Hey, Answerman!by Brian Hanson, Feb 5th 2010
Hey guys! Welcome back!
So, for the past two weeks I've been making fun of a guy who reacted quite angrily, for some reason, to a reply I made about anime conventions. He launched into an all-out assault on the anime industry and its fans with spurious logic and buckets of vitriol. I, like anybody else I'd imagine, found this meltdown hilarious. Then I wrote a fake letter to Taco Bell mimicking his own voice and moral outrage to sort of cap the whole thing off. Which confused everybody, so consider that joke a failure.
Anyway. Later on of course he replies back, with this:
Didn't write the Taco Bell letter, no thank you.
I'll be going to prison soon enough, at the rate things are going. I don't need your help.
And... ouch. Suddenly, all the desire I once had to mock someone over the internet instantly vanished. My mental image of a guy with too much time on his hands and far too much irrational anger quickly became that of a lost and lonely soul, lashing out at someone (i.e. me) who is part of a community he once treasured, and no longer feels support from.
Not that I'm forgiving the guy for the stupid things he's said, mind you, but that last message reminded me of the deeper issues at stake than silly things like arguing about cartoons. I'm not sure what those issues are, and I don't really need to know - that's not my job, or my duty. The internet is a disconnected machine that derives its humor from cynicism and cruelty, so for me to try and dig deeper into the situation would seem disingenuous at best or completely heartless at worst.
My hope for the guy is that he gets the help he needs, wherever that is. Speaking for myself as a guy with a history of mental illness and the alienation that it causes, I can certainly say that it sure as hell isn't on the internet. And whipping yourself in an indignant fury about anime fans won't do much good either. And with that, I'm not going to say anything else about the guy; I've had my fun, and it's time to move on.
Depressing part over. Let's get to the questions!
It seems to me that most anime openings consist of only music and animation. Where there aren't any sound effects that correspond to any action that is taking place, which is more common in American cartoons. It makes me feel less attached to the action and more like watching a music video. Not that I want to get into preferences, just pointing out that they provide different experiences. The few exceptions I can think of are the original opening of Go Lion (Voltron) and the Japanese intros to the X-Men cartoons having sound effects. So it's not as if the Japanese are completely oblivious to the practice.
Different cultural sensibilities would be one obvious reason, but I was wondering more about other factors that would encourage this treatment.
You kind of unknowingly answered your own question to this mystery by mentioning the phrase "music video." Because that's almost exactly why you won't be hearing any sound effects during an anime opening: The record label that's sponsoring the show and licensing the song that you're hearing don't want you to be distracted by any other sounds, so that you immediately run out and buy the latest TM Revolution CD or whatever.
Unlike with most western shows, the opening is actually animated from the get-go to specifically match the particular J-Pop single that's been chosen for the show. Cartoons here have approximately two minutes less screen-time on air than in Japan, so there's really no time to cram in an opening title sequence that's more than maybe 30 seconds long. So they're generally just a random collection of clips from the show spliced together with some forgettable incidental music. Again, in Japan the record labels have a tightly-knit connection to the show's production, so those extra two minutes are wisely used to promote whatever artist they feel would be a good fit for the show. It's not a cultural preference, per se; it's a business-minded practice.
I was listing to random episodes of the Anime World Order podcast, specifically ep. 25. One of the emails they had gotten was from a 14 year old girl who is hiding a large collection of yaoi manga from her parents. She said if her parents were to find it then they would take it all away and she wouldn't be able to get anymore anime or manga. My question is why hasn't there already been an uproar from parents in the U.S., Japan, or wherever already about their kids buying kiddy porn cartoons and/or comics?
Probably because... it's not that big of a problem? I mean, the biggest anime "controversy" we've had in the past couple of years regarding teenagers are a few kids getting suspended from school for having their own Death Notes.
Not that I don't think kids aren't looking at this stuff. Of course they are. They're also looking at far worse stuff. Kids are curious creatures, and the Pandora's Box that is the internet is a naturally inviting source of never-ending depravity. Luckily, it's not like these kids are turning it into an obsession. It's not like they're so obsessed with looking at dirty hentai pictures and collecting relatively tame shounen-ai manga that they're all flunking out of school, en masse. So long as these kids aren't giving their parents a reason to be suspicious, they won't be. Besides, I don't think that today's parents have "looking at cartoon porn" at the top of their list of things to be concerned about over their kids.
In short, there hasn't been an "uproar" about this because, thus far, everybody's been nice and sensible about it. And it would be great if it stayed that way. All it'll take, of course, is one dumb kid to get caught with a stash of dirty Japanimation comics in Memphis or something for the media circus to take route and turn the whole thing into a cavalcade of fear and failure. But hopefully we can avoid that part.
Anime is just a nerdy geek niche right now. Will we see the day when anime and live action movies can be conversed about with the non-initiated without the otaku stigma and as another form of storytelling? I revel in the idea of anime reaching mainstream audiences who aren't tainted by the prejudices most are filled with towards it.
Getting rid of the "otaku stigma" and getting anime "mainstream" are actually two separate goals, but they'll both sort of start the same way. Both, at the moment, seem kind of insurmountable.
A few columns ago I answered a similar question, and I brought up a few examples of books and music; people shouldn't judge, say, fantasy novels because of their stereotype of the D&D nerd with mustard stains in his beard, and people shouldn't judge, say, the new Vampire Weekend CD because of the kids these days with their skinny jeans and porkpie hats. And then somebody in the forums said that was a "bad analogy" because "some people don't like Vampire Weekend because of their music, not just because they hate kids with skinny jeans." Even though that proved my point exactly. I never said that people needed to automatically love fantasy novels or hipster music - just that they should judge them both on their own terms. Anime is very, very far away from that, obviously.
And anime becoming "mainstream" is sort of a hot topic 'round the internet, because it seems like some of the more sheltered anime fans think being "mainstream" is a kind of code word for "western" or "sanitized." As though the second anime gets any kind of fame or notoriety in the west, POW! Haruhi Suzumiya will cease to exist and all you'll be allowed to watch is the Nelvana dub of Bakugan. Under penalty of death by sniper fire.
When of course, in reality, those shows will continue to exist. They will cohabitate with their "mainstream" brethren, drinking from the same river and frolicking in the same field, but they will appeal to vastly different audiences. The Kanon's and Air's of the world will keep coming out and gleefully servicing their ardently devoted (but very, very small) fanbase, while the "mainstream" shows will blast out of the ground, guns a-blazin', entertaining all who dare to watch. For some reason anime fans don't seem to understand the concept that fanservicey shows and moe things and yaoi and EVERYTHING can coexist with mainstream ones. I mean, every year at Sundance, there are a dozen or so movies that get made, play in front of a crowd of coked-out film critics and filmmakers, and then wind up on DVD for the viewing pleasure of a dozen or so film snobs at trendy art schools. And then of course there are movies like Avatar that make a million-billion dollars that everybody sees. But those indie movies still get made, they still make a profit, and they still have their fans and their viewers.
Anime should be a medium, and like any medium it's going to have its broadly-appealing hits and it's narrowly-focused genre-specific titles. Will that day ever come, when anime is considered a medium, and not the sad hobby of pock-marked losers? Probably not in my lifetime, I'm afraid. Anime has only been in the public consciousness now, in its current state, since the 90's. It's 2010, and animation itself is stilled shrugged off as "cartoons for kids" around the world, videogames are still thought of as superviolent trash for maladjusted kids with bad parents, and Prince is still not being hailed as the world's greatest single musical talent. It has a long, long way to go. But you know what would help it along? Mainstream shows. Shows like, I dunno, Cowboy Bebop, Eden of the East, or another solid Miyazaki film. It would be nice if Japan's economy magically fixed itself so that anime producers could branch out a bit and experiment with making world-class entertainment instead of relying on their rabid but rapidly dwindling hardcore fanbase to keep them in business, but no. It's nice to want things, though.
Hey gang! It's Hey, Answerfans time! That's right, we're skipping ahead, because the last few Flakes of the Week have strangely left a very bad taste in my mouth. So, first, a brief reminder on what I asked you all last time:
Edward starts us off with bullet points and big words:
What is the State of Union of Anime and Manga? Intransigent Stasis.
1. The growth of downloaded content is more likely to continue as the closed system of region one DVD releases continues to falter. I stipulate that the region one dvd system is closed as in closed minded towards growth in an ever changing market model. I am not advocating that the physical medium be abandoned, I calling for it to follow more closely the evolution from VHS to DVD. People who argue against the trend of hard drive collected content need to review the evolution of electronic entertainment and the rapid changes to audio and video mediums. I have to ask what are the revenue differences between legitimate downloads and DVD sales. In a shifting economic market, the cost of two dollars an episode for download verses four to five dollars an episode on DVD would appear to be simple.
2. The industry as a whole must stop taking its customers for granted. We live in a digital age. I no longer have to rely on imported Newtype magazine articles from the comic book stores to learn about new animes in Japan. (Yeah I'm that old) Anime as a collectors item started off a piracy before becoming mainstream and legit. The return to piracy could be seen as cyclical but it isn't. It is driven equally by individual greed and corporate apathy. I have read many articles condeming the individual greed but I have witnessed little hand bitting by editors pointing out the corporate disregard for the customer. Stop blaming the potential customer for downloading episode 563 of Meitan Conan when they can't purchase a single region one copy of episode 235 of Case Closed. Bleach began in 2004 and has surpassed 250 episodes. Cartoon Network has run over 150 episodes, but only four seasons consisting of roughly twenty episodes each have been released. With roughly 75 episodes, why has it taken until 2009 for a exceptional series like Monster that started in 2004 to begin being released on DVD?
3. Atrophy is the only condition for anime in America until visibility is improved overall. The ANN website promotes heavily new releases of DVDs, but that is a niche market reaching out to customers already coming in the door. There is very little advertising, in comparison, targeted towards the general population. 12 midnight to 4AM on a single network is not promotion of material. There are three networks that cater to animation viewing with little anime content. There are several networks that cater to niche markets: G4, Spike, MTV, VH1, SyFy with little to no anime content. Yet you only have to look at the market reaction to Afro Samurai to understand that the problem lies in anime not being out there for the general public to see as the strongest factor in resession of Anime video sales. Everyone I know that is into anime, downloaded Afro Samurai. They also bought both the series and movie dvds. The dvds were also bought by people that don't travel in normal anime circles.
4. Manga is even more directly challenged by modern technology. Manga stands on a ledge and needs to jump off into the electronic medium. Again I do not advocate abandoning the physical medium of the printed page. Collectors who crave the feel of a book in their hands are not going to change that desire. I base this observation on several heated debates with my brother. But to place things in perspective, Amazon's number one advertised item is the Kindle, an electronic reader. After scanning my collection of old comics, I sold or gave away the rest. I have them now a mouse click away. While they have no monetary value, I have retained their sentimental value and my kids aren't able to tear them. Manga should observe the Marvel Comics model of making their collections available digitally as well as printed. It has worked for the printed novel and appears to work just as well for comics now. With the explosion of digital readers available (Sony, Amazon, Apple to name the most obvious) Manga's black and white format is primed to go digital, so why can I not use my PSP comic reader app to read it?
I think Edward's email above got cut off, but whatever - I like where he was going with it. If I had to guess what his number five was, I think it would just say "Two words: Plastics." Anyway. Andrew! You're up:
My fellow anime fans,
It is a hard time for all of us fans. The money that used to help us feed our need for anything anime has almost stopped. With people getting laid off or getting their hours cut combined with the need to budget our money for the basic needs we need to live our collection of anime merchandice has been at a stand still. Because of this, fellow suppliers such as ADV and Geneon has left for financial reasons. Also fan subs and DVD rips have been made availible through the internet and this, combined with the economic hard times we all feel, have shut down these studios. I remember when anime was everywhere. A large selection in Best Buy, a great section in Sam Goody and its sister store Suncoast Video. But Best Buy doesn't have such a great selection and the Sam Goody franchise no longer exists. I was hoping during the anime boom of the late 1990's to the early 2000's that it would only get bigger and better with anime only stores opening in malls all over America so we otaku can shop next to the over priced Abercrombie and Fitch with the "popular" kids from high school and show we don't care what they think. We could stand together and say, "There are more of US than they're are you!" But it was not to be.
Now I am sure most people are asking what can we do to help. Well I have a couple of solutions. First of all, buy anime on DVD. It will help in the long run. It will keep the remaining dubbing studios open and it could possibly create a new one. Also where ever anime merchandise is sold it will keep them open too. If any of you live near an anime only store go there and don't just buy a plushie, buy a DVD. If not a series then how about a movie? If you do that the store will stay open and you don't have to drive 100 miles to the nearest anime only store. Next is to stop the dubbing/fan sub war. I do download anime. I am guilty of that but I also have a decent anime collection. I have Inuyasha Final Act but when it does come to the US I will delete my downloaded content and buy it. I think the fan sub fans need to see the english versions of their downloaded anime if it has come to the US. A couple of episodes won't hurt. Don't plow through, actually listen and watch it. If you don't like it, fine. At least you gave it a try and opened up to the dubbed world.
In conclusion my fellow otaku I hope all of you see through these hard times. Anime is an escape from reality. We wish we could go to the Kingdom of Kei or slap Miyaka across the face for being so annoying crying, "Tamahome!" every episode. Even grab Shinji by his shirt and tell him to suck it up, save the world, and kick his dad in the groin. This is why we watch anime and collect plushies, figures, and even make wepons used by our favorite character. So I ask all of you to be open minded and strong during these times. Who knows maybe one of us will open a new dubbing studio and lead the charge to getting anime back on top in American nerd culture. Thank you for reading and best of luck to wondering why "Endless Eight" wanted you to smash your head on the keyboard.
Max, state of the union, GO:
I'm perfectly fine with the way anime is right now. I don't mind at all that it's a niche hobby. Why? Because I believe that if we try to make anime mainstream in the west, we'll end up alienating people. Anime is Japanese, and the culture difference is immense to most westerners. There's concepts and ideas used in anime that may alienate people unfamiliar with the subject, such as Godannar's female character designs, or Lucky Star's references and moe artstyle. Because of this, people may have a hard time to get to know anime as a medium. I feel that no matter how many tentacle schoolgirl porn or Pokemon jokes are made about anime, I trust most people to be compassionate and open-minded. And if they aren't, it's not my responsibility to correct that.
I would, however, have anime be seen by those people as a medium with many different ideas, rather than narrowing the entire medium down to one genre. Saying, for example, that "all anime is like DBZ" would be like saying that Hollywood movies are all like James Bond. Both mediums, (anime and Hollywood films) have works that are funny and full of references (Lucky Star and Austin Powers), ones that are noir (Tim Burton's Batman and The Big O), ones about war (Platoon and Mobile Suit Gundam). The list goes on, and on. Anime is a fun, contemporary concept. Most American cartoons are alike, either being about superhero fanchises or being slapstick. It's not a bad thing, however, but the low range of American cartoons may lead some people to assume other animated things are easy to categorize. Anime cannot be simply categorized as one genre, and that's why we like it; for it's sheer amount of diversity in concepts, designs, and many other things.
Dr. Stanlove, state of the union, GO:
As I see it, the "State of the Union" of anime and manga is...troubled. Most enthusiasts probably wish the industry and fan community were as vigorous as they were five years ago. Unfortunately it just ain't so. Major distributors (like Geneon and ADV) have failed. Popular anime magazines have died (Newtype USA) or gone inactive (Protoculture Addicts). If the collection of well-produced anime based on fresh ideas (think FLCL, Spirited Away, Planetes, Haruhi, and Paprika) was a town, the houses would all be boarded up and there would be tumbleweeds rolling down the main street. The neighboring city of Lame-Derivative-Harem-Comedy-ville is bustling, but who wants to visit it? Nobody seems to be making excellent English dubs (like Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu) any more. Many worthy recent releases (such as guilty pleasure Ramen Fighter Miki) aren't being dubbed at all.
It's sad to see the industry so weak, but with the generally lousy economy and the rise of free Internet distribution, it's not a surprise.
Still I think there's hope. Despite complaints about weak sales of DVDs and CDs, the film and music industries appear to be producing plenty of good stuff. If these behemoths can adjust to the Internet age, so can anime and manga. The economic downturn has hurt everyone, but recessions never last forever. And strong attendance at anime conventions shows that there are still plenty of fans.
My perspective is that there will always be creative artists. There will always be fans of stories and pictures. Some of the latter will understand that work that gets rewarded gets repeated, and pay the creators and producers for their efforts. When the economy recovers and the industry adapts to the Internet I think we'll see lots of quality anime again. In the meantime, I hear that the brand-new Summer Wars is pretty good...
Joseph! STATE OF THE UNION. Go.
When it comes to the current state of anime in the United States, I see this as a period where the industry is getting back on their feet and rebuilding it following the huge blows that it has taken during the past couple of years. A few examples involving some of the companies that are associated with or have been associated with anime:
Funimation: When it comes to all the anime companies in the United States, Funimation is the one that has made it through the rough period without a major scratch. Part of the reason can be contributed to the fact that company has been adapting to a lot of the changes that's been going on when it comes to distributing anime in the United States. Among the changes include going the “season/half season” route when releasing their newer anime titles (a route that turns out to be more beneficial than the “3-5 episodes a disc” route in many ways), streaming a lot of their titles (including the most recent episodes of One Piece and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood) online, and releasing a number of their titles on Blu-Ray. Also, they are prepared for the next 12 months thanks in part to the release of the Dragon Box (boxsets for the the die-hard Dragon Ball Z fans) and such “big name” titles like Soul Eater, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, and Axis Power Hetalia. So, I think that it's safe to assume that Funimation will still be a major name in anime once 2011 comes around.
Section 23 Films/Sentai Filmworks: The “phoenix” story of the past few months, Section 23 Films is a company that appeared after the collapse of ADV Films last fall. During the few months it has existed, the company, through the Sentai Filmworks division, has quickly picking up the pieces that were left by ADV Films and is becoming a major player in the American anime industry. Right now, the “transition” from ADV Films to Section 23 still had a few slow spots (i.e. the company is currently sticking to subbed-only releases, a practice that a number of companies outside of Funimation have been doing with most of their more recent releases). However, Section 23 has already made a few steps in the right direction, first by using the “season/half season set” plan that Funimation has been taking, then by licensing a number of titles that are popular among the anime message board communities (including Hidamari Sketch and Gintama). It will be interesting to see what Section 23 has in store in the next 12 months, as it is indeed regaining the popularity that ADV had at its prime.
Bandai: Unlike the other companies that I've mentioned, Bandai seems to be going backwards in the past 12 months. First, the company has been experiencing a lot of delays when it comes to their anime and manga titles (which is pretty big, given how the company licenses such big titles as Code Geass, Lucky Star, and the Gundam franchises). Second, when it comes to new title announcements, it has been pretty scarce for Bandai. Finally, unlike the other companies, Bandai is having trouble changing its structure when it comes to how they sell their titles on DVD (a major example of this problem is their distribution plan for Hayate the Combat Butler, with the show being spread out through eight volumes, with each volume consisting of just one subbed-only disc costing about $40 retail price). In the past few days, Bandai did show signs of getting back on their feet by licensing the second season of Haruhi Suzumiya. However, whether or not this license wll affect them will depend on how they plan to release it (especially given how this season contains the infamous “Endless Eight” arc).
In summary, yes, there have been a few bumps affecting the American anime industry in the past two years. However, it appears that the worse may have passed through, with companies now repairing the damages that they have taken and beginning to adapt to changing styles in how we watch anime.
SHANNON!!! STATE OF THE uh, union. Go to it:
The current 'state of union' when it comes to anime seems to be rife with repetitive shounen titles. Don't get me wrong, I do love watching ninjas beat the snot out of each other, but it seems to get so much more play than things that don't stretch on forever or become little more than bad-guy-of-the-week shows. I think the saddest thing is that brilliant, thought-provoking titles are often swept under the rug by 4th squad shinigami. Genres such as josei and seinen get next to no play outside of Japan, whereas many of them are the better titles. Maybe I'm just biased, but these days most of the more famous anime have little to no depth, and only really fight scenes and predictable plot in between. I'd like the liscencers to take a better look at the anime itself, rather than the popularity its gained, but sadly, that's really not likely, as they are in it for the money, essentially. Also, they need to shake up the voice actor roster a bit. The same people always get the main roles, and for once I'd like to find a Funimation title without Vic Mignogna in it. He's alright as a voice, but there are -plenty- of other actors just as (or perhaps more) talented than he is that could also do a good performance in the roles. The same story seems to come up with many voice actors, and they could change that so easily, but just don't seem to want to.
Sam closes us out tonight with an eerie message:
I think most of the issues surrounding the industry come from the fact that they're focusing so much of their resources on pandering, and not so much on writing or producing a decent show. I'll shell out for a well-written, compelling story (like, for instance, the Gankutsuo boxed set I picked up from RightStuf's discount bin) not so much for a mediocre show about some teenager with a magic weapon that needs to fight some nebulous supernatural evil, so rife with fanservice that I could never in my right mind let people know I actually paid money for it.
The technology has advanced to a point at which guilty pleasures can now be enjoyed without leaving any physical evidence behind.
Next week's question is henceforth:
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 now! Remember to send in any and all queries and replies to answerman (at) animenewsnetwork.com! See you at some predetermined time in the future!
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