Hey, Answerman! - Card Captor Sakuga

by Brian Hanson,

Hello there, mes amis! This is Hey, Answerman!

And this, specifically, is the brief preamble, also known as, the part of the column where Brian complains about being sick and/or the weather. I'm fit as a fiddle, but my God, it is SO COLD out here. I haven't had to deal with an East Coast winter before, and man - I haven't been this cold since 5th grade, when my family moved out to Wyoming for a year. NOTHING will beat how cold Wyoming gets in the winter, that mystical land where it can be -18 degrees Fahrenheit with aggressive and potentially fatal 50 mile-per-hour winds giving you guaranteed frostbite. Still though, it's been about 18 degrees or so for the past week, which I understand is the norm around here, but when it's not snowing and it's just cold and miserable, I miss the desert.

You hear that, weather? You wanna be cold, you gotta gimme some snow to keep things interesting. It's like a dramatic scene in a movie with no emotional payoff - you're just making me feel like a bummer for no thematic reason. I, as an audience, grow bored and restless.

Enough of this prattle. Questions!

Hey there, Answerman. Hope the sudden (and prolonged) drop in temperature hasn't aggravated your illness of the week. Anyways, here's my question:

Every so often, whenever I notice a title going to a certain anime distributor, I think to myself, "This title would sell better/be much more popular if it were distributed by (so-and-so)".

Now, I won't name any distributors, but I can't help but think that if certain series (like Toradora!, Enma-Kun, Gunbuster, Fate/Zero and The Garden of Sinners) were in the hands of different distributors, they'd be doing much better. (One example of a manga series that has performed miles better since being picked up from a now-defunct distributor would be Yotsuba&!; can't really think of any anime examples off the top of my head.) Granted, such a method doesn't always work (see any Geneon license-rescue that doesn't have the names "Shana", "Hellsing", "Black Lagoon" or "Trigun" in them).

What are your thoughts on this?

Well, sure - certain companies have specific strengths that can give certain titles a boost. Funimation essentially has the entire industry - both retail and digital - wrapped around its finger, so anything they license has a much better chance of gaining exposure. That's the key word here: exposure. Funimation has deeper pockets to spend on things like advertising to ensure that their upcoming lineup gets a shot at the spotlight, if only for a moment. But! I think that it's a dangerous thing to think that "exposure" can necessarily align itself well with "popularity."

Look at it this way. Kids on the Slope is licensed by Sentai Filmworks, which doesn't necessarily have the deep pockets that Funimation or Viz has to create advertising aplenty. But, Kids on the Slope is probably going to do OK regardless, because of two factors: social media, and name recognition. "From the Director of Cowboy Bebop" is likely to sell some DVDs no matter what. And as far as social media goes, Kids on the Slope has benefited real nicely from a years' worth of positive reception that has percolated throughout the Tumblrverse and Twittersphere and Facebookadelphia.

Essentially, we're already at the point where, for certain titles, it's no longer necessary to spend ridiculous amounts of money on advertising in order to drum up "exposure." That can come naturally. You mentioned Yotsuba&!; I think that show's current success has everything to do with the power of social media keeping that title relevant and in the fandom's collective consciousness in the intervening years before it was license rescued. 4chan alone was riddled with Yotsuba images and extensive love; 4chan's influence of course infiltrates nearly every other internet network we all use. The title "Yotsuba" itself may not be a household name, but you show a bunch of random internet strangers a picture of Yotsuba herself, and you'd probably find more than a few people who would recognize it.

You can't buy that kind of "exposure." It happens naturally over the course of its lifespan. So, I think, the internet has once again democratized and leveled the playing field for everyone who's got a product to release; it's not always about spending the *most* money, but spending the *smartest* money. Speaking of Sentai, they were quick to pick up Persona 4 The Animation; they can sell quite a few copies of that show based upon the license itself, by targeting any of the various video game discussion forums, networks, and blogs. Give a DVD screener to Kotaku and they'll probably write a blog post about it: readers will tweet the link, the chatter will grow, and they're off and running.

Our long-held notions of "traditional" marketing are quickly dying away, and a great and horrifying thing is happening: advertising is happening naturally and organically. In a way that you can't necessarily buy with money. I know that everyone always points to Aniplex USA and wags their finger disapprovingly - "IF ONLY THEY RELEASED THEIR TITLES WIDER AND CHEAPER, THEY'D MAKE MORE MONEY" - but that isn't the market they're after, and they've made several statements to that effect. And, despite all that negative press, we all still talk about stuff like Sword Art Online and Fate/Zero. We all watch their shows every week on their streams, talk about them, and that's all free publicity.

Now, if Funimation managed to wrangle Sword Art Online from Aniplex USA's clutches and get it a prime spot on Toonami or something, that would definitely help. But my problem with the whole notion of "if this title was with a different company, it'd have a better shot at success" is that there's way too many variables already to determine whether or not a show is going to be a "success" or not. First of all, how big of a "success" does a title need to be to be considered a "success"? And even with all the love and publicity in the world, there's never any guarantee that it won't go over as well as a fart in church. It's pure speculation. Which, I understand, is fun to do - that's what the internet is for, right? Pure speculation is fun! In our own heads in these situations we invent in our imagination, anything can happen!

Unless, of course, your whole question is a sly way to say, "this show really needs a dub, and I wish it had one." Which, hey, I get that as well - there's still no better way to expand your audience for your Brand New Anime License than with a dubbed version - but that's INCREDIBLY risky. Dubs are expensive and make sense only in a specific context. For example, I don't really care about Blue Exorcist, but I'm glad it's getting a dub - it's exactly the kind of moronic fluff that'll play well to the Bleach-watching crowd, so more power to Aniplex USA for trying to expand its audience. Still, though, the dub for that is only available currently on Neon Alley, which is problematic, to say the least. Discovery is still the major issue, dub or not. Blue Exorcist has a better shot than most titles of reaching those elusive "fringe audiences," but the only way that those fringe weirdos can watch it is on a non-streaming streaming service with a monthly fee. If it gets on Adult Swim or Netflix, then it'll be a good thing. Having a dub isn't exactly worth much of a damn unless it's out in public for people to easily find it.

I think my point still stands, though. Thanks to us, and the networks we use to socialize, any title out there has just as good a chance of "success" no matter who releases it. Let's make sure we don't abuse or ignore that power. With great power comes great... something.

Dear Answerman,

I've taken an interest in "Sakuga", where fans study particularly impressive examples of animation. What draws my curiosity is how some Sakuga videos and blogs will identify the staff that worked on some specific part of a show or movie. My question is, how on Earth to fans go about researching that level of detail?

Oh, this is an easy one!

Speaking of social networks, the advent of YouTube and Twitter has made finding out about various "Sakuga" superstars and great animators easier than ever. Before, only f-ed up weirdos like me would point out which scenes in a Chuck Jones cartoon were animated by Benny Washam due to something we read in a book; now, there's lots of handy-dandy YouTube clips of various Sakuga moments that are usually pretty accurate about ascribing the proper credit.

In fact, for the curious, there's a great YouTube video of a panel about Sakuga curated by Colin Groesbeck that gives a pretty great rundown of the history and ideas of Sakuga, for the uninitiated. "Sakuga" is essentially striking moments of kinetic and impressive animation - typically in an action scene, though not always - that is handled by one particular animator.

Now, as far as how to identify particular animators across the myriad anime projects throughout the years: like I mentioned earlier with my Benny Washam example, I personally can identify which scenes Benny Washam has animated, because I've watched Looney Tunes so God damned much first of all, to the point where I can pick out certain eccentricities in the animation and design that differ from the rest of the short; Ben Washam's animation of Bugs Bunny in particular was easy to point out, as taken from Washam's Wiki entry:

"His animation of Bugs Bunny is easy to recognize, as he usually let Bugs' incisor teeth taper to a point. Also, he drew relatively wide cheeks and big pupils on Bugs' eyes. Another Washam trait was his tendency to nod a talking character's head. His work is best recognized by the loose connection of the core body parts, with a great deal of Hip Initiation; this led to multiple assignments of 'personality' scenes, as he could keep interest well in closeup. Chuck Jones commented on his ability to denote personality through facial cues. His work is angular in pose and fluid in movement."

Now that you've got that knowledge, you'll never watch another Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny cartoon the same way ever again.

It's the same with anime, too. You'll notice throughout certain series from Bones with the trademark handiwork of Kameda Yoshimichi, and so on. Once you've got a good eye at picking out certain quirks in the animation, all you need is some places to research the people involved - like, I dunno, maybe ANN's own exceptionally useful Encyclopedia - and you're good to go, buddy.

You, too, can discuss your favorite Sakuga artists with the intrepid bloggers who're giving these otherwise anonymous animators the credit they deserve! To my great shame, I don't keep up with as much Sakuga chatter as I feel like I should, because I love the idea behind it - too often the actual craft of animation itself is sidestepped in the greater discussion of anime, because we all like to talk about the story and the characters and so forth. That's obviously important when it comes to whether or not you enjoy a show, but one of the reasons I dug something like Birdy the Mighty: Decode so much was because of some of the great and imaginative animation work it used. The story there was no great shakes, but it was serviceable; ditto the characters. But the animation was inventive and fun and unique and interesting, and it was always fun to watch.

So, think of the animators, folks. Until the Sakuga devotees came along, the only praise you'd find for any anime production lied in the directors and voice actors, occasionally the writers. It's nice to see the actual pencil-pushers get some credit. Now, it's not as though key animators necessarily NEED our love - most of the Sakuga animators that us weirdos rave about are in high demand across every anime studio under the sun, and are paid handsomely for their draftsmanship - but still, the majority of the effusive praise for Fate/Zero is centered around Gen Urubochi, for example; even though that show has some terrific animation by some of the best key animators working in Japan. It's nice, is all, to see kind words headed their direction.

And, of course, no discussion about Sakuga could be complete without a cursory link to Anipages Daily, which recently had a great interview with foreign Sakuga animator Bahi JD! So, there you go! Go in the Grace of God to the wacky world of Sakuga!

Hey, Answerman!

I was just thinking... I turned 13 a few weeks and ago and one of the series I'm watching right now is Yuruyuri, and I like it but I it's not, say... "appropriate" for my age group.

Now, I know it hasn't been licensed yet, so... why not license it for a younger audience? Why not just censor some of the "oopsy-not-for-kids" parts and turn it into one of those great, tween and teen-centered shows?

I get what you mean, but specifically for Yuruyuri, that would never work, because I hate to say it, but you're kind of the exception for the target audience for Yuruyuri - in the West, certainly. As young as the cast is, it's a series that is drenched in Japanese puns and cultural references, which knocks up the Western age demographic up a few notches. Not to mention the rather none-too-subtle Yuri overtones - WHO WOULDA GUESSED, given the title of the thing and the fact that it was published in Comic Yuri Hime.

The main market for something like Yuruyuri, the folks who would actually spend money on physical copies instead of clicking a jpeg on a scanlation aggregator, would be FURIOUS if there were anything even REMOTELY censored or changed from the original version. I mentioned Yotsuba earlier - I know there were threats of violence and death upon ADV's original translation, because they had the unmitigated gall to attempt to actually "translate" some of the very culturally specific Japanese puns and jokes. (Although, the pendulum swung the other way when bloggers and reviewers got their hands on the more "faithful" Yen Press translations, and many people remarked that they "missed" the looser translation. What a twist!) I mean, if whatever potential licensor picked up something like Yuruyuri and dared to actually edit content from the title in order to chase after a lucrative demographic that may never actually bother with it in the first place because it doesn't have violence or monsters - oy gevalt!

Besides all that, the market for censored manga of any sort has essentially dried up, now that Shonen Jump is off of newsstands and online-only. Much like what I was talking about earlier with the "discovery" problem, making a hatchet job out of Yuruyuri, which would OUTRAGE existing fans at the expense of potentially, maybe marketing it to tweens, would be sort of insane. In all honesty, I can't fathom how editing ANY manga nowadays would be considered a net positive. Borders is gone; the brick-and-mortar bookstores that led to the manga boom of the aughts is nearly nonexistent. What would be the point? It's like when CMX bought Tenjho Tenge and cut out all the sex and violence in the hopes of tailoring a VERY adult manga for the Shonen Jump crowd. Copies sold about as well as a box labeled "Wet Farts," and the manga boom ended shortly afterwards. Nobody was pleased.

And, look, I understand - I was in high school and a tremendous Ranma 1/2 fan, and I had insane notions of Ranma 1/2 being the BIGGEST THING EVER if only it was edited slightly to get rid of all the nudity. I could show it to my friends in the Mormon church! It could get on TV! Then EVERYONE could experience the great character writing and fun comedy stylings of Rumiko Takahashi! Of course, in reality, that would've been a disaster; Ranma was too old to work on TV, its insane fans wouldn't STAND for censorship of any sort, and more than likely the "fringe audience" would've walked away from a weird thing about a cartoon character who changes gender depending on moisture.

So, for good or ill, but mostly good, censorship is a thing of the past, man. Publishers and licensors are much savvier now about what they can and can't properly market to younger readers. Things like Kyle Pope's The Edit List are just a curio from a bygone era. Consider it a victory of art over commerce, if you must. In the meantime, just feel all cool and mature for being 13 years old and reading something a little risqué.

Alright now! Answerfans time! Last week, I was curious about my own weird obsession about box office statistics and TV ratings, so I put you all to work to figure out our collectively strange desire for numbers:

Our first response comes from Will, who turns 30 today! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WILL! I got you some new, hipstery lookin' glas- oh.

I feel I need to wear my fake hipster glasses here, because whenever I see sales statistics, I immediately look at those as the "avoid at all costs" lists because I've always liked to be one away from the crowd. Back in the day (oh god I'll be 30 on the day this goes up), just liking anime was off the grid. But now, this stuff is borderline mainstream, or has developed enough of a stream of it's own to hold a candle to the main one. I'm actually happy to see anime become popular enough that, out there, somewhere, someone has actually been -paid- to tell the world what anime/manga is popular right now!

As far as how accurate the information is, I'm willing to put a lot of faith in the mathematical accuracy of that information. With the information age being what it is nowadays, sales numbers are instantly created as soon as the cashier rings it up, or the website server software records an item as sold. It tells me what is getting the money from major merchants. Granted, there are "retail variables" out there, such as shrinkage, and incorrect input to the machine, that can add a slight skew to these stats. There's also "distribution variables" such as used item resale and (your favorite topic) piracy that are difficult to impossible to track, but can still help to draw a picture of what people are consuming right now.

However, my inner hipster likes to speak up again. Sales numbers are good and all, but it doesn't tell me what I will like personally. While there is stuff out there that I have fallen in love with that the rest of the world fell for, such as Madoka Magica and Sword Art Online, there have been many franchises that I like that don't seem to put out the numbers on top sellers lists, such as Medaka Box and Cosplay Complex. Because of this, I've had to watch quite a few franchises I enjoy die off from lack of attention, or more accurately, money. I suppose this could make one feel some resentment towards statistical lists like top-seller lists and the like. Huh. I think I might have found a possible reason that anime hipsters exist now. Epiphany! Yay!

I honestly try not to heed the top sellers list for reasons related to the ones above, namely the fact that we don't typically agree in tastes. What the masses love may or may not be for me. Unfortunately, if something becomes popular, it makes me feel compelled to see/read it. Afro Samurai had quite a boom for a little bit, but I absolutely loathe stuff like that. When other fans I knew started talking about it, there was a disconnect I felt that I was conflicted on whether or not I should try to fix it. I guess this makes top seller lists feel like a peer-pressure tool of some kind - a kind of "faceless peer-pressure" if you will. Much like the stuff that was pushed by peer-pressure in high school, one cannot forget that these types of lists are fickle. They're the "flavor of the month" label subject to changes that marketers spend their lives watching and researching for a career. What's popular this week can (and likely will) change next week. This can lead one to stop using these stats as a gauge of what's "popular" so much as what's "profitable" in the anime world.

Stats like top-seller lists and the like are good and all, but can only tell you so much. Like any statistics, it's a matter of what you do with those statistics that really lets you get information out of it. Your mileage -will- vary.

In the mean time, I'll keep using online reviews and recommendations by friends to decide what I should check out, and keep using my heart to tell me what to keep watching, regardless of it's horrible sales figures. After all, 75% of all statistics are just made up anyways. :P

If low-ratings imply "not worth watching," James, THEN HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN ABC'S "WORK IT"

I like numbers. Quite a lot. I (will) do advanced maths in uni, I do maths puzzles, and in particular, I like statistics. So I suppose it's not really surprising that I pay quite a lot of attention to the numbers on Anime News Network, especially the anime statistics. Arithmetic means, Weighted averages, Bayesian estimates, standard deviations, the lot. When I'm trying to decide what anime I should watch next, I open each of the possible anime's pages in separate tabs, and compare their ratings. If it's in the top 100 for Bayesian Estimate, it's probably worth watching at some point. If the 'Seen Some' average is remarkably lower than the 'Seen All' average, then it probably gets better towards the end (E.g. Cowboy Bebop. Yes, I've gotten around to watching it). If the standard deviation is high, then it's often quite controversial and hence probably a challenging watch (School Days, Dance in the Vampire Bund), and I usually avoid those. And obviously, low ratings usually imply that it's not worth watching. So yeah, I'd say I find the a lot of the numbers on ANN pretty interesting.

I hope Patrick doesn't have any statistics to show me how many times I use words like "folks" and "thus":

Honestly, they fall somewhere in between. Partly because I have taken statistics courses, partly because I have read up on how some of these numbers are compiled. Let's go through these. Please note, some of this information is old, so the informational basis may have changed.

Movies are a bit of a bug. If I pay for a movie, it is counted as a statistic. If I go back and see it a second time, it counts. That makes sense. If I see the movie on a gift certificate, that works too. But if I win passes to see a movie, it doesn't count, even if there are paying guests in the theater, if more than half of the viewers are there on passes, then that whole crowd is tossed out. Worse, if you're at a preview showing (Like happened for the movie Serenity) then even if those people paid to be there, and the place was standing-room only, it is not counted (Which is why Serenity did not do as well as it should have. There were several pre-showings of the rough-cut movie, none counted. That was about 1/3rd of total viewings, but not counted because they were before the official release date.) So, movie statistics can be thrown off by all sorts of weird things. A theater that has a showing that has only a few viewers won't count that if it's under 1/8th the theater seats, but will still show the movie unless there's less than something around 1/20th of the seats. (I went to a viewing of the first Spider-Man movie, there were 15 people in the theater, they ran the movie, but that theater seats 200 or so. Later, at a showing of Spider-Man 2, they refused to run for 11 people, and made us go to the showing that started 1/2 hour later.)

Television is really controlled by who has a Nielsen box. Having been a Nielsen family for a while (They did booklets in the '90s, and the radio side uses a book that you note into) those can be way off (Did that show end at 12:30? Or did you skip out on the end because it was a repeat?) When done on paper, they can be wildly inaccurate. And the box version only tracks what's feeding to the box. If you have the TV off, but the cable box on (As many people do) then whatever channel you left it on is feeding into that Nielsen box. Now, the latest ones supposedly track if the TV is turned on or not, but having never seen one, I cannot say.

Bestseller lists are closer to reality, because they track sales of an item. Even if someone buys 20 copies, that's 20 copies sold, no matter who winds up with them. The money still has gone out. Still can be a bit off, but overall, still closer to reality. Sadly.(Twilight, America, really?) Even in the manga space, physical (And now digital) copies of products are easier to track. So when Naruto, Bleach, Sailor Moon, and others actually show up on the bestseller lists, they have physically sold that many books. And when The Walking Dead crushes everything, well, it is a big show. And I do like it.

That's all the responses for my big stats question from last time! But THIS TIME, I'm casting my net wide and inclusive:

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.

Can't wait to see all those responses, readers! Make sure to give 'em to me in good ol' fashioned email form, by sending me some electronic internet mail to my safe deposit inbox at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! See you around, friends!

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