Hey, Answerman! - Que Sera CERO

by Brian Hanson,

Hey guys and girls, welcome to Hey, Answerman!

I'm hacking up phlegm and detritus all over my keyboard right now, so let's skip the introductory patter and get to the questions you guys gave me this week.

Greetings, Answerman!

As someone who works in the video gaming industry, the last couple years there has been a systematic demonization of used games and how their sales don't help the game publishers. In fact, the publishers contest that they HURT game sales, which is financially true, but the insinuation is comical. This has led to the universally-hated "Online Pass" system adopted by Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and THQ.

This leads us to the FAR more niche anime industry. As with anything else these days, used deals can be had just about anywhere: from your local FYE or flea market to Amazon and eBay, finding what you want/need pre-owned is just a click away, and it's incredibly useful for titles that are either out of print or are hard to find (my biggest pre-owned finds recently have been the Tenchi Muyo! Ultimate Edition and NieA_7).

My questions are: do anime publishers track used sales, and do they get any sort of cut? (I'm guessing no) Even more pressing is, do the industry giants like Funimation and Aniplex care about used sales, and would they use that data to possibly do a reprint?

A final question would be, would used sales or demand for something influence a publisher to license rescue a series/franchise? Example: the Gunbuster DVD set (the entire OVA, not the movie) goes for no less than $79 preowned on Amazon at the time of this writing. I can only assume this is due to demand, and because of this demand, is it possible that Funimation could step up and license rescue it for a future re-release?

Well, the thing to understand in regards to used anime sales is that there's no such thing as Gamestop in the anime world - a huge, omnipresent retail chain that siphons millions of dollars from publishers the way Gamestop does to video game developers. Imagine, for example, if Right Stuf - probably the biggest retailer that deals predominantly in anime and manga - pushed used merchandise as heavily as Gamestop does. Publishers would be furious, most likely. Thankfully, though, outside of Amazon marketplace, there really isn't a huge, sucking leech like Gamestop out there dealing exclusively in anime and manga. And that's completely decentralized - Amazon Marketplace is merely the mediator between the customer and the independent seller.

So, no, anime publishers certainly don't get any "cut" whatsoever of used sales. As to how much they "care" and track them, well, I wasn't sure, so I reached out to Justin Sevakis:

Justin:The anime industry (and, in fact, most media industries) really has no ability to track used sales in any way, aside from doing what anyone else can do, and looking up titles on eBay or Amazon to see how much is out there and what they're currently selling for. And of course, no publisher or rights holder gets anything from any used media, ever.

But anybody considering a license rescue of an old title would, of course, do that research to see how much old product is still floating around, how much demand there is, and all that. It wouldn't be their sole decision-making criteria, but it's an important data point. In Gunbuster's case, it's a very old show with no dub, so Funimation is a pretty unlikely candidate for a license rescue, in any event.

So, there ya go - judging "demand" may certainly help in the decision to make a "license rescue," but that's further down the list of other, more important things - like, say, the age of the show, the strength of the brand (Gunbuster ain't as big in the West these days as something like Tenchi Muyo!), et cetera.

That's probably not the answer you were hoping for, but, c'est la geurre.

Heya Answerman, how you doing?

Chaining with last week's question about Shonen violence and demographics and stuff, I'd like to ask something about...video games (okay, maybe Anime News Network isn't the *best* place to ask about the subject, but any gaming website would probably answer this question with a shrug and a "it's Japan". So, broadening my research horizons here).

I'm a big fan of Japanese gaming in general -- though usually seen as the buttmonkeys of the current generation, I just love the way they make their games, from the scripts filled to the brim with anime tropes, to the weirdly romantic way they portray war and other conflicts, and even (heck, especially) their neverending cutscenes. But I've always been puzzled with their approach to game "contents". As in, you know, violence and blood and stuff, particularly in games of the last two generations or so.

Horror and "gorn" games like (respectively...?) Silent Hill and MadWorld clearly don't have a problem with it; they naturally might have blood by the gushes and beyond. But when I look at the more "shonen" games, I notice they're strangely clean. As in, too clean, visually, for the tone of the rest of the game. Okay, maybe I'm being a bit too vague. Let me exemplify: let's take the Tales series and analyse it. They have a typical JRPG setup of heroes saving the world 'n all, great. But along their quest, the heroes are often confronted with situations that involve death, slavery, genocide, torture and one or two things that are a bit incompatible with ESRB's notion of "E for Everyone". Yet they're very clean; there has been a total of one, maybe three games in the (14 games-listed and counting) series with more than a glimpse of blood. I see that happening in many other games from Japan as well -- the Final Fantasy series, the Disgaea series, Valkyria Chronicles; heck, even games based on Shonen Jump franchises. It strikes me as odd that those games are aimed at roughly the same target audience as Shonen big guys, like Naruto and Bleach, yet those are allowed blood in anime/manga form, but games are apparently a no-no.

So, I think my question is: why are Shonen manga and anime allowed to have blood (among other violent details) no problem, while "Shonen games" seem to shy away from them? Because of CERO ratings? And if so, why does CERO make such a big deal out of violence while the companies that produce and broadcast anime don't?

That's actually a great question!

The answer is, as you guessed, CERO. For the uninitiated, CERO, or the Computer Entertainment Rating Organization, functions essentially as the Japanaese ESRB (or the PEGI, for my European readers) for all console-based video games (PC games are rated by a separate organization, the EOCS). The ratings themselves are relatively similar to the ones we have in the West, with one exception - the highest CERO rating, "Z" or rather "18 and up," is almost universally applicable to every violent game that would otherwise get an "M" rating here in America.

Now, just like a Western game getting an "AO" rating, or a movie getting an "NC-17" from the MPAA, any Japanese console game that gets the "Z" rating from CERO is essentially barred from any form of advertising and promotion, and many retailers refuse to stock them. Here's a 1up article about some of the weirdness involved in the CERO's Z-rating. Now, like you said, you've noticed that "in the past two generations" is where excessive violence in Japanese-developed games pretty much disappeared, and that's no coincidence - CERO started in 2002, and wasted no time in harshly labeling any and all violent video games.

Now, why CERO is so harsh on violence in gaming while anime and manga itself is free to peddle extreme violence by the bucketfull - Fist of the North Star was read and enjoyed by an entire generation of Japanese kids, and their society has yet to crumble - is pretty simple: there is no mandatory rating system for manga and anime. Like I said last week, different magazines and networks each have their own Standards and Practices department that judges what is and isn't "appropriate" for their audience, but there's no arbitrary rating system they need to adhere to. And of course, when it comes to home video or the internet, all bets are off.

Contrast that with the poor folks who live in places like Germany and Australia or the UK, where each and every DVD that gets imported must first go through the wringer of a classification system, leading to unfortunate things like heavy censorship in order to achieve the "proper" classification. It's the same with CERO. A lot off those "gorn" games you mentioned - like MadWorld and Silent Hill - were mainly developed for the Western market. MadWorld got the "Z" rating in Japan, which of course meant that SEGA was not terribly optimistic about its potential sales, while oftentimes, games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil are censored for their Japanese release. You can't get decapitated by a chainsaw in the Japanese version of Resident Evil 4, for example.

Essentially, violence and blood is a touchy thing for CERO, and the consequences of that are the usual, sad things like censorship. Of course, you can get a game like Senran Kagura a "D" rating, for ages 17 and up, which is nothing but boobs and breasts and butts, bouncing and bounding about. It's sort like a weird netherverse of the US ESRB, which of course would balk at anything even remotely sexual, yet would have no problem with Kratos tearing out a man's spine and garroting him with it. I'd imagine that Japanese game developers see excessive blood as just too "risky" to bother including in their game - unless, as is the case with MadWorld, it's being developed with a Western release in mind.

And unfortunately, given the state of the Japanese game industry these days, there's fewer and fewer of those being made.

Hey Answerman

I have been an anime fan for a very long time. I own a large anime DVD collection (which was shown on 'Shelf Life') which is contrived of several different kinds of genres. While watching these DVDs I've learned quite a bit about Japan. Nothing that would impress anyone, but quite a bit all the same. I know the differences between Kimonos and Yukatas. I know about different kinds of holidays in Japan and I even know certain famous tourists spots in Japan as well. If there was anything I saw and didn't understand about Japan, I looked it up. Pocky for instance was one of the first things I checked up on. I own a lot of anime where the character talks about cliches and important staples in anime series, but there is one thing in anime I've never figured out.

Why do people take apples to hospitals and peel them?

I've seen all kinds of anime. Anime that takes place in the distant past, fantasy worlds or apocalyptic futures, I've always seen characters peeling apples for others who are sick. Is it a tradition in Japan?

I had no idea! But I always noticed that too, and I guess I never really thought about it all that much. I did some googling, and here's what I came up with:

The peeling of apples, in and of itself, is just a cultural difference. Japanese people, by and large, simply don't like eating most fruit with the skin. Sometimes that's because Japanese fruit have a very different kind of skin than here in the West, but they otherwise simply just... don't like the taste of apple skin.

As to why it's apples to begin with - apparently, giving fruit to someone in the hospital is simply considered an appropriate gift, along with sweets and candy. It's considered gauche to give any sort of potted plant as a gift to someone in the hospital, as it implies that they'll be stuck in there for a while.

Hope that helps! Hey, that was easy. Let's do another one!

A while ago you had a question about anime being "too Japanese" vs. "universally appealing" that has brought up a query of my own. I'll use the anime Sket Dance as an example: I'm a huge fan of that show, and I'd love to see it released in the US, preferably with a dub. (I'm one of those people who'd rather watch anime than "read" it.) My only concern is that a lot of the humor relies very heavily on Japanese wordplay, and I'd have to imagine it'd be quite a feat to get around or, heck, even incorporate that into an English dub. I'm sure many shows have come and gone with a dub that tried to either skirt these issues or try to localize the humor, and in my opinion, the latter is okay, but only in small amounts. I don't want a show that takes place in Japan to make an overabundance of Americanized jokes, because then it might as well just take place in America.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, what are the chances of a "very Japanese" series being licensed and/or dubbed? And if it does happen, is it worth being concerned over, or should I just trust that the adapters know what they're doing and will find some sort of happy medium?

It's not so much a question of it being "too Japanese" to be dubbed, because - if I remember the question you're referring to accurately - there's been quite a few dubs of "very Japanese" properties that nonetheless became hits. (I mean, how "Japanese" is Inuyasha? The answer: very. It's rife with Japanese folklore and culture.) There does not exist any set criteria to be considered "appropriate" for a dub. The bottom line is: can the company conceivably sell enough copies to justify the expense? If yes, then they'll do it. If no, then they won't.

I mean, aside from all the Japanese jokes, the important thing to remember is that Sket Dance is still a Shonen Jump property; the "Shonen Jump" brand is still a thriving enterprise in the West, so it's never wise to discount that fact. Aside from that, it's a colorful show with fun characters - those tend to do pretty well here. It's also a new show, which also helps. Unlike, to steal an example from earlier, Gunbuster, it has a lot of things going for it.

Of course, that's all just hypothetical; should the series ever get dubbed, the way the localization team handles the jokes varies. In general though, it's considered unwise to dub Japanese puns into English; the whole point of a dub is to attract viewers who would be "scared off" by a foreign language, correct? Why confuse that audience with jokes and puns in a language other than the one the characters are speaking?

Either way, we're both guilty of putting the cart before the horse here: Sket Dance has as good a chance of getting a dub as anything these days, so until you hear any news, it's not worth your time or energy to start worrying about how the jokes will hypothetically be handled.

Time to showcase the great answers you guys came up with to last week's question! Here it is, to jog any flagging memories:

Let's start with Joe, who wants to streamline this whole process:

Hey Answerman,

The best way to expose New People to anime as a fan and from the industrial POV is for the publishers and distributors to pick one of the many streaming sites that carry anime, get as much content (subbed AND dubbed) on it as possible, and promote the hell out of it. One of the problems I have as a fan is keeping track of all the legal streaming options for shows I like, since some of them are stuck on obscure YouTube channels (for example, dubs for several Gundam shows – although at the time of this writing, those streams might be going down), some are on Hulu AND Crunchyroll, some are only on Hulu, and so on. I just find it simpler to stick to fansubs and ripping my DVDs/BDs than navigate the maze of sites and some of their restrictions and I'd imagine some of the same things apply to why people use illegal stream sites too. Hulu's probably the best bet, since it's free for basic streaming and it has the most name recognition for average people, which makes it great as a vehicle to expose people to anime once they promote the fact that there is a huge catalog of animation content already on Hulu.

I'm not sure what they could do to expose more people to manga. Sites like Mangafox are pretty much the best ways to expose people to that content, but it's pretty hard for publishers to compete with something like that legally due to the costs of having full time translators on hand all the time. Plus there really isn't a means for them to monetize a Mangafox style site unless they decide to sell DRM-free digital volumes or something (maybe with scripts for drama CDs included as value added material), so publishers don't have much of an incentive to support such a site. Maybe a Crunchyroll like site with an a la carte subscription system could work (you get the first volume of every manga for free, then only pay X amount for the rest of the manga you really want).

Lori wants to get all personal:

The only ways that I can think of is on a more personal level. 1) Recommend animes/mangas to people, and 2) Pass that love of anime on to your children. I realize the second suggestion might not apply to a large chunk of the audience reading this, but I'm a mom to a four year old, and he's already getting started a little bit. Right next to my desk I have fan art from "Madoka Magica" that I picked up at cons, there's a signed "Monsuno" poster in that same area, and he recently started watching "Sgt. Frog" with my stepson and I on Netflix. (I figure that one was safe enough for him to watch since most of the more teen-related jokes are going to fly over his head) He's already singing parts of the opening and closing theme songs.

On the first point, I'm a substitute teacher, and I'll be reading mangas during lunch. Usually I have a teacher ask me about them because they'll see the kids with them in their classes. So I am hoping that I am encouraging them to check it out when I talk about what I'm reading.

Joyce Presents - Cruisin' For Anime:

Hi Brian, As far as a digital future is concerned I think VIZ is on the right track with their digital manga apps for everything out there. I confess a fondness for Shojo manga but paper manga is too expensive and takes up too much space on my already overloaded bookshelves. So when I got my iPad I was delighted to download the VIZ app and discover that they sell digital at a very reasonable price, which makes my purchase of multiple volumes of multiple titles much easier to justify and very easy to read anywhere I happen to be. I have shown it to family and friends even when they look at me oddly. I wish the other publishers would discount the price of digital media but they haven't so there is only one title I am still willing to buy in paper.

As far as anime being digital, the only thing that would make me happy is more on demand through any service I can connect to my TV (which means through my Xbox right now). I dislike watching one episode at a time once a week. It just doesn't hook me. I want the entire series available when I want to watch and I won't do more than sample on my computer so on demand is the only way to go. If Neon Alley were on demand it would be great since it has dubbed content as well. I don't see how you can hook younger viewers without dubbed series. It shouldn't be dumbed down as in the bad old days but children and their parents need something familiar to keep them in their comfort zone. The other problem that should be addressed is wider availability. In my area I can get both Funimation and Anime Network but they are extra subscription and only 24/7 not on demand so they are not at all attractive. 24/7 anime should be part of a digital bundle so it can be seen by cruising and that is a function of how they are sold to the cable companies. I know I want the sun, the moon and the stars but there you have it; give me inexpensive digital manga and dubbed, on demand anime and I would be in heaven. I don't think I'm alone in that feeling.

Rednal has a sick plan to ENSLAVE THE YOUTH OF AMERICA:

Well, the way I see it, the best way to get a new generation of fans is to get them while they're young... so here's a plan for the industry.

The first thing to do is to link up with groups such as the American Association of School Librarians and any other group that can significantly influence the books that schools purchase. To these people, attempt to convince them to buy manga for school libraries in several stages, starting with Elementary School. That's the level that should be getting age-appropriate material, preferably with each volume having an advertisement in the back telling kids where they can watch the anime online (with a disclaimer to get a parent's permission first). The viewing site should be extremely child-friendly and separate from the main sites; no blood and guts in the shows or anything like that, just material that parents won't object to. Call it, I dunno, Crunchyroll Kids or something. Whatever. The books should encourage the children to watch the shows (when their parents allow), and this will get them into the habit of watching a show after they read the book. Have an online shop with plushies and soft, cute toys.

Do the same thing for Middle Schools, except with more content. Still nothing really outrageously bloody or anything, but add in things that people at that age are going to like. Milder fanservice at most, Teen-rated manga at the highest level. Continue to encourage them to go watch the show after they read the manga in school, and the website they're viewing stuff on should have a shopping section filled with, basically, toys. Not hundred-dollar Madoka anime box sets, but things like badges and themed school utensils that aren't too expensive and that a parent could be convinced to buy a few items from. Try to keep most things below, oh, $15 at most. The idea is to get parents to think "Well, it's just a few dollars, and Bobby likes it so much..." and whatnot.

Finally, in High School, they know what's up by now. Just stick in the usual lists for where they can legally watch anime (Crunchyroll, here on ANN, Funimation's website, etc.) while simply giving the librarians a direct list of books that are popular among teens (and some that the companies would like to sell more of). See, here's the thing... there are school libraries that LOVE getting lists of books to purchase. I know. When I was in High School, I actually worked in the school library and I found out that they were usually delighted TO Books that I suggested they get. I even got to make some of the orders myself and purchase things I was interested in. The manga shouldn't be tucked away on a back shelf, though. Publishers should work with schools to get permanent displays set up somewhere that a lot of people will be looking; even if it's not right up in the very front (which might be used for all sorts of things), putting manga in a high-traffic area can help encourage kids to pick them up and read them, or even better, check them out and bring them home. Schools can be told that at least the children are reading, and the industry is being careful to recommend only appropriate material for the young'uns. Just like that, you have increased sales, probably sales over time, and a whole lot of children being exposed to the wonder that is anime and manga.

Will Presents - Mobile Suit Gundam - Unfortunate Licensing Loss:

One problem that we seem to keep running into is availability of some of the classic staples of anime. I'm sure everyone keeps a "required reading" list that they tell their friends when it comes to good ways to get in to the genre. Mine includes the Mobile Suit Gundam series, Cowboy Bebop, the Dragon Ball series, and Sailor Moon. I'll even endorse Evangelion just so everyone can suffer one of the biggest troll-ending(s) of all time. (subject to opinion and directors cuts)

The problem is that many of these older series are hard, if not impossible, to watch legally. Hardly any stores carry them. It's very rare to find a place that'll rent anime. Obviously there's only so much you can cram on to cable networks (I will say thanks to Toonami for getting Samurai 7 and keeping Bebop running). Streaming seems to be suffering from the licensing clustersmeg of digging these classics back out from whatever is keeping them locked away. I'm hesitant to point fingers simply because, like you (ironically), I just don't know every single situation with every anime out there when it comes to why it's not being shown in America. My hypothesizing only got harder after I read the extremely informative "All About Licensing" column on ANN about the licensing process. After reading those, "licensing agreements" went up there next to "sausages" and "law" on the list of things I do not want to watch being made. Good lord...

A current relevant example: I've been burning my entire Christmas break doing a Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam marathon because Crunchyroll is losing all their Bandai licenses at the end of the year. After the new year, I've no idea how anyone will be able to watch these classics legally. It's truly unfortunate.

Perhaps some kind of pay-per-view or iTunes-esque approach could be taken. Renting/purchasing a digital copy saves a company like Funimation the risky investment of printing physical media. But, again, this falls back to the licensing agreements that have to be made. I'm not sure who or what is sitting on what older stuff that doesn't have current licenses in the US, but dislodging those should be one of the bigger priorities for the market. Otherwise, it's going to encourage one of the more popular digital distribution methods that you just love to discuss: illegal downloading.

Watch it there, Will. I've got a floodgate of piracy questions I have yet to unfold upon the world.

Anyway, next week will undoubtedly bring us to a new column, and therefore, new Hey, Answerfans! I would like your VIOLENT opinions on this SEXY TOPIC:

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'll be back next time, hopefully with less death-disease! Until next week, keep sending in your questions and answers to answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Adios, amigos!

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