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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Ponyo comes out in theaters tomorrow! This is exciting! A new Miyazaki movie! Yay! Everyone make sure to go see it. Do not see G.I. Joe, because it is a bad movie. Go see Ponyo, which is a good movie. Not that anybody reading my column or this website in general needs to be prodded to watch a new Miyazaki film, but this is still the largest audience I could ever hope to reach in my current state, so I'm saying it anyway. Redundancy be damned.

Let's move along, then, to the questions that vex us all.

Hey Answerman, so I heard that you're a Tuscon native. Well, I'm writing in from Phoenix, and I'm sure you've heard about the trails and tribulations of a certain Arizona anime convention that's had its many ups and downs throughout the years. It seems that small conventions in non-coastal states really have a rough time establishing themselves and staying afloat through the years. In some cases, much of the blame can be put on the management and the economy, but ultimately, I think it's location that hurts these conventions the most. So I guess my question is, what advice would you offer to small anime conventions to attract interesting guests, and more out-of-state attendees?

Location, shmlocation! This is going to sound pretty harsh, I guess, but here it is anyway: if any small, local cons are having problems staying "afloat"... it's their own fault.

First of all, attracting guests and out-of-state attendees? Yeah, no. That's not the point of having a local convention. Or at least, it shouldn't be. Local conventions shouldn't try to out-sensationalize the likes of Anime Expo or Otakon. Because, simply, the attendance isn't there, and they're going to wind up bankrupting themselves at the subatomic level. Instead, smaller, local cons should strike out on a different path and do their own thing. Instead, they should look at the number of attendees they can muster - which is usually a few hundred to a few thousand people - and work around that.

Which is to say, that if you can deliver a somewhat compelling experience for local fans that offers some of the main reasons they go to conventions in the first place - cosplay, competitive gaming, a dealer's room, those sorts of things - the rest can work itself out. Local cons are a far more intimate social gathering than the larger ones are, because everyone going to them is from the same general area. And to that end, the "location" doesn't really matter. Anime fans are anime fans, be they from California or Tennessee, and if you put several hundred of them together over two days they'll all find ways to entertain themselves.

So hush to these embittered notions of not being able to stack up next to the juggernaut-sized conventions on the East and West Coasts - hush! Anime Expo and Otakon are still very big and popular because they are very, very good at what they do, but they're also prohibitively expensive to maintain without tens of thousands of attendees... so why bother trying to copy them? Just make it so that nerds can have fun for two days. That's not hard. And that's all they really want.

Why do anime fans make inside jokes about a series, but don't say what the series is, then act like you're a dork for not knowing? "Nyah Nyah, I know about a great show but you don't!"? Why don't they freely talk about their favorite show, instead of talking down to you because "everyone's seen it"?

Because it's the internet. I have written at length about the internet before - soon to be collected in a leatherbound commemorative edition by HarperCollins Press, "Brian's Musings On The Internet" - but it bears repeating: people on the internet are jerks.

The heavily imageboard-driven culture that is the modern anime fan community has developed this weird conclave of elitism. They watch their fansubs religiously, they talk and joke about it in relative secrecy under complete anonymity, ensuring that those plebeian, childish noobs can't destroy their precious anime discussions. If I weren't one to throw odd psychological theories out there, I would say that this is sort of a response to the relatively massive mainstream acceptance that anime had only a few years ago, and the near-unanimous presence it had in early internet communities. Except that that's probably overthinking it a little bit, but regardless, the current mindset of the inside-joke crowd is to keep anime discussion as a secret, shameful language between like-minded miscreants.

So pay them no mind; they are undeserving of it. And if you're that desperate to know about all their little inside jokes, a quick Google search usually suffices. By and large, though, all of those inside jokes aren't funny in the slightest. I swear to God if I hear some unfunny nerd try and think of another "clever" riff on the Haruhi "Endless Eight" story arc...

Over the past few years of watching anime, I have noticed that there seems to be a disproportionate amount of blond haired and blue eyed white people running around in anime. After I noticed that, I started to notice that most of the main characters of the anime I watch either appeared to be white or had pronounced 'anglo' features. It has now gotten to the point with me that I now notice an almost complete lack of representation of minorities in the anime I watch. Now I don't really have the time to watch as much anime as I'd like so I only watch maybe a maximum of 2 shows a season but I do see advertisements and it seems that my perception generalizes.

I have seen minorities portrayed in anime, and the ones I've seen have not been what I would consider negative portrayals. So my question is this- Am I just imagining this? Is there an undercurrent of racism in anime? If so, is this specific to the industry or does it speak to Japanese society as a whole (which is a broad generalization and I apologize for that, I know you don't speak for all of Japan)? Am I looking for a problem where one doesn't exist? And why are there so many tall lanky blondes with blue eyes and pointy noses runnin' around?

So, basically, you're offended by all the honky-ass crackers in your anime.

...no? Okay.

When it comes to the, uh... portrayal of ethnic groups in anime, you have to understand that what you're seeing on-screen is basically the result of an image being reflected and distorted by two separate pop-cultural lenses. Japan is an island nation, with a very dense and homogenized populace. Very, very few foreigners immigrate to Japan to actually live there, so their only real exposure to differing ethnic groups are tourists and, of course, imported pop culture. And Japan imports a whole ton of pop-culture from us.

Much like the rest of the world, Japan loves stuff like Hip-Hop and what-have-you, but their only real exposure to it is through the warped view of the mindless garbage we ship throughout the world. I pity the toll on some poor soul's mind who listens to Soulja Boy without the proper context. Thus, stuff like anime distorts everything yet again by applying a distinctly Japanese context alongside whatever imported pop-culture stuff catches the industry's eye. Everything gets really muddled together, and in the end you can wind up with some amazingly weird moments of accidental racism.

Beyond that, though, manga and anime artists have all been essentially drawing from the same archetypes and character styles that Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori developed in the 1960's - a style that was derived as much from ancient Japanese folk art as it was from cartoonists and animators from Europe and the US. It's not a conscious decision - Japan is just such a sheltered and, dare I say it, relatively clueless place when it comes to varying ethnicities.

Sometimes the questions I get can be answered by a simple glance at the website's header.

why can't users rate movies or live-action shows on ANN

And now we move along to the part where I don't talk as much: Hey Answerfans! Here was the question I posed to the gallery last week:

Watson begins tonight's exchange with his wild tale of pluck and luck:

While not a 100% legit exchange, this still counts as the wildest bit of luck I've ever had as an anime fan. How about being given the complete Evangelion box set (ADV's original 8-disc black box) plus the movies (the Manga discs) in exchange for...all of Shaman King (which was unlicensed at the time) fansubbed? This cat was one of the people who had enjoyed what he'd seen of Evangelion, bought it all up...and was utterly livid by the end of the End, so he extended the offer to me, and I said, "I'll see what I can do." He was happy to be shot of those DVDs, and I was happy to get one of my favourite series--difficult end and all--for the cost of three DVD-Rs.

Daniel J is a learned man, and as such, knows a good buy when he sees it:

Hey Answerman,

The sweetest deal I ever got on legit anime merchandise was a clearance sale of rental DVDs/videos at the local comic book shop (Ames, Iowa). I had only been in town for a year, having moved there to begin my doctorate--I'm not only an anime nerd; I'm a school geek. Anywho, imagine the nerdvana I felt when I saw a tabletop crammed with used (and some nearly new) VHS tapes and DVDs of all kinds of anime shows--only two dollars ($2) each!

I spent over fifty bucks or so on an assortment of familiar and not so familiar titles. Let's see if I can remember them all:

13 InuYasha DVDs
Complete VHS collection (6 tapes) of Record of Lodoss War (the original series)
Complete VHS collection (4 tapes) of Blue Submarine No. 6
Heat Guy J DVD 1
Yukikaze DVD 1
Patlabor Movies 1 & 2 (VHS)

My only regret? Not purchasing the complete VHS run of Nadia--Secret of Blue Water. But I guess we all have to know when to say "when."

I can't imagine a better bargain, though I'm sure somebody has me beat. The only deal I've seen close to this experience is the occasional clearance sale at on-line catalogs where you can get anime DVDs/CDs/etc. for five dollars apiece. Of course, there's always those ebay offers that are too good to be true. (And that's because they are.)

Spell Dragon is embarrassed over Viewtiful Joe:

It's kind of hard to list an impressive deal nowadays, partially because if a show is more than a couple of years old you can usually find a nice deal. I'll list some examples, regardless.

Recently I managed to get every disc from Licensed by Royalty, Texhnolyze, Trigun, Captain Herlock (all Geneon, usually pricey), and Welcome to the NHK for $4 a piece from TRSI. The 6 disc box set of Texhnolyze alone usually goes for $150.

A couple of years back I managed to get a factory sealed box set of Grenadier for just under $10. The real trick is successfully bargain shopping while still getting good shows. When I was still new to anime shopping, I bought a DVD/CD combo of Viewtiful Joe and soon after sold it out of embarrassment.

Robert is a dapper gent:

Dear Answerman,

Back at the London MCM Expo in 2007, with my rucksack's seams already straining from the weight of a mass of geeky goodies I added a cherry on top in the form of the miniseries Zaion: I Wish You Were Here, which I picked up from the ADV Films vendor stall for the princely sum of one pound sterling.

Now, with obnoxious characters, flaccid action, plasticky CGI, an insensible plot and a dreadfully dismal dub, Zaion isn't just a bad anime but one of the worst shows full-stop to disgrace my DVD player - it wasn't out of charity that ADV was flogging it cheaper than a McDonalds coffee. However, a few months later I dug it out of the back of the cupboard and after lavishing some purple prose on it the description box at eBay, fawning over its production by Studio Gonzo - hey, they brought you Welcome to the NHK so you know that there's going to engrossing emotional depth (giggle, snicker) - I successfully palmed it off to some mug for fifteen pounds.

The 1400% profit was nice enough - and then the money paid for tickets and snacks when I took a girl out to the pictures.

Thanks for being so appallingly and irredeemably execrable, Zaion, you're a real pal!

Natasha briefly lets us in on the cruel, competitive world of Yaoi-selling:

The sweetest deal---not necessarily the biggest, since I can never find big deals, but the most satisfying one---would have to be this year's Katsucon, where I happened to be sick. At a table in the Dealer's Room selling phone charms and pins and other such trinkets, I found a tiny charm of Komui from D.Gray-man exactly like one I'd lost months ago. It was $7, which is overpriced anyway. I realized I did have about that much, but I kinda needed $2 or so to get home. Since it was the last day, I went for a desperate attempt at bargaining. "Could I--" and I was interrupted by a coughing fit (note: was not intentionally hacking my lungs up, it hurt). I then blew my nose and regained composure. "--have this for 5 instead...?" To my surprise, the guy said "Sure" and went through the transaction quickly, almost like he was guilty about selling all these overpriced knickknacks. Or maybe he thought I would sneeze on everything. Point is, I got my sympathy discount, turned around and pulled a "just as planned" face as I went to meet my friend. Kuahahaha... Okay, not so much. No plotting involved.

There's also that time the gay guy was selling doujinshi for $5 to beat out the yaoi shop guy. Yay for competition...

NewYinzer has prosaically described the allure of used booksellers:

The sweetest deal(s) I've ever gotten on any anime merchandise have come from used book and video stores. My hometown is home to two Exchange stores (video games, DVD's, VHS, music) and two Half-Price Book stores (books, music, DVD's, VHS). Even though I have picked up anime and manga at - you'd have never guessed it - half price, the appeal of these stores is in the randomness of merchandise and the immense thrill of the hunt.

At most stores, you know what you're going to find. At Best Buy, it's almost assured that a copy of Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion will be there for your viewing pleasure. I have not been through a Borders that did not have shiny, new copies of Strawberry 100% or Naruto. At used book and video stores, however, the selection is entirely random. Some days I find nothing, other days I have been able to buy five volumes of the Great Teacher Onizuka manga, Gundam 0080, and Gundam 08th MS Team for much less than the sale price.

But why not go to the internet? Amazon.com has all of those items in one place at about the same price. For me, it's part of some natural, hunter-gatherer instinct to go to these stores and engage in a consumer-era hunt. It's as if I'm a caveman, tracking herds of caribou...

Half-Price Books in the late afternoon sun. Various people peruse the music and romance novels departments, but it is calm in the graphic novels department. I move between the shelves, hunting for elusive beasts. It is rare to find more than two volumes of Excel Saga at the fertile fields of Borders. But here in the deccan of used books lie beasts rarely seen anymore. Finding shade beneath well-loved volumes of Love Hina, I creep towards the next shelf.

Suddenly...a challenger appears! A young man in a t-shirt and flip-flops, he eyes a copy of Ranma 1/2, pulls it out, and flips through the pages. Competition! Perhaps he will...

He places the volume down, mumbling some nonsense about "no moe characters...something for casual fans".

Relief! The treasure is mine!

I move past him with stealth, pretending to look at several old Frank Sinatra records. As I turn, there it is...

Lo and behold, a relic of a former time! A copy of Gundam: The Blue Destiny manga, a rare find nowadays! I thrust my hand toward the shelf like a spear, snatching the volume and making my way towards the checkout counter. The treasure is mine!

I can now return to my tribe with the fruits of my hunt.

Ah, the fun of used book and video stores. Someday I might find the elusive VHS copy of Clash of the Bionoids. Perhaps others will partake in the hunt just as I have. Or maybe not - more manga for me!

Candice has her own problems, dig.

Im pretty sure the best deal i've ever gotten on anime was when i found the complete box sets of Fruits Basket, DNAngel, and Outlaw Star for 5 bucks a piece from a store that was closing down. They were like brand spankin new, never before watched, covered with shrink wrap, and i got them for $5. They basically flung them at me and i am not the fool to refuse that. I'm sorry their business went to pot...but thats not my problem yo.

Wayland B., that manga you scurried away with might've been poisoned! Like Halloween candy at a junkie's house!

I guess my sweetest deal would be some stuff I got for FREE. At last years AnimeUSA convention, they had a thing called the "Otaku Swap Meet" where you could trade you Anime/Manga goodies you no longer wanted/needed with others. Well, after spending about 45mins there and making some sweet deals, some lady came in, put down about 20 manga volumes and some CDs on a shelf, stated that they were free to anyone who wanted them, and left. After about 2 seconds (which is how long it took for people to realize what just happened) there was a mad dash for the shelf, with people grabbing what ever they could. I managed to scrape out 5 FMA manga volumes and 2 random Japanese CDs. And that has to be the sweetest deal I ever got, as it was totally unexpected.

And finally we round out the night with a VERY TRUE DESCRIPTION of my telepathic link between myself and you readers, via this story of Sailor Moon-love from Vicki:

This is my first time responding and this just happened to me today actually. It's as if you sensed this lucky purchase... using the telepathic channel that is only open to otaku. Maybe. Anyway, I went to my local Half Price Books today secretly hoping to find a volume of the Cardcaptor Sakura DVDs that are now out of print. I actually did find one! But that's not the story.

I saw these two seperate big plastic boxes that said Sailor Moon on the shelf. Together they comprised the entire first season and were each $15. The cover images to me just seemed a bit gaudy and the back information layout was sort of odd. I had seen a bootleg online before for $30 so I figured this was convenient and I should just get it since it's difficult finding the ADV Season 1 Uncut Box Set nowadays. I asked my friend with me if he thought I should buy these bootlegs and he took a look at the tacky packaging and sarcastically replied, "How could you tell these were bootlegs? Hoho..."

I came home and popped them into my DVD player and the first thing that popped up was a commercial for the Anime Network. I thought, "...That's a weird thing for bootleggers to include."

That's when I decided to search for pictures of the Season 1 Uncut Box Set besides the stock photo that only shows the really pretty box with foil images. I couldn't find ANY but I found a review that described the inner packaging exactly like mine and the commercial and basically how crappy of a release it was and how much of a letdown it was.

...I BASICALLY JUST SAVED $100! This went for $125 last time I tried ebay! It may have mono audio but it's still the only legal way to have uncut Sailor Moon in the U.S.!


That last part nearly killed me when I read it. I love you guys.

Now, then! On to next week's potentially vexing 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.

I am off now, ladies and gentlemen, to enjoy the rest of my potentially hazardous night, or maybe sleep. Or something. It's all tentative. See you next week!

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