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Hey, Answerman! - DEATH DECAY CHAOS

by Brian Hanson,

Hello, everyone who hasn't sheltered themselves in a thrice-sealed impenetrable subterranean bunker! This is Hey, Answerman! Of course, the big, monumental news of the week thus far has been the disclosure of Bandai Entertainment's slow retreat out of the packaged media business. And you all had some questions on that very galvanizing topic. So I picked a few and I'm ready to put on my Mayan hat, sacrifice a few virgins and goats, and appease the angry Gods that demand our entire Western anime/manga industry's quick and bloody demise!

Not to be dramatic, or anything.

So recently news about Bandai Entertainment no longer releasing new titles and, once licenses expire, no longer distributing anime or manga into the US has made me sad. I am very greatful to the news coverage Anime News Network has been doing thus far but some very hard to answer questions still remain after reading some articles. First off since the titles they currently have will continue to be distributed until their licensing runs out, does this mean fans should quickly get the titles before they shut down US product production or do we have some time to slack? Tied in with question is also the question on what titles are most likely going to be picked up in the US by other licensers and what might help determine that selection (besides how much it sold in the first place, that seems like a give-in)? Also I was shocked to see that Escaflowne made it in the Top 5 best selling anime list for Bandai. I know that Escaflowne is a good series (I mean I own it and have watched it about 3 times) but it is a relatively old series and isn't that recognizeable by some anime fans. Was the reason it made it on the list because it was very popular when it was first released or is there more people than I thought that actually remember this series and own it?

Oh, oh yes - buy whatever it is that Bandai still owns as quickly as you can. Because here's the thing - yes, they'll still be releasing the titles they own as long as their license remains active, but, Bandai isn't going to be making a countdown clock for whatever title it is that you want, letting you know EXACTLY how much time you've got left to purchase it before it disappears in a cloud of smoke and broken dreams. That could be a year, could be six months, or it could be two weeks. Who knows? Either way, whatever Bandai title you want, you'd best run off to RightStuf or Amazon ASAP and load up your cart with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or Code Geass or anything Gundam as soon as you've got the time.

Insofar as "license rescues" are concerned, well. I mean, there are some pretty much "duh" obvious choices for titles that'll stick around as long as humanly possible. The obvious one being Cowboy Bebop, because that show is still running on US network television and has already sold millions of copies - and to a lesser extent probably something like Haruhi Suzumiya, which is a more recent hit but has a very devoted and very loyal following. But, as mentioned, Bandai's license for those shows are still in effect, so if you're the sort of person who likes to delude themselves into thinking that Funimation will pick these up and RE-DUB THEM PERFECTLY WITH YOUR FAVORITE DUB CAST and package the discs with special toys and trinkets... you could be waiting quite a while, honestly. So if you still haven't bought Cowboy Bebop on DVD, all five of you, and you feel like you can wait another indefinite amount of time, then sure - you'll see it again on store shelves eventually.

Everything else, though! Buy it up now or forever hold your griping and anger. I can't imagine how freaking upsetting it must be to serious Gundam fans at the moment, knowing that you have only limited time to track down all the different series you want before Bandai officially calls it quits, all the while knowing you'll probably never get your hands on Turn A or ZZ Gundam. Just heartbreaking.

And, what the hell, dude - yes, yes Escaflowne is a popular series. Director Kazuki Akane has gone on record saying that the entire reason the Escaflowne movie was produced was because the sales of the DVDs in the West willed it into being. The film officially premiered at Anime Expo, while the print was literally still wet from the lab. It's not in the same league as Cowboy Bebop, but Escaflowne certainly sold well for Bandai through pretty much their entire existence - from the pretty clamshell VHS tapes when Bandai Entertainment was still "Anime Village," until the latter days when they were packaging entire series' together in cheap DVD boxed sets. Ah, the halcyon days.

The article “Ken Iyadomi on Bandai Entertainment's Downsizing” has gotten me to think of the future of the NA anime industry and it looks bleak. Of course, thinking back to the downfall of Geneon, ADV, and Tokyopop does not help.

My fear is that it will get to the point where it is more of an anime import industry and not much of a NA anime industry. The two most disconcerting sentences of the article in question is “Only one thing is clear: the role of a distributor for anime in North America is changing, and some well-equipped licensors can now cut them out of the process entirely, if they choose. Japanese publishers can now create Blu-rays with English subtitles, ready to import to English speakers worldwide.” The above quote basically describes what I am concerned about; that the role of what is currently a distributor will become more like the role of an importer. If this happens, the industry will become nothing but Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn and Fate/Zero. To rephrase, the price point will become $50-60 for about a hour of content or around $400 for around 13 episodes of a show. There is a reason I do not import anime, the price.

My question is, is the above the future of anime? Is this where we are doomed to go? Are we at least in store for some sort of hybrid of this situation? Even if this is not where we are headed, do you mind sharing your thoughts on what is going to happen to the NA anime industry? I don't exactly expect this to happen, but the industry is changing and I am worried about where it is headed.

Man, hell if I know what's "going" to happen. Leave that to the analysts. Who are 75% of the time completely full of shit anyway.

What I can and will say is that, yes, Ken Iyadomi is absolutely correct; Japanese publishers can literally bypass licensing and distributing to the American market if they so choose. With the caveat being: if it makes sense. To make it even more specific: If it'll sell to an older audience. Which, hey, both Gundam Unicorn and Fate/Zero do. Us older anime fans? We all have Blu Ray players, we're familiar with the sorts of websites we need to visit if we'd like to import something. And if it gets the super-limited Aniplex USA treatment, we know the blogs and the Google Alerts we need to set up to make sure we can snag it before the pre-orders are closed. We're savvy folks and we're usually pretty adamant and vigilant about getting what we want. No matter the price tag or the hassle, we'll make sure it sells out if we want it.

Titles that skew younger? Ehh. Listen - despite Bandai Entertainment's slow burnout, there is absolutely no indication that titles like Bleach or Naruto or Dragon Ball or any of those cross-generational hits are ever going to be expensive, import-only affairs. They require more care and production and commitment in the West than any sane Japanese publisher has either the time or care for. Notice, for example, that Tiger & Bunny was sort of preemptively saved from Bandai's loosening grasp by Viz, nearly half a year before any of this news went public. Even though the Blu Rays of that show have English subtitles, Bandai in Japan knows they've got a hit on their hands. And so they gave it to the guys who have a pretty solid track record on delivering these mass-market-friendly titles to the mass market. Even though Tiger & Bunny has Bandai's sticky corporate residue all over it. Quite literally, in fact.

And! AND!!! We do have, here in the West, one very major thing going on here that requires the finesse and the polish that only a Western licensor can accomplish: Streaming Video. Which, from what I understand, is hardly a blip in the radar on the consciousness of the Japanese entertainment industry. Everywhere else, though, it is huge.

And I'll get into that a bit deeper when I answer this NEXT question:

Hey Answerman, I'd like to start off the new year by asking a nice and vague question about the prospects of the industry in the near future: What are the reasons anime became so huge initially and are there any chances that this can be replicated once again?

That obviously depends on when you mean "initially," I guess. Are we talking about Streamline's success in the late 80's and early 90's? Or the Cartoon Network/Pokemon boom in the late 90's and early aughts?

Considering the mean age of your average anime fan nowadays, I'm going to guess the latter. So, here goes. Anime's "success" in those heady years of Toonami and Dragon Ball Z being the highest-rated cartoon show on television and whatnot... it was totally a "right place, right time" situation. By that time anime had sort of found its "niche" in the Western market thanks to the groundwork laid out by Streamline and Akira and Ghost in the Shell, in the sense that people had a sort of vague idea what anime "was" and that it was this different, edgy thing comprised of limited but kinetic animation and complex stories and other things they haven't seen before. And, thanks to some savvy marketing and slick presentation courtesy of Cartoon Network and Teletoon and others, anime was, for the first time, readily and easily available. You could flip on the TV and catch an episode of Outlaw Star or Inuyasha or Cowboy Bebop and recognize that it was anime, but it was presented and marketed in such a way that made it seem cool and alluring. And as a plus, the shows were really good and they were made for a wider audience than Japanese Otaku. The audience for anime was ready for it, but they hadn't had it presented to them in a simple way thus far; now that it was literally in their homes and edited so it was "safe," anime was, by all accounts, a cool thing.

But then, of course, the ratings started to slip, the newer titles that were being broadcast failed to ignite the same sort of hysteria, and meanwhile the home video market was beginning to soften. DVD sales plateaued, and then of course there's the whole "piracy and fansubs" thing. Couple all that with a market saturated with awful content that cost publishers like Geneon and ADV a whole lot of money, and, well. We all know what happened, no need to recount it yet again.

Now, can lightning strike twice? Sure, but not in the same place. It's not gonna happen again on television. I can say that with absolute certainty. DVDs and Blu Rays are far, far from the mass-market product they were in their heyday. And that's simply because the way that entertainment is given to us has evolved and mutated - sure, you can tune in to Community on NBC, or you can catch it on Netflix, Hulu, download episodes on your Playstation 3 or Xbox 360, stream them from your iPad or your iPhone, anything. Streaming video is where, if anything, anime can have its second renaissance, as it were. But there's two big hurdles to that, right now.

The first problem is that the content simply isn't there yet. You know that the anime industry is having some mass-market trouble when something like Steins;Gate and Fate/Zero are two of the better and least-pandering series of the past few seasons. In short, you gotta be a true and dedicated anime fan already to really like most of any of the new shows that are being produced. If anime's gonna really hold a big audience again, the content needs to be there to support it. And right now there isn't.

The second issue is that... marketing and presentation are still necessary in order to make an audience of any respectable size pay attention to your series. And that's not necessarily just anime's problem, that's sort of a problem with ALL of streaming video that everybody's scrambling to solve. Yeah, I mean, it's great that between Hulu and Netflix that I have hundreds of thousands of different things to watch, but how the hell do I find something I might like unless I already know about it? Audiences are lazy. We are. We hedge our bets on spending our precious leisure time watching something we either know we already like, or else catching up on things we've heard through old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

The answer to the first problem is pretty simple: make better shows that are interesting to a wider audience. Easy to say, hard to make, I know. The answer to the second problem is one that has nearly everybody stymied. You can't do something like commercials with streaming video - people revolt against that. And there's not a whole lot you can do about the "presentation" aspect either; all of that is handled only by the folks at Hulu or Netflix, or PSN or Xbox Live, et cetera. Streaming video has lost the benefit of having a truly captive audience. And that's left advertisers and content providers scrounging for solutions.

Making just a wild and vague guess, I'd say that social networking is sort of the fulcrum to the solution in some way; a way that connects our general hunger for word-of-mouth recommendations with a content provider's need to present their series to an otherwise uninformed audience. And good luck figuring all of that out.

Either way, though. I'm not one of those dour, sunken-faced naysayers that say anime CAN'T have a glorious return-to-form to its celebrated past. I mean, it certainly won't happen with TV and DVDs, but I'm not so cynical that I can't believe that a string of excellent titles with mainstream appeal will NEVER find a significant audience. While there's certainly a sizable segment of the viewing populace who will NEVER set foot outside of their comfort zone, and will only watch simple and often moronic programming that tickles their basest and needs and fantasies, I think history has proven - over millenia - that our unquenchable desire for entertainment eventually leads people into unexpected places. It happened before. Recently, even. It'll happen again. At least when the time is right and all the kinks are worked out.

That's enough of this pugnacious prognostication for this week - time to look forward with a smile on our face and a song in our hearts! I mean that's not true either, but at this point ANYTHING short of predicting the slow, suffocating death of every anime company left in this business sounds like an unbridled spigot of optimism. In other words, let's roll on into Hey, Answerfans! Last week, in keeping with the whole "New Years" theme, I wanted to know your aspirations...

We start with Lacey, who is just so... gosh-darned unabashedly supportive that it's sort of the panacea to all this dreary death-talk:

Totally new to this in it's entirety, so first off, hi. :)

It should be mentioned first and foremost that while I've been doing my best to help fight the battle against piracy by purchasing my DVDs and not owning a single nanobyte of illegally downloaded Anime material, my New Years resolution this year is definitely going to be stepping up my game as far as aiding the industry in it's time of need. With the heartbreaking announcement recently made by Bandai, it's a huge wake up call for a lot of us that we have to take even more action.

A long time dream of mine is to become a voice actress, so it goes without saying that I endlessly respect everyone in the industry for what they do. For any of them to lose their jobs because the industry has reached such a low level, and for that to happen while knowing I could have done something to stop it, would kill me. So to protect the jobs of the people that I look up to more than anyone, and to aid the companies and the mangaka that work so hard to please their fan bases, I am more then willing to dedicate this year to improving the state of the industry I love.

I want to make as many purchases as my wallet (and parents) will allow, and I also want to use my social media accounts to get the word out there and join the fray against fansubs and downloads. I plan on reporting any bootlegged material I see to authority, too. I definitely am determined to make a difference as far as the state of the industry is concerned, whether that be helping out a Manga artist by making purchases or maybe even saving another beloved company from halting new production.

So here's to a new year that's hopefully going to help out the industry (as well as expand my Anime/Manga collection)!

Sarah, meanwhile, just wants to be all productive-like:

Hey Answerman,

I have several fandom related New Year's resolutions for 2012.

My first resolution is to create more art (fan art and original). I used to draw weekly, but now its' every few months (I want to change that). I have two closets, that take up an entire wall in my room. I want to paint an anime mural on my closet doors. I'm still in the planning stages. I also want to make anime plush dolls. I've come up with an idea, that I don't want to reveal yet. I would like to try making fandom related shirts!

My second and third resolutions go together. I want to create more cosplays and go to more conventions. They are my two favorite things to do. I did intend to go to more conventions in 2012, but I put them on hold, until 2013. I want to spend 2012 making great cosplay costumes and saving money for the conventions. I have a set amount to take out of my check each week. I want to give myself plenty of time to prepare.

My fourth resolution is take more photos and make videos of anime conventions. Two awesome guys inspired me on this one. I want to film interviews of cosplayers, film cosplay work in progress, and film the conventions in general. I want to use the few conventions I'm going to this year as practice. I would like to gain as much experience as I can before the nine conventions I'm going to in 2013.

2012 is going to be a very busy year for me, but I am extremely excited. I can't wait to get started!

ArthurFrDent asks me, "are my methods... unsound?" And I solemnly reply, "I don't see... any method. At all. Sir."

I know you may hear this at various times, but the resolution was/will be...

{does his best Colnel Kurtz impression}

The Backlog, The Backlog, The Backlog.

When I'm laying on my couch staring at the ceiling and wondering what to watch, there is a DVD cabinet that whispers, and I break out in a sweat. How many series have I purchased, only to move on to something else before watching?

I have to blame the anime previews for the darkness, and lightness. I see cool new stuff, and even watch some of it. Waiting with bated breath till I can get my hands on a disc... Hoping against hope that someday it will be licensed in the US... and when it is, and purchased, how long will it sit on my shelf? Like some guy going upriver, I have passed them by, seeing the next shiny object. [at this point a Silver Wing]

The Horror.

When I bought something on a recommendation [SaiKano on Bamboo's] I think, OK, next weekend. Several years on, I'm muttering to myself, because I have gotten more of a backlog, but never watched. I'm sure at some con or something, I'm going to run into some crazy otaku with a buncha Nikons around the neck, or lanyards with buttons on them, and she'll shout at me, wide eyed: "What's your problem, man? You'll never understand anything till you watch!"

Nervous I say, "watch, what?"

"Utena, man, UTENA! You bought the first boxed set, and you haven't even opened it yet!"

I counter with the only thing I know will land: "I got a used copy of Photon, the Idiot, and watched it straight through instead."

The screaming. The wailing. Otaku on the floor convulsing. [Except for that one guy who has Baka written on his forehead, who understands.]

The horror. I need to catch up on my backlog.

And lastly, Robert's resolution is completely sound and lacks any sort of Apocalypse Now references, for good and ill:

Actually, this year my resolution is going to specifically involve my not watching something. There's plenty to get excited about this coming year, like the US releases of Arrietty and Redline, and the Japanese release of Hosoda's new movie about the parenting of wolf kids, but what has me more excited than anything is the somewhat delayed Japanese release of ... *cue not-so-heavenly angels singing* ... Evangelion 3.0! And I'm not going to watch it!

Allow me to explain: If you're like me, you watched the first raw camrips of the first two Rebuild of Evangelion movies that you could get your grubby mitts on. By the time Funimation's dubs came out, you had already watched several lousy fansubs and knew the film backwards and forwards. And if, like me, you were lucky enough to see them in a vaguely theater-like setting, you were wowed by the spectacle and emotion but there were no surprises. Well this time around I'm going to experience Evangelion the right way. I'm going to shun the crappy camrips and amateurish fansubs and wait until I can experience Funi's official translation either in a theater or on DVD/BD. I'm going to throw comprehension to the wind and let the bombastically passionate confusion wash over me; and I ask all you other Eva freaks out there to do the same. It may take another year or two, but it'll be more than worth the wait, I'm sure!

And now that we've got our 2012 resolutions in hand, it's time to go back to doing what we all do best: SPECULATE! Here is next week's assignment:

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.

I dunno about you guys, but I'm spent from all this Bandai talk. Time to hibernate in my sensory-deprivation chamber for the next week! But don't worry, you can still reach me in my enhanced meditative state by sending me any questions or Answerfans responses either directly through my brainwaves and chi, or by emailing me at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com!

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