series through AD Vision, but it seems little is being done about this. With the potential sales that could come from distributing this major anime franchise, the parties involved must try harder.

I listen to a lot of podcasts about video games, and if there's one phrase I'm completely sick to death of hearing is "Digital Distribution." So here's Adam talking about Digital Distribution!

My first decision would be to ditch the DVDs and go digital. Downloading is what has killed sales to begin with, and I think that the best way to put a stop to that is to make a sensible system for downloading to own. It eliminates the overhead cost of physical media and gives the user fast and convenient access to anime.

Companies are already starting to do this, but it is far from their primary emphasis. For me, the first order of business is to make that the primary means of distribution. No more waiting months inbetween DVD releases. When the dub is done, it goes on the server. There's plenty of room to mess with how to sell it (Per episode, per season, etc), and plenty of potential for getting people hooked (Put the first episode or two on streaming for free). The only real challenge would be file formatting. People are going to want both audio tracks and the same subtitle options, and while there are certainly file formats to support this, they aren't soemthing pre-installed media players can handle at this point in time, and until that happens (if ever), they would need to make sure they educate people on how to make the files playable.

This paticular model could also come in very handy for eliminating the HD problem. As I'm sure you're aware, there are a rediculous number of hoops and technicalities that prevent us form getting all the Blu-rays Japan does, and simply selling the HD files could circumvent this, so long as reasonable provisions were put in place to prevent the Japanese from accessing the US-based sites.

Beyond that, the technology for doing such a thing is already out there. Xbox Live and the Playstation Network already have anime from these companies with systems that keep track of where you're at in the world, what you've bought so you can redownload later (Important since, paticularly with HD stuff, those files get mighty big), etc. I am not suggesting they stop selling DVDs and Blu-rays completely, but I am suggesting that they stop making that their primary business focus and simply make them for the people who prefer the hard copy from the store, likely continuing the recent trend of releasing new series in halves and quarters, rather than 3-5 episode volumes.

Arturo's got his game plan:

I'd actually do research on what people would want overseas. I would probably start by making a deal with a Japanese anime company so that we wouldn't have to bid on every series and have it all planned out early on. I'm looking at golden gem anime that don't get bought as much because they don't receive enough media attention. A little bit of showcasing in magazines like Otaku USA couldn't hurt. I've seen copies of Ushio & Tora (despite being a great series) stay on the shelves and collect dust until the retailers finally remove them. It really saddens me when I see that it's no longer there for that anime fan that will regret not picking up good series before they're gone.

Mike McArtor is a vicious bastard:

If I were suddenly put in charge of an anime company I would totally replace all the guys with cute girls of questionable skill and set the dress code to [insert fetish costume of your choice here]. And despite their questionable skills, the girls would somehow win over America with their moe charm and everyone would clamor to purchase our remastered Blu-Ray 4-disc Limited Edition releases of Humanoid and Garzey's Wing.

Yeah. We'd make millions.


Kariya's plan for bail-out money is a lot more sensible than GM's, actually:

What else? I would use my own charismatic charm and a multi-million dollar bail-out to talk Japanese anime companies into partnering with my business to create a political comedy anime starring our very own President Obama. Then, having hooked millions into my evil plot to draw in these so-called ‘people with lives’ into the anime industry, I would come up with an alter-ego to take the blame, hiring thousands upon thousands to come up with plot, storyboard, cell animate, do CGI effects, VA, etcetera! And why stop there? Export to Canada! Add a welfare system! Woa~la! Anime saved the economy! *Trumpets sound!* Everyone cheers! Code Geass will be moved to a decent time slot on Adult Swim! THE WORLD IS RIGHT!!! It needs no further explanation!!!

*Cape swirls* But then again, you heard nothing…..BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Ian Strope has this thing for capitalism:

Hmmm ah Capitalism. Would that be appealing to the lowest common denominator OR democratically figuring what people want and providing it to them in as cost effective fashion as possible.

If I were running the show (pun intended) at a cartoon company I'd get all the research I could to determine what sells in the U.S. I would see what fits that in terms of new shows and make an effort to purchase that product. I would also, conduct discussions with the more substantial and, dare I say it, scholarly anime aficionados around and get their take on which shows are "good". I would assume that this would lead to a decrease in the number of titles but that would allow for more money to properly market the good shows. I would do research to determine what shows do not require the overhead of packaging, etc. and will play best as streaming shows on the company site for a small fee.

Really, you want to give people good entertainment in a format that best works for them and they should come back to you for more.

And finally, may Robert's innocent dreams of anime orcs come to fruition:

Dear Answerman,

there are two chief problems that dog anime companies today, and my first business decision would be to confront one of them. One problem is that, despite anime's much higher public profile, that has not yet translated into mainstream market penetration; the other is the wastage caused by fansubs.

The first issue is far beyond my resources to resolve by a single act of policy - I just don't have the capital to recruit celebrities to froth about their scripted love of 'ay-neim' or cajole academics into ruminating about Gunslinger Girl's implications for the modern concept of childhood, or simply get a series shown on primetime. It's something that can really only be achieved by time and patience - drips of water breaking rocks, and so on - by giving anime time to bed down in the national consciousness as no different from any other entertainment media, and also to gradually persuade journalists not to reach for the macro button and paste in "cartoons ain't just for kids anymore!" whenever they have to hack out a piece of fluff on anime.

Defeating fansubs is more achievable. The chief issue is how to shut off the free content that undermines my business, while still increasing the perceived value of my product and my company's image so that former fansub watchers aren't disaffected and just stop watching altogether (instead of buying my videos).

Firstly, put my foot down and cease-and-desist any fansub group translating a series that I myself have the commercial license for. To prevent rage against "The Suits" clogging up internet forums, offer some carrots to these groups as well. Don't make an issue out of the translation of properties whose licenses I don't own, or are unlikely to be released outside of Japan - it's none of my business, and if my rival companies don't defend their properties, that's their problem. Also, if the fansubbers are actually doing very good work on a translation, don't be afraid to occasionally offer to purchase their translation from them. The fee for even a single episode's script would be more than they've seen for their efforts in an entire fansubbing career, and would establish a lot of goodwill; it would encourage multiple groups to stop publishing fansubs, in the hope of angling for a contract from the company.

The second phase of this programme is to increase the value of my company's actual releases. The half-season boxed set currently pursued by companies such as ADV is a good idea, improving the price:episode ratio considerably, but it gives pause in some consumers as they don't want to risk buying into a series they won't like after only a couple of episodes. This will be countered by emphasizing the cheaper price-per-episode in contrast to the former 4/5-episode DVDs in the promotional material, and also through offering free sampler packs. These will take the form of cheap video-CDs with the first two episodes that can be picked up at the video store (in simple cardboard sleeves), as well as online streaming on my company website - these sampler packs will be the hook to get the consumer interested in the full half-season with minimized expenditure.

Then, with the massive profit generated from this foolproof business plan, we can bankroll the production of that Warhammer 40,000 animation that I've always wanted. ;)

Go grab a quick breather, because I've already got your question for next week right here.

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.

Good night and farewell! Keep those questions and answers coming, because I need them for reasons that are beyond comprehension. Later!

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