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Hey, Answerman! - All About Writin'

by Brian Hanson,

Well! Welcome, welcome, to this week's Answerman.

So, is it just me, or do all these newer Superhero movies have the same problem in their third acts? They spend all this time working over all the various sub-plots and side character arcs in the first two-thirds of the movie - noble hero learns their destiny, grows into their powers, discover that their strength makes them duty-bound to protect the innocent, and they learn to abandon their arrogance for the simplicity of love, etc. - while they waste time making supervillains that are supposed to be tragic, sympathetic figures, only to turn into incredibly unconvincing Supremely Evil Beings 15 minutes before the end? I'm watching Thor, and I'm thinking - okay, alright, they're trying to make Loki a legitimate trickster, with a Shakespearean tragedy for an upbringing. Yeah, I'm cool with this. And then! I'm supposed to buy at the last second that all of that doesn't really matter because he's evil and just wants to destroy everything for some reason. Some convoluted reason that doesn't work because character motives in big stupid comic book movies have to be filtered through no fewer than five or six different plot threads, instead of being clean and simple like, I don't know, Roy Batty in Blade Runner.

Guh. But Thor hit things with his big thing and made things fly around and die I guess. That was pretty cool.

Dear Answerman,

I'll make this question simple and quick. What are the chances of more light novels getting an American release? I'm sure the chances are slim but being a fan of Ryohgo Narita's work I can't help but hope that I'm wrong.

I initially was pretty skeptical about light novels being released at first - mainly stemming from my own ignorance on the subject, I'll admit - but in recent months, they've almost (almost) exploded.

Which is to say, judging by this list here, we've gotten about 40 or so light novels domestically released in America. Yes, sure, a great portion of them are probably resultant of a popular anime and manga series (Naruto, Code Geass, Death Note), but there's also stuff like Guin Saga and Book Girl - light novels that, a couple of years ago, I would never thought stood a chance at ever being domestically printed.

Speaking for Ryohgo Narita's work specifically, I'd give it about... let's say, a 50/50 chance of being domestically licensed. His work spawned two of the best anime series in recent memory (Baccano! and Durarara! natch), but I'd hesitate to call either one of those shows "hits." Nonetheless, all it really takes is an intrepid publisher willing to take a risk.

And on the subject of risks, I should probably mention that publishing a light novel is hardly the easy-money venture people seem to think. First of all there's the fact that these books need to be translated - and we're talking books here, not manga or subtitle tracks. Every single line needs to be translated accurately, and then proofread and copy-edited and assembled into contemporary English. And then of course comes the printing process - not cheap - as well as the fact that brick-and-mortar bookstores are slowly dying, and you can see what I mean when I call it a "risk."

That said, Narita's novels are filled with genre-bending violent insanity of the sort that I, personally, would love to read, in English, as a damn book that I hold in my hands. And if Del Rey and Kodansha could get the Garden of Sinners books published, I really can't think of any one specific reason that Narita's books can't be released in a similar way.

Hey, Answerman!

I've been following the column for a while. And I was wondering... if there's any way if I could be a future Answerman myself, or help out. Yeah, I know, it's probably not going to happen - you, or ANN probably already have someone lined up just as how you replaced Zac, and I know the ANN careers section is pretty blank right now. But I figure I'd give it a try.

In my potential career defense though, I do offer this - I'm sure you've had a lot of people explain to you that they're passionate about anime and they have all this knowledge and they hang out at their anime clubs at high school all the time. Now of course I'm going to say that I have that same enthusiasm and knowledge as well. But in addition to that I'm also an experienced journalist and professional article writer (if you will) who's been in the business for a few years now, so, if anything, I guess my expectations are realistic.

Gunnin' for my job, eh? You got moxie, kid. I like that.

But, uh, here's the thing - I'm here, writing this column every week, until I'm not. As a freelance writer, I'm subject to the editorial concerns of Anime News Network - they're the ones who call the shots, and Zac's doing just fine on that front.

Here's the thing I'll say about Zac, though - casting myself aside, the guy knows writing talent. I mean, just look at the contributors on this site. Gia Manry. Mike Toole. Jason Thompson. These are the best guys and gals writing about anime in the business, and Zac worked really hard to get them here. Zac's always got an eye out for the next top-tier anime and manga writer, columnist, reviewer, what-have-you; you've just got to get out there and make some noise on your own.

"But Brian!" you say. "What does that mean, 'make some noise?'" Well, I'm glad you asked, Rhetorical Voice In My Head. Basically, that just means to get out there on that big internet and prove to everyone that you are, in fact, an "experienced journalist and professional article writer." One on anime, specifically. This is 2011, and there's no shortage of opportunities to do that. You've got Twitter, blogs, and websites out the wazoo - opportunities that I myself never had when I first started writing about anime way back when in 2004.

This little cabal we have, here at ANN and Japanator and other whathaveyou, isn't very big. If someone with a unique and interesting voice catches somebody's attention, chances are we'll all end up hearing about it, and that can lead to any number of things. So, you know, don't waste any time! I'm not going anywhere for the time being, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't still be writing. Get your name and your voice out there into the aether, by crackie.

Hey, Answerman! I've got a question about anime screenplays.

So, I don't even know if screenplays are formatted the same around the world, but I was wondering how the scriptwriting process works for anime. Do they use a formal script or a storyboard? Or do they fuse the two? Does the process differ when comparing manga/light novel adaptations with original stories? Not that the dialogue isn't important as well, but since anime is so art/image-centric it seems at least like some special terminology would be involved. How would a writer even express a character sweat-dropping or angry-red-vein-popping or making an "XD" face without sounding like some silly fanfiction author?

Having experience with both playwriting and anime, maybe you could shed some light on this topic.

Well, sure. First off, no, absolutely no, screenplays are not formatted the same way around the world; most studios around the world use the same formatting for their scripts as Hollywood does, simply because they're so accustomed to it after nearly a century of Hollywood screenwriting, but it's hardly a uniform format. For Japan, specifically, they're quite different. It's a little hard to explain, but their scripts are written laterally, right-to-left - If you want a visual, just pick up Perfect Blue and look at the scenes taking place at the TV studio.

As far as anime is concerned... it's tempting to say that all anime starts with a formal script, because 99% of the time that's true with everything, but then I'm sure there's been a few things produced by some of the visual gonzos at Gainax that I could never even comprehend existing in script form. But, that's just because I'm thinking literally - thinking that some of the visual exuberance of FLCL would be so difficult to interpret in written form.

There's a common axiom that is taught to all aspiring playwrights and screenwriters - "don't direct on the page." Which means, keep all the stage direction simple. If somebody gets in a fight, just write, "they fight." Don't write, "they grab each other, arms and legs akimbo, and MAN throws his right fist, clenched tightly like a ball of steel, into GUY's face, who recoils and then swings his left elbow into MAN's jaw, tossing him backward into..." et cetera. There are exceptions of course - mostly from writer-directors like the Coen brothers, who fill their scripts with intimate shot details and notes, but that makes sense for them, because they're going to direct their own material. Basically, once you hand your script over to someone else - a director, or in this case, a team of highly talented and skilled animators - the assumption is that all the visual flourishes and touches that they will add to the material will make it better.

All the things you're talking about, like the popping veins and other Super Deformed characteristics, are all handled after the script is written, at the storyboard phase. That's when the directors plan out every shot, every angle, every expression on the characters in accordance with the dialog. That's also when the physical action is choreographed, where complicated fight scenes are planned and timed out. And that process extends even into the layout phase - which is where the "Key" animators draw the significant poses for each scene, and they're able to extend their own personality to the project by adding subtle movements, poses, or expressions.

Filmmaking - animated TV series included - is supposed to be a collaborative, additive process for that specific reason. At each layer of the process, from the writing to the storyboarding to the voice recording to the final animation and soundtrack, is supposed to add another layer of polish to the finished product. That's not to say that always works that way - there's plenty of shows and movies with splendid animation but a crappy script, and on the flipside, some of Miyazaki's best films were never fully scripted out before they started animating, and he just made up the story on the fly - but there's a reason after all these years, it's still the way the process normally works.

Alright, time for me to shut my big damn yap and let you guys take the floor. That's right, it's Answerfans! Last week, I wanted to know your general opinion on something:

Mandy begins this reverie by clamoring for further definition:

Honestly, it depends on what you count when you talk about 'the overall quality.' It you mean literally every anime released each year, then I would say that the overall quality of anime has stayed at the same level it has always been. This is simply because the number of anime shows which are utter shit (am I allowed to say shit? Feel free to censor it if I'm not) outnumber the really good ones by at least 10 to 1. And really, that's to be expected: 90% of ANYTHING is shit. If you went back and looked at anime 20 years ago, 90% of the anime produced then was shit too. It's just that our nostalgia goggles allow us to focus in only on the good ones and completely overlook the ones that aren't worth the tapes they were printed on. It's going to be like that in the future too: People may still talk about FMA, Gurren Lagann, and Samurai Champloo 20 years from now, but who's going to remember things like Astarotte's Toy, Bridge to the Starry Skies, or even Soft Tennis? Nobody, that's who.

The fact of the matter is that anime is produced to make money. Most producers don't care about making a work of art, they want to get the most money for the least amount of effort. That's why studios churn out utter shit at such an alarming rate: it's cheaper to use poor animation and skimp on story than it is to actually put effort into anything. They're not counting on any series making a lasting impression, they want it around long enough to earn some money and then be done. After all there's 20 more carbon-copies of Da Capo coming out within the next year, and it pays to have people move along quickly.

However, there are some studios that focus on quality, which is where we come back to the initial question. Looking purely at the best of the best each season, you can actually see an improvement in animation quality over the years. That makes sense too, as new technology and animation tricks are developed each year. Only a few shows use this top-knotch animation each season, though, which is why a question of 'overall quality' can end up a bit skewed.

Still, here's hoping to a good season with some fine examples of the best animation has to offer. if I come out of the season with even two shows I enjoy from start to end, I will be happy.

Also, for the summer blockbuster, I can't wait to see the Captain America movie. I'm a sucker for superhero movies: even if I know they'll suck, I still go see them.

J P says you got to believe it's getting better, getting better, all the time (it can't get no worse):

My answer is "fifty-fifty", not entirely good, not entirely sucks.

If you're talking about "anime production quality", I can think of many perceptions such as story, animation, music, etc. But because you want the answer in overall, I can only narrow it to "STORY" and "ANIMATION".

Anime story for this past 5 years is overall degenerating because it has been swayed by typical or cliche or "Oh-I-know-where-this-is-going sort of pattern". Most anime nowadays are adapted form a novel or manga or game. But, most of the story is way too typical, such as "harem" plot. I hated the story where a male main character lives a life surrounded by many females that is attracted to him at once. The first time I watch this kind of story is Love Hina. But now, there are too many stories with that kind of plot. The next typical story I hated is the "hero" plot such as in Shonen Jump's titles (One Piece, Bleach, Naruto). I'm not blaming the animation producers because they just followed the original creation. You could say that my conclusion is that anime story is degenerating not because of the animation production fault but because the original work sucks.

One more point to be added in this argument is because the over-excessive usage of EROTIC FAN-SERVICE. Many anime titles has bring up "typical" plot from their original creation AND most of them are being edited in the process to become anime. For example, Zero no Tsukaima with too much of fan-service and got reduced of its original story's quality. Actually this past 5 years, there are many "spices" added to many kinds of animes, But, just like cooking, if you use too many spices, you'll end up ruining the whole dish. This past 5 years, I've seen erotic fan-services enough to make me vomit rather than watching blood splattered in mutilation-horror movie. What kind of erotic, you say? I'm talking about "breasts exposure, sp#%m-like liquids covering heroines body, a situation that drives the heroine to moans like they're making L&^% etc". And worse, they even release a bonus episode in BD or DVD set especially for this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, the animation is indeed overall getting better. For animation, I'm breaking it down to 3D and 2D. And both are getting better in perspectives of animation technique, created by many Animation Studios and Animators/Illustrators. These days, you can't simply judge an animation studio is fully doing an anime by themselves because they sometimes they subcontract some works to other studios. But, you can say that studios like Kyoto-Animation, JC Staff, Shaft and UFOTABLE is indeed top-notch in 2D areas, while Satelight and Sunrise still leading in mixing 3D animation with 2D. The only pure 3D animation for whole series is only Disney Japan in making Fireball series, I guess. But then again, It came back to money, I guess. If a specified amount of money is given as budget, I guess any studios can produce an about equal animation quality.

If Rubi-kun loves Terrence Malick as much as I do, then we're bestest buds:

It's interesting that we're being asked about the quality of anime five years ago in 2006 vs. the quality today, since 2006 was not only the year when the most anime series were made, but also sort of a transitional year in the types of shows that were being made. I don't think anime today is generally better or worse, but the types of shows worth watching seem to have changed, and not exactly in the most positive way.

Let's look at some of 2006's highlights in terms of accessibility: there's Black Lagoon, Death Note, and Nana, great shows that are also extremely accessible to a wide audience. There's Code Geass, which is also pretty accessible though definitely with some cultural quirks for westerners to adjust to. Situated in the comfy middle of the accessibility scale is Ouran High School Host Club. While it's a parody of shojo cliches and certainly gains a lot of extra entertainment for someone familiar with them, it's also very wacky in its gags and very universal in its drama. I can see someone new to anime liking the show without getting everything, similar to how I got into Nadesico early in my otakudom without getting most of the references. Then there's Haruhi, arguably the cause of the paradigm shift I've seen. Haruhi does have some appeal on its own, but I seriously doubt it would have been half the phenomenon it was if not for the way it blended and played around with tropes from other anime, particularly otaku-baiting ones. I don't know. Maybe it's strong enough to appeal to new fans on quality alone, but it seems like you have to already be into anime in the first place to a certain degree to get on board. And on the opposite end of the accessibility spectrum, you have Welcome to the NHK, a genius show but one directly about anime fandom and its dark side.

Recently, it seems to me that the scales have shifted towards shows directly aimed at core fans. What have been the hit shows recently? Shows about otaku: Jellyfish Princess, The World God Only Knows, Oreimo. Shows aimed directly at otaku: moe shows even at their best don't really care about any other audience. To the extent it was successful, Fractale worked because its criticisms of the otaku lifestyle. It seems anime has become increasingly insular. Even a good deal of the attention directed at Panty and Stocking, with its American pop culture references and cartoony art, was trying to analyze it as an "anti-moe" show. There's been a few good niche shows aimed at slightly different niches than the typical otaku one (Wandering Son, C), and this season there even seems to be something of a return to stories with universal appeal (Tiger and Bunny, Deadman Wonderland). In general, though, it seems that while there's about as much for the seasoned anime fan to enjoy now as there was five years ago, for the curious onlooker it's probably worse.

BONUS: Does The Tree of Life count as a "blockbuster"? If not, then the final Harry Potter.

Nolan's got two words for you:

I believe that anime has declined in quality, if only because so many series of the past few years seem to fall into 2 main categories.

1. Remakes of visual novels.
2. Shonen series that never end.

This may just be personal bias, but it seems like a lot of great shows like Elfen Lied and Gantz were coming out a few years ago, but that they are a dying breed in the face of a sea of "school life" stuff. Haruhi is a great example of something breaking the mold, and some anime like myself; yourself aren't bad, but many (like Shuffle) are just so bland you don't even want to bother.

Tom L told me in his email that he apologizes for his colloquial British-isms, but if that were me I WOULD APOLOGIZE FOR NOTHING:

I honestly believe the quality of anime shows is an ever changing spectrum. Just glancing at the new Spring season shows that the production value of anime is ever changing. To start with very unsubtle examples look at the big shounen shows. Naruto's quality changes so much it is infuriating, with one episode being fluid, colourful and precise, only for the next to have characters drawn out of model and animation loops being severely overused.

As for other recent shows I'll draw attention to last season's Fractale. It really drew me in for the first few episodes and I carried on watching more out of faith than entertainment, only to have my loyalty destroyed. It became increasingly worse (in all aspects of production, art and plot) and I soon realized I had been duped with an appetizing starter before the chef decided to let his dog cook the main course and desert.

Cheap tricks such as these and the overuse of tropes and clichés are starting to make finding current, interesting anime a harder and harder task. There will always be gems coming through, but it seems a shame that these are the minority.

On a happier note anime films (not including ones from earlier mentioned shounen shows) are getting increasingly better, from the stunning animation of Makoto Shinkai's works to what we can hope will be a stunningly written posthumous release from Satoshi Kon's Dreaming Machine.

So I guess in overview I'll return to the spectrum of change. I believe there will always be some shows that make people wonder why they were even created in the first place, yet thankfully there will always be a spiritual ‘Eden of the East’ to every... well, to every poor retelling of a poorly made visual novel.

(As for the bonus, Hangover II and Jack Sparrow's return... Sorry ‘Captain’ Jack Sparrow's return.)

And finally, Ronan gives it up for Alfonso Cuaron:

Has the average production quality changed? In some ways.

I've recently started revisiting Digimon Tamers, a show I saw as a young teenager and have not revisited since. Anyone who has any experience with the Digimon franchise will tell you that those shows are not exactly pinnacles of animation, but what struck me is that it's very well drawn compared to a lot of modern shows. The character designs stay consistent and on model, backgrounds are fairly vibrant and atmospheric, emotions are conveyed clearly and convincingly. There are rarely any moments where you can tell the artists were cutting corners (again: I'm only talking about the artistry here. The animators cut corners like it was crunch time at a circle factory).

Contrast this with a recent (and actually quite similar) show, C: The possibility of money and soul control or whatever the hell the title is. The character designs change from scene to scene, the proportions of people's faces and torsos are frequently off and side characters frequently emote like planks of wood. This is a trend I've noticed in recent years and while I used to assume I was simply becoming more discerning, rewatching older stuff has convinced me otherwise.

On the flip side of this, I think the maximum potential artistry has only improved. When anime production studios get huge budgets and pull out all the stops, they can do some amazing things (Heroman being a good recent example).

Bonus Question: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. My opinion of the Harry Potter movies has always been fairly lukewarm, with the third one being the only film I thought was as good or better than the books, but the first part of Deathly Hallows blew me away. Like everyone else, I assumed splitting the thing into two movies was a cheap cash grab, but having seen the first part and the trailer for the second, I think it was a smart move to separate the character development and exposition into one whole movie so it could be dealt with properly, leaving ample time for the epic finale, instead of trying to cram too much stuff into one like the book did.

And that's it! Next week, I wanted to ask a more, shall we say, fun question:

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's the end! Remember to pause a bit during your hectic week and drop off a note or two, or perhaps a question, to my little e-mailing place, located at Answerman(at!)AnimeNewsNetwork.com! Adieu!

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