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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Greetings readers! I'll be on hiatus next week!

Why? I'm glad you didn't even bother to ask. I'm doing another one of my dumb little forays into the realm of the dramatic - You Are Not Special!, my latest play, opens next week. I'm sitting in the director's chair for this one, which has been kind of an awesome if not awe-inspiring experience.

We've got a Facebook event page and a blog set up for it and everything. It means we are using Web 2.0 and are "synergystic." Are there too many y's in that word? I can't tell.


While reading the headlines at ANN today I was surprised to find that Studio Ghibli's "Tales from Earthsea" had ended it's theatrical run in the USA after only three weeks! I had been hoping that this movie would have been shown somewhere in the Cleveland, Erie, or Buffalo areas so I could have enjoyed it on the big screen. Can you explain why a major motion picture, that made over $65 million dollars during it's theatrical release in Japan, would be relegated by it's American distribution company to only five theaters in the entire country, earning less then $50,000.00? I realize that the movie's release was delayed four years due to conflicts with another movie made by an American TV channel but I do not understand why it would have resulted in such a severely limited run.

Sure. It's actually quite easy to explain.

Giving any movie an honest-to-God theatrical release is expensive, even for one in only 5 theaters. Developing film prints is expensive, creating movie trailers is expensive, promoting them is expensive. It's all just a big expense. At least, until the film hits DVD and Blu-Ray. Then it's nearly all profit.

My own thoughts on the movie aside, Tales From Earthsea has been dogged by particularly poisonous reviews since its release four years ago. It opened in other foreign markets, including the UK, to similar critical dismissal and lackluster box-office numbers. In 2010, I can't imagine Disney had any high hopes for Earthsea to do little more than tread water in the theatrical market. Their only real hope to turn a profit on the movie was to try and get the DVD and Blu Ray out as quickly as possible.

But, Studio Ghibli has since been making it a legal requirement to screen their newest films theatrically before they head to DVD. So, Disney was contractually obligated to spend the time and money to promote this film, knowing it had little to no chance of finding a receptive audience. They took a wash on it, threw it out, and three weeks later, killed it.

I suppose what could've kept it going was if even the limited theatrical run was a surprise success. But, it wasn't. The big indicator for the success of films in limited release isn't the total boxoffice for the weekend, it's the per-theater average. Essentially how much money the film made for each individual theater. Tales From Earthsea was bringing in a little over 4,000 dollars its first weekend, less than 2,000 on its second weekend (on the same amount of screens) and less than 600 on its third.

At that point, stick a fork in it, it's done. Even with all the clout and muscle that Disney can operate in the movie business, even they know when to pull the plug on a movie that's not going to pull its own weight.

Think of it this way. When you watch Tales From Earthsea at home, at least you'll be so bored you fall asleep in your own home, where it is customarily appropriate to do so, instead of a strange art-house movie theater.

I am a firm believer in supporting the anime industry. I download fansubs to check out a series, and will continue to download them until the dvds or blurays are available. Then I buy them and watch them, and if they are at all good, I discard the fansubs. If I find the translation and/or video quality on the fansubs is better, then I will keep them and watch them again, and I don't feel guilty because I supported the industry in both North America and Japan (via the licensing fees the Japanese producers are paid).

I have been disappointed by the poor quality of Sentai's products vis-a-vis the fansubs of series such as Samurai Harem and Special A, both of which I bought. The same applies to Bandai's release of Kannagi, and I am holding off on buying the flawed release of Toradora. In those cases, I consider the fansubs to be far superior. However, Funimation really outdid itself with its release of FMAB Bluray Part 1. Not only were the subtitles sub-par (compared, for example, to Eclipse's fansubs), but the subtitles were not even selectable. There was a choice between English audio with NO subtitles and Japanese audio with FULL subtitles. No English audio with full subtitles for the hearing-impaired (such as myself). No Japanese audio with no subtitles for those who are comfortable enough with the language. And no songs and signs subtitles for either audio track. I didn't download or buy the dvds for comparison, but dvds for years have had selectable subtitle capability. Why would ANYONE release a crippled bluray without that flexibility?

I'd like to know this: do you feel that supporting lazy work (by buying sub-par products) encourages more sloppiness in the future?

That's... well, that's something that's up for debate, precisely. I mean, quality is subjective, generally speaking. Not being familiar with the subtitling on the Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood fansubs I can't speak too directly on the matter - I haven't had time to check out the Blu Rays, I've only seen the show streaming on Funimation's website and the dub on Adult Swim.

Now, to actually answer your question. Both of your points can be addressed by this simple little fact: The US anime industry is small. It is small and driven by its core fans. This means two things:

If you DON'T support this small little industry, it will fail. That much is certain. If it fails, expect to see less anime. Period. If it is empirically proven that anime has literally NO MARKET outside of Japan, they will make far less of it. Chances are you won't see the sorts of shows you like to see anymore.

On the flipside, BECAUSE the industry is small, your opinion still matters. These companies listen. Granted, if you've been listening to ANNcast or spent any time around industry veterans you do sort of get the sense that they find the constant nitpicking a little ridiculous. But that means that they are listening. It's important, as you've just demonstrated, to let them know when you feel a bit cheated, or when you feel like they've released a substandard product. They're not trying to do so on purpose. Everyone I know and have met from Funimation has made it sort of a mission to maintain an open and respectful rapport with the fans.

Plus, I mean, it's 2010, and we have the internet. You release something and there's something wrong with it, Twitter's trending topics will let you know about it within 15 minutes. Information flows so quickly now and with so many different venues that it's pretty easy to get a glimpse of a problem when it's actually a problem.

My only advice to you, and anyone who has a problem with how any specific anime is released, is to make sure it's not just you that's complaining. One complaint from an individual on the internet is a pretty easy thing to shrug off. A few thousand people complaining about that same thing? Not so easy. That's what we in the industry call a "problem." And problems tend to get dealt with. Not always in the way people want, but they are dealt with.

I mean, it's a learning process. Companies screw up, so they try and fix it and end up screwing up something else, et cetera. It goes and goes. It's hard, again because this industry is so small, to truly deliver a "perfect" product, but they're all trying to get there. They need core fans like yourself to support them, so when all of you band together to let them know when they messed something up, I can guarantee you that they'll listen.

My brief question is....Do voice actors enjoy anime as much as the fans of their work?

Well, much like any profession, you'll find people who LOVE the stuff they do and live and sleep and breathe anime, and you'll get the people who... well, they probably don't HATE it by any stretch, but. It's a job and they're good at it, it pays some bills, whatever.

There are dozens of people like Greg Ayres and Yuri Lowenthal who literally can't help themselves and their geeky love for all things anime. But for every Greg Ayres there's probably a few folks like... well, I could be crappy and name names, but I won't. Except to say that I can think of at least a few other voice actors for whom anime is just something they do, because they've got a good voice or maybe they're friends with someone at the studio, and they're able to show up on time and do good work on time. Dubbing studios don't have the luxury of being able to only hire top talent that also freaking loves anime as much as any true dyed-in-the-wool fanboy or girl. They can't put any restrictions on themselves; that puts a limit on the amount of voice talent they have access to, and that's not something they can do.

And besides, sometimes it's a good thing to reach outside the base a little bit to get a fresh perspective on something. Compiling a good dub and assembling a good cast is its own creative process, and being able to step back from the fandom aspect a bit in order to do what's best for the show at hand is ultimately what will be the best for everyone.

Again! No flakes this week. Just spam. Lots and lots of spam. And spam is boring. Except for the Bible sandals they think Answerman wants. And maybe he does. Answerman now talks to himself in the third person. Using his internet columnist moniker.

Moving along then! Let's remember what I asked you all to respond to last week:

Joanna starts this discussion train by saying that it's a sword with two blades - a "double edged sword" if you will:

I have to say that I enjoy the thirteen episode season format--for the most part. First, the quality of the animation tends to increase as the number of episodes decrease. The most recent seasons of Slayers (Evolution and Revolution-R) are testament to that. If one looks back at the older, longer-spanning seasons like Next and Try some episodes look downright awful and are quite nearly painful to watch. Sequences are re-used, characters are drawn awkwardly and out of proportion; etc. It appears that budget constraints led to the animators having to cut corners. While I understand the necessity of it, that to me tends to bring down the overall value of the season when I go to purchase it. So, in that effect, I like the shorter seasons because the deal seems sweeter.

My second point is more of a double-edged sword. Thirteen episode seasons tend to cut out a lot of the crappy "filler" episodes that have nothing to do with the plot in order to get to the point of things. This would have worked out a lot better for a series like Maburaho, which my fiance and I initially enjoyed, but quickly grew bored of. Without giving things away, one of the biggest climactic points of the show happened somewhere around disk four of the series, yet the series crawls along with episodic fluff for another three disks before it resolves one of the main problems resulting from said climax. The show loses some audience in favor of stretching out a plot that was too thin to be pulled so far. In this case my fiance stopped watching Maburaho with me after disk five and waited until the final disk seven to finish the series. Meanwhile, I slogged through the episodes with ever-decreasing enthusiasm, waiting for some big break in the plot to occur that didn't happen until nearly the last episode. Had this been a little thirteen episode romp, this season, while not particularly deep, could have been a lot more entertaining.

Bear in mind, not every show can use this shortened format. A series like Code Geass, which has quite a complex plot, couldn't really pull off a shorter season. Something would have been lost in the process. Important elements to the story might have fallen to the wayside otherwise and the season would have likely felt rushed.

To sum it up I say thirteen episodes would work for a lot, but not every anime out there.

Zack thinks that 13 episodes just ain't enough:

This week's question is one that I've been asking myself for some time, and I wish that I had taken advantage of being around anime directors such as Nabeshin at Anime Expo and gotten their thoughts on this. Provided of course that they'd respond with their true feelings. Anyways, as for my own opinion, I'm finding that too many shows are suffering because of the trend of 13 episode series being the norm. Yes, there are some shows out there that truly are deserving of only getting 13 episodes, and some shows where even 13 seems like too many. But, there are other shows where they were good shows, but they were way too rushed. A recent example to me would be Angel Beats. I honestly think the show could have benefited by having at least 13 more episodes. Without getting too in depth since I wouldn't want to spoil the show for those who haven't seen it, a couple characters were basically given a whole episode to wrap things up for them, and I think more characters would have benefited from at least getting half an episode to give them some background. But, since it was just a 13 episode series, they had to rush through everything. Even in the cases of series that some people said were pretty bad, when I watched them I got the feeling that the reason they were considered bad wasn't because of the concept, but rather the fact that they started out as being pretty ambitious projects that just didn't have the budget or the episode count to properly tell their story. Then they're forced to put a slapdash ending on it out of nowhere and call it done. I realize the money just isn't there for a lot of long, continuing series and the production studios probably don't want to leave things open ended enough to continue if they don't feel like there's a realistic chance for a second season, but then I have to wonder why they even bothered with making the series in the first place? I guess the only bright side to this trend that I see is that when a truly good series (like Cross Game!) comes along and is given a long run, it makes it all the more appreciated. I just wish we'd see it happening a bit more often is all.

Sam spits on the OAV grave:

I think its semi-natural progression. I for one am glad that OAVs are dying out. Sure, they provided a nice middle ground between movie and series, but they cluttered the anime market and most of them are just too damn short (Hey, Eiken and most hentais! Two episodes isn't a series, it's a disjointed movie.) with obnoxiously long waits between episode releases. Meanwhile, I like the shorter series. I really wish all series were a certain number of episodes per season/series for tighter writing and better pacing (You shonen goons get that?). It's the lack of actual movies I'm bothered with. A lot of anime movies come out each year, but they're non-continuity stories of popular shows that merely mimic of the show's storylines to bilk otaku. That there represents why the anime industry is dying: no more originality when they have the means to create fantastic works. But this is countered by the shorter series.

The anime industry needs to head in a new direction and shorter shows is a good way to go. OAVs can be used from time to time but only if they have some substance and depth (Ain't that right, Tenchi?). And they really should make more moves that AREN'T more ways to pry money from fans.

Rob has to be a jerk and get all "business" and "intelligent" with his answer:

I believe that the progression in the anime industry isn't necessarily a natural forward point to the industry itself, but moreso to the industry as a business in a tough economical time. Sure, the progress of the industry and how it's moving to digital releases and the such might play a contributing factor, but by and large it's that companies, and additionally the consumers, don't want to spend any more money than necessary. Unless you have a blockbuster hit (which imo there hasn't been anything substantially amazing in popularity since the first FMA) there's no way a company is going to commit to paying to run a 26+ episode series right off the bat. They're going to do a season at a time and ensure that they'll only continue it if it's paying well enough. The same is true for OVAs over full movies, the company just doesn't have the resources to pay for a project like that in the off chance it doesn't do well enough to support the budget used to make it. I think it'll be a better telling point if the industry is still like this, say, after we get the next big show, or after the global economy starts to get back to where it was five to ten years ago.

Susan brings up my least favorite anime WACKY COMEDY trope of all at the end, and now my ire is seething:

I definitely miss the high end animation and really nice soundtracks the high budgets of OAVs and feature films have but...I honestly can't say I miss most anything else about them.

And it may be just me, but out of all the films I've seen the vast majority have been bizarre, confusing, and just kind of bloated feeling. I always got the feeling people said it was amazing simply because they had no idea what was going on, therefore it must be.

As far as OAVs go, I'm showing my age a bit in admitting it, but I can remember when VCRs were still pretty new and having one was pretty special. Owning a tape at all was kind of a treat and a big deal. It simply isn't that way anymore. DVDs are so affordable everybody has huge collections of movies and there's a plethora of entertainment on demand all over the internet that OAVs have kind of just lost their place in the sea of other choices. 3 episodes of something coming out sometimes months apart simply isn't going to hold anybody's attention anymore.

It's just the natural progression of things... why pour all your money into one big project that will likely only produce moderate returns at best? I can't say it's without fault though, as right now I'd definitely say there's a big quantity over quality problem. There's a whoooole lot of crap for every one good series to come out. When 13 episodes is done well, it gives a lot more time to flesh out the characters and story then a movie or even an OAV. But what usually happens is 5 episodes of things happening and then a whole lot of "oops I fell and faceplanted into your breasts" filler episodes.

Lucy thinks that the median range of 13 episodes is juuuuuust right:

I'm going to go all math on your butts; get ready for it. The good series are usually like so: 10 episode < good < 25 episodes. Anything below ten episodes either had a bunch of stuff cut out or never had anything substantial to begin with. Anything above that is just as bad because they have so many filler episodes, it is ridiculous. No one has the time to deal with such a long running series. Really, this is the natural progression of the industry. Eventually, anything but what is considered true in my equation up there (nifty, huh?) will be extinct. And that's a shame.

I feel like a little old lady saying this, but I miss the days when a series could have more than two seasons and still prosper. Yu Yu Hakusho, Saiyuki (all of them), and Rurouni Kenshin are some of my favorites of all time. People say I'm weird/stupid/ignorant etc. because I actually liked the giant filler arc known as the third season of RK, but I loved being able to get into the characters and feeling an attachment to them. Every additional episode strengthened that bond. That can't be done in some short running show. People just don't have time to dedicate to these bigger series unless they followed them from the beginning like Bleach and Naruto.

But I also like movies such as Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Howl's Moving Castle. Granted, I could name a lot more longer running series that I've adored in my 8 years of being in the fandom, but movies are great! You don't have to buy ridiculously priced box sets or try to pirate a bunch of episodes on the web. The most you'll get filler-wise in a movie/OVA is a two minute filler scene just to loosen the tension. Movies and OVAs are short, sweet, and to the point. The problem with those two things are that they might be too short, too sweet, and too to the point, if that makes any sense. There really isn't enough time to feel real attachment like you do in an average sized anime. Some of us just like slower paced shows anyway, which is stupid to do in a movie/OVA if you want to make money.

So that middle ground is the new norm. Literally half the shows I've watched are in that center range. It isn't so long that you get bored, but it is long enough to get the plot brought across. The industry will go with what it thinks is most profitable, so 12-15 episodes it is.


Oh by god is it a problem. A major problem. Why? Well let us look at the past.

If you don't know, the anime bubble for Japan was around the 1980s - when the money was following in, VCRs were the rage and cash wasn't a big deal. This was the start of the OVAs. The OVA was a way that anime companies could explore an idea without putting too much money into it - and still get a profit. Around this time, anime companies started to experiment. Anime about tentacles? Okay. Experimental shows? Of course. Anime music videos? Sure.

So these VHS of random anime shows would pop up and people actually bought them. Of course they did. It was the coolest thing to have anime and on VHS. And even some got fame through them. Thinking Bubblegum Crisis and Megazone 23. So what was good about this phase?

Other than the fact that it gave some of the most interesting shows ever, allowed companies to try out new ideas ... it gave people a shot. Because of the extra money companies would give out directing roles, music roles etc to people who were fairly small in the business to have a go at creating something they wanted. Both OVAs and Movies gave the breaks that they needed.

Now these days it is sad to see that even those who deserve a shot, don't get it or are stuck to work in some below average show. The main reasons are probably this:

1) OVAs and movies aren't selling/ Money:
Why create an experimental movie when you can push out the average show and get more money. Everyone knows Japan is having issues with creating 'El Bizzaro' shows - and they just can't waste that money.

2) Audience:
Unfortunately as OVAs came around ... so did Adult Videos. And these days the companies know that sex sells. Why try to aim at a group who haven't seen much anime when you can aim for the older people who you know are going to buy. Audience is getting older, so they best follow suit.

3) Taking a risk:
You can't take a risk having noobs directing shows ... unless there ain't anyone else around/ they cost cheaper. Even then you find newbies getting plonked in pretty average shows probably because they cost less. Less money = More profit.

4) Internet:
Yes I said the "f" word. Fansubs - or should I say - "Fan rips". The minute you do anything like putting a movie out/ OVA someone is going to rip it and put it on the internet. Better target those people who you KNOW are going to buy.

But again - this progress to 13 eps IS a natural progression because of all these things. If X happens then Y happens. Like removing wolves from forests - the nautral progression IS more deer. Is it a good thing? No. It is bad. Same thing applies here.

I weep for the loss of those zany shows. I will hug my Angel's Egg and my California Crisis - as I dream of those days where people stepped outside the bubble. But in every tunnel, there is a light at the end and I thank that people like Yuasa Masaaki and alike who try and set outside what people know - to give them a taste of what is possible.

But at the moment ... it is a very long tunnel.

Jason has a beef with my logic. I'll let you know, Jason, that I like my beef... MEDIUM RARE:

I think the logic of your question is incorrect, OAVs may not be around much, but most (if not all) of the series airing late at night are effectively OAVs, in that they make all their money off their DVD sales, and the airing is basically an "advertisement". So I suppose it is something of a natural progression in this sense. However there are still other more "typical" OAVs still around, it seems many a successful Manga series are getting special edition bundled DVDs, that said we are past the age of the likes of Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

As for Anime feature films, I think this is even more of an incorrect statement, there are more Anime films being produced then ever. Admittedly a fair number of them are the latest detective Conan or Pokemon film, but there are certainly many original works (which are often relatively ignored by the anime community, usually as they're "family fare"), and even a fair number of acclaimed works, in 2009 alone we had Summer Wars and Evangelion 2.0. Indeed if you do a cursory search of AnimeNewsNetwork or MAL, you'll get at least 30 Japanese animated movies produced in 2009. Why most of these films are not known outside of Japan is a mystery to me, but I think it would indicate that plenty of Anime feature length films are around, and that the format is certainly not moribund. Indeed if anything there's more then ever. If you look back to the 90s, most of the anime films of note were produced by Studio Ghibli, whereas today we're also getting many great offerings from Non-ghibli directors like Makoto Shinkai(5 cm per second), Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), the late Satoshi Kon, Hideakki Anno with his new Evangelion Movies, and a great many others I don't know of.

It is true that the popularity of the 13 episode anime is on the up, and I'd say it's a very good format. For many series with premises too unusual (or risky) to merit a full 26 episode season it fills a very good intermediate length. And it's not without precedent either, lest we forget that the standard season length for British series is a mere 6 episodes!

That's all for this week. What Answerfans question do I have cooked up for next time?

The answer is... nothing! That's right, I'm taking an actual, honest hiatus. This theater stuff is hard work. So, while I'm on break, it's only fair to give you all a break too, right? Right.

But don't worry, I'll be back soon. I've just got my pretentious and boring drama to do. In the interim! Don't forget to send me all the questions you've got to [email protected]! See you next time!

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