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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Hi guys! Welcome to another wacky and kee-razy edition of Hey, Answerman! What kind of goofy shenanigans will I find myself tangled up in this time?! Tune in to find out!

(P.S., that "clicking" sound you just heard were the sound of thousands of loaded pistols being aimed directly at my head for writing that.)

Okay! First question.

Hey, Answerman!

Another decade has come and gone. What do you think has changed the most for anime in the past ten years? Lots of stuff's changed, obviously, but what do you think has been the biggest change? Is it in the animation quality, the stories being told, the types of characters, the audience, how people watch anime, or something else?

Also, while on the subject of this past decade, what do you think will be the "defining" anime of the '00s, as Sailor Moon, Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Revolutionary GIrl Utena were the "defining" titles of the '90s?

That's a tall order. What's changed for anime? Like, in general? Because honestly I don't think "anime" itself has changed all that much, which is unfortunately the biggest problem. Everything else in the entertainment industry changed, both in the level of sophistication audiences have become accustomed to, as well as the manner in which audiences have come to expect their entertainment delivered to them (which is to say, digital, streaming, et cetera). Anime, by which I of course mean the people who produce and create anime, weren't necessarily paying attention to those things and were simply trying to keep their bottom line afloat by trotting out the same tired premises and ideas, only to discover the sad truth that is the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Granted, every so often something unique managed to squeeze through and grab people; FLCL came out in 2000, starting out the decade with a literal bang, and there are a few smaller independently-produced things like Mind Game that I've really enjoyed. But those were just quirky experiments, and FLCL's success outside Japan was seen as a fluke, unfortunately, instead of as a sign that audiences worldwide were not only open to, but were in fact looking for something utterly different and original. The animation quality is the same, except it's in High-Definition now so it's easier to tell when something looks crappy and ugly. The stories being told are exactly the same; the characters are the same hollow archetypes that've been chirping along in anime since the 80's. The audience is much the same as well, except they're growing older, and far more insular. How people watch anime certainly changed, especially in the West, as the obvious and endless "fansub debate" can attest to. And all that stuff is likely to stay the same, until some major risks are taken to shake things up considerably. I've mentioned before that I'm really looking forward to Funimation's future slate of co-productions; not that I'm pinning every last drop of hope I have for the anime industry to them, but they've at least got the right idea in trying to broaden the boundaries of anime a little bit. I'm not sure it'll amount to little more than a bunch of small shows akin to Afro Samurai, which I didn't particularly enjoy, but at least got a sizable amount of non-anime-faithfuls to sit down and watch.

As for "Anime of the 00's," this might sound like kind of a cop-out, but I definitely think that Spirited Away wins that award, hands down. I know that the Academy Awards are a bunch of self-congratulatory hogwash, but they're the closest thing to a lasting cultural milestone that pop-culture has. And Spirited Away has that cultural milestone. That's pretty huge, and it's looking really unlikely that that's ever going to happen again. So, well done, Miyazaki; you made the Anime of the 'aughts.

In art class, a student and I were discussing various forms of manga. When I mentioned to her the genre of manga called guro, she recognized the genre with enthusiasm. I asked her whether she saw any "art" in the graphic subject, and to my surprise, she said yes. She also added that I was too close minded to see the "beauty" in this genre. Being an artist, I definitely don't want to be close-minded, so my question is this: is there anything, at all, that you think is artistic in guro? Or more precisely, why do people see a beauty to it?


To reiterate: EWWWWWWW!!!!!

But seriously though. Do I really get to have the "IS THIS ARTS??!?" debate about freakin' guro?

...guess so. Anyway, uh. Here's the thing; I believe, and call me a free-spirited hippie freak if you want... that there is art in all things. Writing and drawing are, by their very notion, creative endeavors. I've seen "Salo" and "In the Realm of the Senses" and "Irreversible," and those films are completely repelling and disturbing to me, but there's an art and discipline to their construction that I admire. Even though they make me want to vomit. I love the Berserk manga, and some of the two-page spreads of nothing but demon carnage and gristle are downright disturbingly beautiful, in their own unsettling way. I think Elfen Lied is a horrid and dull mess, but I could tell that it was at least attempting to get the audience to care about the story beyond being luridly entertained by the viscera and effluvia.

But, each of those examples above were trying to do something more than just show gross carnage for it's own sake. Even if I didn't agree or enjoy what it was saying, I could recognize small pieces of humanity there beyond all the gross ickyness. Guro isn't concerned with that. It is, quite literally, like pornography. It is giving exactly what it's depraved audience wants, without any subtext or emotion. Which, I mean, that's fine, cool, whatever; you guys can enjoy your sick stuff and get off all you want, I honestly don't care. I'm not some judgmental prick who thinks you're going to read guro manga and immediately start traveling the country on serial murdering rampage; you get your rocks off however you want, man.

But it isn't art. To me, anyway. Art needs to make a statement. And not a hollow one; too many people like to think that making a self-reflexive statement counts as an artistic statement; e.g., "oh, movies like 'Saw' and 'Hostel' are making a point about the acceptance of stylized violence in society!" Well, no, that's bullcrap. That's not making a statement, that's just... telling you what it was already doing. Art can't and doesn't make a statement about itself. That's like describing the taste of salt as "salty." By that same logic, though, I could easily see how people can see art within guro. I'm sure there's some amazingly talented artists out there in Japan right now, with draftsmanship skills that would make me weep with envy, who are studiously drawing the hell out of some underage moe girl getting chopped up by an axe.

Sorry for the rant there, but that's what you get I guess when you bring the word "art" into the mix. Guro isn't art, because it doesn't aspire to be. It is what it is; gross stuff for people with gross tastes.

Hey Answerman!

For A-list shows like Monster and Nana, it is so irritating to not have the original ED themes. Monster used a top-shelf David Sylvian cut, and being a long-time fan of Sylvian, I can't imagine a songwriter fitting the tone of the show better. And Nana's first ED is not only performed by the same vocalist who did the later EDs, but large parts of the song remain as incidental music during key scenes. Presumably we're looking at different songwriters, musicians, or publishers... it really makes a farce out of the whole "inspired by Reira" promotional tactic.

Does it really cost so much to obtain the rights to use these songs?

There's two different answers to each of those questions, because they deal with two separate markets.

The first, about David Sylvian and Monster: I can't speak to the specifics about that one because I don't know, but... yes, yes it really does cost that much money! In this era of nonexistent CD sales and thin margins on MP3 downloads, one of the most lucrative forms of revenue that any musician can get are by licensing out their music for film or television. I mean, nobody but pedantic music snobs like me would know or care about Feist unless she was on an iPod commercial. These "synchronization rights," i.e. a piece of music being attached to a visual, are heavily lobbied by record labels and the individual artist's manager. And they are not cheap. They go for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

In Japan, though, a country with a much smaller media market in general, the cost to license popular music from the US is scaled back appropriately, so it's easier for anime studios and TV networks to afford them. So, Monster can use David Sylvian, and Speed Grapher can use Duran Duran. In Japan. When those shows come to the US, there's a whole new mess of music licensing fees to deal with, and more often than not, they're simply way too expensive. Not to mention that there's no guarantee, even if they had that kind of money, that the artist would agree to let it be used. They can always just say "no."

As for the Japanese side of things, I'll let my most-excellent-of-superiors Justin Sevakis take that one, since he's got more chops about the ins and outs of the Japanese music industry than myself:

In the case of Japanese artists, the problem is more along the lines of a delusion of grandeur. If a Japanese artist is a big name there, they naturally think they could be huge in America too. Even if nobody knows them in the West, the artist and their management usually believe that it's just a matter of time before they're walking the red carpet with Britney and Lady GaGa, and they should be compensated accordingly. This is an especially big problem with Johnny & Associates, the company that controls Smap, Tokio, Arashi, Kat-tun, and myriad other Japanese boy bands. Never mind that, to date, only 1 or 2 Japanese artists have ever had any measurable success in the US. Some might refuse to allow their music to be released in America altogether, lest a little cartoon spoil their big American debut.

I got this message some time before Christmas, I think. It was written in mostly red and green text, I guess, so as to be... seasonally appropriate? I'm going to change the color back to simple black so as not to harm people's eyes.

Dear Anime News Network:

Could anyone please look over Wikipedia for my Request for Lupin III Vs. Detective Conan Story Summery asap?

I couldn't fill it out because of the system error, so I turned to you guys, please.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

I read your summery [sic] and it was booo-ring. I wrote a better one:

"Lupin III vs. Detective Conan is a story about vengeance, loss, and regret. Lupin III, a shambling wreck of a man, wracked by guilt over leaving his wife after her third miscarriage, goes to Detective Conan to solve the murder of Jigen, who was brutally killed by his gay former lover. Conan, frustrated by his inability to grow up and mature and lead a normal life with lasting relationships, is contemplating suicide. Joined together by their sadness and longing, Lupin and Conan discover that the true mystery that needed to be solved was inside each of them. And at the end they fight a T-Rex."

And now, it's Answerfans time! Get out your cup of hot cocoa and your favorite Snuggy and read along! Here was last week's question to the so-called peanut gallery:

Evan wonderfully explodes our first response:

The greatest change I both hope and expect to see in the coming year is a wonderful explosion of legally licensed online content. Lets face it, over the years almost all of us have been forced to the realm of piracy to varying degrees. Its by this very token that anime has managed to infect and inspire audiences across the globe, and with it bring greater market potential and profit, in a realm which would be otherwise left totally obscured if not nonexistent. This can easily be witnessed by the internet exclusive release of Haruhi season 2, where crafty marketers decided to switch solely to the realistic realm of their base for initial release. With a large amount of anime shifting to this mode of distribution via sites like hulu and funimation, anime fans all over are finally given greater chance to legally support the content they love. Its frustrating to find overpriced imports out-competed by boot legs and used dvds. Its time for more corporate anime execs to wisen up, and bring the content to where it is viewed. Doing so could help open new horizons for cheap global product distribution, efficiency and profit, but more importantly, help remove the harsh burden of guilt carried by almost every closet otaku.

William gets DIGI-TIZED:

The biggest change I foresee happening in the anime market around the world is digitization. Most of the major companies are running streaming versions of newer shows for free or for a small price, and it's definitely bringing about large changes.

As the structure of distribution changes for the better, so will income and profit. The anime market was in a bind, way behind, and looking to make a deal, and I think they've found the way to do it. I think were probably going to see a lot of older titles being available for free as well, so prepare to re-watch a lot of your favorite shows from the past that you haven't seen in awhile.

I don't foresee anything more then that happening in 2010, but if this keeps up (and provided with a bit of luck) further in the future we can be looking forward to a healthy and growing market, and quite possibly the introduction of many more third party companies starting out and trying to forge their way with their projects in the market.

And THAT I look forward to!

Mitamaking has us all on the rebound:

What do I see this year in anime?

To be honest I expect a rebound in North America. Section 23/Sentai Filmworks seems to be finding it's footing and with Halo Legends, shows they can still do dubs. Funimation seems to be going strong at least for now avoiding the pitfalls ADV had(plus they have FMA Brotherhood coming out this year). Bandai Entertainment seems to have licensed the second season of Haruhi, which is the first license of theirs since Kannagi in July. Two new companies are getting into anime, Discotech is releasing Fist of the North Star, and Anime Midstream is licensing Raijin-Oh. All in all, not a bad for R1 anime companies.

Next, I see Crunchyroll showing some more muscle, so far Durarara and Chu Bra look like pickups for next year. They will eventually I think have 90% of releases a season and we anime fans will have little to complain about (well us Americans at least).

Finally, Japan will continue to release sequels to popular properties, which I have no problem with. More moe shows will happen but it won't be as bad as everyone thinks.

Watson digs deep:

If I could truly foresee what will happen in the anime market on both sides of the pond in 2010, I'd find a way to make a profit from it. Since I can't do that, here's some more blind speculation:

In Japan, maybe the release of the rest of Shangri-La in a box after the early singles bombed will give the Japanese companies a big friggin' clue that Japanese fans are getting more than a little sick of paying $70 times 13 for a 26-episode series. As a result, they might even make their prices a little more human to encourage more people to buy anime instead of pirating it. Maybe moeblob will finally finish as a major trend and creators and producers will find themselves having to depend on quality writing again (unless they find another, similar device to cynically exploit their customers with). Chances are also high that the producers of the forthcoming Haruhi Suzumiya movie will find yet another new and novel way to alienate their audience, and Japanese fans will march en masse on Kyoto Animation, wielding whatever blunt objects they feel can inflict good levels of mortal and property damage.

In North America, maybe Funimation will finally get through their concrete skulls that putting seven episodes of anime on one DVD makes it look like decaying raw sewage, and will wake up and delete their squeezeboxes and re-release all the affected series (including Fruits Basket) with no more than five episodes per DVD. Maybe they (and the former ADV) will also stop dropping and restore on-disc extras once and for all (especially when they delete the single volumes that originally featured them), and list all of them on their packaging. Between the two of them, more people would buy their re-releases instead of tracking down the out-of-print originals, which often results in the people involved in its creation not getting any money out of it. Hint, god damned hint.

On the other hand, maybe the industry will continue to prove that they could screw up instant rice and the sheeple will scarf it down like it's manna. At least the rest of us can dream, can't we?

Mykey said "paradigm shift." Gauntlet thrown!

The year 2009 has been a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the totally mind-numbing with regards to the quality (and quantity) of anime we were bombarded with. There were the highly intellectual ones, the really poignant ones, and then there were those that amidst all the loud explosions, over-the-top performances, and bombastic dialog failed to even move the left ventricle in my heart. I'm looking at you Code Geass/Code Geass R2.

Seriously. We've gotten an arseload of stuff like that, absolute trash that seriously thought that it wasn't absolute trash because it takes itself too seriously, and we, the general public, just take it in like beggars because we need it, we love it, the violence and excitement shows like Code Geass and Ikki Tousen bring us sustain us and give us a false sense of 'life'. In a paradoxically similar vein, Guren Lagan is about as over-the-top as far as mecha shows go, but at least it was fun and wasn't trying too hard. Hell, the show had HEART and three-dimensional characters at the very least. But Lelouch was just a cold, manipulative bastard none of us can relate to.

From that major digression I just made, I would now like to jump to the matter at hand: change in 2010. Because of the overwhelming increase I've noticed in critical thinking AND viewing within the anime community, I think the anime studios are beginning to take notice of this paradigm shift in the way the general public's taste. It's mere speculation, but I sincerely believe that serialization for worthy titles such as ToraDora vis-a-vis Clanaad is becoming more and more of a possibility, given the marketability of shows like Baccano! and Moribito in the west, intelligent shows with much entertainment value at its core.

And in the east? We'll probably get more intelligent manga-ka rising in the ranks. Hopefully.

Rounding out the week, Rui has some thoughts on the Japanese side:

What an interesting question you posed. I think this one extends past just anime and into computer/video games as well - the issue of voice acting and dubbing. Having made a large amount of otaku friends in Japan, and also being able to peruse the Japanese material that we don't get access to here in the States, I can confidently say that the otaku market (if you will let me call it that) is quite mature, and they have already covered their marketing positioning frontier to the max. Now, if we were to take all of the things that culturally separate Americans and Japanese otakus, put that aside, and simply look at the media, I'd have to say voice acting is undoubtedly the biggest difference. Here lies the biggest changes that are going to come not only in 2010, but in the years following that - voice localization.

Look at the Japanese side of things - voice actors (seiyuu) to anime/games are an elite group, just like actors to movies. Akira Ishida, Takehito Koyasu, Yui Horie - these are all superstars and if you ask any Japanese otaku who that is, they would definitely know. They are able to obtain prolific, full-time careers through voice acting only. Looking at our side? Ask someone who Athrun Zala or Lelouch's voice actor is, and you would probably get a blank face. Why does it matter though? Just because they are celebrities, does it mean they can do their job better than English counterparts?

I think yes. Seiyuu world has many dedicated voice acting schools which brings about competitiveness and thus striving for excellence. On top of that, the process for gaining recognition and entry into the field is very rigorous, similar to actors. Over here, not only do we not have such rigorous of a system, we often even have actors doubling as voice actors, which although the concept is somewhat similar, there are still certain recognizable differences. The biggest difference to me, honestly, is that the incredibly important physical acting element that Hollywood stresses is nonexistent in voice acting, so hotties like, for example, Hayden Panettiere (Kingdom Hearts's Kairi's English VA) who have training to bring out their physical appeal lose a part of their effectiveness.

Of course (and thank goodness), this has been noticed and change is already happening. If you look at the voice acting for, let's say....the original Mobile Suit Gundam (I gave up trying to watch the dub in 2 episodes) vs. something like Dissidia: Final Fantasy, the change is drastic. So of course I'm not saying that English VAs suck or don't try or blahblah that I hear whenever I bring up this Japanese vs English VA issue. It's just going to require many years of the field getting more recognition, popularity, and money before we can have emotion-string tugging vocals on our side just like the Japanese do.

Hm, I thought I would get a lot more responses for that question. So, let's try something a little less... heavy for next week:

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.

And that's all for this week! I'll be here next time, most likely, so keep asking and responding in kind, and I'll still answer and post. Good night!

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