Hey, Answerman! - Book 'Em, Lou

by Justin Sevakis,

Hey everybody! Brian's taking the week off, so the answers this week come courtesy of ANN's own Justin Sevakis. Let's get started, shall we?

Hey, Answerman!

I've always seen Anime/Manga as primarily a visual medium, with good art often outweighing a weak story; so it drives me crazy to see the sheer number of series art books available in Japan that I know will never see release in America. The more popular series can get several books that fill in details about the characters backgrounds and world history that are only hinted at at best in the shows themselves. While some American manga distributors do release similar products (One Piece, Naruto and Death Note come to mind), little or nothing comes out associated with anime. NIS America is starting to really catch on to this, as the hardcovers that were released with the KnT sets were beautiful, but there is so much more out there. Using the Nanoha series as an example--I've spent a small fortune on buying imported "visual collections" at cons, knowing that I'm paying for half a book at best as I can't actually read the text. Seeing the rather brisk business that several of the booths were doing at this years Sakura-Con, I can't help but think that I'm not alone in this particular aspect of fandom. I'd be more than willing to pay the same amount more often, if I could actually READ the books I'm buying.

Artbooks are the great stalwart of anime collectables: they're relatively rare, relatively expensive, and yet have pretty much no digital equivalent. Next to a strongly-bound, well-printed full-color coffee table book, an iPad eBook or a folder full of JPEGs just doesn't stand a chance. They represent the most striking imagery the medium as to offer.

That said, licensing and printing artbooks in North America is a challenge, and making a profit doing so can be incredibly daunting. Not that it can't be done -- several of the bigger manga publishers, most notably Viz, put them out regularly, but their offerings are usually limited to more mainstream properties, such as those related to fighting games, Naruto, Bleach, Studio Ghibli, or a major artist like Takehiko Inoue that might have some credibility in art circles. The proposition is a much riskier one than it might seem at first blush.

The problems start at getting materials from Japan: art books represent the crown jewels of a publisher's most prominent artists, so even getting the proper art files to print an American edition can be pretty tough -- print quality files are THE most valuable thing those artists will ever produce, and should those end up on a torrent site somewhere... well, let's just say that several people would have a very, very bad day if that ever happened. Once you get the materials (which, admittedly, is easier for a Japanese-owned company like Viz) the two countries' desktop publishing standards are significantly different, which causes any number of color reproduction issues. (Publishing nerds know Pantone colors are THE standard for print in North America, but Japan has its own system). The text pages can be difficult and expensive to translate, and the layout for those pages often doesn't work well for English, so often the layout will have to be redone entirely.

Which is to say nothing of the fairly significant printing costs. Most anime art books are printed in China, which saves a lot of money but requires 3-4 months of waiting every time you place an order, making inventory control something of a nightmare. When all is said and done, unless you know you're going to sell at least a few thousand copies of an art book, it's just not worth it. And with art books basically being high-end merchandise for an anime or manga series, there's simply not many franchises that can do those numbers in North America.

Which is unfortunate. I'd love to have more art books printed in English too.

I freely admit that one of my guilty pleasures is bringing a stack of anime dvds into my basement and marathon at full volume various opening and ending themes. So I have a few questions about title sequences. Often times a “name” with no other association with the series will direct the opening. How are these people chosen and what contact do they have with the series staff? Who choses the themes? The composer? Sound Director? Series Director? Are the sequences made before the theme is chosen or after? Thanks for your time!

Anime openings are a pretty unique thing. They pad out a broadcast by adding 3 minutes to each episode's running time, and yet act as showcases for both a musician as well as a few featured animators. When done right, they can be the most addictive and delightful part of the show. When done wrong, they can turn off viewers and really kill a show's ratings.

There are a few different ways music is selected for a show. These days it's pretty common for an anime company to also be affiliated with or owned by a music publisher. To name some examples, Bandai owns the record label Lantis, and Aniplex is owned by Sony Music Japan. It's expected that an anime production will promote the artists on their affiliated label, which is why, for example, Minami Kuribayashi shows up in a lot of Bandai and Sunrise shows these days.

But when it actually comes to song selection, the director gets a pretty major say in the matter. At minimum, the label will give the director a handful of possibly-appropriate forthcoming singles to choose from (though at this point they're likely unfinished demo versions). At most, the director might ask for a specific musician, or the artist might even perform a song written just for that show. In the case of late-night shows that appeal to a smaller audience, the production company might work with a smaller talent agency to promote a voice actor, or an artist that's trying to appeal to the otaku niche.

As for the animation, it's actually somewhat unusual for the opening and ending sequences to be done by someone unrelated to the production. In most cases, the series director will hand-pick a few of his favorite artists on the team to come up with some interesting imagery. Outside help is usually only brought in when the staff is just too busy with the show itself to handle doing the opening and ending sequences with any real aplomb. Directors generally don't like outsourcing such an important part of their shows, but they'll do it if they absolutely have to offload something to keep their schedule.


I'm writing in the wake of recent news of a Cowboy Bebop Blu-Ray (& its rather superb sounding Special Edition) making its way to Japanese retailers this upcoming December. This has left me wondering, beyond the fact that this is somehow happening before the Evangelion series hits Blu-Ray, what's going to be done about such older, similarly situated Anime releases on Blu-Ray here in the States?

Basically, how might licensing and distribution of anime BDs for the American market work out for series whose original license-holders aren't in, well, the same condition that they were in at the original time of licensing (i.e. several years ago)? Is Bandai Entertainment post-restructuring in a position to distribute a BD themselves of anime that they still hold the DVD rights to, like Cowboy Bebop or (maybe one day) Wolf's Rain? Or might that responsibility have to be delegated to some other company? And is Section 23 virtually guaranteed the American distribution of the eventual BD, or could some other company somehow snatch up those home media rights when the Eva BD becomes a thing? I know for Cowboy Bebop, at least, this recent BD news gives me pause about buying the Anime Classics DVD edition of that series, as relatively cheap as that is to get nowadays...

This is unfortunately one of those times where we have more questions than we do answers. Ultimately, who has the Blu-ray rights for a particular show will depend on how the original contract for its US license was written: either the contract spelled out every single type of media that existed at the time it was written ("including VHS, Betamax, DVD, VCD, Laserdisc"), or it covers "all videogram" rights, which would cover any physical storage media that might ever be introduced in the future, or at least, for the duration of the contract. The language used changes a lot from contract to contract, and there's absolutely no guessing what show had what deal.

In the case of much of the Bandai Entertainment catalog, the American company had to work closely with the Japanese producers anyway, and Sunrise has dedicated staff who follow the U.S. market pretty closely. Cowboy Bebop in particular was always a much stronger seller in the U.S. than it was in Japan, so you can bet that they'd be pretty keen on getting a Blu-ray version out on American shelves. Or at least, they will be, once the Japanese release has been out a while and all their local fans buy their fill of the expensive domestic releases.

As we all know, Bandai Entertainment isn't putting out physical product anymore, so whether BEI gets to sub-license it or Sunrise does it themselves, it's hard to say who might get the chance to be the American publisher. You can bet that every major player will want a piece of that action, from Funimation to Sentai to... uh, that's it really, isn't it? Neither one is clearly in a better position to do so than the other, and both of them will want online rights as well (Bebop has not been legally cleared to stream online as of this writing)(and broadcast/streaming rights still lie with Adult Swim) so all bets are off as to who will emerge victorious. Sunrise likes keeping a tight reign over their shows, so it's not even clear either one of them will get it in the end. But I have two predictions: it's going to take a while, and whoever does get it will end up paying a lot of money.

Oh, and Wolf's Rain was a digipaint show from 2003, so it's probably unlikely that a Blu-ray release can be any more than a decent-looking upscale. But Bebop was shot on film, so I have no doubt that new Blu-ray looks finger-lickin' good.

Brian again. Before we bother with NEXT week's Answerfans, it turns out that I had a few responses from my question last week, wherein I decried the state of anime merchandise. Ah heck, here's the crummy .jpeg file anyway!

First up is Rachel, who isn't alone in lacking proper anime music through legal channels:

I'll usually be pretty quick to argue that music is a huge part of what defines a series, anime or otherwise. Who didn't get excited for what was about to happen every time the opening to Cowboy Bebop started? Who didn't get chills whenever the ending theme for FMA Brotherhood began as the closing scene wrapped up? Who doesn't get pumped when the main theme of Fairy Tail starts playing in the background during an epic fight scene? That said, I can't help but think that anime soundtracks would be a great thing to have. Not just OSTs, but the opening and ending themes, too. (Not to mention the occasional character songs!) I'm sure plenty of fans be willing to shell out a few bucks to have some of those tracks on their iPod without having to scour conventions looking for the CDs or rip the songs from the internet themselves. Heck, Bleach even went so far as to have the Japanese cast record their own covers of OP/ED songs from the series. Wouldn't THAT be an awesome thing to have?

If only Japanese devs didn't seem to be so allergic to Kickstarter, I'm sure Joe's wishes could come true:

Hey Answerman,

PC/Android ports of anime/manga tie-in games with minimal localization (just replacing the Japanese text and menu graphics) have a good (but still slim) chance to succeed in the West. There are a few reasons for this:

1) It's cheaper to repurpose something that's already made than to make a whole new game.
2) Namco Bandai is supporting Ouya in a big way, so the best bet to get people to buy their stuff on a startup console is to offer games we've never had a chance to get.
3) They actually have a chance of getting decent sales numbers thanks to Steam sales and the like dropping prices down to encourage purchasing games.
4) Anime fans these days are used to fan subs and fan translated VNs, so they aren't going to be put off by publishers skipping dub tracks when localizing.
5) They don't have to worry about brick and mortar stores not carrying their product or the costs to manufacture/ship discs.
6) Everyone has a PC (even if they don't have a Steam account) and Ouya's price is extremely low for a console, so there's a low barrier to entry.

There are some big hurdles though (mostly on the Japanese end):

1) Do the publishers realize they could get Western sales on PC/Ouya because the games are coming out on a platform that's NOT the PSP?
2) Whether Namco Bandai is actually going to listen to its fans and bring new titles to Ouya or just port over older localized titles.
3) Will the publishers realize that they need to price these games at a sub-$60 price point to get them to sell unless they actually dub them and/or redo the graphics (and advertise that fact to buyers)?
4) Are they going to put DRM on the games? If so, what kind of DRM? What they choose will determine if people will actually buy their product or pirate it.
5) Will the publisher accept they aren't going to be breaking any sales records when selling games in the West and avoid cutting off the West (again) if the sales don't immediately match whatever metric they'll use to determine success?
6) Can the publishing execs understand the logic behind why digital only sales might work?

That last hurdle is probably the biggest one on the list. With digital games, the publishers would only have to pay the distributor (Steam, Ouya, whoever), the localization team (if they even bother with that – odds are good they could release an untranslated game and someone would get on translating it), and the port development team, since they don't have to really do any marketing. Sites like ANN and Kotaku (as much as some people hate it) do the hard work for them by reposting the Japanese PVs, press releases, and just talking about the games, plus most fanbases on sites like 4chan manage to keep up to date on the latest games anyway. From an American PoV, there's just enough stuff in place to make this work if they try, but the Japanese see things so differently that any attempt at digitally distributing their games might not get off the ground. At the very least there's some hope in the form of Namco Bandai's support of Ouya, although it's too early to tell how far that goes.

I do think clothing items might be the next best, mostly T-shirts with low key logos and the like, especially if done through online retailers. Anything fancy like jackets and blazers are probably not going to be seen anytime soon, since it's easier and cheaper to grab a bunch of T-shirts in bulk and slap some iron on decals for X amount of shirts on a per order basis. I think they could definitely make some money, especially during con season (I can already see people doing bulk orders of shirts so they can sell them with marked up prices to con-goers), but I'm not sure whether the licensors would feel like they were getting enough money after the shirt makers took out their cut. Plus how would licensing for anything other than long running franchises (Gundam, Pokemon), perennial favorites (Cowboy Bebop), and shows that are likely to hit it big in the West (Tiger & Bunny) work? Would they just bundle everything made by that studio in a year and sell the license to shirt makers for a year or two, with an extension to X amount of years if it gets a US release? Give them the rights to everything made within X amount of years and renew the licenses for specific shows that have high shirt sales? Things like that might make it too much trouble for Japan's tastes or scare off US licensers by making things too complicated.

So yes, there is merchandise that could actually sell, but you have to cross your fingers to get it and keep them crossed so that the Japanese licensors don't pull the plug at the first sign of trouble.

And here's Max, who once again teases us with things we can't have, with our one concession being a measly Evangelion handbag:

Your question reminded me of something. My sister and I both were looking through the Akira Club artbook since we both love the manga and film, and we noticed some really neat t-shirts, hats, and even handbags. I would think that with Akira's massive success overseas that there'd be more available merchandise for it, but there's virtually nothing out there if my search results on Amazon and Ebay say anything. I can't even find anything on Hobbylink Japan! Crazy, isn't it? At least with Neon Genesis Evangelion you can get a real nice EVA-02 handbag.

Now here's the part where I thank everyone for participating in last week's question and bring out the embedded image file for next week's question. Thanks for everyone who wrote in, now take a gander below and open up your email client for next week's call to arms!

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 wraps up my usual nonsense and chatter! Don't forget to email me, though, over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com on the off chance that you've got some free time and some curiosity that's been piqued, or perhaps an answer to this week's Answerfans! I'll be back next time with more... fun? Yeah, let's go with that. Bye!

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