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Hey, Answerman!
Harem Harumph

by Brian Hanson,

Friends! Romans! Countrymen!

Hello people. Welcome to Hey, Answerman! I'm Brian. I answer your questions. It's that simple.

Especially since I have a flight to catch. Friends' wedding back in Tucson. Let's hit it!

A fellow last week brought up the question of Harem anime, and why they didn't seem to hear much talk from the supporters. I thought the question was answered well, but here's some thoughts from a fan (with a question at the end!) just so you can say you've heard something.

I enjoy harem anime. I like the fanservice, the stamped-out character personalities, and the old jokes. It's like the Macaroni and Cheese of anime... It's not really that good for you, but it makes you feel warm and happy inside. That said, I'm mindful of its flaws. I dislike how the male leads are usually portrayed as completely spineless losers without a single masculine attribute. Sometimes I just outright hate the protagonists. Ever watched School Days? If not, you should, and you'll probably see what I mean. I usually enjoy the other characters in the show, though, and I get sad when the characters I like don't get a happy ending. Especially because I usually like the "minor" characters (you know, the ones destined from the beginning to lose) more than the main ones.

Of course, if I refused to watch it at all, then I'd also miss out on some of the best shows I've ever seen. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor has a harem revolving around the good Captain (with everything from humans to robots to alien empresses), but it's hardly a cookie-cutter festival of fanservice. It's not the only good series with some degree of a harem in it, either. I know some of you have this idea of harem shows being utterly brainless excuses to put animated boobs on television, and you're not always wrong... but you're not always right, either. Just like every other genre, there are good shows and bad shows. Most are generally mediocre (at best), but the really good ones are one of the main reason I watch anime.

Also, I tend to split them into two categories. The first is the "Dating Sim" harem anime, which is almost always that exact sort of mindless fluff. The other type is the "Light Novel" harem anime, which usually involves protagonists who are more assertive, capable, and intelligent. See, to work as actual books, the characters usually have to be something more then a stand-in for the reader that has no personality at all... and this usually results in a much better product. Still, the odd Dating Sim-type isn't bad. Shuffle, for example, ended up being deeper and richer in anime form (complete with yandere!), while the source of the series, a Dating Sim, wasn't particularly memorable. I know; I played it because it was the source material of the show..

Other harem series haven't actually been animated, but oh how I wish they were. Like Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo, which is one of the best things I have ever read. And I read a lot of good stuff.

I suppose my advice would have to be... don't dismiss a show just because it's a harem anime. If you do, you'll probably miss out on some shows that actually are worth your time, whether you're a casual fan just looking for some reasonably good stuff or so elite and refined in your tastes that you have to put your monocle on before you even start talking. Some harem anime sucks, sure, but so do shows in every other genre. That's something that happens in entertainment.

While we're on the subject of not wasting time, though... Hey, Answerman! What genre of anime would you say is least deserving of whatever reputation it has and why, and what three shows from that genre would you recommend to your readers?

"Least Deserving," huh? Way to send me blindfolded into a mine field, dude! I would never deign an entire large swath of programs to be "undeserving" of anything. That's a pretty huge dick move.

There's a lot of genres and tropes in anime that I simply "don't get" if that's what you mean. Mahou Shoujo? Not really my thing. There's maybe two or three of them that're transcendent and inspired, but those are mostly for what they do in spite of the typical Magical Girl tropes and mores. IN MY OPINION, that is. Revolutionary Girl Utena and Madoka Magica are terrific because of their artistry, design, and deft symbolism and deep characters. Sailor Moon is a thing that I understand more than I actually like. It's cute, colorful, the characters are fun, and so on. I watched a lot of it on TV and watched even more of the fansubs back in the day. It got a little bit repetitive for me, that's all. And then there's stuff like Precure and Tokyo Mew Mew, which are pretty blatant toy commercials. Not my thing in the slightest.

But, how the hell is the entire Mahou Shoujo "genre" undeserving of the praise it gets? Much of the love for that genre comes from the best it has to offer, and to be honest, Utena, Sailor Moon, and Madoka Magica are terrific shows. Precure bores me, but so what? It has the right elements to entertain people who are predestined to enjoy such a thing - cute cartoon magic defeating big silly monsters while catchy pop songs blare in the background. That's not my scene, but I can dig it.

On the other hand, I like mecha shows. At least, I think I do. But then I realize: my favorite mecha shows are the ones of exemplary quality - various Gundams, RahXephon, Votoms, and so on. You don't need to be a "mecha fan" to enjoy them. They're very well-written and have engaging characters and very skilled animation at their disposal. I'm not a "mecha fan" if that also means I have to put up with crap like Fafner and Gundam Seed Destiny. Let's all hope nobody feels that way.

I'm just an anime fan, guys! We can compartmentalize and section each other off as much as we want, I guess, but I don't like cutting myself off of new things I might enjoy. Almost as much as I don't like wasting my time with stuff I know I'll hate! I will admit, with utter sincerity, that I was pretty late on the Madoka Magica train. Kudos to all of you for sticking around from the get-go and letting skeptics like myself know that there was bona-fide entertainment gold in that show. Sure, I'll admit it - I'm not a Magical Girl dude, Madoka Magica looked interesting but not a "must-watch" in my book. Then! The effusive praise and rabid following began to swell until it started to burst. At that point, it was unavoidable. Even my 13-year old sister was on my case about watching it. I knew then it was time to put aside my backlog of other, safer entertainment options to give Madoka Magica a whirl. Glad I did. What a great, creative, wonderful show.

As much as the cynic in me wants to paint with broad strokes and toss lots of genres aside as "overblown," I just can't do that. There's a metric assload of awful, awful mecha shows out there in the universe. (Gravion, anyone?) But then there's Votoms. There's Gundam Unicorn. And there's wacky stuff in-between, like Code Geass. Nobody in their right mind would declare that "mecha anime is undeserving of its reputation."

The reputation it gets is deserved by the best it has to offer. Not the worst.

I recently tried out a Crunchyroll subscription and was hooked thanks in large part to Zeta Gundam. They have the full series available as well as a couple of other Gundam shows and it's really reignited my interest in anime and the Gundam franchise in particular. I've noticed that each episode I stream starts out with a short commercial for Gundam Unicorn and has a Sunrise logo in the bottom of the screen for its entirety.

Now that Bandai USA is done with home video, what chance do we have of getting more Gundam series up for legal streaming? I know something like Unicorn would be pretty much impossible because it hasn't finished its lucrative OVA run yet. But what about older series like ZZ Gundam or even Turn A? Turn A was even licensed by Bandai USA but never actually released!

(Number of times "Gundam" used in this message: 7)

Here's the thing about those Gundam streams: they're a coordinated marketing effort through Bandai Channel to promote Gundam Unicorn - although they're using translations and files that were supplied from Bandai Entertainment, this is entirely Bandai Channel's gig.

The unfortunate part is, we don't exactly know what the future is going to look like about old Gundam shows. These streams are a step in the right direction, I think, but aside from importing future releases from Japan, streaming seems like the only legit option. For as long as it lasts, anyway.

In the interest of keeping up a semblance of Due Diligence, I did actually send out a query to Sunrise to clarify, but they haven't gotten back to me at the time of this writing. Which is, y'know, fair enough - they're probably working like busy bees to get the latest incredible episode of Gundam Unicorn wrapped up.

Going from what I saw at the Gundam panel at Otakon, though, the only thing we can hitch our wagons to, Gundam-wise, is that: they expect us Gundam fans to import the Japanese Blu Rays for our Gundam fix, and the legal streams are a promotional effort towards that goal. Everything else is up in the air, uncertain. Bandai Entertainment is gone, but Gundam is still a big enough deal to warrant at least some kind of exposure on Bandai's behalf, at least in a general sense. Hopefully, the streaming continues as Bandai continues to expect its fans to import ludicrously expensive Japanese Blu Rays. Seems like... not exactly a fair trade, but a trade nonetheless.

Hey, Answerman!

What about appealing to western anime fans in a way that doesn't make them think "I could get this same thing but better if I just watched anime and/or western productions?"

I'm writing the script to a visual novel, because after the works of Four Leaf Studios, Christine Love, Dischan, etc. that sort of thing is just barely sort of starting to take off. And it's more appealing and better targets a niche audience that I'm a part of than a regular text novel. Among other reasons.

But what I'm wondering is, what can I do to make myself more appealing to the average English-speaking anime fan? I have a vision, as a writer. I know what I want to write, and I'm not going to stray from that for the sake of popularity. But there are so many little things I could add, so many little ways I could express the same scenes or the same characters--surely some of them would be more pleasing to the typical western anime fan than not.

More broadly, I guess, the question is about anime-influenced western productions. At what point does the anime influence become worthless or gratuitous, how can one differentiate oneself from both anime and western media?

I'll say this: you've got the right instinct there. "I have a vision, as a writer. I know what I want to write, and I'm not going to stray from that for the sake of popularity." Good. That's all you need!

That's the secret sauce, right there. An authentic, personal "vision" that could only have come from you. Can you layer in other elements that you've appropriated from various sources? Sure! We call those "influences." So long as you're not creating some carbon copy of anything put out by Four Leaf Studios, I think you're in fine shape.

The more interesting part of this is the notion that you specifically want to make a visual novel. That in itself provides a whole host of new challenges, not the least of which is distribution and presentation - like, where and how are people going to be able to find this thing once you're done - but that can be worked out once you're finished. The Key there, pardon the pun, is, I think, finding a way to really make the "visual" part of your visual novel a fundamental part of its effect on the reader. And unless you're going to include scenes of explicit pornography, that's a challenging aspect to think about.

The facts are that, outside of us silly anime nerds, no one really knows about, or cares about, visual novels. Us Westerners haven't had them presented to us in any real way since the multimedia boom of the 1990's, when Philips was trying to convince us to spend 800 dollars on a CD-i to watch grainy FMV footage to go along with a Sherlock Holmes story. So when it comes to ways to tailor your visual novel to the audience you want... I'll just say that it's unnecessary. The fact that it's a visual novel, itself, is enough to at least pique their interest.

Sure, there are none-too-subtle ways to "tailor" your visual novel to the "English-speaking anime fan" market. You can essentially write Tenchi Muyo! fanfiction and then just change all the names around. You can litter the screen with bad jokes about Naruto. Make specific references to anime conventions. That sort of thing. You can essentially turn it into the world's largest Jenga-tower of in-jokes, waiting to be toppled by the force of laziness and mediocrity.

Or! You can stick with your gut and make sure that "vision" you spoke so firmly about is rooted in sincerity. Don't even worry about the audience. That seems silly to say, but listen - you're not a production company with salaries on the line, here. You haven't been given tens of millions of dollars to create a show that needs to hit certain target demographics while maintaining a marketing campaign that drives a profit. You are one person, dare I say it, an artist, who is simply doing something for its own sake. There is nothing more pure and honest than that.

And, as such, for people like myself, when we find these solo works of fiction created by people who simply wish to create something for its own sake, we expect that amount of honesty. Because we can get that audience-pleasing pablum anywhere else in a far-slicker format. That's not why we're scouring the internet, looking for other things to consume our time. We're looking for something a little bit edgier, weirder, and more personal.

So, again, if you honestly and truly have that "vision" of yours, then that's great. That is literally all that you need. Do not stray from that, and you cannot go wrong. It may not blow up the front pages of Reddit, it may not crash the servers from sheer bandwidth requests, but the audience will find it. And that audience will find it for precisely the right reasons, namely, the quality.

You're doing a damn visual novel, man. Us weird anime fans are pretty much the only people around who are into that stuff. So give us something good! Something unique! Or, more aptly, stop caring about what we may or may not think about it and just do it already!

But enough of my hollering and platitudes. Last week! I finally got to check out Neon Alley, the new 24/7 dubbed anime streaming TV internet channel service thingy, and I had some not-terribly-nice things to say about it. So I thought I'd turn it around on you.

Let's begin with joelgundam00, who offers a stirring rebuke of my displeasure! Rebuke away, Joel!

This is my first time replying to one of your questions, but after seeing your opinion on the matter and that you seem to want ours. I just could pass up on the opportunity of giving Yō Mine. Having looked at Neon Alley from the game industry side of the reports. One thing Viz made pretty clear is that this would be a 24/7 TV like channel and not an On Demand service. I know a lot of people are asking why is this a linear station, but it makes sense when you look at their situation.

When it comes to game consoles, everything needs to be approved (certified) by the console owner. In this case, it is Sony and they are pretty picky when it comes to content. If you look at the PS3, you will notice that there are already several "On Demand" apps already available that carry anime. What's the point in having another "On Demand" app? Sony isn't a big fan of copycats and clones. They like to have original content and Viz pitched an original idea. This is probably why the app was approved and certified so quickly. Neon Ally is doing something that no other app on the PS3 has done before, which is creating a linear TV like channel that streams content that appeals to the mainstream/casual crowd.

Does Neon Ally appeal to me? Not really, but it isn't only because of the linear channel approach. My problem is with the internet connection. I have a 6mb DSL connect, but the speed can widely vary depending on certain circumstances. I can stream a 720p HD video if my connection is at least 5mb, but what happens if it drops while I'm viewing the show? Being a TV like channel and not an on demand service. Will it switch automatically to SD or will I be stuck with endless buffering? I haven't tried the service, so I really can't answer that question. Another issue is the schedule, which you have already talked about and I fully agree with your assessment. The biggest issue though is that I prefer physical media over streaming and I usually have a tendency of buying a title that I have streamed or seen on TV. With some of the content on Neon Ally not even solicited for DVD or Blu-ray yet and other content is being sold at a premium (I'm looking at your Aniplex), I'm a little wary of trying the service out. I really want to avoid expensive impulse buys and disappointments of not being able to buy the title at all, because Viz decided to sit on the video release.

I personally see Neon Alley as a nostalgia approach, that pays homage to Cartoon Network's Toonami. This could be very appealing to the casual crowd, that's trying to get into anime or for those that want to expand their horizons in anime. These people don't know what's out there and an On Demand approach could be overwhelming for them. A linear channel like Cartoon Network could be very convenient for them, since they don't have to debate between which show they want to watch first.

According to some of the interviews with Viz that I've read, that's what they are aiming for with this service. They also haven't ruled out the possibility of an On Demand channel. After all, if this venture is successful Sony will be more willing to do business with them in the future. However, looking at it in a business perspective. The linear channel approach was probably the only way to get the app approved by Sony in the first place, because this TV like approach is the only thing that stands out for this service/app.

I'll have you know, Joyce, that Viz is quite proud of their three-legged horse, Tricycle The Horse:

Hi Brian, Neon Alley technically can't be on my radar since I don't own a PS3 and this is certainly not a good reason to get one even if Netflix was the excuse I used to justify an Xbox 360. I was somewhat excited about it when I first heard the news because it was going to be dubbed and offering shows like Blue Exorcist and Tiger & Bunny that had no dubs. Your comments about the service have crushed my hopes and thrown them into the compost heap.

I guess you are right in your assessment; what I was hoping for was a Crunchyroll with dubs I could watch on my TV. I don't watch anything on my computer and I dislike and have little patience for subs. I was hoping Neon Alley would be a success so that it might be added to the ever growing list of services found on Xbox. What you describe does not sound like a winner; it sounds kind of lame actually and might even be used as a "reason" why dubs aren't popular enough to justify. You don't put a three-legged horse in a horse race and VIZ seems to be pulling one of their typical moves.

One of the things I like about streaming Netflix is the ability to re-watch something I really like or cherry pick favorite episodes of a series at any time, in any mood, without risking damage to my precious DVDs. It also gives me the opportunity to preview a series I'm not sure about to see if I want to buy. I can't do that on Neon Alley. I checked out The Anime Network on my local cable and didn't want to pay the premium because it only had groups of selected episodes from selected anime. I don't want to watch any series beginning in the middle. I like the storytelling and never read a book from even chapter 2 why would I start a series in the middle? Neon Alley had a lot of potential and I might have paid the premium to view since I really want to see Blue Exorcist but this isn't a three-legged race.

Dang, agila61 - I thought all of us had PS3's by now. Huh:

Dear Answerman,

I'm three degrees of separation from Neon Alley. I don't own a PS3. I prefer subtitles, which I became used to watching in watching foreign films on SBS in Australia, before I actually became an anime fan. Indeed, Neon Genesis Evangelion on SBS in the summer of 2000 was the first anime I watched that I was aware of as anime. And I finally dropped my HuluPlus subscription because one month when tightening my belt, the subscription services that were ad-free won out over the subscription service to watch ads.

Setting those to one side, to me, if it was free, ad-supported streaming, I'd consider it. But if I'm paying $7/month, I want video on demand. Indeed, this seems to be going backward. The linear television channels originally were linear television channels because of technical limitations.

A free ad-supported linear channel and a paid subscription that gives ad-free Video on Demand access to previously aired episodes ~ there might be something to that. But I am very skeptical whether a paid subscription to watch an emulation of a linear cable channel is a viable business model.

Aya and I, we hate hatin'. We hate hatin' so much, we agree that we hate hatin':

Much like You I hate to be negative to a new product, especially when the new is in such a niche market and so dear to my heart. That being said Neon Alley in it's current form is not going to be able to stand on it's own.

First let me defend a little. I know why they picked the game console market as their provider. By releasing an app on gaming consoles they are able to avoid the hoops that they might have to jump through with cable providers. I no longer have to "call my local anime provider and demand my anime." And that's great!

However this also leads Neon Alley into it's greatest weak point. I have no way of recording a program in I miss it. For example, I only signed up for the free trial so I could watch the first episode of Tiger and Bunny. I download the app and the ticker at the bottom of the screen tells me that it will be on next. Great! But the schedule at the bottom is not only in the wrong time zone but also an hour ahead of what is actually being shown. So I have to sit through three episodes of InuYasha in order to get to the one show I wanted to see. I end up falling asleep and waking up as the ending credits of Tiger and Bunny roll. Now I have to go on-line and look for the show again and then make the mental calculations make up for time zones that aren't provided.

Thankfully the current incarnation of Neon Alley is not technically 24 hour programming; it is five hours of programming that is repeated throughout the week (according to the last time I look at the website.) So I have many chances to try and see it again before my free membership runs out.

There are so many other and (probably) better ways this could have been handled. Why not have the app be a one time purchase and the liner channel be free while paying members have access to the shows on demand? Yes I would have to pay twice as much when I first join the service but I am getting a better service for it. I would even be happy to pay if I only got the new releases on demand for a few weeks!

I have plopped down money for some crazy things in support of the things I love. I do it gladly because my life would be very sad if I was unable to enjoy my greatest love. However in this day and age it is inexcusable to be so far behind. Much like you Answerman I am praying that Neon Alley evolves into something with a wider appeal. Something with options. Because it could be something really great.

Lastly, Christine sums it up nicely and justly:

Oh Neon Alley. Primarily, I am a sub fan. I watch dubs (for free) on TV, but paying any extra amount of money per month for dubs doesn't appeal to me at all. I don't even pay for Crunchyroll and hulu- I'm content to watch the non-HD versions of shows for free whenever I feel like it. If Neon Alley was a free app with ads shown throughout the shows I'd download it and use it for sure. Sometimes it's fun to let the TV choose what you watch and just go with the flow. But to pay for it? Not happening.

I see most of you were on my side on that one. You are all smart and sexy readers for agreeing with me, mostly.

Next week, though! Something a little more fun and inclusive, inspired by my last question up top. Roll that beautiful .jpeg footage:

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.

I'm off to spend an eternity in Layover Land, with only my half-charged Kindle to keep me company! Until next week, that is! So don't forget, o sexy smart readers, to email me with thoughts and questions and replies over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Have fun on the ground, everyone!

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