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Hey, Answerman!
Negative Nellies

by Brian Hanson,

Hi gang! Another week means another weekly spell of sittin' down on the computer-internet and answering some questions!

Man, I'm beat. I'm swamped with deadlines and job changes and other fun real-life things. Luckily, Baltimore has outsourced its weather to California the past couple of days, so it's been cool, sunny, and dry the past week. Instead of grey, wet, and miserable. Keep it up, Maryland. Now to the questions!

I am currently going through a very distressing phase in my anime viewing life. After watching a show I adore to death I decide to see others opinions on it. More often then not I will find the most well written reviews to be the negative ones. My opinion on the show show begins to change. Maybe the only reason I like it is because I'm an idiot. I know the easy solution: stop reading reviews. But honestly those comments are stuck in my head. They are threatening to drive me away from anime as a whole and just depressing me. How can I deal with this? Thanks for any advice you can give. I don't want to lose anime.

"Pardon me, sir. Do you mind lifting up your chair? I think I lost my animes."

All kidding aside, I think there's a really big misunderstanding across all "fandoms" about what honest-to-God "criticism" is. It is *NOT*, as many people assume, a form of Idea Imperialism - a way for a writer to impose his or her taste and judgment upon the reader, to force them to adhere to their strict standards of taste and culture. What "criticism" actually *IS* is a meditation on this particular piece of pop-culture, and the relevance it held during the time the author spent with it.

That's not to say there aren't any crappy critics out there who treat it that way. There's plenty. There's no shortage of writers, especially in the anime world, who only write in order to feel smugly superior to everyone else. But not to worry - people don't necessarily enjoy their work. In general, people don't like being explicitly told what to think about something they've already formed an opinion on. We recoil and fight against it, like the gun-toting subconscious assailants from Inception. But the more time we spend fretting over their bizarre notion of taste, the more they win.

And that's something that "fandom" in general has a problem with. We get awfully sensitive if people don't respond the same way we do about something. That Idea Imperialism goes both ways - the Reader is looking for the Writer to agree with them and validate their opinion, which is an incorrect assumption to make, and a poor way to regard criticism. That's why the phrase "constructive criticism" is always met with derision - all true, honest criticism is, by sheer virtue, constructive.

And those two things lead to a lot of problems. A prominent critic receives death threats for a negative review, posted days before the movie opens, before any of those ardent fans have even seen the movie yet. On the other end of the spectrum, there's Armond White, a certifiable crazy person, who enjoys nothing more than to impose his Critical Will on the masses and wrings his hands with glee as they gnash their Internet Teeth at him. Neither of these things does anyone any favors. Meanwhile, a (seemingly) nice guy like you goes online to read what other people are saying about shows you love, reading the critical mass, and feeling bad about it. Man, that's not right.

What a lot of people in your position end up doing - which pains me to hear - is simply disregard criticism altogether. I mean, that's certainly one way to avoid any negative association with the stuff you like to watch, but it seems awfully harsh. It strikes me as unnecessarily defensive; a knee-jerk reaction against ALL CRITICISM FOREVER in order to avoid questioning your own taste. Honestly, I think that line of thinking leads to people watching and enjoying a lot of garbage, to the point where only their baser instincts are fulfilled by genre-coating dross, to the exclusion of everything else. I think I said this last week, but the amount of people who will watch every episode of Dr. Who - no matter how awful - and avoid GENUINELY GOOD THINGS like Breaking Bad is startling to me. I know, I know - SCREW THOSE CRITICS MAN, WHAT DO THEY KNOW, I LIKE WHAT I LIKE AND THAT'S THE WAY I LIKE IT. WHO ARE THEY TO TELL ME WHAT'S GOOD AND BAD? Settle down there, Kevin Smith.

I know I like and love a lot of terrible things I can't quite justify. I like to pass myself off as an amateur intellectual, but there's a boatload of crummy music and movies and anime in my personal collection that doesn't pass muster on any enlightened scale. At the same time, though, I need some protein in my entertainment diet - I need something complex and interesting to keep my diet nutritious. And where do I find those things? Critics!

Do I agree with the critical consensus? Nope. But I'm willing to revise my opinions as necessary. I initially passed off Panty & Stocking as puerile garbage at first - but I kept reading that, later on, the show becomes crazy and inventive and interesting. "Life's too short," I thought. Then I saw one of the dubbed episodes prepped by Funimation at Anime Expo - and boom, my opinion completely changed. "THEY WERE RIGHT," I thought to myself. The show does switch gears later on, and become something truly interesting and joyful! Now, that doesn't necessarily make it a great show; therein lies the problem when a show "gets better later on" because it's up to the individual viewer to decide whether 10 episodes of Great Show makes up for 10 Previous Episodes Of Lousy Show.

And that's it - we are our own critics. We judge for ourselves what we like and don't, and whether or not we have the words to back up our impressions is entirely a separate issue. But it's foolish, I think, to pretend that our own criticisms exist in some kind of bubble. That's nonsense. Anime fans have been chatting and conversing on the internet since its practical existence. While we shouldn't let other people bully us into changing our minds about something we love, we shouldn't block them out completely from presenting us with things we might like.

And through it all, we spend an awful lot of time watching pure garbage. We could probably all do a little bit better by watching less of the dreck and more of the good stuff. But I'm not going to be throwing any stones from my glass house here. Once I'm done writing this, it's time to queue up the six episodes of Bar Rescue I have DVR'ed, then catch up on Sword Art Online - which is some Grade-A confusing anime pablum, but damn if it doesn't tick off my Anime Fan Expectation Checklist with ease. But I'm not going to get bent out of shape if someone points out Sword Art Online's ridiculous premise or paper-thin characters. I have my own defenses - I think the show is aptly made and immensely watchable, directed and animated with energy and style, and the familiar themes and elements of the show makes it easy for me to forgive the jumbled plot.

I think people in fandom, in general, need to have a bit more understanding about what "criticism" is. It's not just a "review." It's part of the discussion, the discussion we're all having about this anime we watch - the discussion I'm having with you, right now! So relax, buddy - you don't need to let those guys make you feel bad about your favorite shows. You've got an arsenal of your own. You've got your opinion. That's all you need. You're not an idiot, and you're not wrong. And in the same way, those critics aren't wrong, either.

Hey Answerman!

So, I've got this idea for an interesting manga-inspired comic story... now, I know, I know, you've yelled at people before to simply go out and "make things yourself" and so forth. And I'm willing to do that, but the problem is... I can't draw.

I want to do these things on my own, but what if I just... can't? What if I need collaborators? Obviously I can't pay them anything, which I know is going to make things hard for me, but I want to know what I can do to find artists online who might be willing to work with me. I've tried before, but all I get are flaky people. Thanks!

You say "flaky." Asking people - artists, I should add - who are willing to "collaborate" with someone they don't know, unpaid? That's insane. The fact that people even responded to you in the first place is some kind of miracle. I don't think that's flaky at all. That's just reality. It would be "flaky" if you were paying them, set deadlines, and didn't receive the work you paid for, at the time you expected. That's "flaky."

Now, I can give you the usual networking spiel - trawling through tumblr and so on and so on - and I will. After I get this out of my system:

You say you "can't" because you "can't draw." Why not? Why can't you draw, exactly? If you've got working hands and the time and dedication to learn, YOU CAN LEARN TO DRAW.

Will you be able to draw as well as your favorite mangaka? Maybe, maybe not. It certainly won't happen overnight, either way. But I get a little bit sick of this defeatist attitude by so-called "creative people" - not to pick on you or anything - who just throw up their hands and tell themselves, "well, I can't do this, so I need to find someone else." Who says you can't? YOU DID. Maybe try proving yourself wrong for once. Because everybody can.

Don't get me wrong, I think collaborations are altogether wonderful and I recommend them to everybody. But collaborations only come about from trust, money, or both. If someone wants me to draw or write something for them, I either need to trust them completely, or trust that they'll compensate me for my time, because every second I'm not writing or drawing for my own benefit, that's just wasted time. Money can come from anywhere, but trust comes from friendship. And that's, sometimes, difficult to pull off strictly over the internet.

So, you're bummed that nobody's willing to work with you on your idea. You've somehow convinced yourself that this is the end of it, UNLESS you find someone else willing to share in your personal vision and execute the artwork. And if nobody does, that's it, it's over. And I'm here to tell you that that is false. It's not over. It never is, and never was. Pick up a pencil and start learning.

Take an art class. Read a drawing book. Practice and practice and practice. Collaborate with yourself and commit to this idea, if you truly think it's so great and worth someone else's time. Prove to the world that it was worth your time, and learn an art in the process. Win-win!

"B-BUT BRIAN" you say. "WHAT IF, AFTER ALL THAT TIME AND EFFORT, I CAN STILL DRAW NO BETTER THAN DAVE GONTERMAN? WHAT IF ALL THE WORK IN THE WORLD CANNOT MAKE UP FOR A LACK OF TALENT?" Again, this is false. It is here that I'm going to make a bold, perhaps controversial, statement! At least Dave Gonterman, with all his bizarre malformed drawings, has accomplished something. He's written and drawn dozens of strange little books that crawled out of his head and onto pieces of paper. And, uh, MSPaint. Making something is always better than just thinking about something. Not to get all esoteric here. His "artwork" is a lazy patchwork quilt of horrendous anatomy and 80's cartoon faces. BUT AT LEAST IT IS THERE, PRODUCED AND READY FOR THE WORLD.

Well, I can finally scratch off my "Old School Portal of Evil Reference" Bingo card with the Gonterman riff. But I really do mean this, and I've heard this from countless artists that I know - they are bombarded, every single day, by people on Twitter and Tumblr, asking to "collaborate" with complete strangers on their "amazing ideas." Here's the thing about artists - they have their own "ideas." If they're collaborating on anything, they're collaborating with other artists, or people that are paying them for their time. They may love your idea, but their OWN ideas are more valuable to them. Their FREINDS' ideas are more valuable. Their EMPLOYERS' ideas are more valuable.

It's certainly not impossible to impress and ingratiate yourself to a talented artist willing to help you with your manga-inspired idea, but here's my point - all that time you're spending, sweating and worrying and emailing people like me about finding collaborators? Think of all that time you've spent doing that, and think about how much better you could spend that time learning. Pick up a pencil! Learn! Create! It will only be good for you! It will only provide you with good things! Just like, I dunno, learning an instrument, it will only provide good things in your life! It's (I think) scientifically proven!

To all of you out there who complain "I want to make my own graphic novel and manga series, but all I can draw are stick figures," KNOCK IT OFF, YA LAZYBONESES. Unless you have a physical impairment that prevents you from drawing, I don't want to hear ANY MORE WHININ' about how you need to contact an artist / mangaka / anime studio to do your work for you. Get it together, people!

And yes, I'm available. Rates are negotiable. A nice bottle of Cabernet will do.

As Justin Sevakis reported so well in his articles about the Anime Economy, most anime productions are produced by a committee of investors that include merchandising, home video, TV network, publisher or any other party that believes it can make a profit on a property. Even Studio Ghibli's movies are produced by committees. As the case may be, some anime properties are not made this way. A very small number that proves the rule.

In a recent interview with Hideako Anno about the new Rebuild of Evangelion movies, this was said:

-- The production cost of the new works has been entirely financed by Studio Khara, without inviting contributions from outside investors. They are so-called "independently produced works." Why this type of approach?

Anno: If I accept investments from outsiders, then I face the limitation of having to make a cost-effective work. By using my own money, in all aspects I can take responsibility and do what I want. We have staff for distribution and advertisment as well, but ultimately I am responsible. I don't want to make excuses like, "the finished work was excellent but the advertising was poor."

Apart from this sounding like these fairly big anime movies were not made by committee, he says he uses his own money. To me this sounds strange because this latest Evangelion movie has been marketed up the whazoo by so many second parties from airlines and the Japanese Baseball League to razors and horse racing. Even in the US, unless someone's making a small indie movie, filmmakers rarely back their own work with their own finances. So is this a case of an anime not being made by committee, or something else? What anime were not made by committee? Does what Anno say about maintaining control of your work, even the marketing, have any merit? (Note: As much as I love watching a rainbow piano in a trailer, it doesn't really scream, "PAY $20 TO SEE ME!")

Well, I figure - who better to comment on this than Justin Sevakis? I forwarded this question over to him and here's what he had to say about Anno's artistic freedom:

Justin: Anno is in a very lucky position with his Rebuild of Evangelion films. He is producing new, popular and highly-anticipated content for a proven money-maker of a franchise that can be milked for promotion and merchandise pretty much endlessly. All of those Evangelion-related tie ins with everything from UCC Coffee to All Nippon Airways? That's not considered marketing for Evangelion, Studio Khara actually got paid for those. Those campaigns, as silly as they sometimes appear, actually help get those films made. All that money from merchandise and those campaigns and revenue from previous films add up to what is ostensibly enough money to finance the next one.

It's a gutsy move, and one that pretty much every creative professional has dreamed of doing. What director wouldn't want to dictate every aspect of his baby's release, from budget all the way through to marketing? It's a pretty unique opportunity, and one he probably will never have again (unless he spends the rest of his life making Evangelion reboots). This doesn't necessarily mean he's GOOD at all of those things -- the marketing for the entire Rebuild franchise has been pretty impenetrable -- but for this series we all know it doesn't matter. All of us Eva fans will be lined up to see Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo the first chance we get, even if it turns out the entire feature is made with stop-motion sculpted dog turds. And we'll probably love it.

Eschewing the Production Committee system, or even more, any outside investment whatsoever, does happen all the time in the indie film world, but since that route is usually taken by a) people who nobody in their right minds would invest in, and/or b) rich people who fancy themselves genius auteurs, the results are very seldom watchable. Zero-budget horror films like The Blair Witch Project or the original Paranormal Activity make for good success stories (both were paid for by maxing out the directors' credit cards), but more often they end up like actor Ethan Hawke's trainwreck of a semi-autobiographical break-up movie The Hottest State, which he produced, wrote, directed, starred in, and then paid a company to release in theaters. Critically panned and ignored by the public, the project likely lost him a small fortune. Even that example is more visible than most -- the vast majority of self-financed indies fly under the radar entirely.

In anime, where directors are seldom the original creator and most content is made for television, we can really only look to the smaller films and shorts to see examples where a director has entirely self-financed his own project. Early work from Makoto Shinkai and short student works are the most obvious examples, but companies like CoMix Wave, Studio 4°C, and to a lesser extent, Mad House under Masao Maruyama might provide a legal and logistical framework to producing a film, while still giving creators nearly as much freedom as if they did everything themselves. But the budgets for those projects are small and hard to come by, so it's pretty rare anything more than a half-hour OAV can be made in this way.

Thanks, Justin! But the likelihood of Hideaki Anno making that sculpted dog turd movie has shot up 100 percent now. That's enough of giving that guy ideas.

When you hear the sound of the gong, it will be exactly time for Hey, Answerfans! Boy, that's an old reference. I wasn't even alive for that. Damn you, Looney Tunes.

Last week, I wanted my collective assortage of readership to respond to my lame-stream media question:

First to bite is Dustin, who is nonplussed:

As much as I'd love to say, "Sure! an anime studio could make a big-budget mainstream project and have it recognized and successful and it would still totally be anime!" I think we all know that wouldn't happen. There have been plenty of projects that would be pretty mainstream if they were picked up by a major studio and adapted properly. A lot of the old-school anime features were big sci-fi projects, which is pretty much what DOMINATES the Summer movie season in the US. The problem is that at least over here, foreign films rarely do well, and anything animated is relegated to the old Animation Age Ghetto. So as you see, in order for it to do well, it would have to be high-budget, and have a live-action, mostly western cast which pretty much means it is no longer anime. Maybe one day when Warner Bros. Could have a Bruce Timm-styled DCAU version of the Justice League slotted against the Avengers and have them run a virtual dead heat theatrically, maybe we could see a big budget reboot of an old anime Space Opera. Until then, no chance in the States. I have no idea how this theoretical film would fare in other countries, particularly in Japan, but I imagine it wouldn't do terribly well or else there would be a lot more mainstream anime.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, quoth Lori:

In answer to the question on making a big budget anime film and still having it feel like an anime, I think it can be done. Right now, there are American companies that are using anime and manga as their inspiration for different shows (like "Teen Titans" and the two "Avatar" shows, for example -- let's pretend the movie doesn't exist, shall we?), so I don't see why a Japanese production company couldn't do it and still have it feel like an anime. But I think some Japanese companies feel like the broadest appeal is in imitating American animation style -- look at the popularity of "Tiger and Bunny" and "Panty and Stocking." Both shows are popular animes, but they don't LOOK like anime -- The look of "Tiger and Bunny" is more like the old action shows of the 1980s and 1990s (think the first "TMNT" series), while "Panty and Stocking" kind of mimics "South Park" with its mostly "cheap" look and looks more like the late night "Adult Swim" shows. In fact, someone in a message board I went on said that "Panty and Stocking" WASN'T an anime.

Liana is also fruitful with her Avatar comparison:

Hi Brian!

First off, I apologize for the length of my response. I just hope it makes sense.

Well, I'm approaching this question with the assumption that you mean releasing an anime geared toward a mainstream American audience, one that isn't necessarily familiar with anime. As far as I can tell, mainstream anime do exist in the form of such titles as One Piece and Fullmetal Alchemist. Mainstream in that they are ridiculously popular and widespread in both the American and Japanese markets, and they appeal to fans of different genres (at least that's how it seems to me). However, they are mostly confined to those who already like anime. Talking about anime with the average person, oldies like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! are what come to mind (once it's pointed out that they were anime and not cartoons, though some license taken in editing really tried to Americanize some shows). In fact, my roommate's boyfriend just walked in as I was typing this and asked if my manga collection of Skip Beat! that I have on my shelf was like Pokémon.

So, an anime for mainstream, regular people that is still anime? First, I guess I'd have to define the “feel” of anime that sets it apart from any other animation style. Part of it is the artwork. While styles of anime vary greatly, in general I think anime is awesome because it just looks good! I do like the look of some cartoons (Ben 10 and Archer), but when I see some of the cartoons for kids or adults released for an American audience, I just think they could have tried harder to make the visual quality more appealing (at least to me, after all beauty is in the eye of the beholder). But then again, considering some of the stories and themes being presented, I suppose the animation fits well.

Which brings me to the second part about anime that makes it anime: the variety and depth of storytelling. I feel like most American cartoons I see are all either the typical super hero story (which can be fun, don't get me wrong, still have a crush on Danny Phantom), a collection of complete randomness that often surpasses the novelty of randomness and become ridiculous stupidity (sorry, but Adventure Time falls into this category for me, or adult cartoons full of satire and crude humor. Anime has explicit humor, ridiculousness, and oft-repeated tropes too, to be sure. If I had a dollar for every episode of standard cutout shounen series I've seen… or shojo clichés… And yet, sometimes I'm just hit with some really great stories that stick with me, like Kare Kano manga, but the anime had the potential), Fullmetal Alchemist, Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora, and Angel Beats!. Or refreshing series of simple entertainment like the aforementioned Skip Beat! that I enjoy over and over again. Or just cool, action-packed awesomeness like Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, and Yū Yū Hakusho. And then, there are simply so many genres of anime to choose from! Slice of life, supernatural, comedy, romance, action, gender bender, tragedy, psychological thrillers, horror, shounen/shojo-ai (or yaoi/yuri)… if there's some specific genre you like, you're almost guaranteed to find an anime for it. And it can be for all ages as well. I like watching One Piece as much as my 5 and 9 years old nephews.

But one that fits (mostly) everyone? And American mainstream? I'd have had a hard time thinking that was possible if it wasn't for Avatar: the Last Airbender. Granted, it's an American made cartoon. However, it has that “anime feel” to me. It's different in theme and story from typical American cartoons. And the animation is so much more like the “anime style”. They even had animated chibi specials! For all of its childishness at times (and young target audience) it had themes that could appeal to older audiences as well. (Such as genocide, war, and complex family relationships.) Plus some awesome action scenes. My 30+ years old sister and her husband (who don't like anime, by the way) both love this series, as well as their kids. Also, many of my college and high school age friends (some also unfamiliar with anime) love it as well.

So I guess it is possible. I mean, if Avatar could do it (which I think it did), why not some other anime?

If anime didn't want to suffer the indignity of identity theft, why did it respond to that phishing scam, huh Rafael?

As much as there seems to be a perception that targeting the "mainstream" audience would be a step in the right direction for anime, the medium runs the risk of losing its identity. The lingering thoughts of animation being for kids still run deep in their minds and tailoring to their interests would just result into a Hollywood movie in tone and voice under the guise of Japanese animation (Steamboy and Appleseed come to mind). Face it, the mainstream audience doesn't really have much better tastes as the niche group. They just have what's perceived by current modern society as normal and to me, anime is supposed to be anything, but normal. I have nothing against "progressive and intellectual" productions from the likes of Satoshi Kon, yet there's nothing wrong with adding a bit of service for the hardcore fans.

What I propose instead is for that studio to satisfy both camps, mainstream and niche. It sounds like a tall order to make, but if they have the necessary war funds, why not cover an entire range of demographics instead of one particular group claimed to be the majority? To make anime more acceptable? Screw that! I'd rather a big budget show loaded with boobs and hullabaloo with genuine care and fun made during its production than one that tries too hard to stay away from what anime is and just ends up falling flat in its face.

Lastly, Matthew wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter:

What makes anime *feel* like anime to me really is the story. Of course there is the animation too, but Studio Ghibli has done a good job with wide released projects with a slightly less “anime” look to it but “anime” feel because of the storytelling. They have even taken English (or other nations) tales and turned given them an anime feel because of the storytelling. In short I think it can be done and is being done.

Thanks guys! Next week's question is, in the spirit of the passing of summer as we lightly collapse into fall, a bit more gentle and lighthearted. Hope to see you guys have a lot of fun with this one!

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 another column in the proverbial can! Wait, that's film, and this is digital. Anyway. Speaking of digital, send me electronic mail that includes questions and answers and things! You can reach me at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Until next time, friends and foes!

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