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Hey, Answerman!

by Zac Bertschy,

Hey kids! Did you miss me?

Don't worry – I already know the answer is

But, last week when Brian announced he'd be taking the week off to launch his new play, You Are Not Special, I realized I hadn't bothered to guest-host this thing since last time Brian took a week off to launch a play a year and a half ago, and decided to dust off my answerin' hat (which, if you're curious, is one of those oversize novelty foam cowboy hats with a frowny face painted on it) and give it a crack this week. It's been a while so forgive me if the plumbing on the reservoirs of spite I used to write this thing with are slow to fire up.

By the way, I dug around in the archives to find this banner by Sandra McMullen. It is still awesome.

“My first question is this. I know Naruto, Naruto Shippūden, and Bleach are highly popular shonen manga and anime. However, after reading up on some and seeing that many of the popular characters are being killed off (ex. Naruto Shippūden) or becoming too powerful (ex. Bleach), do you believe that it will make reader/viewer popularity go up or down? I mean, I was pretty upset when some of my favorite characters were killed off and then when I saw that the main antagonist of Bleach was becoming too powerful, I have to admit my interest is slowly declining and going toward more other popular manga/anime. Which leads to my second question. I'm not a total fangirl yet, but a friend of mine recently got me into Katekyo Hitman Reborn!. I know that there's been some good popularity with this one as well, but yet by now I was expecting an English dub release, since where I live, anime is hard to come by like in stores...apparently, Alabama has ziltch. Is there any plans for a dubbed release of Hitborn and if not, would they consider releasing the subbed DVDs out for the North American audiences to enjoy? I hope I don't sound too farfetched in asking nor do I want to be flamed either for my questions, so I decided to ask the experts. Thank you for your time."

You know, the thing about those long-running shonen series is that while they may shed fans over the years for a variety of reasons – a long, crappy story arc, for example, or the reasons you brought up (which basically amounts to “well this is just getting ridiculous”) – nothing seems to truly bring any of them to an actual stop or a loss of fans dramatic enough to effect the series' profitability or success. Once you reach a critical mass of readers and merchandise and hundreds of anime episodes and everything that comes with being a giant Shonen Jump franchise, seemingly nothing can stop you, not even becoming terrible (Dragon Ball GT, anyone?). Some fans might walk away after they reveal that Naruto is actually the reincarnation of Pol Pot or whatever, but it'll never be enough to kill the franchise. It'll be over when Kishimoto says it's over (or dies, which, given the lifestyle of an average mangaka, is depressingly more likely).

As for Hitman Reborn, there's no license yet outside of streaming – the manga didn't exactly become a giant smash hit here and Viz hasn't said anything about it yet, although Funimation did send out some cease & desist orders a while ago to the people fansubbing the series (which doesn't mean they licensed it, but who knows). You can watch it subbed over at Crunchyroll, though, so if you can handle a little reading, that's the best way to see it right now. If someone thinks there's a chance for the show to make a little money as a sub-only DVD set, it'll happen, but there's no news until there's news.

I haven't actually seen any Hitman myself beyond the first episode (which wasn't my thang) but I hear it's one of those “love it or hate it with the fire of a thousand suns” kinda things.

Do DVD rental companies that have libraries featuring anime titles (i.e., Netflix) pay a portion of the proceeds to anime publishing companies, or (for the sake of supporting the industry) would using a streaming subscription service like Crunchyroll be a better idea? Not sure what the differences are, or what to go with.

Rental revenues are – based on everything I've seen – almost negligible for the studio releasing the film in this day and age. There's a reason Warner, Universal and most other monolithic Hollywood studios struck those 30-day retail window agreements with Netflix and Redbox, where those services don't get new release rentals until a month after their actual home video release. Whatever revenue they were generating from Netflix, it wasn't enough.

So let's break that down. A giant studio like Warner Bros. decides that their home video profit margins are shrinking as a result of allowing their releases to go right to Netflix and Redbox on the same day they're available for purchase in stores. They then come to the conclusion that making those films unavailable to renters immediately (outside of the crazy contract they signed with the few remaining stores left in the now-bankrupt Blockbuster franchise) would help their bottom line. Long story short – I don't think anyone's making serious money on Netflix rental licenses –least of all small distributors – and since supporting the industry appears to be your chief issue on deciding which subscription to purchase, I'd go with Crunchyroll right now.

With Crunchyroll, we have metrics – at least, metrics provided by the CEO. Kun Gao has said (and the company's marketing department has since insisted) that more than half of every dollar they make goes right back to the Japanese studios they license content from. If that's true (and it might be!) that's pretty good. Also, they're doing simulcasts of a whole bunch of crap (and I say crap because based on the last couple of seasons, most of it is actually quantifiably crap, not just “crap” where “crap” means “stuff”) this fall, and if you really want to be on top of things, that's where you want to go. They've got a pretty deep catalog, too.

Personally, I use both CR and Netflix – along with Amazon, Hulu, iTunes and every other option out there (okay maybe not Zune Marketplace) – to get the media I want. In the media environment we have right now, there is no one single place you can go to get everything you want. You have to diversify.

This is actually a podcast question I never got to, but I like it, so here it is. Deal with it.

I love animation, and have been devouring American and Japanese cartoons all my life. I'm interested in seeing more cartoons from around the world, but hardly any foreign toons outside of Japan seem to get R1 releases. Could it be profitable for R1 anime publishers to spread out and release some non-Japanese animation? Or would that be a terrible idea, since most of this stuff lacks the built-in fanbase that anime comes with?

That's an interesting idea but I'm not sure I've ever seen it happen - the only studio that releases anime that also dabbles in other forms of international animation is Sony Pictures Classics, and they treat them all with the same "dump 'em out and pray for an Oscar nomination" mentality. Which is fine - we've gotten an R1 release of plenty of solid animated films from Sony as a result - but I'm not sure the R1 anime industry, or what's left of it, is in a position to risk that sort of thing.

Ultimately it might boil down to comfort zone and, most importantly, cost. The R1 distributors that are left focus on anime because that's their bread and butter - they have those connections, they know those people, they're comfortable with those Japanese studios and know how to make deals there. Suddenly moving into French animation or Spanish animation or whatever would be potentially very risky, expensive and probably not really worth it in the long run for a company that's focusing on its core business and not really looking to expand right now.

Also take into consideration that anime - regardless of how we've all discovered it or encountered it here in America - is mostly a very commercial product designed to appeal to a specific audience that is already established here in the States, with the possibility of crossing over to a larger audience. Funimation might know what to do with something like Soul Eater or Master of Martial Hearts, but if you ask them "hey could you guys sell this black and white 15-minute stop motion Belgian short about a depressed broke haberdasher who kills himself after realizing his dead wife never loved him", they would probably say "uh, no".

There's no flake this week, but here is where I abuse my power. Behold.

Brian will be back next week, y'all. It's been fun!

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