Hey, Answerman! - Middle-Bräu

by Brian Hanson,

Hey, everyone! It's good to be back!

Thanks for hanging tight while I took a little time off from this weekly endeavor, and thanks again to Justin Sevakis for filling in. Feels good to be back in the saddle, though.

Without further ado, though, let's get to this week's reverie of questionery!

Hey Answerman!

I have been hearing for the past few years about the struggles that anime studios have been having in making ends meet and an odd thought occurred to me. My impression may be wrong but it seems to me that lately anime has been geared more toward niche markets and capturing a small rabid fanbase with particular tastes. While this might help you limp along it seems to me that if you are in financial trouble you would start gearing your product having as broad an appeal as possible in hopes of expanding your customer base. I guess my question is: Why is there seemingly mountains of anime that appeals to, let's say, men under 25 (or a little older) who have a maid fetish (very narrow market), and so few "four quadrant" anime that goes for truly mass appeal? I would think that any studio owner or investor would salivate over the idea of becoming the Disney or Pixar of the East.

Think of it in simple business terms: the lower the risk, the easier it is to raise the necessary capital to fund a project. When producers outline the budget for Maid Show Sex Party, or whatever, they - and the Production Committee members who raised the necessary funds - have a very clear idea of the number of fans they can expect to capture. Because there's precedent. They all have a fair-to-middling idea of how many DVDs and Blu Rays they expect to sell, and other ancillary merchandise, based upon last season's performance of Maid Show Tea Time. The rewards certainly won't be in the hundreds of millions of dollars - nowhere near the amount of a Pixar film - but it is all but assured that they can turn a profit.

Pixar's films do make a lot of money, but they also COST a lot of money. "Brave" has made over 440 million dollars around the world, but it also COST around 180 million dollars to produce. (Not factoring in marketing and distribution, for which you can add on a few tens of millions of dollars more!) And Pixar has been making CGI movies for almost twenty years; for newer animation studios, acquiring the necessary financing to get the proper infrastructure in place to make films that only look half as good as any Pixar film is astounding. A large chunk of Rango's 135 million dollar budget was essentially spent on ILM's then-new animation studio itself. You need equipment, obviously; reams of storage and servers to render all the footage you need. There's also labor; to compete with the big dogs in the CGI business requires scouting out the top talent to lure them away from other jobs in the field, from video games to Visual Effects - most of which pay better than working in animation.

I should also point out that there are animation studios in Japan that are trying to do just that - cast a wider net and cultivate a bigger audience. There's the movie Friends, an entirely CGI family film that looks about on par with your Despicable Me's and other CG animated kids movies of the world. The hope for that film is that it'll qualify for the 2012 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, get a surprise nomination a la Secret of Kells, and sell well on DVD as a result. To which, I say: Good luck. Hedging your bets on an Academy Award nomination - or as I like to call it, The Grumpy Male Hollywood Retiree Award - seems like a fool's gamble.

Aside from the financial aspect of creating a four-quadrant megahit, my answer is - why? Why bother? Why bother attempting to compete against the Dreamworks-es of the world with safe, middle-brow crap? Why not attempt something creative and challenging? Failing that, why not create something unique and interesting? I get that you're negative against "Maid Shows," whatever those are (has there been any big "Maid Shows" since the early 'aughts?), but at least that is a type of entertainment that is wholly unique to the world of anime. Personally, I think it's fine that anime still has a definitive hold on a devoted audience that's as willing to invest itself in things as tonally diverse as Kids on the Slope versus Oreimo, and all the shows in between the two that fill the wide gulf. Jesus, I know people who'll consume Game of the Thrones and every episode of Doctor Who, but won't touch an episode of Breaking Bad.

I still believe, in my heart of hearts, that quality entertainment is universal, no matter the subject matter. Convincing the Public At Large to step outside of their comfort zone and experience something new is immensely difficult, and too many writers, directors, and producers go the opposite route and play it incredibly "safe" to the point where money may be made, sure, but nobody is enriched. No man, woman, or child walking out of Madagascar 3 or Ice Age 4 is any better or worse for the experience. It's the unique experiences that define people. Sometimes, those unique things are stuff like Oreimo. Who am I to deny that to anyone? I mean, I'm also not going to begrudge anyone who might find it creepy or odd - I'm certainly guilty of that - because a lot of these very specific shows and projects targeted to niche audiences are so far removed from our understanding. But, that's the very nature of niche programming. You hit your target audience hard, but you alienate everyone else, because they have no reference for it, and it is impenetrable to them. Is that bad? Good? More importantly: who cares?

Live and let live, I guess. And let's all be thankful that there are still Studio Ghibli films and that Masaki Yuuasa and Mamoru Hosoda can still make genuinely good things that transcend arbitrary "genres" and leave the multimillion-dollar four-quadrant pâté to Hollywood.

Hey! This next question gets into some spoiler-y territory about the third volume of the manga Ultimo, so if you're a fan and want to avoid all that stuff, just skip on down to the next question. Here, I'll even give you a few page breaks!





Still here? Good! Despite the spoilers, this is a great question, so if you're not averse to spoilers, or better yet, you're familiar with the plot twist, read on!

Hello Answerman! Hope all is well.

My question is kind of a strange one that needs a lot of explanation, so please bear with me. Lately, I have been getting into the series Karakuridouji Ultimo, mostly because I adore Shaman King, and honestly, I think Ultimo is even better than Shaman King. And my friends and I have a long-standing agreement that whenever one of us finds a manga we like, everyone else will give it a shot, so we all started reading Ultimo, up until about volume three.

Spoilers ahead for Ultimo - volume three is when we find out the stereotypical best friend character, Rune Kodaira, has not only been corrupted by the persona of Jealousy, but has been in love with the main character for literally 900 years. And used to be a woman in the past. And that he went a bit mad from the revelation and is dead-set on killing everyone if he can't get the main character's love before killing himself. One of my friends literally stopped reading the minute she read Rune's big revelation and went, "I cannot handle this anymore." This is unusual for my friend - she literally read every volume of Hot Gimmick, even though she would constantly complain about how its backwards anti-feminism bothered her on a near molecular level. But I understood that one person's series-making plot twist is another person's line in the sand, so I accepted it and moved on. It wasn't the first time we'd disagreed on a manga, it won't be the last.

I did start getting weirdly concerned, though, when I noticed that a lot of people had completely written off the series online, at that exact same point, for... troublesome reasons. I'm not talking about people who got fed up with ninety million plot twists here, or people who thought Rune's revelation was a majorly unnecessary ass pull of a plot twist - he was already evil, we didn't need the speech. I'm not talking about people who honestly were bothered with the fact that the plot was turning into Inception at 500x Speed. (My friend admitted this was why she dropped the series: in her words, "I would've lost my mind trying to keep track of all those plot twists.") I'm talking about the people who basically flat-out say "gayness ruined the series". Being transgendered and highly active in the LGBT community, part of me wants to write the whole thing off as simple homophobia, but that cannot be the only factor. America has really embraced a lot of highly homoerotic anime series, and television series in general, as of late - the explosive popularity of Hetalia comes to mind (I seriously doubt that series would've been released in America ten years ago without serious backlash) - and a good chunk of these homoerotic titles are aimed squarely at the shonen market, so I don't think it's demographic either. I'm sure some of the people who suggest that "gayness ruined the series" were the same females who read Black Butler entirely for its subtext as well. Hell, Shaman King was pretty popular over here, made by the same manga-ka, with similar undertones, and far as I can tell, no one thinks Ryu's crush on Lyserg ruined the series.

I have a few questions in the wake of this. What is it about Rune's revelation that makes certain people react with such revulsion? Is it the implications of gender-bending or transgendered identity? Is it a generalized homophobia in the Western anime community towards any sort of homosexual implications that aren't accompanied with sparkles, but might actually delve into deeper, darker thematic elements? Are there other, similar plot twists in other anime that were met with such violent fan reaction, while those same fans embrace similar works with similar themes? Truthfully, I'm thinking of turning this into my college thesis, since it's occupying my thoughts so much.

Many thanks in advance for reading this long screed!

So, I actually wanted to make sure I knew what you were talking about, so I hopped by my local bookstore on my way home from work - just as they were about ready to close up, much to the annoyance of the staff (I PUT MY TIME IN THE TRENCHES OF THE BOOKSTORE WORLD, SUCK IT UP AND MOVE ON, SIMPLETONS) to check it out. And yeesh, you weren't kidding about all the plot twists. In the first chapture of the 3rd volume alone there were a dozen weird plot reveals about robots from the future and continents and time and space and - guh. It nearly overloaded me. My poor, poor brain.

But I got to the part you were talking about. It was as tame as any other "implied" homoerotic relationship in any other shonen manga I can think of. Hell, it was far tamer than the stuff you'd find in Rurouni Kenshin or Yu Yu Hakusho. Clunky and badly written? I'll agree to that. (Sorry, I know you're a fan.) But worthy of outcry? No way.

So I agree with you. First of all, anyone who says or writes the word "gayness" should not be listened to. At all. No exceptions on that one. I don't really think I even need to explain why.

Although, I'd suspect that the outcry against this particular title is twofold - the words "Shonen Jump" and the words "Stan Lee" right there on the cover. Those two words pretty much mean that it's going to be targeting younger readers, and it's going to be picked up and read, with a hint of curiousity, by US comic book fans who may be a bit less familiar with some of the tropes of shonen manga. That by no means excuses their blatant homophobia; it's merely a sad fact that younger kids tend to be, well, dumber than the rest of us, and they simply haven't grown sufficiently to overcome their ignorance.

Or at least, that's how I convince myself to sleep at night, maybe. I have a naive hope in me that ignorant people weren't born from a place of hate, and that with enough life experience they'll perhaps open their eyes and accept and possibly even love people for who they are. I can think of a lot of things I believed, laughed at, and misunderstood when I was younger, until various moments of clarity throughout my life informed me otherwise.

Speaking for myself, though, I wouldn't say that I'm noticing any sort of "trend" against these implied relationships. At least, not on a major scale in the fandom; I have't noticed any alarming signs that is tipping the anime fan scales towards homophobia. Generally speaking, though, you're right - I'm not sure that "deeper and darker" is the right word for it, but let's say... the more intense the relationship is, the more uncomfortable people who aren't truly tolerant can get. By and large, the general populace isn't marching in the streets in anger when two men have playful homoerotic jokes in The Hangover movies. Aside from the ardent bigots, that is. But gay marriage? Gay couples being allowed to adopt kids? Suddenly, the homophobia manifests itself, in what you would otherwise assume is a completely logical, rational human being. Now a nerve has been struck. Cuddly Hetalia comedy? No problem. They endorse it! Achingly real, emotional love? Hey now, wait a minute - I haven't processed that yet, because I'm a small-minded idiot. I don't know what that is and the mere notion of it is confusing my brain, and I feel like a chicken being judged by the Werner Herzog's of the world, admiring the "enormity" of my stupidity.

For me, if I sense homophobia coming from a place of youthful, dumb ignorance, I just ignore it. There's a chance they'll grow up and attain some understanding of the world and it's beautiful inhabitants and they'll realize that their small-mindedness has kept them from experiencing the joys of life. But if an otherwise intelligent person feels the urge to use the word "gayness" to describe something, there's some true hatred in their hearts that needs to be taken care of.

But that goes off into a whole other topic far, far removed from anime and its fans. But I'm pretty sure there's some connection. Either way, I wouldn't dare to step on the toes of your college thesis. Best of luck, by the way.

I'm tossing this next question over to Justin Sevakis, since I can't imagine another person on this Earth who so thoroughly knows the ins and outs of DVD technology!

I have recently been revisiting some oldies such as Escaflowne, Kyo Kara Maoh and Saiyuki. They have something in common which drives this question, namely, they are out of print. Technically, Escaflowne is still available but when it's gone, it's gone. When I got to the disc which ends season 1 and begins season 2 of Saiyuki, I found the disc cracked. It's mine and I take care of my DVDs and have no idea when it happened but it was unreadable for half the disc. I found singles (I had to buy 2) to replace the missing episodes, but that wound me up about my OoP titles. Why can't I back them up to a hard drive legally? I buy CDs and have quite a few anime/game CDs which were very hard to find not to mention expensive. I play a CD once, read it into iTunes and put the CD away for safe keeping. Anything else I do with that music is done from the iTunes copy but there is no equivalent possibility for even ordinary DVDs much less the BDs. Why not? External HDs are getting bigger and cheaper everyday and I'm sure many would buy DVDs if they could safeguard them as they do other physical media. What say you?

Justin: There are a few technical reasons and one big legal reason why this isn't an easy thing to do. The biggest technical hurdle is that DVDs usually have at least a little bit of interlaced (alternating lines) video, which is something TVs have had since the olden days but doesn't play nice with modern computer-based video playback -- there are ways of massaging the video into a nice, progressive (one-frame-at-a-time) image, but they all have their drawbacks, and I have yet to see a user-friendly method that does a good job of it, particularly with anime. The other issue is that preserving multiple audio and subtitle tracks from DVDs is not easy. DVD and Blu-ray subtitles are stored as graphics, and in a weird format that is very hard to work with. Even for a professional, reassembling all of those elements into a file that's compatible with different devices can take hours of tedious work.

The other issue is that both DVDs and Blu-rays are encrypted (unlike CDs). When those formats came out, the Hollywood studios saw the havoc that ripped and burned music was wreaking on the music industry, and locked down their new formats as well as they reasonably could at the time. Of course, all of those protections have been broken for years, and ripping the discs to your hard drive is a fairly easy endeavor with the right software, provided you can find it. But thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and similar laws in other countries, breaking copy protection is, in and of itself, illegal, as is the software required to do it.

It can be done. And if you're willing to permanently select your audio and subtitle settings (and occasionally contend with less-than-perfect video), it's actually pretty easy to rip that DVD to a file. You can do it with Blu-ray too, though that's less easy and takes forever. There are myriad DVD backup programs out there, some of them relatively easy to use and some of them requiring a bit of technical know-how. Breaking the encryption on a disc you already own to watch the shows you already bought, while technically illegal, isn't exactly the sort of crime that will send a SWAT team battering down your door, so as long as you're not uploading the files to a sharing site, I wouldn't worry too much about the legal ramifications. And as long as you keep buying the discs, you're really not hurting anyone.

Note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. I don't know of any case where simply ripping DVDs for their own personal use got anyone into any trouble at all, but don't blame me if you happen to get really unlucky, or you get stupid and start a ripping group and get your butt sued into oblivion.

And here we go with Answerfans! Several weeks prior, I gave you fine folks the chance to ruminate on this Blu Ray-est of all topics:

We begin with Heather, who has basically dropped a bombshell at the outset:

The first thing that comes to my mind when asked this question is the works of Satoshi Kon. I do know that at least Perfect Blue has been released on Blu-ray in Japan (with an amazing cover that we would never see on American shelves) and Paprika is available on Blu-ray from Sony in the US, but I would love to see the rest of his works remastered and rereleased in America. The fact that Paranoia Agent was allowed to go out of print is especially unfortunate. Kon was a master of animation. What he did with the medium is truly amazing. He made so few movies in his unfortunately short life, but managed to reach legendary status, placing him with the likes of Miyazaki and other masters of animation. By making films that were not only visually beautiful but also mature and thoughtful, he helped bring some legitimacy anime and animation overall as an art form and it's just a shame that Kon is no longer with us to continue this work. Unfortunately, his films were not handled very well by American licensing companies the first time around, from what I understand. It is my opinion that if they had been marketed properly, if the licensing companies had been able to understand what it was they had and what to do with it, at least one of his movies would have won the Oscar for animation (did they even try to get them nominated???). So I feel that for the American market to get lovely remastered versions of his work would be a fitting sort of apology for mucking it up a bit the first time around. I really believe that his works would fit right in with the Criterion collection, if Critereon ever decided to do animated titles. I would love to see his works treated like the legitimate pieces of art that they are and not just part of the niche market that is anime.

Jesse says basically the same thing! But with different words!

Perfect Blue desperately, desperately needs to be released on Blu-ray here. Manga only issued (and frequently re-issued) a non-anamorphic DVD in North America, which is kind of weird considering they had access to a print for theatrical distribution in the late 90s. They've since lost the rights, so who knows what kind of limbo it's in now. The rest of Satoshi Kon's films need BD releases as well, although Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers haven't even hit the shelves in Japan despite having HD versions air on television and some streaming services. You'd think that they'd try and keep the man's work in the public eye after his untimely death, especially since Madhouse is having such a hard time funding The Dreaming Machine.

Aw, Neal, now I think you're just telling me what I wanna hear:

I hope I'm not the only one requesting a Blu Ray remaster of the 1987 OAV anthology film "Robot Carnival." This film has 8 different tales, linked by robots, bookended by an opening and ending. These segments vary wildly in art style and execution but that makes it the perfect candidate to showcase what High Def can restore and preserve--hand drawn cell by cell animation. Blu Ray would break down the import barrier because the only legitimate release here in the states has been art houses, cable television and that dinosaur the VHS tape. Between Region 1 DVD and Region A Blu Ray a physical media enthusiast like myself is very happy. Still, some times things don't work out. "Robot Carnival" is one of those that got lost. I hope we get a chance to experience it again someday.

"There were Kawajiri commentary tracks on those DVDs?" Manny informs me with his answer, while I hurriedly dash to find out-of-print Urban Vision DVDs:

So I dont have a single series I would like to get the high-def treatment but rather a whole entire back catalog. If I had the capital I would give the whole Urban Vision back catalog the blu-ray treatment, especially those by film director Yoshiaki Kawajiri who is easily my favorite anime director with films like Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust, Ninja Scroll and Wicked City. I mean those movies got me started on more adult oriented anime films. I remember renting those at Blockbuster on VHS and my brother and I would sit there and be floored by what we were watching. I would also invest in getting Kawajiri's commentary for each film so he can talk about his process and what influenced him during directing the film.

Pachy_Boy unwraps his dream list for all to discuss and dissect:

The one neglected Anime series that is in most deserving need of a blu-ray is the Yoshitoshi ABe masterpiece, Haibane Renmei. I thought it was great that Funimation is rereleasing this title and keeping it from fading into oblivion, yet I admit to being taken aback that it is DVD-only. A Blu-Ray of this series does exist, just look it up on Amazon Japan, so I guess they weren't able to get the rights for this. While it's sweet that they're still able to do a DVD/Blu-Ray combo release for the other Yoshitoshi ABe series Serial Experiments Lain, I still wish they could give the same special treatment to Haibane Renmei. It is a narratively poetic story and a visual beauty to behold. Of course, it still looks and feels beautiful enough on DVD, but a Blu-Ray treatment would still benefit this wonderful title. That's especially if it will draw more buyers and ensures this to be a part of every collector's library.

Runner-up series would include Ergo Proxy, Last Exile, and Mushi-Shi, which would be obvious picks for some based solely on their visuals and cinematic scope. Picks that aren't so obvious would be the Oh My Goddess OVA, the original You're Under Arrest TV series (once released by Animeigo), and the entire Tenchi Muyo OVA (including the 3rd season, which I never disliked). I like those shows, it would be interesting, and simply why not? From what I've heard from Justin Sevakis, cel-based animated shows should transfer really well to blu-ray, so those are my personal candidates. And if not the Tenchi OVA, then at least the movies, which are available in Japan and hopefully Funimation will be able to bring over. I don't know if the Oh My Goddess movie ever got a transfer, but that would be cool too.

Speaking of movies, with the advent of the Children Who Chase Lost Voices blu-ray, I think transferring the rest of the Makoto Shinkai library would be a total no-brainer, especially The Place Promised in our Early Days. Yet the one anime film I'd personally like to see on blu-ray more than any other is The End of Evangelion, one of the most strangely beautiful pieces of filmmaking from start to finish. But why stop at Anime films? There are a few Japanese live-action films I can think of that I wouldn't mind getting the blu-ray treatment, such as the 20th Century Boys trilogy. As silly as those movies are, they are still fun, intriguing, and undeniably epic in scope. Last but not least, while they released the Death Note movies on a single-release blu-ray, they never included L: Change the WorLd for whatever reasons. Even if that movie is a side-story spin-off, how about completing the set just for the heck of it, and for us completist fans?

Those are my personal top selections, whether they all happen or not, but that's what makes this a dream list.

David spells my name wrong, but that's okay, I'm not going to be a jerk about it and PASSIVELY-AGRESSIVELY SNIPE AT HIM FOR HIS GRAVE SPELLING MISTAKE before posting his response or anything, no way:

Greetings Bryan, I'm sure everyone has a gateway anime that they think needs to be remastered or remade as a Blu Ray. I'm no different, naturally, but I am also not foolish enough to believe that it would be worth trying to clean up something old like SDFMacross into a Blu Ray… Unless they've already done it an I missed it. The truly old properties like that seem to show their limitations too much in high def… and then there is the potential that they would go back and remaster something like Evangelion… It might benefit, or it might look terrible. All that said, I think I have a candidate that might work. I think it's new enough to look good, could certainly benefit sound-wise and looks wise… and might even have the overall quality of story that would make it worth the time.

It would be RahXephon.

Also near and dear, and potentially with enough quality to begin with, would be Last Exile… especially since I am expecting Fam to come out as a Blu Ray, and what better way to put out a new release of Last Exile?

I'll be curious to see what everyone else says… heh, the more that comes out in Blu, the more I'm trying to figure out exactly when the tube on my old TV monitor will go out. Because then I will be forced, kicking and screaming! To buy a new 1080p flatscreen of suitable size and refresh rate. Kicking and screaming, no doubt. My Blu Ray player is probably tired of being paired with such an old vidbox, kind of like Marvin the paranoid android. “Here I am with a brain the size of a planet, and they want me to pick up a piece of paper…”

"I could give him 1080 lines of video goodness, but NOOO, he has my signal going through what amounts to a transistor radio… it's like screaming into a tin can tied to a string!"

Lastly, we close with Megan's brief... missive, I guess:

Gankutsuou needs to be remastered so I can trip balls in painstaking detail.

(But while you're seriously asking, I'd love to see a remastered version of The Twelve Kingdoms, and would pay absurd amounts of money for a domestic Blu Ray release of Mononoke.)

O, the Blu Ray fun we could have! If we could, uh, have nice things. LIke Blu Rays. I have next week's question! Digest it, readers!

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.

Thanks to you all for sticking all the way to the end! There is no extra joke here! Just a plea to give me all your great responses and questions by emailing them to me, over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Until next time!

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