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Hey, Answerman! - You, The Viewer

by Brian Hanson,

Hey there, gang! Welcome once again to the recondite repository known as Hey, Answerman!

I really like this week's questions, so I won't waste any more precious space and brain matter on this little intro here. Consider this a lithe intro. To the questions!

Dear Answerman,

Where do you think the line should be drawn between a failing of a show and a failing of a viewer? Is it a show's fault for being vague and confusing, or is it the viewer's fault for not being able to figure it out? Is it the show's fault for having too many characters, or is it the viewer's fault for not being able to keep track of them? I often see people criticize a show for not making sense and I wonder if maybe it's their fault for being unable to make sense of it. Should then all animes be dumbed down so that everyone can understand them, or should viewers be told to study more?


So, taking it for granted that I'm going to issue every single anime out there under the big hoary blanket statement that all of it is "art" - because it's not - but let's all just assume, for the sake of argument. The purpose of art, as it were, is to provoke a response from its audience. It can be something sly and sarcastic, like Andy Warhol's soup can. Or it can provoke a sense of pure aesthetic beauty, like a Cezanne painting. Or maybe it provokes anger and disgust, like Bunuel's "Un Chien Andalou" did in the late 20's. Or maybe it provokes a sense of "Rocking the F*** Out" like "Tom Sawyer" by Rush. Whatever. Sometimes, though, that desired provocation of feeling or emotion is lost on the viewer. Whose fault is that? Is it the artist, for failing to make a connection with EVERYONE who comes into contact with their work? Or the viewer, who maybe just isn't seeing what everyone else is seeing?

The answer! It's all subjective and pointless.

An artist's work succeeds or fails on its own merits, and the people who look at it either like it or they don't for any number of completely arbitrary reasons.

Tying this back to anime and stuff, I'd just simply say it cuts both ways. I couldn't exactly fault someone if they felt like, for example, the beginning of Baccano! was unreasonably, frustratingly confusing. Lots of characters are flung at you in rapid succession and their relation to each other is left ambiguous, and it jumps back and forth through time. Based on that episode alone, it certainly does NOT make much "sense." The key is, I think, is that Baccano! is a good enough show that even through that miasma of jumbled plot threads and characters, it has a sense of style that compels people to keep watching.

The key, for me, is not necessarily getting confused and put off. It's that I need to feel, at some point, that all of this confusion will pay off and that I'll understand most of what I just saw, and the reason it felt so "confusing" will soon go away as things are resolved. Which, to its credit, Baccano! certainly does.

So, last week I caught a bit of flak for dismissing Shiki, which certainly has its ardent supporters. And they're not wrong, either - they stuck through the whole thing and were pleasantly engaged through the whole process and they loved the characters and so forth. For myself, though, I sat through the beginning, and I was put off *not* because it was dull and confusing, because it certainly was, but *because*, unlike Baccano!, I didn't get any sort of hint in those early episodes that I was going to enjoy sorting through all those different threads, as it were. It had no style, it had no honesty to it, it didn't have any of the real story protein I need to keep watching something that I'm not immediately in love with. So, again, who's in the wrong? The show, or me?

The answer is no one. No one is wrong. Shiki is beloved by its own audience that I'm not a part of. We all move on in life and all is well.

To answer your specific question, I certainly don't think anime shows should be "dumbed down" in any way, in order to avoid putting off an audience. That's silly. Now, what I would like to see happen is for them to do what I mentioned earlier - it's cool to have an abundance of characters and a plot that's a bit scattershot at first. Persona 4 is certainly doing this right now, and Un-Go to a certain extent. I'd argue that Fate/Zero does the same thing. BUT - all of those shows have something that hooks you, despite all the frustrating non-traditional storytelling involved. There's characters that seem interesting, a setting that's dynamic and unique, or visual flair and style that's simply interesting to look at. And that's the key - you can confuse people all day and night with your plot, as long as you give the audience SOMETHING that tells them early on that it'll all make sense, without being overt about it.

Simply, it's important to note that nobody's perfect - any story in anything ever could probably be told a little bit better somehow, and all of us as viewers could probably pay a bit more attention to what we're watching or reading before running off towards the internet to give our opinion on it. Either way though, what you CANNOT argue are people's gut reactions to things. They are immune to all logic and criticism, and unfortunately they make up the majority of the opinions on the people, places, and things we come into contact with on a daily basis.

For example: right now, my gut reaction is telling me that I'm done with this question and further clarification would be belaboring the point into obsolescence. Moving on!

Dear Brian,

I know you get a lot of questions about making anime and stuff but I have these questions (trust me, read on, I think you'll find them interesting, I promise!):

1.) Why is there such a big push, at least on the part of your readers, to be making anime/manga? What's wrong with good old fashioned American books and comics?

2.) Wouldn't it make more sense for these people to try something more American anyway? Wouldn't they be able to find more success in a market they'd be more familiar with, having grown up in it, and having better access to it? What kind of advice would you give these people if you wanted to sway them towards that direction?

3.) And I guess any other thoughts you have about actually writing something for the American market, non-anime.

Number One: I think that reason has a lot to do with the fact that this column appears on a website called "Anime News Network," where there exists a cornucopia of news, reviews, and opinions on anime and manga. Call it a hunch.

Number Two: Well, yeah, of course. There's a bunch of comic publishers out here who openly take submissions and they will publish your superhero comic about vampires or whatever. On the other hand there's only a small handful of manga publishers left here in the West, and the only one that ever really attempted to foster original Western content basically went belly-up. My advice to these people would be - well, honestly, it'd be pretty basic advice that anyone gives to anyone else who is attempting something creative, and that would be to create a great story with your own unique voice that feels honest and uncompromised, as opposed to everything else in the mainstream market which is homogenized and sterile. As for specifics, there's no shortage of people and books out there who can give much better advice on the subject than I ever could. Like Scott McCloud, for instance.

Number Three: Well, here's something I probably should have said in the beginning. I don't necessarily like the idea of people attempting to create, in what is ostensibly an artistic medium, for any sort of "market," Western or otherwise. Be it film, TV, comics, anything. I just personally find it a bit... strange how people who are quite literally starting out from square one seem to be so concerned with "The Market" and how they can sell their stuff. Really?

Speaking of art that resonates and indicates a voice! How about... when you're starting out in any creative field, one that's rife with competition and is notoriously cutthroat, how about simply making something unique and personal that grabs people's attention? And THEN making product that is suited to a "market"? I understand that the endgame for most folks who are interested in getting published and whatnot is to get paid a decent living and achieve some level of fame. But the sort of people who HAVE that didn't start out by attempting to make a saleable product. George Lucas got to make movies because of an arresting short film he did in school. George R. R. Martin first got noticed by writing an award-winning short story. A short story, from the guy whose books are so massive they could be used as murder weapons!

When you hear about the great writers or the great artists of the world, you hear a lot about "voice" and "style." Those are two things that are difficult to learn, and are virtually impossible to copy. Yes, I mean, it's nice I guess that you've got a spec script with echos of Blade Runner, but I doubt it'll have the signature voice of, I dunno, Philip K. Dick. All of these genres and franchises that we all know and love, they didn't come out of nowhere; they may be an assemblage or a melange of different ideas, but the reason that people still love the original Star Wars or whatever is because it had a unique and honest voice, and they were told in a style that was unmistakably the creator's. They came from somebody's brain. Not a formula for success hashed out by Robert McKee or Joseph Campbell. They had those parts in there, but the way they were assembled, and the way they were presented, was completely the work of a true artist.

So, I mean, I dunno, if your idea for a comic is just "WOLVERINE FROM THE X-MEN IN SPACE, AS A PHILIP MARLOWE-ESQUE DETECTIVE," that's a neat idea I guess - but for most people, we'd rather just read a Wolverine comic and watch Star Trek and then read a Raymond Chandler book than anything else. Since you're starting out and most people won't really give you the time of day anyway, why not just, I dunno, take a chance on something unique that only you could've written? I dunno.

And now, back to my sad life where I write and perform plays that are only mildly less popular than food poisoning. Moving on!

Why hasn't On-Demand DVD/BD sales caught on with the Anime companies in the USA (and possibly abroad)? I see Warner Brothers and MGM have programs that allows people to buy low demand titles for a nominal fee, so why not the Anime Studios as well? I figured with the technology we have today, it'll be feasible to have a catalog of low-demand titles available for pressing by a company. Plus by offering this alternative option, if the price point and product is made enticing, people would buy legit instead of pirating the latest fansub off the internet. Come on Anime companies, SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!

Certainly not a bad idea, I'll admit. Here's the thing, though: Both Warner Bros. and MGM have a catalog of hundreds of thousands of titles dating back nearly a century now, and the rights to those titles are theirs in perpetuity.

Anime companies, for the most part, only have a small handful of titles at their disposal by comparison. And the rights to release those titles are NOT permanent. They do disappear, after a time, and the only reason they have to re-up the license is because it still sells well. I guarantee you that Funimation won't be keeping Desert Punk around forever; Dragon Ball, though? Sure.

If anything, the "Print on Demand" model would probably work great in Japan, where obviously the publishers own their own content and have a much, much larger pool of titles to draw from. Except that, as we all know, the home video market in Japan is a little... broken, let's say, and I can't imagine that they'd be too keen in any way to offer their backlog in an inexpensive fashion. Because I mean, why make a couple of bucks off of something you own when you can attempt to literally price-gouge your most loyal fans?

I mean, the Print-On-Demand model works great for MGM and Warner Bros., because they literally have more movies and TV shows in their dusty vaults than they could ever know what to do with. Anime companies, especially those here in the West, are more comfortable having a smaller amount of content that they know exactly what to do with them. Which is to stream them and then release them on DVD, as our little world of Anime fans in this neck of the woods only seems to care about the latest and (arguably) greatest.

Oh, and did I also mention that old stuff doesn't sell? I know I say that practically every week, but I'll say it once more just to make sure: old stuff doesn't sell.

All hail the triumphant return-to-form for Hey, Answerfans! Last week, considering it was the beginning of the last month of the year and all, I thought I'd invite you guys to our FAVORITE part of the Holiday season; picking the things we liked the most in 2011!

Starting us out, Kenzi might cause an uproar for his Sailor Moon snub:

I haven't read many new releases, but it's a tie between Sailor Moon and Blue Exorcist for me, but I'll say Blue Exorcist because it's the newest (in terms of creation). I watched the anime before I grabbed the manga, but boy did Blue Exorcist draw me in! All the characters are likable to me (well, all, but one). I actually even found myself liking a pairing right off the bat which isn't what normally happens. Though I don't want to keep Sailor Moon completely in the back because this manga release wins with nostalgia this year. Sailor Moon was the one I looked forward to the most this year. So Blue Exorcist wins best new, NEW release while Sailor Moon wins best nostalgic release.

Speaking of snubs, Ellie will RUE THE DAY, I SAY that she runner-up'd Wandering Son:

The best Western manga release of 2011 is definitely A Bride's Story. I missed out on buying Emma and I don't have the money to pay the outrageous prices some people are charging for some volumes now, so when I saw that Yen Press had picked this up, I was delighted. I love that they went to so much effort with the hardcover and nice paper, as it makes it seem far more special than most releases, and this is a title that's definitely worth special treatment. In some ways, it's amazing that a series like this was even licensed at all, and it's heartwarming to see that some publishers haven't given up on niche titles just yet. Runner up: Wandering Son, for similar reasons.

Jon, I think, speaks for a variety of us Oh! great fans out there:

We've had some amazing manga released, or continuing, this year but for me this is a very simple question. I would list the re-release of Tenjho Tenge as the best release of 2011. Finally, after years of being ignored by CMX, the fans of this series have been provided a legitimate and legal option for obtaining this series in its original, uncensored, format. A big thanks to Viz for that. I never liked downloading this series, but it was definitely the lesser of two evils. Now I can enjoy one of my favourite manga series with a clear conscience.

Our grand denoument comes from B.J., who so eloquently waxes rhapsodic for his favorite 2011 titles:

It took me a bit to go back and look over the year and we had some pretty interesting releases. However, if forced to pick a number one, I have to go with A Bride's Story by Kaoru Mori. Once again, Mori blows us away with her attention to detail that seems insane for any other mangaka while still expertly weaving in humor and action into her historical slice-of-life story. When an artist has a blow away hit for his or her first work, it's always a curiosity of he or she can strike again in a different series and Mori has proven her worth (btw, so has Arakawa with Silver Spoon, but that hasn't come to America yet. YET! HINT, HINT!!). I remember first picking up A Bride's Story from my library under-estimating how good it was going to be, but then I did that with Emma, too. You think I'd learn.

I have two honorable mentions, first of which is Psyren. You see, I'm a subscriber to Shonen Jump (RIP) and I was worried there for a while when it was just four series plugging away. Then they pull out Psyren and give that to us, giving me (vain) hope for the magazine. For a stereotypical shonen manga, this one has me by the seat of my pants. While not being able to get it through SJ anymore does make me sad, I think I can coerce my library to pick it up!

My second honorable mention technically started in 2010, but I shunned it when people were praising it left and right. However, this past summer, I broke down and checked out from my library (my library's awesome!) and now I'm a faithful convert to Cross Game. In today's manga market, it's wonderful to see a series who understands that pacing is just as much of a craft as the artwork and I can hardly wait for the next volume. Amazing work.

I also think it's worth looking at the series that ended this year, first of which is, of course, Fullmetal Alchemist. After something like six years since it showed up on American shelves, it has blown me away. Every single volume feels original and thrilling and I can hardly wait for the last one coming out this month (NO SPOILERS!!). Other series that finished included the long-awaited Rave Master, and Hoshin Engi and Spiral: Bonds of Reasoning, two series that I never thought I'd see on American shelves, and now it's all over. I've always thought that Rave Master was an underrated shonen manga. It's not exemplary, but I thought it had a handful of cool ideas. Hoshin Engi is probably to most unique shonen manga while still following the formula with it's iconic trickster hero. It was actually my first scanlated manga when I found a little website back in 2000 hosting a handful of chapters. Seeing through to the end only proves to me that Fujisaki has an incredible imagination, even when "adapting" a classic Chinese story. As for Spiral, I fell in love with the anime only to learn that half of it didn't come from the manga and it went in a completely different direction. Tokyopop had the license in limbo forever and I was waiting for someone to get me more than just the fifteen chapters that floated in scanlation. Thankfully, Yen Press came to the rescue and has given us the whole series with all of its twists, turns, and philosophical leaps. From this, I learned that Shirodaira can certainly tell a yarn, even if the threads get tangled and frazzled by the end.

I think that's a pretty good summary of the year. Pretty impressive, now that I look back on it. The only way for 2012 to top it is for someone to give us Silver Spoon and Stars to put on our shelves.

So, that wraps up our little manga retrospective - next week, we begin Part 2 of our 2011 Answerfans Retrospectus, where I ask you to look back upon the myriad localized DVDs!

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.

Thanks again everyone for the solid questions and answers this week! And of course I will be back next week for more of this rigmarole, so don't forget to send a question or answer or both, even, to my little slice of email heaven at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! So long and farewell, people!

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