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Hey, Answerman!
Predatory Lending

by Brian Hanson,

Well hello again everyone! It's that very special time of year again; the time of year when it turns November and I really, really start to completely hate my day job, and it becomes something of a Herculean effort to not become infected with bitterness and exhaustion. Only another month and a half of this to go!

But enough about life. We got questions!

Hey Answerman!

This is a curious question that's always been on my mind, and while there may be particularly specific answers regarding specific anime, I'm curious if there is a general reason behind this "trend" (if it can even be, or ever have been, called that...) in the industry.

Specifically, I'm asking about songs of anime-- openers, closers, and inserts--sung in English. And not the songs that may have a few english words here and there, but almost entirely in English (or even some other non-Japanese language). I understand that English is the chief foreign language taught in Japan, that more Japanese are generally more "English-aware" than Americans are more "Japanese-aware" language-wise, and, essentially, English is considered "cool." But some anime that I've seen over the past several years have included entirely non-Japanese songs. I've seen this from Yoko Kanno's Cowboy Bebop/Wolf's Rain/GITS to Jean-Jacques Burnel's Gankutsuou, and more recently (for me) in Black Lagoon.

Personally, I've always loved it when productions do this and supported them, mainly because they're English and easily distinguishable (to these foreign ears) from songs by the latest j-rock or pop group. But why such strong emphasis on foreign language in a Japan-MADE Productions? I can understand some of the probable artistic reasoning-- maybe western-languages "feel" more fitting for shows that are thematically western, like Gankutsuou and Black Lagoon. But what justifies it in terms of marketability, beyond that English is "cool"? Are they doing it partially out of deference to the western market? Perhaps I'm starting to answer some of my own questioning, but I'm wondering if a more "professional" opinion, so to speak, can be given here.

I think the key, here, to why English-language songs crop up every now and again - and this definitely has something to do with the perceived "coolness" of English - can be discovered just by examining the pedigree of the shows you mentioned earlier. Cowboy Bebop and Wolf's Rain, Gankutsuou, Black Lagoon.

All those shows are fairly adult, relatively sophisticated, edgy shows. The other few examples I can think of right off the top of my head - Berserk, Speed Grapher, Monster - fit into this category too. I don't really think this is a coincidence. Allow me to illustrate this conspiracy using half-formed ideas stolen from the John Birch Society and several chalkboards.

Kidding, of course. I mean, yes, foreign-language songs add a bit of austere, hip mystery to a show's opening, at least to a Japanese audience, I'm guessing. Although English words do pop up randomly in the openers to shows aimed at kids sometimes ("WE ARE" comes to mind immediately), I think largely it's exactly like you said - it's thematically fitting for most of those shows that their music sounds more westernized. Also add to that, the fact that the directors and writers and producers on these western-inspired shows - Cowboy Bebop in particular - are huge, fans of western music of all sorts, and are eager to insert it whenever they can into their shows. It makes them stand out from the rest of the anime pack, the artists and producers think it's cool, and thematically they work given the "edgier" content of the shows themselves.

I don't really think they're putting non-Japanese songs into their productions simply to defer to the Western market - like I said earlier, these are shows that are already deferring to the Western market a bitanyway, not just in the opening music selections, but with the entire show. It's all about adding flavor and color, and again, foreign songs are just... cool sometimes.

I've been an anime/manga fan for a few years starting when I discovered Bleach and Jump Ultimate Stars. But the amount of manga I've actually bought is very little because I'm fairly poor and most of what I read comes from the library. So on to my question.

Do you think it's morally sound to read all of your manga from the library?

Man! This "piracy guilt complex" thing is seeping out of the internet and into some poor kid's actual life. Not good.

Of course it's "morally sound" to read all your manga from the library! Libraries exist to lend books to people, and libraries carry manga because they know that they are books that people will read. I mean, geez. There is nothing wrong with that, at all. This little hobby of ours is a damned expensive one, and I simply cannot fault anyone for taking advantage of a legal option to still be able to watch and read as much as they can.

Should you buy as much as you can to support the industry? Well, yeah, of course. The industry needs it. But if you're having trouble supporting yourself, the industry can wait. There's many, many ways to watch anime and read manga that are completely free and totally legal and everyone should be using them. Watch streaming video on Hulu or Crunchyroll or right here. Check out manga from the library. Rent stuff from Netflix. That's all well and good.

Not to bring up the haunted specter of piracy yet again, but that should be the one aspect of consuming anime and manga that brings out a bit of guilt. Having said that, I expect a certain amount of backlash and whatever. And maybe "guilt" isn't exactly the best word - with piracy, there should at least be a kind of acknowledgment that how you are acquiring and seeing something isn't in any way "morally justified." People have tried to make some kind of moral justification for it since the dawn of the internet, but I've yet to see one that passes with any sort of confidence.

Because, again, this is entertainment. Anime and manga isn't some vital piece of our society that will crumble our infrastructure if you aren't allowed access to it. And I think, in the past year or two specifically, there has been a lot of solid attempts to lessen the financial burden that comes with being an anime and manga fan. Legal streams, manga previews on the internet, that sort of thing. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's heading in the right direction.

To bring it back to the original question, though, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with using every legal means available to you to sample as much stuff as you want. Nothing at all. And there's more ways of doing that now than there ever were before. Honestly, I'd say that you're being a but stubborn (or stupid) if you aren't taking advantage of those things.

In a scene in episode 2 of Dragon Ball; Bulma (a teen girl) is a sleep. Goku (a young boy) gets on top of her and rests his head on her private area and realizes she has no dick and balls. He then takes off her panties and slaps her in her private area and says, "Bulma you've lost your balls". How the hell is this a kids show?

Well, that's because - and this has been said many times elsewhere, but I'll repeat it here just for its own sake - the cultural standards between what we in America find to be "appropriate for children" and in Japan is radically different.

Juvenile sex jokes aside, the biggest difference, in my opinion, comes down to concept that here in America, we make two kinds of kids shows - shows for kids under 7, and shows for kids over 7. And that's about it. In Japan, though, there are shows for virtually every age group; they make shows appropriate for ages 8 and up, 9 and up, 10 and up, 11 and up, and on and on and on and on. They worry less about "demographics" and "target audiences," at least in such general terms. Would I show Dragon Ball to an 8 year old? Probably not. Would I show it to an 11 year old? Yeah, sure. Why not?

And because of that age gradiation, manga artists and anime purveyors are allowed a great deal more freedom to tell bigger stories with different, some might say "controversial" elements. Like, say, the homosexual overtones in Sailor Moon. The oftentimes appalling violence in Naruto. And so on.

The only way this becomes a problem is when these shows are localized, specifically for broadcast. Since virtually the only avenue for anime on American TV these days is late night cable, though, that isn't such an issue anymore. Sadly. But it's definitely a problem when it comes time to try and market these "kids shows" to an American audience, because of course to us it all looks like a bright and fluffy kids' show, and instead we find out that it's filled with blood and smoking and death and homosexual villains.

Just a personal aside, but if I could be whisked away in a Delorean and travel to any specific time and place, I would've gone to the board meeting of Fox Kids in 2000, when they announced they had acquired the rights to Detective Conan. Oh, to be in that room when they screened the first episode and a man is decapitated! In an otherwise colorful, cartoony children's program! I would have giggled with encephalopathic glee!

Suffice to say the show didn't air. At least, not until four years later, when Adult Swim acquired it. See what I'm saying?

People often like to point out the sort of "mature" subject matter that kids shows in anime have - like the gay lovers in Sailor Moon or the bloated diatribes about loyalty and death and honor in One Piece - to make some big, silly statement about how "liberated" Japanese kids are. But I really don't think that's quite the case. I simply think that anime and manga, in Japan, simply caters to markets that just don't exist here in the US. When a children's show is produced in America, it's meant to entertain a wide swath of kids of, literally, all ages. From confused toddlers to bored tweens. In Japan, though, they make a show and a manga for kids of, again, all ages. There's a show for them as a toddler, a show for when they're in preschool, a show for grade school, a show for when they're about to head to middle school and they slowly start becoming fascinated by blood and sex, and everything in between.

I think kids here in the US and Japan have largely the same level of taste and sophistication; the difference is that Japanese anime and manga do a much better job of narrowing down their so-called "children's" entertainment to specific ages, instead of trying to make a show "kid-friendly" like what happens in the US.

No Flakes this week? No Flakes this week. No creepy person trying to help me kidnap a child star and bring them to Uncle Touchy's Naked Puzzle Basement. None. Don't worry - I'm not too broken up about it.

Unfortunately, though! It seems like my Answerfans question last week landed amongst the readership with all the enthusiasm and bravado of a fart during a funeral. What was last week's question, you wonder? Well, it was this:

Now, I thought this would be a fun exercise for people to go nuts and say "AH MAN, ARMORED TROOPER VOTOMS SHOULD'VE CLEANED UP THE EMMYS IN 1983" or "VAMPIRE HUNTER D DESERVED AN OSCAR IN 2001" but I guess I should've realized that not everybody on the internet harbors a bizarre geeky love/hate relationship with big entertainment awards shows. So, I got two responses!

This one is from Brittany! She would give Ouran a gold statue:

This is my first post, and I just HAD to put my two cents in! So, the answer to your question, "What anime deserves an Oscar or Emmy in the year it was made?" Well, I personally believe that the Emmy for Best Comedy should have gone to "Ouran High School Host Club" in 2006. I have NEVER laughed so hard in my entire life to any anime, not even to any American kids cartoon shows. It's smart comedy, not just pointless jokes. It actually has a plot, too. Even in more serious parts they make it funny and it somehow fits to the part. The characters are well-developed and they all contribute to the comedy. Plus, the animation is just beautiful! So, that's my answer and my personal opinion! Hope that gives you something to ponder!

Thanks, Brittany! You've made a little less depressed that my question didn't connect with people. And now, here's Jeff:

Hey Answerman, on the topic of Emmy and Oscar, if you find any Rule 3 on them could you please send it my way? Thanks.

Ah. Hah. Ha. Yes. Cute. Thanks.

Okay, so it's time to try this again. Next week, I'm not sure if you've noticed, just so happens to be a big holiday. Now, I won't be writing the column that week, because believe it or not I haven't alienated every member of my immediate family with my crippling drug use and emotionally abusive personality! But in the spirit of the holiday, I thought this would be a nice question to keep you all company while enjoying the yearly tryptophan coma:

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.

That is it for me, everyone! Remember to have a fabulous Thanksgiving, and don't forget to stuff my inbox full of questions and answers in the meantime, which can easily be found at answerman (@) animenewsnetwork.com! Toodle-oo!

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