Hey, Answerman! - Phony Baloney

by Brian Hanson,

Hey gang! Welcome to Hey, Answerman!

Hah. "Gang." Now I'm picturing my readers as roving packs of marauders, snapping their fingers in West Side Story-style syncopated rhythms, dancing to Stephen Sondheim songs. That is an image I want to never leave my brain.

You guys had some great questions this week, so let's get to them:

Hi Answerman! I had a question about... for lack of better terms, "authentic" anime and "inspired" anime. "Authentic" in this case means "cartoons that come directly from Japan". I was wondering why is the animation quality so different when comparing the two. "Inspired" anime, like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Totally Spies!, tends to look fuzzier and less bright. Which is one reason why I call it "inspired", because like real vs. bootlegged merchandise (such as purses and clothes), the knock-off product always looks odd (usually faded), is easier to spot, and -- let's be honest -- is often bashed by elitist snobs for this reason.

So anyway. Why is the quality (and quite frankly, some of the comical facial expressions) so different? Do they have a limited budget and they can't afford the better paint and supplies? Was the palette choice done intentionally? Or is there another reason?

I don't know what shows you were watching, but I recall Totally Spies! being insanely bright. And I mean, so bright it made your eyes bleed a little. Judge for yourself, I guess, but all I see in that clip are nothing but popping primary colors.

And the "fuzziness" is also suspect. The colors in Avatar: The Last Airbender are certainly a bit more muted and soft than I think people are used to in their cartoon shows, but I dunno about you, I think it looks just as vibrant and sharp as anything else that's animated on TV. And it has nothing to do with "paint and supplies." Every last anime on TV, with the exception of Sazae-san, is animated and colored digitally. Same with every single animated show in the west.

Having said that, I do think there's something to be said, quality-wise, about the fundamental differences between animation done here in the west versus Japan. Which, I mean, I know that sounds obvious, BUT - to put it very simply, there's so many weird ways that animation production itself differs between the two that it's sort of a miracle that something like The Last Airbender can even kinda pull off the "anime" look.

And those differences in the sheer discipline of animation are what really screams to the trained anime-watching eye that something like The Last Airbender is not anime. I doubt that kids or people less trained on anime were able to really discern the difference, but it doesn't take somebody like an Anipages Daily reader to tell that something like Avatar doesn't hold on key poses as long as anime tends to, or that the camera angles tend to be less dramatic and more static. American and (generally) Western animation is created through such a factory-like system of automation that it's always a miraculous thing, to me, when the animation takes even a small little risk. Western animated shows are "timed" extremely closely - meaning, every movement, action, and piece of dialog is coded onto the "layouts" which provide the blueprint that the animators have to follow. And if they don't, that basically screws up the entire scene - dialog doesn't go where it needs to be, characters overlap each other, that sort of thing. Once the episodes are timed and drawn as layouts, the animators' job is to basically plug in the necessary jigsaw pieces (or "drawings" I guess) into the puzzle, and the whole thing flows. (Of course, I'm speaking in generalizations here - not every cartoon show follows the same formula for production.)

Because the budgets are (typically) much smaller for anime, and the teams are much smaller, there *is* a certain amount of "freedom" on behalf of their animators. That's because, honestly, they're not beholden to strict timing - after all, they don't start recording the dialog until after the animation is in production. That gives the animation crew a ton more freedom to play with the timing and the action as the director deems fit. There's a certain "looseness" to the timing in Japanese animation, I think, that gives it its distinct flavor - moreso than the "jerky movements" and "flapping mouths" that people always point to. Western shows simply don't have that luxury, since they have to strictly adhere to the "click tracks" (temporary dialog/music tracks) in order to speed up production.

But that's just one part of it, and the part that jumps immediately to me when I see something like The Last Airbender. It's sort of an "uncanny valley" thing, in a sense; the closer it gets to looking just like an anime, the more the little things stand out to the trained eye. Of course, the big difference is that the method of production, the training, and the execution of anime v. Western animation was developed by two methods that were created within the two countries over 60 years ago, independently of one another - while certain portions are similar, that's merely by coincidence. The godfathers of Japanese animation, going back to Toei Douga in the 50's and Mushi Pro in the 60's, were essentially self-trained and self-taught animators who had to reverse-engineer the Disney animated films they were seeing after the war. They ended up with a very specific discipline of timing, directing, and executing animation in an efficient manner, and it's basically unchanged today - except of course with bigger and better tools and technology.

So, again, the notion that Avatar: The Last Airbender can look as good as it does, coming from a system of animation that is worlds apart from the style it's attempting to emulate, is worth a commendation. "Knock-off" isn't the right word. That's too dismissive. How about "homage"?

Hi Answerman,

I'm coming to you today with a question which may smell a little of entitlement, but it's also something I see as a potential and legitimate problem. These days we get a lot of anime licensed for simulcast. It's great. It's much better than the situation a few years ago. However, I think we're missing one big problem here.

We have multiple players in this arena, which splits the content. The result is a lot of shows on Crunchyroll, but some big name shows get picked up by Funimation, Aniplex, or Viz Media. If you're a person who's only interested in shows on one service, then great, it doesn't affect you at all. Everyone else has to keep track of what shows broadcast in which places. Perhaps more pertinently, people who want to watch shows the week they air or in higher qualities are forced to go through multiple paywalls.

Fansubs do have a use in some cases, and even if they didn't there will always be people who cling to them. For everything and everyone else I think the above might be the last big hurdle to clear. Streaming anime has become more convenient. It's still not as convenient as a one-stop torrent tracker. It's definitely not as convenient when you add in $8 a service a month to access everything. I know the individual licensors need to make money themselves, but do you see any possibility of consolidating services in the future? Could we possibly get a one-stop site for streaming anime and still make sure everyone gets compensated accordingly?

As a fan? Sure. A one-stop shop for all my streaming video needs, including anime, would be immensely appealing. It would be terrific if I didn't have to pay for Netflix and Hulu Plus and Crunchyroll, and that everything could potentially be under the same roof and that I didn't have to flip between several different, but similar, services for the few specific things they offer that I want.

But, what's good for the goose isn't always good for the gander. In the business world, especially the entertainment business, the cost of convenience be rather high. Nobody seems to flinch at Crunchyroll's current Premium subscriber rate at $6.95 a month - you get an awful lot of content for that price, and their HD video streams are pretty good. But what if that was doubled? Because without any competition narrowing the field, suddenly overhead becomes a prohibitive factor - companies need to tack on extra server costs, extra licensing costs to cover the suddenly huge array of content they need, and so forth.

There's also the problem of the "tyranny of the majority." Right now, Crunchyroll is subsidized mostly by their simulcasts of big tentpole shows like Naruto Shippūden and Bleach - cool stuff like Folktales from Japan probably isn't doing much for them monetarily, if it makes any monetary sense at all. If there truly was a one-stop shop, one way to keep costs down would be to eschew niche titles like that, freeing up their servers and networks for the shows that consistently bring in the viewers. And that would just be a damn shame.

Part of the appeal of something like Crunchyroll and Niconico and Hulu and the rest, is the sheer breadth of content that you can get between the three of them. Sure, there's definitely a lot of overlap between them, and largely they seem to be targeting the same audiences, but the healthy thing about competition is that it allows for that tiny bit of variance, to the point where I can watch new episodes of Polar Bear Cafe on Crunchyroll, old episodes of Bubblegum Crisis on Hulu, and everything else in-between on Funimation's site, and of course numerous other options - Netflix, Amazon, Playstation Network, iTunes, everything!

It's a vast, connected network, and I personally think that *if* the price of a little bit of inconvenience means that we get more diverse content, then so be it! There's more than enough eyeballs and more than enough peculiar tastes out there to supply enough users to make even the niche-iest of the niche titles a worthwhile streaming acquisition. And I think that's pretty damn cool. We live in a golden age here, people!

Unless you live in another, non-North-American region. Or, stuff happens to one of those streaming websites. Which leads me to my last question:

("NICE SEGWAY, DUDE!" Thanks!)

Yesterday, Niconico just pulled all of their Funimation titles. All the speculation online is that this is related to FUNico. Does that mean the whole company is a bust? Are the shows going to come back? What's going on?

Yipes! This news certainly caught everybody by surprise.

Now, I wasn't able to contact Funimation about this, since this news came in just under the wire from when this column is due, but I felt like I should touch on it. If only to make one point that I see every time a show is pulled:

Just chill out, guys. Let's just wait and see what happens here.

Are the shows coming back? I have no idea. For the time being at least, if you were hooked on Future Diary on Niconico, that's still online via Funimation.

Is FUNico a bust? If this is truly the end of it all, then yes. But if it comes back, then no. Very simple math, there.

And, look, I get it - the silence is a bit frustrating, but that's leading to an awful lot of weird theories and misinformation getting spread via Twitter and internet forums. When things like this happen, I understand that it's fun to curl up into the nest of conspiracy theories inside of your head and come up with weird reasoning and ideas about what you "think" happened. But you don't know, and the people who do are working behind-the-scenes and they simply aren't ready to comment yet. So, let's not start spreading weird "rumors" that this is somehow linked to the One Piece leaks of yesteryear, that one half of the partnership is "holding out" on the other, or some grand "Crunchyroll/Sentai Initiative" or anything like that. Misinformation spreads just as quickly as actual information these days. If not quicker.

And really, it's best not to make up stuff like that if for no other reason than the high likelihood that you will be dead wrong about it. Because we're all nice and civilized people, we probably won't make you eat crow about anything you've made up when it turns out to be wrong. But can you imagine how much it would suck if we did? Yuck! And you'll have to eat it while listening to Humble Pie. Their terrible early-80's stuff, too. Ew.

We'll know what the deal is soon enough. Is not still not SOON ENOUGH for you? I would kindly re-direct your attention to THE ENTIRE REST OF THE INTERNET, which has a bevy of entertainment options available to you, from intellectual pursuits, animated and live-action filmed entertainment, electronic games of all sorts, as well as numerous options to socialize with friends and other like-minded individuals. I'm sure we'll have an update on the story soon (whenever they're ready to talk). Until then, let's just chill. Chillin' never hurt nobody.

And now is the time when I let go of the reins and allow you, the reader to assume them!

And I say "reader" in the singular for a very specific reason. Last week, I wanted to get your opinion on the following topic:

As sometimes happens with this segment of the column, sometimes I'll get too many responses to use and I have to do some judicious cutting, and sometimes I get... one response. This was one of the latter. So, let's hear it for VZMk2, our sole Answerfan today!

Ah yes pandering. That one word the western anime fanbase just loves to throw back and forth like an old tennis ball that's just been a dog chewed up on. Generally, I find "pandering" to be a buzzword the anime fan likes to use to describe anime they they themselves don't like just so they can pretend to be intellectually smarter than they really are.

But to give meaning to the word, I legitimately support otaku pandering in anime. Not only do I enjoy the gobs of fanservice in a show, I like seeing references to other anime and otaku memes. Anime first and foremost is for Japanese viewers and otaku are the ones who support the shows they love. That's not to say anime that only has fanservice or otaku pandering is automatically good, but I don't get turnoff by a show just because use see some FICTIONAL underage girl in the nude for the purpose of the viewer. The western viewer needs to get off their moral high horse and enjoy anime for what its always been rather than what they think it should be.

So in short, I want MORE otaku pandering as it will weed out the fake fans who THINK they love anime but use that Sturgeon's law nonsense and leave actually fans of the medium to enjoy.

I do genuinely thank VZMk2, because even though he is the only respondent this week, his bold comments are SURE to provide some heated discussion in the forums! So go to it! I like fostering conversations!

And while you do that, I have next week's Answerfans question ready, which I think will go over much better:

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.

Now I'm off to see Cabin in the Woods! I think I've done a decent job avoiding all the "spoilers" that are freaking everybody out - hopefully the movie lives up to my lack of knowledge, I guess. See you all next time, and don't forget to send me your questions and Answerfans screeds, responses, and curt remarks over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com!

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