Hey, Answerman! - Sense and Sentai-ability

by Brian Hanson,

Good morrow, friends! It's that time of the week where I answer your questions! It's Hey, Answerman! Again!

No time for the usual babble, so let's jump on in!

A subject that I've obsessed over lately has been Sentai Filmworks, particularly in light of its December release of Penguindrum. Suffice to say, there have been some justified qualms over the quality of the more technical aspects of the release, like its video authoring and subbing translations. And of course, there's its dub that seems to have mainly received mixed-to-negative reactions. I'm on the more fine-but-mixed side of the opinion spectrum after seeing the whole dub, definitely having a handful of moments of "augh, that could've been done better." Judging by other reactions, though, I must be a pitifully dumb fan that doesn't realize just how damn awful it is, nor how ear-splitting it is to more casual viewers, who would apparently run away from anime as a medium because of it (even though a good friend & very casual viewer liked it well enough to see the whole set on her first viewing, dubbed). Not to mention, I'm insane for not being absolutely driven up the wall by Stephen's Foster's work here.

I think whatever the sentiment one might possess about the handling of Penguindrum, though, it'd be hard to justify that the first set was a particularly great release on the part of Sentai. It wasn't on the authoring/subbing level, at least; those aspects disappointed me unlike any other anime release I've gotten (this is my first Sentai title). Looking at commentary on previous releases, it seems that such issues-- like having a single ADR director handle a bunch of works over a tight period of time (which I'd imagine puts a strain on directorial care), mouth-flap-mismatching, typos--that haven't been uncommon throughout their catalogue. This all leads me to wonder:what is the situation at Sentai for things to have become this way? We still see Foster handling most of the dubbed anime put out by them; why aren't there more directors that work on a more regular basis for Sentai? They still license a whole bunch of shows and release them rather quickly, even if there's a dub attached; why can't they seem to do less "rush jobs" in their disc and dub production if they apparently have enough money for acquisitions?

Judging by what was said on ANNCast, Sentai has no interest in talking with the press about itself for the time being, so maybe all I can really expect is speculation. That said, I would like to hear well-educated speculation, from one such as yourself that may know more about the going-ons at anime dubbing studios today post-2007. I at least want enough understanding of the company-- enough so that maybe I, and other fans, can even better become more understanding of their position in the industry.

Educated speculation, huh? I can offer that. Stephen Foster is actually a Master Mason, and the entirety of Sentai is comprised only of Entered Apprentices; what you and I consider "shoddy work" is actually an ingenious plot to placate the earnest and devoted anime fans into a heightened state of rage, causing us to fume and get worked up over poor dubbing and bad writing. Then, with the flip of a switch, our brains become willing receptors to their suggestion; we are an irate army at their command, eager to overthrow governments at a whim. Our minds being so overrun with "I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY'RE REDUBBING GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES" that we are powerless to stop their machinations, we unwittingly storm the White House and several European Parliaments, in service of the New World Order.

Or, there's a more plausible scenario. Whichever.

Look, speculation isn't really something I'm supposed to be doing here, because I'm supposed to have my facts thoroughly checked and all that. If there's a question that needs some research, I have resources at my disposal to do just that. But, in this case, if Sentai isn't going to talk to the press, then my hands are tied. Even if I *did* exactly know what Sentai's "deal" was, publishing that here would be telling tales out of school, so to speak. THEREFORE: I can't really help you!

But! Is that a big deal? I agree with you on this; Sentai's dubs, nearly uniformly, aren't very good. Whether or not they are actual "rush jobs," they sure sound like it. Flat line readings abound. The acting is inconsistent. I cannot believe that Sentai isn't aware of this criticism. Anime fandom is pretty far from ubiquitous; no doubt they're aware, if only peripherally, of their reputation in that regard. It's patently obvious that cost-cutting in every aspect of their production is in effect. And their silence on a lot of these issues may be infuriating, but that's their take, and they're in their right to do so. You want a better "understanding" of their position in the industry? Not gonna happen right now, I'm afraid.

And, to be honest, I'm not really sure that's necessary. I'm not sure what's so hard to understand with them - they're releasing a ton of titles, some of which are pretty great, but not always with the best presentation. And since they're not engaging with the press in any fashion, I can't really comment on their finances, either. To steal a FOX News bit, SOME PEOPLE might surmise that all their money goes towards acquiring titles, leaving pennies and crumbs left when it comes to actual production and authoring - but that's all baseless, useless speculation.

The gist of it is that, yeah, Sentai Filmworks could be doing a better job with what they've got. I, personally, have made no qualms about my disdain for Stephen Foster in particular; I'm basically urinating myself already in anticipation of whatever weird dub they'll give to the understated, interesting and problematic film Colorful. Can't wait for those off-color jokes and bored voices, Stephen! Surely your dub will only highlight Colorful's boring moments of slightly witless profundity, instead of find clever ways to interpret them, like the best dubs do!

Like I was saying, though, it is impossible to think that Sentai isn't aware of all this chatter. Right now, this second, it's impossible to get a straight answer, which is probably frustrating to the hardcore fans of some of Sentai's current and upcoming licenses. I haven't seen the Penguindrum dub yet, but I've seen all the Twitter comments and reviews, and that sounds like a damn shame. No, you're not going to get a public apology for that at the moment, but keep up the pressure. Obviously, don't go overboard: don't bombard the poor staffer in charge of Sentai's email address, nor whoever is manning their merchandise booth at a convention. But you seem like a reasonable chap with logical complaints. If we all keep that up, eventually something needs to happen, for good or ill.

Who knows how long that'll take, but it's the best way, in my opinion. I had answered a question a few months ago by a panicked reader who was concerned about Sentai's "licensing spree," who had CONVINCED themselves that Sentai had bit off more than they could chew and they were SURE to go under and leave all their promising licenses behind. And, hey! Sentai's still around! So let's all take that as a sign of good fortune.

And of course, more than anything, it's important to support the titles they have that you feel very strongly about. I can't think of anything that would leave a bigger pit in my stomach than to imagine a world where Kids on the Slope was a sales disappointment because it was boycotted as a way to enact revenge on Sentai for Penguindrum. Whatever your problems with their dubbing and authoring, right now, at this very moment, I can pre-order all of Kids on the Slope on Blu Ray for under 50 bucks. If this were Aniplex USA, I'd be paying double that, or more. And if the Blu Ray they release has some problems, or sucks in any way, trust me, I'll be right there in the picket lines with everyone else. Nobody messes with that show and gets away with it.

I'm not saying "Keep Calm and Carry On," but simply keep in mind that Sentai is neither a company teetering on the brink of collapse nor a well-oiled Funimation-style machine. They're somewhere in the middle, and nobody except for Sentai themselves can tell you where that line is. But that's irrelevant when it comes to some of the great titles they have available. And your criticism of their shortcomings isn't going unheard. It is. It's just frustrating that it isn't being publicly addressed. But all of that is ephemeral; none of those things are going to stop me from owning Kids on the Slope, because that is a treasure.

I do think there's a problem, though, for companies with a niche audience that DON'T maintain a strong presence in social media. It's not exactly expensive to set up a Twitter account and engage the fans, for instance. But for whatever weird reason, Sentai is skipping the process, for the most part. Don't know why, and that's their prerogative. It's obviously making people justifiably frustrated, but, oh well.

I know that sales are a big factor that determine weather or not a sequel for an anime gets made, but what else is there? I ask because there are several examples of shows that have done extremely well in DVD/BD sales, but still have no continuations. Two examples off the top of my head are The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere. Both have been beasts in the home video market, but we haven't seen more Haruhi since the movie two years ago, and we still haven't gotten word on a third season for Horizon.

I know Haruhi got two seasons (three years apart), an ONA (based on the spin-off manga), and a movie, and you're probably asking, "What more could you ask for?" Well, I'm asking for more. There are currently 11 light novel volumes for Haruhi, so there's plenty more to animate, and I don't know why you wouldn't keep it going until it stops making money. Horizon has sold a minimum of 20k untis per volume (12), and that, too, is an incomplete story with more source material to animate.

It just seems weird that the production committees behind those shows don't seem to be planning more anime. I mean, why stop making things that make money? SHAFT and Shinbo seem to have the right idea since they've made it clear that they plan to adapt all of the Bakemonogatari series, and I'm sure Aniplex and Kodansha are right there with them. At this moment, Bakemonogatari has two TV series and an OVA series made, with another TV series, OVA, and a movie in the wing. That's a lot more than what Haurhi or Horizon have.

Do Kadokawa and Kyoto Animation just not want to do more even though Haurhi is one of the biggest franchises ever? Are Bandai and Media Works content with leaving the Horizon anime where it is despite its huge success? If so, why? Why would you just stop?

Now, I'm going to POSSIBLY blow your mind with this one, but consider this - maybe, possibly, they're not making any more Haruhi animated things simply because they don't want to anymore? Obviously, yes, sales are a big factor to decide whether or not to continue a specific series. They're pretty much the biggest factor there is - depending on whether or not they feel like keeping the series alive in the first place.

Folks, there isn't any contractual obligation out there that an anime series MUST finish the original story if it is based upon previously published material, such as a manga or light novel series. There's a LOT of factors that decide the fate of your favorite anime. Sales, sure. That's a big'un. Viability of the brand? Also huge. Cost? Big factor. But all of those are dependent on the fact that anime series still depend on PEOPLE. They need writers, directors, animators, and so on down the line.

Speaking of Haruhi Suzumiya; it's important to understand just how HUGE the impact that particular title had. A lot of the principle players in that show's success have moved on to other things. Fumihiko Shimo has written episodes of Infinite Stratos and Kokoro Connect. Tatsuya Ishihara directed the first episode of Nichijou. Like I mentioned in a previous column, a lot of the initial staff who created the series as we know and love it have moved on; if they really wanted to keep the gravy train a-runnin', it would require an entirely new staff. And who knows if that'll work?

Recently, Disney just announced a slate of Star Wars spinoff films in addition to the direct sequels they plan on producing. This has filled me with nothing but dread and despair. Why do we need any of this stuff? I'm not opposed to people making Star Wars movies so long as they're entertaining and not as awful as the prequels, but why are we so willing to watch some potential crap just for the sake of "continuing the story"? The series was fine when it concluded in the early 80's; everything that has been done with the franchise since then has either existed to placate the existing fanbase (the "expanded universe" novels, the Knights of the Old Republic games) or make money despite being terrible (THOSE GOD DAMN PREQUELS). Remember when restraint was a good thing? Remember when people used to respect certain filmmakers who "didn't do sequels"? Remember when video game fans looked upon cult developer Treasure because they "refused" to make sequels? Until somebody gave them a pile of money to make a sequel to Gunstar Heroes that nobody liked or wanted?

There's a risk here that I want people to consider. Sure, there's enough leftover material for Haruhi Suzumiya and Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere (I'll admit I haven't seen the latter, since the gratuitously large breasts in the promo art made me cautious) to keep going for another season or two. They could certainly wring enough money from the wallets of die-hard fans to make another series profitable, no matter how good or awful it was. But why take that chance? What we had was good already; wouldn't we like to see these talented artists, writers, and directors challenge themselves with something new?

Oh, that's right: new things are scary and unknown, and given the choice, people would rather be fed the same familiar gruel than take a chance on an unknown property. There's a good possibility it might be great, but there's ALSO the minute risk that it might be something we don't care about. Let's stick to familiar ground, then. Let's trot out Haruhi Suzumiya for another round, just because it would sell enough DVDs to be profitable. Let's not bother with anything new or interesting. There's enough material yet to be adapted to make a quick buck.

It's a pretty cynical mindset, and one I'm not a fan of. Everybody clamors for sequels, prequels, and reboots. But where's the next thing that knocks your socks off and you can't wait to see a prequel or a sequel or a reboot? Where's the next Haruhi Suzumiya? Because it ain't Haruhi Suzumiya. That's been done already.

Hey Brian,

I just read the announcement of script writer Mari Okada coming to Anime Expo. I also read some less than flattering comments about her work: she does not understand real emotions, and she relies too much on characters yelling. (Mr. Plinkett: "People shouting is drama!") ANN's reviews of some of her most well known works, Toradora, Hanasaku Iroha, anohana, are pretty positive. I wondered, is there any validity to the drawbacks of her work? In a more general sense, what does someone credited with series composition do? Is that like a show-runner? Are they required to write a certain number of episodes? What's the difference between a writer like Mari Okada and someone like Gen Urobuchi?

Insofar as Mari Okada's particularities, I'd say that she's been a pretty reliable writer when it comes to ensemble lighthearted comedies. Characters YELLING TOO MUCH? Sure, but that's a trope that can be levied against anime as a whole, and I think it's kind of unfair to single her out for it specifically.

Now, to the credits of writing! Series composition is not like a "show runner," but it's the closest analogy there is when it comes to anime compared to Western television. She is the "Head Writer," in other words. There are other writers involved, but she's the boss. She doesn't write EVERY SINGLE EPISODE, because writing 12 individual 22-page scripts of anything within the insanely short time constraints of anime production would send any human being to an early grave. But, every anime screenwriter who nabs the enviable position of "Series Composition" usually ends up writing at least one episode of the particular series, all the while supervising and working closely with the other credited writers. She is the guiding voice that pulls along the other writers, effectively tailoring their individual voices to hers, so the whole of the series doesn't feel like a conglomeration of different voices, instead of one cohesive whole. But, the relationship between the person in charge of "Series Composition" and the other writers varies on the show. Anime is produced so quickly and cheaply that there's no specific circuitry or logic behind it.

Now, to find ANY reasonable parallels between Mari Okada and Gen Urobuchi is... impossible, I'm afraid. Gen Urobuchi is a special creature without comparison. He has built a reputation of mystery and anonymity; he moves swiftly through conventions unphotographed; he engages his fans with a sort of cult of personality heretofore unseen by the anime world. Mari Okada, meanwhile, is just your traditional writer. She works hard to write and cultivate good scripts, in her eyes, despite whatever criticism is lobbed her way. Their job titles might be similar, but consider what I was saying about the job of the person in charge of "Series Composition." Their job is to make sure that every script bears the specific voice required for the series. Gen Urobuchi's voice comes from himself and the weird characters and lore he creates, and overpowers every aspect of any production he works on. Mari Okada doesn't have whatever weird gene that Urobuchi has. Granted, she hasn't done anything as dark or epic in scope as any of the Fate/Stay Night projects, but her titles are filled with charm and warmth. Night and day.

Of course, like you said, Mari Okada will be at Anime Expo this coming year, so you KNOW she'll be given her own focus panel and everything. Any specific questions you want to ask about her? Well then, sign up for AX, sit in at the panel, wait patiently for the Q&A, and ask away! I've sat through a lot of boring-ass panels at conventions over the years, but something I've always noticed is that the writers who go to cons are usually a lot more gracious and forthcoming compared to the "bigger" guests (i.e. the voice actors, the directors). Usually because they aren't exactly household names in the fandom world, and the audiences that populate their panels are a lot smarter and more devoted than the Screaming Teenage Weirdo Idiot shouting internet memes at Steve Blum. They're usually more than willing to divulge a bit about their process, talk about what intellectually attracts them to the projects they work on, and divulge some interesting anecdotes and information. They're great guests, and I'm not just saying that 'cause I'm biased as a writer m'self.

Essentially, my working knowledge of the craft and process of Mari Okada ends here; you'll have to find out the rest yourself! GET YOUR TICKETS TO ANIME EXPO NOW! (SPONSORED BY THE SPJA. THE CHECK'S IN THE MAIL!)

Okay, time to shut my big damn yap for one lousy second and let YOU, the reader (and in this case, writer) take hold of this shaky, dangerous vessel! Last week, I threw down the gauntlet on the precarious case of Editor v. Manga Artist:

Let's get things rollin' with Liana, who defers to the age-old argument of Art v. Commerce:

Hey Brian,

Regarding editors' censorship powers, I think it's really a necessary evil (if you see it as evil anyway). When it comes down to it, it's about business. The key to selling anything (and the manga industry is definitely interested in selling stuff) is to know your audience and reach as many of that audience as you can. If your target audience mainly wants things that fit within a certain comfort zone, that's what they are going to get. Some manga, such as doujinshii, are created for those niche audiences that want something a little different. But in those cases, that was their target audience from the start. As you said last week, manga authors go into publishing knowing what to expect when it comes to censorship. They know which creative outlet will best suit their art. And who knows, maybe the authors everyone is trying so hard to defend never wanted to draw/write stories that push boundaries. Just because someone can do something doesn't mean they want to do it.

I think that editors have a right to their power over content. They're running a business and doing what they know (or hope) will work best. Granted, not everything works or is even good. I always think of 4Kids first when the topic of bad censorship comes up. However, my sister wouldn't let her kids watch One Piece after Funimation took over. She saw too much swearing and blood to feel it was appropriate, even though I loved it. Parents like her are who 4Kids was trying to reach. And why shouldn't they? Parents have as much a right to the entertainment that they want for their kids as people with differing interests. The problem with everyone claiming a right-to-whatever is that it is impossible to please everyone. So companies/editors/authors have to choose an audience to cater to and try to make them happy. Generally, there are valid reasons for many of the choices that editors make. No business model can be run on a policy of “whatever goes”. Perhaps some people feel that's how art should be expressed, with no boundaries whatsoever. Maybe that is how art should be. But manga isn't just art, it is also a business.

Not much is up, Alex. Just puttin' your response into this week's Answerfans, is all:

What's up, Answerman? Alex here. As I was reading your question on ANN, I couldn't help but to glance over at my manga collection. And, I must agree, that editors (namely the Western world) have way too much control over what goes out to us manga readers. Call me a romanticist, but, when a mangaka puts his/her work out to the world, they're setting their whole being out there, not just their financial security. I do concede with some that, yes, editors often save the creator's paychecks by making it more suitable for the masses. However, doesn't it also undermine the mangaka's creativity and imagination? If they have their heart set on their manga going a certain way, what are censors to stop them? Isn't that why we have so many online manga sites, because we can't get the full effect in the printed work?

Throwing an example out here, just in case you don't see my point. Masashi Kishimoto, in an interview, announced that he would be completely satisfied with an (ambiguous, of course) shounen-ai ending for Naruto. Now, I speak for all my fellow yaoi-lovers out there when I say, I would be ecstatic to see this come out in America, in print (there's just something about being an owner, ya know?) However, do you honestly think that the fine people who edit our manga will let that come out in America, when Naruto is one of the most popular and recognized manga here? I think not. We'll probably get an alternate ending that will leave us completely unsatisfied.

Even though it I've said all this, however, I will still continue to read manga from the pages. I dunno, maybe one day we'll start having liberal editors. Pfft.

Will was quite pleased in his email that I didn't mention piracy even once for this question, and I concur! Celebrations!

I'm going to start out with a deadpan snarkier approach here by just looking at the title of "Editor" here. What does an Editor do? They edit stuff! They don't make stuff. They take existing stuff and trim it down! Their job is the gardener who is trimming your out of control hedges into something that people walking down the street will stop and look at. When's the last time you accused a gardener of censorship? I'm sure the answer is "never" or "never, but now I might do so..." with some kind of smartalec grin.

Next question is why would someone hire and/or work with an editor? Because that editor (hopefully) knows when and where to package and trim the raw flow that comes from a creator. Editors are the go-between from the raw creative faucet to the publishers who have certain (sometimes strict) standards. It's not a matter of "censorship" so much as it is "packaging" for a product like manga or anime in a way that's appealing to those who matter. Again, doesn't matter how awesome you thought your creeping vine bush looked. No one walking by is going to stop and appreciate it unless you get it trimmed down to something awesome, and possibly shaped like Totoro or a giant Gundam. (your move, hedge-trimming anime enthusiasts)

I personally don't think editors have too much control. Control in this situation would imply that the creator cannot stop the editor from taking something out - that the editor's decisions are made without input from the creator. Last I checked, many editors and creators work together in cooperation. It's a two-way dialog to a compromise that (hopefully) both parties are happy with. Yes, there are some things that cannot be compromised on if the creator wishes to be published, but that's not the editor's fault. The editor is just doing their job as a go-between for the creator and publisher. Anything that the two cannot compromise on is likely the result of either a publisher's restriction, or a societal standard. Once those walls are run in to, it becomes a decision between cutting something out or not getting any of it published at all.

To quote a common excuse used by certain "outcast elements" within the world: Blame society! If a creator is being "oppressed" or "censored" in any way, it's not by the editor. The editor is just a messenger here. The censorship is the result of some policy or standard devised from the expectations of the society. These expectations have been the basis of standards and practices by networks and publishers, and those standards are what often require trimming a few branches off of the giant tree that is the raw product made by a creator. If one were to continue the earlier hedge-trimming metaphor, this would make society that cranky head of the HOA that won't let you keep a bush taller than your house, or park your awesome car out in your own driveway. (Oddly specific example, I know. Don't wanna talk about it... >.>)

Now, what to do about all this "censorship" by society at large? I think some American filmmakers have come up with that answer already: Unrated and uncut editions. You do have to cut quite a bit for an initial theatrical release in order to bring in the unknowing masses who are seeing something for the first time, as well as make sure you're not getting anything beyond an R Rating from the powers that be. However, everything changes as soon as it comes time for the home releases (DVD, BluRay, etc) because then you are selling to an audience that knows what it's getting itself in to. You're not trying to appease unknowing masses and a film board, but you're giving a group of fans what they want. This means you can start putting stuff back in, and you can disregard many of the restrictions you had when editing the initial release.

I'm not sure if anyone in Japan has taken this kind of approach. I do know there's been a Director's Cut of Evangelion, but that's about as close to an Unrated/Uncut edition of an anime or manga franchise I've seen personally. I'd welcome a correction to that. Heck, maybe it'd make a good Answerman question....hmm..

And lastly, Anthony makes a point about Western-only censorship:

I do think editors have too have too much power in regards to censorship. It can get ridiculous with what gets censored out and what doesn't and it if it is not consistent between various versions of the same product. A good example of this would be the Dragonball manga that Viz originally released in 2003 that is mostly uncensored, the the 2006 All Ages version that has some more censoring then the 2003 release and finally the VIZbig edition which was censored.

In my opinion what should be done is to have the release consistent with the Japanese release and not have any added censorship. Sure some censorship might put some parents at ease with what their children read, but for others who oppose censorship all it will do is result in lost money from sales and result in scanlator sites getting more traffic for people to read an uncensored version of the manga.

Thanks folks! Didn't think so many people would side in the defense of the editor. Maybe I'm having too much of an influence on all of you. A sort of influential influenza.

Anyway, I've got another question in store for you all next time, inspired by the first question about Sentai's Significant Screw-ups!

Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.

Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.

* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

Thanks for all the nice questions and answers as per usual! Remember, newbies and old-timers alike are more than welcome to submit any potential content (read: questions and answers) to my email home over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Das Vidana, sailors!

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