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Hey, Answerman! - Patchwork Guilt

by Brian Hanson,

Greetings, friends! I've somehow survived my insane weekend of fun in Los Angeles, and now I'm comfortably adjusting to my new digs in Maryland. Ah, the East Coast. You would be much lovelier if you didn't have this nasty habit of giving me a harsh cold once every month. I'm congested and sneezing uncontrollably at 20-minute intervals.

Putting my health aside! Two weeks ago I exchanged a bit of harsh words about two things that really seemed to rile people up, both positively and negatively, regarding the lengths that people go to "rationalize" piracy, and used media sales in anime and manga. Now, the point of an editorial column such as this isn't precisely to change people's minds, because on a topic such as this, it's kind of impossible - but rather to attempt to instill a bit of reasoned argument on my part, in a perhaps useless effort to examine the situation. And that of course bled into the forums, which turned into a free-for-all of insane conclusions and bizarre "slippery slope" arguments, which are the sort of things that tend to drown out some of the more "reasoned" voices on both sides. Either way, I got an email from a reader who wanted to clarify their position on the whole thing, specifically the Oatmeal cartoon that caused my initial rancor.

However the webcomic might incense you, it's *exactly* what many, many people think. If you want to understand what's going on you absolutely must try to understand the point it makes. Telling people it's wrong isn't going to work very well, I'm afraid.

Here's one reason why: we're constantly told "think of the poor starving artists". In light of that, what is the harm caused by piracy? Obvious: the author gets no money. But what if the author refuses to take my money, what harm am I committing then? NONE.

That's the thing, due to using the line of the starving artist so much, in many people's eyes the only thing that is relevant is economics. If the economics are the same either way, there's absolutely no perception of wrong being committed, and absolutely zero guilt. I'm especially not going to feel guilty if you go and refuse to take my money when I try to give you some.

It's not about entitlement, or anything else. It's a simple question I make myself: is there anything different for the artist when I download their work? In this case there isn't, because the choice is between not paying the artist, and not paying the artist. Since there's no difference either option is equally good, and that's really the end of it.

Now, the reason I bring this up is that there still seems to be a LOT of weird misconceptions about the specific impact that piracy has on any given individual. I know that I, myself, am pretty tired of shouting into the darkness about it, and I'm sure everyone else is tired of hearing the same "arguments" brought up time and time again. So I just wanna get this over and done with, as simply and cleanly as I can. Even though, I admit, I'm never going to change anyone's mind. Everyone's already decided that either they're pirating stuff and nobody's being harmed and it doesn't matter, or they've decided that they might be harming people but they don't really care. For some reason it's easier to change someone's mind on political matters than it is to change anyone's ideas on piracy.

Now, I am going to make this absolutely clear; I really don't care. I don't. I don't care how many laws you break in your life. Everyone has their secrets, their vices, their things they would prefer never to make public. I have my own. I don't care how many drugs you've taken, how many state obscenity laws you've violated, how many traffic tickets you've accumulated. Whatever, man. You live your life, and I'll live mine. If I was *truly* upset, to my very core, simply by the very fact that piracy existed, it would be utterly impossible to go on about my regular day. Because it's absolutely everywhere. Everything you've ever known or seen or heard of is being pirated, somewhere, by a bunch of folks who probably just don't care all that much. Eff it, man. You live your life and I'll live mine.

But then! Somehow! A lot of people banded together and decided that it was somehow "justifiable" to pirate things. Which is, uh. That's sort of... insane. If you're an adult, and you live in North America, that is inexcusable. I take umbrage to the notion that the "choice" boils down to "don't take my money, or don't take my money." That is nonsense. Here's an example that applies to myself: I'm a big Tim & Eric fan. Their new movie just came out on VOD. Cool! Except I don't have cable. Bummer. I don't wanna subscribe to a cable service just for a 10 dollar movie rental! Well, hey! It's on iTunes! Ah, shoot - my iPod is broken, my laptop screen is pretty lousy for watching movies, and since it's an iTunes rental, I can't stream it to my TV unless I had an Apple TV box. Which I don't. Well, now it's in theaters! Except that the closest theater it's playing in is three hours away. Man, what a drag! GUESS TIM & ERIC DON'T WANT MY MONEY. BUT I WANT TO WATCH IT SO I MUST PIRATE IT.

Or I could, maybe... wait? Like an adult? Because that's what adults do, they have the temerity and patience to understand that you can't always get everything you want, all the time, and sometimes you have to wait for things? Because hey, guess what, the movie is headed to a theater near me in about a month. Neato! See how this works, people? If you want to pretend that you're "principled" about your viewing habits?

Now, I'm not an unassailable figure of moral purity. No way. I have my vices and problems, my inner demons and dark secrets. I'm human. I'm no saint. But it is insulting to my intelligence to hear all these increasingly bizarre and antiquated "rationalizations" for piracy. BECAUSE THERE IS ALWAYS, *ALWAYS* A LEGAL OPTION. No matter what country you're living in, there's always the option to import. Is it often prohibitively expensive? Yes, and that's where, I think, this argument gets a bit dicey. It's difficult to get mad at anime fans in India who pirate stuff, considering that importing an American DVD will set them back about 400 dollars. But to get back to that Oatmeal comic that pissed me off in the first place: the guy who makes that cartoon doesn't live in the Third World. He lives in Seattle. And no, Game of Thrones was not immediately "available," but the DVDs and Blu Rays just came out a few days ago. He could've waited a few weeks, instead of drawing a cartoon that became the illustrated example of the entitlement and impatience of today's media pirates.

So, again. You pirate stuff? I don't care. At least you're not making any excuses and you're keeping it to yourself. You think you pirate stuff for some sort of moral reason, and it's important that everyone on the internet knows it? I care even less, because all of your "reasons" are just flimsy excuses for your own laziness and disregard for the artistic work of others. You pirate stuff because you live in a different country? Cool, let's talk, maybe we can figure something out.

Anyway, I have actual questions to get to!

Howdy Answerman,

Since I started watching anime, I've usually been strictly sub-only; I always thought the quality of voice-acting for English dubs was pretty bad in comparison. Lately, I've been watching a lot more English dubs, for better or worse, and I've noticed that a lot of times with shows that I think have a bad dub, the problem isn't the voice actors, but the script. Sometimes they are given lines that don't seem to fit their character or that change their character from the original dub. I guess in a round-about way I want to ask you how much importance these studios put on the script when translating it for a dub. I think with a bad script the show will be ruined even with good voice actors. It seems like an important job but not one that gets much attention.

You're absolutely right - no amount of talent or goodwill will polish the proverbial turd that is a bad script. And it definitely doesn't get the amount of attention that, say, a voice-over actor will.

I will say that, unequivocally, the studios are always very, very concerned with their scripts when the opportunity to make a dub comes around. Writing a good ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) script for an anime series is a pretty specialized and weird form of writing; Essentially, you're doing a second translation of a translation. If you're writing the "dub script" for an anime series, you're basically doing a second, more specific pass on the original translation (which would, most likely, be the subtitle script). You essentially have to squish and stretch what is either too much dialog or too little dialog to fit within however many seconds it takes for a character to speak within a scene. Then repeat that hundreds of times per episode. And then, of course, you have to make the honest attempt to make this dialog somehow sound "natural" in English, which is... tricky, to say the least. I can only imagine how God-damned maddening it must've been to write all those dub scripts for both Ghost in the Shell movies, and then the TV series; those shows are dense with information, are overflowing with jargon, and are simply not designed to be spoken in English. And yet, those dubs are great! I think, at least; the characters really have their own distinct personalities, so it's no wonder that Richard Epcar has become so attached to the character he won't allow anyone else do the voice. Either way, things like Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop are basically the high bar that other anime dubs aspire to - and not just in the voice cast, but also the intelligence and strength of their scripts, which compliment the original Japanese scripts (which were also great to begin with), all while giving them a certain energy and consistency when spoken aloud in English.

Unfortunately, there really isn't any "science" to making a good English dub script. As I'm sure you've noticed, the quality level is all over the map - it'd be easy to simply state that "bad scripts are just rushed out the door and aren't given the proper amount of time to work properly," except that there's a bunch of dubs out there that are terrible where they took their time, as well as a bunch of dubs where they were rushed out the door and yet turned out fantastic. I mean, I think the Bleach dub is pretty great, and they had to churn those episodes out on an assembly-line in order to make it to US broadcast. So, what is to be done? WHAT IS TO BE DONE ABOUT THESE BAD SCRIPTS???

Luckily, I think we're in a time now - considering that the percentage of anime dubs themselves are at an all-time low - that the mean average of dub quality is now pretty good. Sure, there'll be titles that translate better than others, strictly on principle; part of the charm of something like One Piece is the fact that the characters all say ridiculous and weird things, like "Gum Gum" and such, that we're able to simply... accept better when they're spoken within a language that isn't our own. The only way to fix that is to, uh, change it in the script, and we all know how well "changes" go over when it comes to names and attacks and so forth. Death threats and hyperbole!

But aside from that, the other good thing is that the people who are still making dubs - all the folks at Funimation, and the guys and girls in LA at Studiopolis and Animaze - they've been at it for a while now. We're no longer in the era where we can witness something like ADV fumble through a dub of something like Evangelion, simply due to the amount of experience these ADR writers have accrued. While there isn't a "science" to writing a good dub script, there certainly is a formula and a timetable to at least make a decent one, and get it done on time.

And, make no mistake, but I've listened to and met a few of the folks who write ADR scripts - many of them are voice-over actors themselves - and they sincerely try their damnedest to make them good. Even for the very dumbest of shows, they do try to write a good script. There's just a lot of factors working against ADR scripts from the outset. They never have enough time to truly finesse them in such a way that they're just right, there's usually a lot of weird oversight from the original Japanese licensors who are altogether too eager to make asinine demands that simply don't work when spoken aloud in English, and of course the big one is that... the dialog for these anime shows was never meant to be spoken in English in the first place. The fact that there's ANY good dubs out there is, in and of itself, sort of miraculous.

I know that dubs still have their detractors, and that's fine. But let it be said that in 2012, they all tend to know what they're doing, and what they're doing is the best they can with the limited time they have to do it.

Hey, Answerman!

So these last few weeks have seen the unprecedented success of anime in the US: The Secret World of Arrietty. It has now amassed more money in US theaters than any previous Ghibli film (and I'm sure any other anime film excluding perhaps Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!). When I went to see it last week, I ran into an acquaintance from church seeing it with his 6 year old daughters for their birthday. After the film I discussed it with him, mentioning how it was just what one would expect from Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki. He, of course, had no clue what I was talking about. His daughters, however, immediately compared it to Ponyo and Totoro. I see this as a huge success in bringing anime to the youngest of the next generation. These girls will probably seek out other Miyazaki films in the future and maybe eventually be enveloped in this crazy world of japanimation as you and I have been.

My question to you is: Can the success of Arrietty be completely contributed to Disney's more-than-expected advertising campaign and the more-American-than-usual (at least from my perspective) localization of the film? And if so, can we expect more anime to come like Ponyo and Arrietty have, with stars popular with children as dub actors, being treated just like other family-oriented animated features?

As great as Arrietty's success is, it's sort of sad to know that we're all "excited" about what is (at the time of this writing) a collective US domestic box-office gross of $17,048,907. Fingers crossed that it'll wind up with at least 20 million dollars before the end of its theatrical run, at least putting it ahead of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie, and it'll be a distant 3rd behind Pokemon: The Movie 2000.

...ugh. What a sad state of affairs that is. Even Arrietty, a film I'm not exactly crazy about, shouldn't have to fight tooth-and-nail in order to make more money than that Godforsaken Yu-Gi-Oh! movie. (Although, this list of the US box office of anime films is pretty entertaining. Vexille made only 3,259 dollars! Good! That movie is horrible.)

Putting aside my cynicism though, that 17 million and change is actually quite nice for a movie that is a) 2D animated and b) foreign. The foreign film "A Separation" is being hailed as a huge hit because it's made 3 million, and that movie won a damn Oscar. And considering the tepid reaction thus far to ANY Ghibli film in theaters, Disney's marketing gurus should be rather pleased with themselves to see the film doing so well.

Although honestly, I think the real secret to Arrietty's success is in the timing. What other family films were opening on February 17th? Just the Star Wars Episode I re-release. (Which, sadly, made almost 10 million dollars that weekend, beating Arrietty by a decent percentage.) The rest were decidedly un-family-friendly thrillers, dramas, and Nicolas Cage movies. And that served it well for two weeks... until The Lorax came and ate its box-office lunch. I mean, Disney deserves all the credit in the world for creating a very smart and very focused ad campaign for Arrietty, but sadly it can't compete with the scorched-earth bombardment of marketing for The Lorax.

Either way, Disney, Ghibli, and every other studio that's attempting to create and release a family-friendly anime film... they want to be able to feel relatively secure knowing that average moviegoers aren't driven away from the multiplexes by the sign of anime like Kryptonite. And, they don't have to spend a ton of money on marketing! They can put out an anime film in wide release (in over 1,000 theaters) and still make some money! In that sense, I think the "Americanization" of the movie is sort of beside the point; I don't think the name changes and other script tweaks that were made to the American dub held any sort of sway over public perception, one way or the other. Ditto with the "child star power" angle; I'm sure Bridgit Mendler might be considered a huge boon to her legions of preteen fans, but at the end of the day, the parents of those preteen fans are the ones buying the tickets, so that's not the issue. And I doubt those same parents were particularly "wowed" by the star power of Amy Poehler and Will Arnett. And that's because, wisely I think, the marketing and the movie trailers did not play up the star power. It let the movie speak for itself, and it had a truly great trailer.

And really, common moviegoers aren't that stupid, despite all evidence to the contrary. If you give them a great trailer and a decent marketing campaign, they'll show up. Future anime films can do just fine without any celebrity voices or Super Bowl ads; all they need are some clever marketing gurus to pick the best time to release the film (i.e. in a relatively empty week, without a lot of tentpole blockbusters and other, competing family entertainment), and some clever trailers and ads to sell the film. I can only hope that whoever winds up with the film rights to Mamoru Hosoda's latest film can pick a few solid lessons from this.

Hey Answerman,

I import manga from Japan. Usually for a series that gets cancelled mid-way through, and other times for manga where the US release is really far behind where they are in Japan. Since I can't read Japanese though, I'm stuck reading translations online. Except that a lot of times, I can't find just translations, and I have to read the scanlations. I think that by owning the original Japanese manga volumes, it makes up for the "piracy" of reading the scanlation sites. I was wondering if if there should be more of an effort for other people to do the same.

Well, that's... that's cool that you import manga! That would certainly be pretty cool if more people did that. But only because they WANT to OWN things. Not just for the sake of assuaging whatever guilt they may have regarding scanlations.

See, to bring back what I was talking about before, this whole notion of "support" in regards to entertainment and art can get a bit silly when it violently crashes head-first into piracy; I've seen rational people do and purchase insane things to try and make themselves "feel better" for pirating something. Like, buying concert tickets to shows they have no ability to attend; merchandise they neither want nor can use, that sort of thing. And that's just silly. You don't need to buy things you don't use. You buy things because you genuinely want them.

As cool as it is that you're actually importing Japanese manga, I can totally understand how that's not really an attractive option for most people; they've been spoiled by scanlations and digital manga, and the notion of physical books taking up space is sort of bizarre, especially ones they can't even read properly. As much as I loved Gundam Unicorn, there's no way I'm importing the Japanese Blu Rays without an accompanying tax write-off.

My simple rubric is thus: You "support" the things you genuinely want, and you forget the rest. I.e., if you genuinely want the latest episode of One Piece, you stream it from Funimation's website or Hulu; you don't download it on Bittorrent. if you genuinely want that expensive imported region-free Blu Ray release of whatever, you buy it; if you want it, but you also don't want to pay several hundred dollars, then you don't buy it. Coincidentally, you don't pirate it either. You rent the discs from Netflix, or maybe you borrow it from a friend, or you download episodes on iTunes or watch them on Crunchyroll, ANYTHING. You buy what you want to buy, and you ignore the things you want but simply don't want to pay for. Because if something's too expensive, chances are there's something else that's within your price range that's just as good.

Matter of fact, I quite like this idea. I think I've got an idea for this... idea. Hang on a second.

Yep! Since I was in the midst of a cross-country move last week, I put a brief moratorium on Answerfans - UNTIL NOW. So, next week, I want all of you to chime in and help me figure out and hopefully come to some sort of consensus on this question that's been sort of piquing my curiosity as of late:

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.

Alright everyone, that's all the room I have to kvetch and prattle! Remember though, my inbox is always open to your Answerfans answers and Answerman questions, so type 'em up and send 'em my way over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Until next week, everybody!

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