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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Because I'm a complete damn sucker for the hype machine and yet altogether too lazy to read the fine (or in this case, not-so-fine) print on anything, I was totally stoked to go see James Cameron's potentially meretricious 300-million-dollar boondoggle, Avatar, this weekend.

This involved going online to Moviefone and Fandango, becoming "enraged" that the movie wasn't listed anywhere, and calling several friends to come with me to see it anyway. Many of them expressed doubt that it was being released this weekend. "No, it said December 8th, I'm pretty sure," I assured them. I did nothing to convince them.

Frustrated, but not yet deterred, I decided to go it alone. On a whim I visited the official movie site to pass the time.

IN CINEMAS DECEMBER 18TH! It said on the browser window.

Alone in my room, humbled, I let out a sad, audible "...Oh."

We ended up seeing Ninja Assassin instead. No matter how disappointing Avatar may or may not turn out to be, I posit that it is impossible to make a less interesting movie than Ninja Assassin.

Why is it that back in the 90s anime tapes with the dub were much more cheaper than the sub releases? I figure it should have been the other way around since the companies had to pay English dub actors.

Oh, but those were simpler times. I have fond memories of sheepishly spending my hard-earned lawnmowing money in high school to purchase a dub-only VHS copy of Ranma 1/2: Big Trouble in Nekonron China for 24.95 plus tax. Which was a steal, because two dub-only episodes of the Ranma TV series retailed for five full dollars more!

Anyway, in this case, it's a matter of volume. Dub VHS tapes sold. Subtitled VHS tapes sold only a tiny fraction of what dub copies sold. The market was different, then; this was the era of people shouting "MAAAANNNNNGAAAAAAA!!!" at you while robots melt your face off with mindrays and then fornicate with demons and also tentacle porn, REMEMBER WHAT A LAUGH RIOT THAT WAS. The market was completely different, and therefore so was the marketing. Dubbed copies of Ninja Scroll were the anime industry's bread and butter, and that was considered the only "real" market for anime, and so that's what all the other companies attempted to sell to. Subtitled VHS tapes and LaserDiscs and such were treated like an extant product, mostly available exclusively through mail-order at exorbitant prices to please those pesky "small but loyal" fan types. 39.99 plus tax for one subtitled episode of Tenchi Muyo! sure had a lot of people bitching on rec.arts.anime.misc.

Nowadays, people just steal everything from the internet. Progress!

With the question of licensing being brought up, I was wondering why no one has really considered licensing K-On? I mainly ask because the DVD sales are doing fairly well over in Japan, and it is a show aimed at the Moe crowd, which is rather self-sustaining over in Japan (at least, that's how I've observed it). Is it due to the licensing issues with the songs, or is there just not a big enough market over there in America for an Anime company to risk it, or another reason altogether?

I'm going to be honest and say that people (and by "people" I mean the few anime companies still in the licensing game) probably already have considered licensing K-On. These days, virtually every new anime show that comes along every season is passed along to American companies to see if they're interested. If they like it, they buy it. If they don't, they don't. There's no time anymore to "consider" anything, because the fansub community moves fast, and once those fansub episodes hits the torrent sites, it is commercially as good as flotsam. When a new series hits, it needs to be licensed as it is airing in Japan, otherwise there's virtually no way to sell it anymore.

Obviously though that's not always the rule, and K-On has only been off the air for a matter of months, so there's no reason to abandon all hope, hitchhike to Nova Scotia, and get a job as a pizza cook while listening to The Smiths and attempting to grow a whispy mustache. No! But I'd say the telling signs are that, obviously, Funimation hasn't announced it, and that it hasn't even shown up on Crunchyroll.

It's difficult to say why K-On sits unlicensed, exactly, because no rep at any US anime company that wishes to keep his or her job would ever publicly state why it was passed over. Especially considering that it has been one of the more highly-praised anime shows of the past two seasons or so. It could be the music, though that hasn't stopped lesser shows from getting licensed. The market for anime is small, but K-On hits a very particular audience and it hits it impressively well. Or it could be because of a contract stipulation stating that K-On cannot be licensed until they are crowned the Undisputed Arm-Wrestling And Cartwheel Champions of the World.

Who knows? But keep that hope alive!

While a previous Answerman dealt with the question of why anime DVD subs are "less flashy" than fansubs, could you explain why anime DVD subs are yellow when non-anime DVDs typically use white?

I have to defer to our resident subtitle expert, Justin Sevakis, on this one:

Yellow was actually the de-facto color for video text for many years, no matter what the video underneath was. Back in the bad old days of analog video, the decision to use yellow was based on what colors could easily be generated by the 8-bit computers used for captioning, and which of those best survived that era's crappy, blurry, static-filled world of video tape and broadcast: white had a tendency to get blown out or distorted, red and blue tended to "bleed" outside of the subtitle area. Green is known to slow down eye motion, so that was out. Yellow was readable, fairly stable, and relatively inoffensive to the eyes, and so that's what became the standard. In fact, if you go back and watch YouTube clips of vintage early 80s television, you'll see a LOT of yellow text.

The practice carried through into the early days of the DVD era, but as people got better TVs and everything slowly switched to digital, there was no longer a reason to use yellow -- other colors now reproduce just fine. Video professionals default to yellow today mostly out of habit (and arguably for the sake of the 1% of the population that hasn't bought a new TV since the mid 80s). But you're right in that yellow is seen less in the foreign film world these days. Foreign film buffs aren't generally as picky as anime fans when it comes to subtitles (in fact, anime fans may be the only people that think about this stuff so much), but one thing that really rankles them is yellow subtitles over a black-and-white film, which is admittedly really distracting. As a result, many major caption studios have switched to white subtitles by default.

So now some professionals render everything in white, some render everything in yellow, and the choice between the two is now a matter of personal preference... assuming they think about it at all.

And so there you have it.

I literally don't have any good Flakes to use this week, so instead of grieving this sad loss I'm going to move on ahead to Hey, Answerfans!

Continuing the thread of Anime reviews from the past week, I asked y'all to shed a little insight towards this question:

Kelvin! Tell me in your soft, dulcet tones how you would treat the readers of your new web venture:

I'd try to focus the site around what really gets readers. Like misleading thumbnails and top 10 lists.

When I finally get to writing reviews, though, I start by trying to look at the most shallow aspects of a series, and criticize it in a humorous manner. After doing that for a couple paragraphs of that, I move onto nitpicking, searching around for a piece of awkward dialogue or badly animated frame, and then say something sarcastic, like "That budget must have been huge", "Apparently, people die if they are killed" and that sort of thing. Readers love snarkyness. In the final paragraph though, I give a few sentences of actual "reviewing", and give it something out of 5 score. Scores are simple, easy to understand, and will give my less literate readers the basic gist of my review. After all, we cannot discriminate the illiterate!

After gathering a devoted fanbase, I'd go on long posting hiatuses, thereby gaining easy ad revenue from those who neurotically check for updates, only to have their hopes destroyed, going off to seek an end to their sorrow on cheap Korean MMO's and dating sites.

EJ, I like your lack of snark:

If I were to start my own anime/manga review site, I would use a rankings system as the center piece. Also, I would be sure to structure it similar to ANN's encyclopedia with one major difference: links to outside reviews, rankings and synopses. Finally, I would try to review titles that don't already have 50 other reviews on all of the major sites.

The rankings system would be very robust and have extensive reporting configuration so that the end user can create just about any report for which the site has the data to accommodate (essentially, allow the user to specify any search parameters they desire and specify the information returned from the query). As an avid anime watcher, I often find myself looking for new titles to watch and when you've seen just about every “top” title on various anime databases/encyclopedias/ect. across the web, it becomes difficult to find new titles. This feature would hopefully allow for people to create their own “top” lists based on various genres/ect. and display that information in an easy to analyze manner. Also, include a search feature for “show shows/manga similar to…” that would return results with similar elements.

Next major feature would be outside links. When deciding what shows I want to watch, I always go to 3 or 4 different sites and read the reviews/ratings on each before making a decision. However, I always find it annoying to have to dig through every site trying to find what I'm looking for when a single site could be finding and aggregating the links for me. I believe a feature like this would allow people to quickly get an idea for what a particular manga/anime is about.

Lastly, I would focus reviews on the less reviewed anime. The reason for this is simple: If there are already 1,000 reviews out there for Evangelion and only 50 reviews for Darker than BLACK (hypothetically…), it would be much harder to attract readers with an Evangelion review than it would be with a Darker than BLACK review. It is much easier to have a unique and possibly interesting review on something with that has been reviewed significantly less and would hopefully allow you to find a niche for your site in a market that already has an over abundance of material.

Lookit Sean, giving it up for Justin. Yay Justin! And yay Sean:

Several conflicting motivations make writing an anime review extremely difficult. Sometimes assigning scores or categories helps and sometimes it hurts. A large enough site could have room for multiple kinds of reviews, but smaller sites will have to pick their poison.

Good reviews are entertaining, but they also need to maintain a level of journalistic detachment. A review is influenced by the experience of watching the anime, but that experience is not the review itself. Focusing on that experience makes it a story about the reviewer not the anime. Assigning a score forces a level of emotional detachment and objectivity in the reviewer. It doesn't matter if the score is an elaborate multi-axis percentage score or simply thumbs up/thumbs down. By forcing a subjective opinion into the framework of a quantitative choice a reviewer can more clearly express their intent. In this sense adding a score to a review can add something useful without hurting its entertainment value.

Good reviews and scores also provide context, but placing artistic creations in clear hierarchies creates complications. The current best rated anime movie according to the ANN encyclopedia is Spirited Away. The lowest is Tekken: The Motion Picture. I believe a strong majority of anime watchers would say Spirited Away is a better overall movie than Tekken. If I have the choice of watching one movie or the other my choice is clear. The scores work here. So what happens when we compare Spirited Away to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time? Spirited Away has a slightly higher rating, but is it “better”? They're both good enough movies that saying one is better than the other really doesn't mean much. It ends up saying more about the reviewer that the movies themselves. Scores don't really add any value here. In fact they hurt by taking focus away from the anime and putting it on a number.

Most scales encourage this hierarchy problem in some way. Something simple like a 5 stars scale makes each level very broad and somewhat vaguely defined. Anime with widely different overall quality end up with the same score. A one-hundred point scale on several different aspects averaged into an overall score implies an objective and even mechanical nature to the review process that doesn't reflect reality. This is especially true with sites that have multiple reviewers using the same scale. My 77 might be your 86. A middle of the road approach is likely to result in a worst of all worlds situation. Vague but clearly ranked categories spark angry comments from lazy readers who skip straight to the score of their favorite shows.

So what do we do? We write a review that serves the needs of our specific readers. Newspaper movie reviews are commonly read by people trying to decide what to watch that weekend. They need a quick and easy way to compare several different movies. Simple scoring systems help in that case. People looking for more educational in depth analysis, perhaps even of anime they've already watched, are likely to only be distracted by scores. If a good soundtrack or deep characterization attracts a casual watcher to certain types of anime an elaborate rating and categorization system can help them find that.

The ANN Buried Treasure article is a good example of choosing the right level for your readers. It serves a specific kind of reader looking for something a little different. It gives a good overall description of the anime in the text, but doesn't give a concrete overall score. Adding one here wouldn't really help someone who read the article understand it any better. It does have the “Obscure-O-Meter” which a score that helps the reader by letting them know generally how difficult it will be to track down. That shows an understanding of the kinds of issues Buried Treasure readers care about.

Reviews exist to solve a problem for the reader. Once you know why they're reading you'll know the kinds of problems they have. A review that tries to be all things to all people just becomes cumbersome, generic, and pointless. Split up the job if you need to then choose the best tool for the job at hand.

My own secret fantasy review site involves long form and academic style articles written and fact checked by anime experts. I'm thinking of something like a CliffsNotes or SparkNotes of anime. It wouldn't need any scores or even as much opinion as a typical review, but it would have vocabulary quizzes and extra credit essay questions about lolis with guns as a metaphor for foreign policy initiatives.

Rob, thinkin' all kinds of outside-the-box here:

I think if I were to start something along the lines of a Review Blog, I'd try to make it as open ended in the reviewing process as possible. I'd want to avoid any rankings, grading scales, etc. that I could, to help stray away from pushing someone's personal opinion onto the people reading the review. I feel if you put an overall grade on a review you're telling people something is either immediately worth or not worth viewing, and I think that might prevent a lot of people from potentially watching or reading something they might otherwise like. Many people have mentioned if they see something that disagrees or agrees with their opinion that it tends to push their opinion on whether to take the review seriously or not. Therefore giving a brief overview of what the show/book is about, then giving support on what you thought worked well in the project and what didn't would help give the unbiased feel that I think more and more reviews are lacking these days. It's more important to try and find what you feel are actual pros and cons to a story than it is to find something you either loved or hated about it, and making it the backbone for why someone should or shouldn't enjoy said show/book. List what you think the production team accomplished with the story, and list what you think didn't turn out well and could have been improved upon. Personal opinions aren't necessarily bad to include in reviews, as it's rather unlikely anyone can write a review without incorporating their taste on the matter, but trying to set up as much of a fair view is the idea in my opinion.

And here comes Drift, expounding and explicatin' all kinds on this "no review scale" thing:

To be honest (why in the world wouldn't I be?), I've never really paid much attention to the ANN rankings because – in my mind – a good review should make the pros and cons very clear. I don't feel I need those rankings to clarify a review. I also oftentimes find myself surprised by the rankings, which illustrates that a C+ to one person is not a C+ to another. If the reviewer didn't like some aspect of the animation that doesn't bother me in the least, then their C+ really doesn't correspond to what my C+ and their ranking becomes that much less relevant to me. Sounds like rankings are a waste of time, right? Just something to saddle reviewers with and cause controversy in the forums?

In my view, what's really going on here is that that rankings of any kind really only wield influence over folks who are not familiar with the subject matter. I consider myself very well-versed in anime, therefore I can read (good) ANN reviews, understand them and form my own judgment about the worth of a series based on that review. The rankings, on the other hand, do not allow me to form my own opinion – taken alone they are static data, without explanation or justification – so I largely ignore them. When I read manga reviews on this site, however, I do find myself paying closer attention to the rankings simply because I am not as familiar with manga. I assume that the reviewer knows a lot more about manga than I do and that, however subjective, their rankings are more informed than anything I could come up with. This approach isn't really a fool-proof one, and at some point I could argue it's not even a good idea, but the fact remains that it happens. Even then, though, I rather doubt I give rankings one-tenth the consideration the reviewer put into them. I would never purchase anime or manga based simply on their ANN score, but many reviews have driven me to investigate series further, even those which point out serious flaws.

I also would note that ANN provides only three ranking categories for manga - Overall/Story/Art – even though reviews typically cover other aspects of a volume, such as production quality, translation, etc. We've got sub and dub ratings for anime, where's the equivalent level of detail for manga? In my little world, the sub-rankings should add up to the Overall score, but are Story and Art the only two things the reviewer is considering when creating that Overall score? Are they not going to deduct points for grammar mistakes, poor print quality or lazy translation? This site seems to assume readers know and care a lot about such technical details as this, but it's not currently reflected in the manga reviews. As a casual manga reader, expanded rankings would help me understand the experience I'm likely to have with a given volume and where the reviewer is coming from when presenting their stance on a given volume.

All of this speaks to the ability to craft reviews for a diverse audience, which I feel ANN does exceptionally well. While the ranking system is inferior to the reviews themselves, it still serves a purpose and has the added advantage of being there only for those who want/need it. Making the manga rankings a little more robust would go a long way towards making them of value to manga novices, while also giving veterans a level of technical detail to be argued over considered that is equal to ANN's anime reviews.

Please, let Daniel humanize you:

Funny this would be the question because I was just thinking of this very thing earlier today, of, well, writing a blog about anime. *coughs*

Moving on, I feel that rating systems based on numbers, scores, etc. are generally misleading. Because let's face it, reviews are just peoples' glorified opinions on something, and when you have a rating system it's so easy to just blow past all of that glory straight to an A-F or a 0-10 or a 1.57 Stars out of 5.00 Stars raiting so you can decide if you should watch, rent, buy, or abandon altogether.

On my super-awesome-imaginary anime-blog-review-site I would avoid scoring anything. In replace of that I would have a summarized, or a 'bottom line' section quickly recapping what would be in my longer narrartive,and then something like a recommend/not recommend box. With something like:

Recommended? Yes. In fact, if you don't watch Gankutsuou as soon as possible you're only doing yourself and those around you a terrible injustice.

In the main narrative of my reviews I would talk about all the important things that most people do, story intro, character design, music, art design, voice acting etc. but I'd also include important things most reviewers overlook. Why should I watch this anime? Does it make me laugh? Will I cry? Will I get attached to these characters? Is there plot development over repeated scenarios? Is the pacing like watching Witch Hunter Robin or Gurren Lagann? Is this something I should watch with my spouse/significant other?

Most of the times when I read a positive review on an Anime series I tell my wife about it and how I'm thinking of grabbing it and all I can say is somthing generic like 'From the review it sounds pretty solid, like it could be pretty good," or "It's in the top 50 anime series on ANN" etc. etc.

However a lot of the Anime that i've watched and fallen in love with wasn't because of the reviews here. It was because of reading the columns on here and remembering someone (maybe it was you?) talking about how Gankutsuou was special (as opposed to whatever other anime was being mentioned). When I saw that I thought, "wow, here's a guy, who knows almost everything about Anime, and he called this ONE particular show...special. I need to see that, now." And i did, and it was awesome.

So yes, to summarize, no scoring, summarizing, basics, and most of all: personalizing and humanizing the review so that when someone reads it they will know how it effected the critic, as opposed to just a by the numbers appraisal of its content.

Lastly, Lianna lets us live in her little review-process world:

Actually, I do write anime reviews from time to time, mostly for fun. I post them on my Crunchyroll account, which is probably incredibly lame, but as I haven't gotten any views yet I honestly don't mind – I don't particularly care if people actually read them, but having them sitting around in my hard drive and not at least available for people to read them seems sort of pointless.

I don't use any sort of grading or ranking system like ANN and some other sites do, probably because I only ever gloss over those and focus on the review itself when I'm reading. Usually, I spend the first paragraph introducing the anime, the second on a plot summary, then write one paragraph each about my thoughts on the plot, characters, art and animation, and music. Sometimes I'll add a paragraph of background information to keep in mind; things like who made it and when, the original manga or novel or whatever, and how easy it is to get ahold of. I use the last paragraph to wrap up, summing up my opinion on the show in a couple of sentences.

That was pleasant! Let's do it again. Let's do it again but with a different question. This question, 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 have 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.

Okay, guys! Good night, be excellent to each other, and so on and so forth. Be back next week!

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