Hey, Answerman! - Licentious Licensing

by Brian Hanson,

Welcome, welcome! It's Hey, Answerman!

Before I jump in with today's licensing-centric column, I just want to extend my deepest thanks and gratitude to everyone who showed up for our ANN panel at Otakon last Friday morning, and to all you fine and lovely people who introduced yourselves along the way. Lord knows we don't do this stuff for the money nor the glory, so it's always a treat to see the (sometimes) smiling faces of the people we reach out to.

Enough of this mawkishness - let's all discuss which anime companies deserve to live and die!

The question last week you concerning Case Closed got me thinking about other shows that didn't get completely released. Then that eventually got me thinking about a huge group of shows that we might never get to see ever released in the West, because of Bandai. What"s sad about this was Bandai actually had a good business model. The main thing Bandai had was their anime legends line up which I bought numorious titles from (including Cowboy bebop, S-cry-ed, Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, and Eureka Seven). These shows had huge followings since they were able to be on television and some were shown in their entirety multiple times. The thing is that nobody actually supported Bandai by buying these titles on DVD, which can still be bought for under 50 dollars a piece. My only regret was that I didn't buy more of their titles myself. It most likely wouldn't have done anything but at least I would feel better. I'm sure I wasn't the only person to buy the shows that I did. This leads to my question. Was there any more that I and the other people that bought the shows that Bandai released could have done to keep them in business? Did fansubs have a lot to do with why Bandai's anime division went under here in the West? I just really want to know what else could have been done to prevent the closure of Bandai releasing anime.

Well, there isn't much more I can say about Bandai closing their doors that hasn't already been said by Bandai Entertainment itself. it's worth pointing out to you - since you seem so personally distraught - there was pretty much nothing any of us fans could do regarding Bandai Entertainment's swift retreat back to sublicensing shows to broadcasters. That was a decision that was made way, way, way up the corporate chain by faceless, nameless Japanese Namco Bandai brass. They have not said what the reason was for shutting down Bandai Ent.'s production, and they certainly did not tell that information to Ken Iyadomi, who is (still) running it.

This isn't just a case of a few bad boxed sets going sour and hitting Bandai Ent. with loads of returns, Geneon-style. (Though that certainly did happen.) Iyadomi has been pretty specific about how he felt that the company could have "kept going for a few more years." And just to assuage your fears - those cheap Anime Legends sets actually sold very well. Of course it depends on the show, but you can bet that Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, Escaflowne, and Cowboy Bebop did very well for themselves. And luckily, they're still available - so snap 'em up if you want 'em, everyone.

But just the same, the writing was on the wall that physical media is going away, and Bandai Entertainment was able to eke out a living by releasing great shows on DVD on the cheap; 40 to 50 bucks for a 26-episode season. Not bad. But sales do decline, and that's a cold, hard reality that everybody releasing DVDs has seen since those halcyon days. Now, let's say you're a major Japanese company - one that just merged with a successful video game company. A video game company that, in its native Japan, recently enjoyed an astonishing 26% marketshare in game software. That's more than the other top 3 publishers, Nintendo and SEGA, combined. Since this video game division represents such unparalleled success, that division is put in charge of all of the company's audio-visual divisions. Including something awfully similar to Bandai Entertainment. So you check all the P&L (Profit & Loss) reports on all the divisions, and most of them are doing okay - but, wait! What's the deal with this "Bandai Entertainment" division? "We're not exactly losing money on them," they say, "but look at these anemic profits. Why, we could make almost as much of a profit overseas simply by adding some English subtitles on our discs and allowing them to be imported. No sweat!" And with that, Bandai Entertainment is no longer producing their own discs.

Essentially, the call to end Bandai Ent. came from a higher power than you or I. It came from the secret boardroom of Namco Bandai's Strategic Business Unit, who were ultimately uninterested with the meager profits one can make by tailoring anime DVDs and Blu Rays for the North American market. They were not swayed by unsold Haruhi DVDs. Nor by stacks of unsold Gundam manga. (Well, I'm sure they might've been a little.) Namco Bandai is a Japanese conglomerate with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, and their primary motivation is profit, pure and simple. This is a company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars on Power Rangers toys and video games - if there's a specific limb of the company that's not pulling the same weight, they cut it off.

So, stock up on Bandai's leavings, for they will soon be lost to the aether of time. But don't worry; it wasn't your fault Mommy Bandai Namco and Daddy Bandai Entertainment broke up. There were "irreconcilable differences."

Responding to a reader concerned about Media Blasters' upcoming releases, you advised them to place a pre-order for the products as soon as they could, to express interest in the product. That's all well and good, but it only works if the product is available for pre-order. What about, oh, say, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, where Media Blasters had acquired the rights to, announced the first volume to be releases in May of 2010 and then- well, nothing. Over two years and there's been nothing much said about when or even if they still intend to release it. The lack of communication about these sorts of things is what troubles me most about Media Blasters.

Nobody outside of Media Blasters and the licensor for Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei know what's going on with the US rights for that show. But with over two years after the announcement was made, and with ne'er a sign of further information, it's fair to guess that something went horribly wrong. After all, plenty of other Media Blasters titles have been announced and released and even dubbed in that time, even despite a smattering of financial troubles and other bad times at the company.

As for what has transpired exactly, we can only guess. Perhaps Media Blasters missed a payment deadline and so the agreement never went through. Or maybe, sensing that financial hardship was afoot, they sold back the license for some quick cash (which isn't supposed to happen, but does on rare occasion). Or maybe the hold-up is on the Japanese side. Maybe the company that sold them the rights didn't get proper authorization from the Production Committee. Or maybe there's some other issue keeping the title in legal hell.

This is all just guessing. We can't know what's actually transpired. Two years is a long wait with absolutely no communication from the company (even Funimation's long-delayed Geneon re-issues were always addressed with a "we're working on it!"), and honestly there's a stronger possibility that the license has failed at this point than there being a release just around the corner. Until I hear otherwise, I'm mentally shelving the title back in the "Unlicensed" section, and should I hear something different someday, either from Media Blasters or another company, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

I know Sentai got a lot of weird looks when they got Familiar of Zero 4 (which is one of the weaker seasons) before getting 1-3. and have basically told people if you want seasons 1-3 then buy season 4. And now NIS has announced that they have licensed the anime of Umineko that many fans of the series hate, NIS also releases games like the PS3/PSN port of novels, plus there's also the fate of the much asked for Higurashi anime in question. Is it a good idea to buy something you don't necessarily like that much to get the (most likely) more expensive content that you do want?

It feels like a bait-and-switch to offer up something that fans DON'T want, and then dangle the possibility of a product they WILL want, should people buy the first product, isn't it? This tortured logic is basically marketing spin. It's not a lie, and in fact, if that related second product does do well, it likely will help along a release of the product you wanted all along. But it's not a simple equation.

Let me translate it into actual English for you. What this means is: "we know this isn't what you want. We also know what you, specifically, do want, but it's probably a lot more money and we can't afford it. It seems like a bad investment. If you can prove that this whole franchise is a blow-the-doors-off winner, we can justify blowing the money, but for right now, this is the best we can do."

Would they license it, if that product is so successful? Maybe. But we have no way of knowing, and frankly, neither does the company. It's merely a possibility, and good sales will get their attention and make them consider it, if nothing else. That's all. Not a huge bang for your buck, is it?

Is it your problem that the licensor is asking for too much? Or that the rights are tied up? Or that the audience isn't big enough for the show you want? Or that the publisher isn't gauging audience desires accurately? Not even slightly. As a consumer, your sole job is to buy and support the shows you like and want. Expecting your purchase to accomplish anything else is silly -- there are too many other unknowns at work here. Buying a show you don't want because there MIGHT be a CHANCE that someone down the road might get another show you DO want is not sound logic, and also not a good investment.

But if you were on the fence about getting that fourth season of Familiar of Zero, maybe that slight possibility will nudge you into clicking "add to cart." Hey, you can't fault 'em for trying to make a sale.

The banner! The banner! It's Answerfans, which means I can stop answering and start asking!

Last week, ensconced by summer's sweltering heat death, I wanted to hit you up for hints and experiences in marathon-running, in true Olympic fashion:

First up is Some Dude Named Evan, who made it in just under the wire:

I absolutely love marathoning anime. Though I find I am doing it less as what little free time I have is swallowed by various commitments, whenever the opportunity presents itself, I find there are few things more amusing than watching an entire series in one sitting. These days I tend to stick to shows that I have already marathoned, as I know that I will enjoy it. However, I have noticed a few patterns in the shows which I enjoy blowing through all at once.

For one thing, I find that shows which require heavy analysis to truly enjoy are not the best to marathon. Anime dense with symbolism and/or particularly complex ideas require a strong investment of thought. As a result, I find that I tend to miss out on big stretches of content because I'm too busy turning something over which happened fifteen minutes earlier. This makes for an experience which, while certainly interesting, is also extremely draining and frustrating. For example, I once attempted to marathon Wolf's Rain, one of my favorite TV anime, and found that, while it was not a complete waste, it certainly felt that I was not getting as much out of the series intellectually as I do when I watch it is smaller batches. And I would suggest that only the wisest and most foolhardy of nerds should attempt to marathon Revolutionary Girl Utena. In general, I prefer to marathon anime which are driven largely by one particular element, such as imagery, characters, or plot, because, if given the proper amount of attention and commitment, experiencing everything a good show has to offer all at once can be incredibly satisfying, and bring greater appreciation of its strengths. For example, one of my favorite anime to marathon is Escaflowne, the greatest strength of which is probably its plotting. Watching the entire thing in one sitting is quite exhilarating.

Furthermore, I really enjoy marathoning anime which go for raw emotional manipulation. As such, I love to marathon the Key/Visual Arts adaptations which Kyoto Animation produced back in the day, though, for obvious reasons, not all of them at once. However, I will say that such melodramatic marathons are more enjoyable to me when combined with copious amounts of hard liquor. In fact, one of my favorite things to do, pathetic though it may be, is to get loaded in the dead of winter and marathon Kanon, a particular favorite of mine, as I feel that it achieves a good balance between character work, plotting, imagery, and emotional manipulation so that I can appreciate them all without any one particular element overpowering the others, and all of which just get better with rum.

Finally, I should note that, most of the time, I think that it's a really crappy idea to marathon a show which you have never seen before. Back in my early days as an anime nerd, when I was a jobless teenager with nothing to do over large stretches of the summer, I would occasionally decide to marathon an anime which I had never seen before, simply so I could comment on it. I did this with Cowboy Bebop, and wound up, while not outright disliking the show, thinking that it was just so-so. It wasn't until I watched it in batches about a year later that I found myself really enjoying and appreciating it. There are of course, exceptions. In fact, I would say that the most rewarding marathons are of anime which you have never seen before, which you did not intend to watch in one sitting, but which you do anyway, downing episodes like heroin-laced chips. This has only happened to me once, when I decided to give Haibane Renmei a go, and around five hours later, found myself sobbing through the last episode. That is still the best anime marathon I have ever had.

Steve makes a Ghost in the Shell pun SO BAD it has put me in a Tachi-coma:

When I consider a show for a marathon, I basically have to consider what type of show it is. Episodic shows don't necessarily lend themselves well to marathoning. While I can watch Ghost in the Shell all day long, I don't feel the need to do that since there are so many “stand alone” shows, pun intended. I feel fine taking Cowboy Bebop, Requiem from the Darkness, Speed Racer, MushiShi, Gatchaman or K-ON! one at a time because they don't demand continuity for more than a couple of episodes. Likewise, comedies (Lucky Star, Potemayo, Azumanga Daioh, Full Metal Panic?! Fumoffu) don't gain much from a marathon and are often more enjoyable in bite sized bits.

Some shows I've tried to marathon became exhaustingly slow or unevenly paced (Blood+, Michiko e Hatchin, Fantastic Children), while others had too many repetitive elements like transformation sequences, launch sequences, combining robots or excessive boasting (Sailor Moon, Utena, Tekkaman Blade or Shonen shows like Bleach), which are fine when viewed one at a time, but can become really annoying when you see them in a marathon. Other times, the show is just too depressing to go on (Texhnolyze, Casshern Sins, Bokurano), or too kinetic and chaotic to absorb in large quantities (Excel Saga). And while I still like (and even love) some of those shows, they simply failed me as material for a marathon. (Although you can seriously zip through some Bleach when you fast forward half the episode because of recaps, theme songs, previews, etc.)

Long shows can also be problematic. A couple of months ago, I talked our anime group into doing a full Saturday marathon of Evangelion (with End of Eva in place of the final two episodes). That show is both physically and mentally exhausting to get through in one sitting. So while I'd still consider great marathon shows to include Wolf's Rain, Shiki, Daughter of Twenty Faces, Toradora, Macross, Denno Coil, Last Exile, Shion no Ou, FMP: The Second Raid and Space Cruiser Yamato, I think shows that are 22-30 episodes are sometimes too much of a time investment and should maybe be broken up into a couple of days. (I've marathoned many of these shows and they are perfect weekend shows.)

Therefore, I've had more fun with some of the shorter shows like Bubblegum Crisis, HighSchool of the Dead, Occult Academy, Area 88, Oreimo and Giant Robo. Likewise, a fair comparison might be shows that may be longer but have “chapter” feels to the arcs so you can break them up, like Allison & Lillia, Bakemonogatari, Railgun/Index, Higurashi (When They Cry) or Initial D (pick any season).

But not everything can be as visually stunning and excellently entertaining as Giant Robo, or as 90's crazy insane as Bubblegum Crisis, or as “otaku aware” and charming as Oreimo. So when it comes right down to it, and I need stuff that gets my brain working and want to be absorbed, I turn out the lights and reach for one the following: Paranoia Agent, Eden of the East, Now and Then/Here and There, Haibane Renmei, Rideback, Boogiepop Phantom, Baccano!, Kara no Kyoukai, Starship Operators or Serial Experiments LAIN. It's my estimation that some of these shows can ONLY be appreciated when watched back-to-back in a marathon. Too much is lost when you wait a week to see what happens next.

So those would be my picks. For extra kicks, however, consider watching several works from a specific director, like Satoshi Kon if you want to be wowed and oil your brain gears, or Motoko Shinkai if you want stunning visuals, or want to be contemplative and weepy, or Yoshiaki Kawajiri if you want to see great action, or just feel dirty, or Koichi Ohata for the sheer spectacle (and then the morning-after regret), or Mamoru Oshii if . . . well, never mind. Don't do that.

Oh, Kyle, the Yu Yu Hakusho marathons I have had... if only you knew the wonders I had experienced:

Starting with the positives of a marathon, its great when you want to watch a lot right away. I actually did stay in this last weekend (partially due to heat, partially due to food poisoning) and watched episode after episode of Hayate no Gotoku. I guess it genuinely helped to get my mind off the heat when I get to see snow in some of the episodes! My favorite anime to watch in regards to marathons are Yu Yu Hakusho and Dragonball Z, just because I keep wanting to know what happens next. But it doesn't necessarily have to be long series like those I've just mentioned either. I've gone through short anime series quickly in marathon form. This summer has practically been anime marathons for me. I've sampled a bunch to find ones I like, and went through The Sacred Blacksmith, Chobits, Witchblade, Demon King Daimao, Kaze no Stigma, Fruits Basket, Rosario + Vampire and many other short anime. I get to watch a bunch right away. And even come back and revisit them if I like them.

And then there's the negative of marathons. Its very easy during a marathon to get tired of a show quickly that way as well. If an anime just doesn't grab me, I'll tend to switch to something else to watch. I guess it gets tough where you jump right in the middle without really knowing what's going on. I may just be a bit OCD in regards to this matter. But I always find it hard to jump into a series mid-way. I always want to start from the beginning.

However, I guess you could always watch an anime marathon that takes place in a cold atmosphere to escape the heat too! :)

Candy picks one of ADV's forgotten jewels:

One of my favorite series that I always end up marathoning is Kalideo Star. I own the original ADV complete thin pack releases that have seen a lot of use. It's such a sweet feel good anime that I usually have a bright smile upon my face (and am usually crying) by the end of nearly every episode no matter how many times I've seen the series. The same can be said for Natsume's book of Friends which is legally streamable on Crunchyroll (and soon to be released by NIS America, already have the first set preordered). I fell in love with that series and Nyanko-sensei (he's just so fat and ugly he's adorable). Even when the episode of Natsume is a sad one I still find myself at peace at the end of it. I can spend a good afternoon watching those two series and they leave me with a peaceful happy outlook on life.

What I cannot marathon even though I do own it is Hell Girl. It's a wonderful series to me and I do enjoy watching it but I cannot watch more then an episode at a time or it just depresses me. The storyline isn't all that happy and by the end of the first season a few people are taken to hell by hell girl that we are shown don't honestly deserve it. It plays on the darker side of the human emotions that I have a hard time marathoning. That would be the last thing on my collection I'd pop in to marathon.

I'll raise Matthew and state that character-driven series are usually the only good shows to watch PERIOD (or in this case, COLON):

For me, the best anime to marathon are really character driven series. There are many, many shows that are great when watched one or two episodes at a time, but become irritating when viewed as a marathon because the same type of thing happens every episode. I enjoy watching comedic harem shows, for example, but find it a real struggle to watch a full season (or even half a season) in one go. The characters are mostly empty stereotypes, and the same general plot happens in each one. Even as a fan of the genre, I can well admit that something like Mashiro-Iro Symphony is hardly original or character-driven. It's a good show, but not one for the long haul. Characters are always the driving force, and if you don't have good characters then you won't get hooked in for the long haul. Anime such as Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, Haganai, and B Gata H Kei are perfect for marathoning precisely because the characters are so interesting; you always want to see what they will do next.

Nice try Nelson, but we all know that the second I get up to put on my swimsuit is when Planet Namek explodes:

Watching sitcom type anime, where one episode doesn't necessarily depend on the previous one to make sense, allows for viewers on a summer anime binge to take breaks whenever the weather's decent and they want to go outside. My brother introduced me to Shin Chan a while ago, and ever since, we've watched several episodes every night before going to sleep. I still haven't seen the first few episodes, but the show is still funny as all hell. In addition, if I need to stop watching the show to hang out with a few pals, I'm not interrupting a riveting narrative or anything.

As far as the worst shows to do summer marathons with, I guess I'd have to say DBZ, Bleach, or most of the famous shonen shows for that matter. On average the pacing for such shows is absurdly slow, and if your friends wants to interrupt your marathon so you can go to the beach or watch a movie or whatever, you'll probably hold everyone up by waiting for that epic battle that never seems to come fast enough (or a battle that takes too long to finish).

Robin has identified .hack//SIGN syndrome, where five episodes seemingly lasts a solid two months:

What anime do I think is awesome (and awful) in marathon form? Well, it's all going to depend on who's watching the marathon, of course, but for awesome marathons, I'd pick Slayers to start. It's a lighthearted, upbeat series whose plot isn't terribly convoluted. It's also my childhood favourite and NEXT in particular holds a lot of nostalgia for me.

I'd also pick Puella Magi Madoka Magica, because it's short, and because the story doesn't drag (unless you're sitting there waiting for Madoka to become a magical girl, of course). As well, I'd pick Fate/Zero for similar reasons, and also because there are a lot of cliffhanger episodes that would force a person to watch the next one!

As for anime that would be terrible to marathon, one leaped into the front of my mind: .hack//SIGN. Now, I love the .hack// franchise, I really do, and I loved //SIGN when it was airing on YTV here in Canada. I religiously watched it every single week. I bought the DVD boxset and got comfy, expecting a long period of being glued to my screen. However, .hack//SIGN is so dialogue-heavy, and screen pan-heavy, and oh dear has it only been five episodes I feel like I've wasted a whole day already. I found Utawarerumono to be terribly dull to marathon, as well, because it's also dialogue-driven and despite the OP filled with battle, incredibly calm.

And lastly we have Ben, who reminds us not to have heatstroke. Wise words.

Shows to marathon? Well, I have a few suggestions. Gurren Lagann is always fun to marathon as the series goes to high and higher extremes, but I also found Project Blue Earth S.O.S. fun to marathon as well, as it is in the style of a 1950's adventure serial. You kind of have to marathon NO-E-IN since it doesn't make much sense otherwise. Now, shows not to marathon. Well, I found Azumanga Daioh really hard to marathon, mostly because as a silly gag series, there isn't really any reason to watch the whole thing in one go. I also found Magic Knight Rayearth hard to marathon (over a weekend of course) but that may have been since I read the manga first, and the anime added a lot of extra stuff (it was done well, but it still felt padded to me.)

Hope everyone's having a nice summer and no one is getting heatstroke!

Alright gang, that's all the answers for this week! But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, because I have another question of relevance to ask all of you. It is below this very block of text!

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 all the time I have to chat and whatnot, so I'll see you guys next week! In the meantime, don't be scared to drop off a question or two, or perhaps an Answerfans answer of unlimited jest and fancy, over towards my email haven located at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com!

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