Hey, Answerman! - Standards and Practicing

by Brian Hanson,

Hello again, friends and well-wishers! This is Brian, this is Answerman, and I've got answers to your questions.

Or at least I'd better - I've got a copy of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate sitting in my bag, tempting me to dust off my dormant Wii U and kill giant dragons. If any of you fellow Nintendo fanboy types feel like huntin' some Monsters, hit me up - I am "LordByronius" on the Nintendo Network. Ah, remember "friend codes"? Remember two years ago, when Nintendo made us do that because they were scared we were going to send pictures of our dongs to children? Remember how the 3DS still does this? Man, good times! Good times.

Dear Answerman,

I have noticed a recent topic among fellow anime watchers that most viewers are very picky about which anime studio animates a manga or create an original anime. They often gripe about animation designs, how the animation and graphics are very unappealing, if they forgot to add a wristwatch on a character in one scene but added on in the next scene, and the list goes on and on. Maybe it is just me, but I watch anime mostly for the story, action, emotional drama, and characters. So my question is why do viewers pay more attention to the animation as opposed to the story, plot, action, lessons, etc.? And what is your opinion?

Funny you should mention that, because on the other side of the spectrum, there's a lot of people who make the same - correct - argument that too many fans turn a blind eye to poor design, choppy filmmaking, and lackluster artwork "just because they like the story."

Of course, the reality is: neither you, nor they, are wrong.

Here's the unfortunate thing, and this isn't endemic to anime, and it applies to all manner of entertainment; it's almost impossible to find the complete package. You know, the show or the movie that has everything. The perfect script, terrific performances, an appealing sense of design, fluid and natural direction. The elusive white whale; the unicorn. Whatever you wanna call it.

Those are rare, because by the very nature of these gargantuan entertainment productions, there's a lot of money, a lot of staff, and a lot of ways things can go wrong. And go wrong they do; sometimes, as is often the case in rushed adaptations of popular manga or light novels, the animation suffers. As I've said many times before on this topic, deadlines are tight, and no amount of money or manpower in the world can turn out an episode every four to six months for a 12-episode show and offer precise, theatrical-quality animation. And as far as script and story goes, same deal; even with pre-existing source material, it takes a calm and judicious hand to oversee 12 different 25-page scripts that are being prepared by (typically) five or fewer people within that same four to six month timeframe. Stuff gets lost, plotholes occur, certain gags fall flat, drama gets muddied.

Ideally, in a perfect world, people won't fall on either side of the coin. I'm not the biggest fan of Gurren Lagann's story, but I'd have to be a blithering idiot not to see the adrenaline-fueled joy that populates every frame of animation in that thing. Emma - A Victorian Romance looks like crap, to me; I dislike the designs, I think the animation is eerily stiff, but the characters are rich and the script is very nuanced and smart. I mean, those are just two off-the-top-of-my-head examples, but we shouldn't be judging things on some sort of binary scale.

But I think there is some merit in the concept of "faulting" a production if certain elements aren't up to the same standards as other parts. It's jarring. Hence my problem with Emma. Why does such a humane and warm show have to look so... ugly? It doesn't. Maison Ikkoku didn't. Chalk it up to personal preference as far as the designs, but you don't need to be an animation scholar to notice how drab and inconsistent the animation is. They were working on a low budget, and it shows. Just because it's a low-budget production doesn't mean it needs to look like one. There's a litany of other projects that prove it. A lot of people hated Redline because they thought the "story" was an exaggerated, meandering box of nothing. And I can't exactly say that they're wrong. Even though I loved the movie.

So, personally speaking, it all falls upon your personal preference I guess, but I do think that fans, once they enmesh themselves fully within the strict confines of "fandom." They might become cynical about certain things - things like plotholes, or poor direction and animation leading to mistakes and continuity errors - but so few of them are actually critical. Again, this isn't a binary system. An animated production is the sum of a whole lot of different moving parts. From the script to the soundtrack to the voice acting to the finished animation, there's an awful lot going on. It's worth pointing out when one of those things isn't up to the same par as the rest of it, although that in NO WAY negates the rest of the project. One spoiled apple doesn't necessarily ruin the bunch. Although, if they're pretty crummy apples to begin with, one or two rotten ones definitely says something.

There is a phrase that is getting more and more usage around this ol' anime community of ours. Quality standards. The majority of its usage seems to be in the following type of discussions.

Person A: I really like Anime x

Person B: I didn't like Anime X because I have higher quality standards than most fans. The only anime I really like are y and Z. I don't know how any one could think x is even close to the level of the those ones.

What exactly does that term mean? Because to me it just sounds like an attempt to come across as intellectually superior. Is it wrong or at the very least indicative of an individuals intelligence if they happen to like certain titles more than certain others? What determines how high or low someone's quality standards are? On a similar issue (if slightly out of left field) can any flaws cancel certain redeeming qualities out of a particular work? I apologize if this question seems a bit been there done that but I think there is something unique about this particular phenomenon that warrants discussion and I look forward to any response you may have.

Ah, this goes right into what I was talking about before! Thinking critically as opposed to thinking cynically.

A cynical person says things like "I have higher quality standards." They'll refuse to watch or read something if it has the faint odor of whatever it is that offends their intellectual and cultural sensibilities. It gets dismissed sight unseen, tossed into the dustbin of history. Good riddance.

A critical person says things like "I didn't like Anime X because it didn't live up to the high standards of Anime Y, I thought." Because they'll use that magic elixir that is a potent combination of logic and their emotion to form an opinion.

The two things get mixed up often by people. I mean, I understand - "cynicism" and "criticism" both end in -ism, and people are stupid. I get it. But - CAPS LOCK GOES ON NOW - PEOPLE NEED TO STOP CONFUSING THE TWO THINGS. THEY ARE DISSIMILAR. In other words, if I don't like your show or your manga or your light novel or dating sim series, don't automatically assume that I'm being some smug, cynical jackass who's only out to prove how superior my tastes are compared to yours. That's awfully rude and defensive, and not at all indicative of who I am - and in fact, most people are the same way. Ditto the other way around; I see your "criticism" of anime, 4chan and Tumblr alike, and I see nothing but visible, risible cynicism. Everything sucks, nothing is good, why do people watch this crap, etc. It's all sound and fury, signifying idiocy.

Now, I'm all for having standards. Having standards is important. My time is valuable, and there needs to be a system in place to ensure that I don't waste it needlessly. If something offends my visual sensibilities, like Emma did, I'll probably ignore it - until, after lots of strongly-worded reviews start pouring in about how great Emma is, that it's a resonant character piece, and so on. Eventually curiosity wins out over my prideful "standards," and I watch Emma and enjoy it.

And that's the point of all this, I think. It's one thing to have "high standards." I think everybody should have them. Don't willingly waste your life watching garbage just because it's there. Nobody's pointing a gun to your head. Nobody's paying you to do this. (Unless you write the Preview Guide for ANN, in which case, somebody's paying you to do this, and there's a strong possibility there's a gun.) Even then, though, people should be curious. I'm not going to watch EVERYTHING every season, because I literally don't have the time. I try to keep myself busy as much as possible, always writing, always working on something. When I need a distraction, I need to make sure it's good enough to keep my spirit and mind in a good place. I don't know where those good things are, most of the time, so I'll go where my curiosity tells me to go. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's occasionally led me to some of my favorite things.

Christ, I got into anime because I was curious. I knew I liked cartoons, and I heard about a club that showed cartoons FROM JAPAN, that I'd never seen before. I showed up, and lo and behold, their feature that night was Memories. That curiosity sure paid off.

People confuse "having standards" with cynicism. My personal "standards" aren't some immobile wall that shuts me off from all the great stuff I could be enjoying. My "standards" are an always evolving, always moving membrane that does its best to keep me away from the crap I know I'll hate, while letting in the good, soul-strengthening art and entertainment it thinks I'll like. It's the best system for me, at least. I know other people might have more time to spend watching EVERYTHING, but that's not always the best way. A lot of the time, when I see people who watch EVERYTHING, I get the sense that they're not actually digesting what they're watching or reading. They're just ticking a box off of a list, updating their Tumblr or Facebook profile to let people know that they consumed something. But they didn't digest it. There's nothing else going on with it; it existed, they saw it, and what's done is done.

There's no nourishment. It's the entertainment dieting equivalent of bulimia. If people want to say that I'm "elitist" or other words they don't understand because of it, that's fine - because I know that I'm not, and I shouldn't have to prove to anyone otherwise. Neither should you.

We all like what we like and it's cool. There's nothing wrong with having "standards" in the sense it should be used. The people who are jerks about it aren't really worth discussing, basically. Let 'em rot.

Hey, Answerman!

You know what I always love to see? Some nice co productions between two anime studios. It shows that as much as they fight for funding, staff and time slots, really there all in this medium together. So Answerman I ask you this: Under what circumstances does the fussing and feuding between studios stop and they actually have the idea to co produce something together? How is the work (and rights) divided between the entities. Are different anime studios as hateful of each other as i think?

I think you've got a pretty grave misunderstanding about the way anime studios work, my man. "Fussing and feuding"? Nope. Couldn't be further from the truth.

Most importantly, these studios are all doing work for hire. The studios aren't the ones "fighting" for funding or time slots. That's all decided by the Production Committee, by the network, by the publishing giant bankrolling the whole thing.

I mean, sure, it's a business, and such is the case in any business there are sure to be situations where studios wish they were lucky enough to get hired for a certain project as opposed to the studio that got the job. I'm sure there's been situations where that's happened. But to suggest there's any sort of acrimony is ludicrous.

For one very simple reason: the people that work at these studios share staff. Animators are hired on a per-project basis. Ditto with directors. Writers are the same way. The only ones who typically stick around with a studio are the producers. And if you're a producer at an anime studio, and you liked the way that your "opposing" studio handled a certain series, and you've got a new series starting up in the next few months - wouldn't you like to poach some of their people?

A lot of them are friends. Most of the senior-level producers in the anime business have been at this game for a very, very long time, stretching back to the dawn of the medium. They've floated around studio to studio, forming new ones, or folding into others. Trust me, if there was one thing that could tank the "anime industry" any more than declining viewership already has, it would be something like petty in-fighting.

And before I get into co-productions, a lot of the smaller studios are often subcontracted by the larger studios. Kyoto Animation was subcontracted by Sunrise to do some grunt work on Inuyasha, and earlier still, KyoAni was poached by AIC to handle some of the animation on Tenchi Universe. This is a collaborative business. Aside from the fact that staff crossover on animation studios in Japan is huge, it simply wouldn't make honest sense, from a business perspective, to hold any grudges. I mean, at a studio level. I'm sure there's plenty of ego-driven directors and producers and writers who can hold a grudge like no other. I'm sure Yoshiyuki Tomino has an "Enemies List" to rival Nixon's. One day I hope to be on that list. But other than that, no studio in their right mind would hold a grudge or start a fight.

Now, on to co-productions! That's something that, to my understanding, is settled at the "Production Committee" stage. Two producers who maybe strike up conversation one day - because a lot of them are friends or friendly acquaintances - perhaps over dinner, and they come up with a great idea for a series. Or they're browsing the bookstore one day and they find the perfect manga or novel that the two of them could work together. Much like in Hollywood or anything else, a lot of these producers are often waiting for the right opportunity to produce something with their brothers-and-sisters-in-arms. It's all just about finding that right project that seems like a natural fit for the two studios. I'm sure that when Cartoon Network and Production I.G teamed up for their ill-fated IGPX series, that was predated by an awful long time of two producing teams admiring each other from afar, just waiting until the stars aligned in just the right way to give them an opportunity to work together. Not to mention places like Studio 4C, which specializes in co-productions. Spriggan was their movie, but did you know that they subcontracted a lot of the animation to Gainax and, wait for it... Studio Ghibli?

Strange bedfellows, the anime industry. Studio 4C, the cutting edge of avant-garde animation. Gainax, the otaku messiahs. And Studio Ghibli, the Oscar-winning global leader. But that's just outsourcing. Spriggan was Studio 4C's baby - the actual script, direction, and planning of the thing didn't have any input from Studio Ghibli or Gainax. That would be too many cooks spoiling the broth. (And in the case of Spriggan, the broth wasn't very good to begin with.)

In other words, nope. Studios themselves would be stupid to pick unnecessary fights and get overly competitive to the point of mud-slinging. I'm sure certain individuals within those studios have had their fair share of unkind words to their fellow men and women, but they speak for themselves.

Well, shoot! Hope you're all tired of hearing me rant and rave by now, because I sure am - time to turn things over to you fine folks!

Last week, I had a question about bootlegs, which is something I had an inkling that most of you had some run-ins with - turns out I was right! Here's the jpeg in question:

John from San Diego sets the record STRAIGHT about "animovies."

Dear Answerman,

About eight years ago, I was young and foolish and only just getting into anime. I really had no idea how careful you had to be to avoid bootlegs, and wound up buying anime discs at what I thought were great prices from a now-defunct website called animovies. Several items I bought (Gundam Seed and Elfen Lied) were (I thought) of reasonable quality, their downfalls simply slightly-less-than-stellar video quality and, in Elfen Lied, the credits were cut off the edge of the screen. Until I finally educated myself about anime bootlegs, I didn't even realize these were bootlegs.

One anime I bought was the twelve-episode Tales of Eternia, which is a side story about the characters in the game of the same name (released in America as Tales of Destiny II). Tales of Symphonia had come out the previous year, sparking my interest in Namco's "Tales of" series, so I bought this thinking it would be a nice addition to my Tales collection.

I finally started having suspicions about animovies when I watched this thing. Aside from the picture quality, which was utter crap, the subtitles were just awful. They were obviously written either by a person with only the most tenuous grasp of the English language, or by Babelfish. Not only was the grammer completely atrocious, but they didn't even do the two minutes of internet research it would have taken to get various names right. The two worlds of Inferia and Celestia were bizarrely translated as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and water craymel Undine became Wendy. I haven't watched this thing since that first time, so I don't remember any of the other violations, but I think you get the idea.

I never bought anything from that website again, and finally seriously educated myself about bootleg discs after buying Toradora from Malaysia and being appalled by the low video quality. I have since replaced all the bootlegs I have bought with legitimate discs from Amazon and Rightstuf, except for Tales of Eternia, which I later learned has never been released in America. I still keep that disc around as a reminder of a lesson learned.

Oof! I feel the awkwardness emanating from Heather's response:

Years ago, a friend of mine gave me an Arina Tanemura art book for Christmas. The art book is hard cover and has a ton of pictures of Tanemura's elaborately frilly shoujo art and characters in it. Needless to say, I was rather pleased with this gift. Fast-forward to last year, I attended a local con where Tanemura-sensei was a guest. I was so excited, I immediately pulled out my art book when I heard the news. So I went to the con with the art book, attended her panel, and then went to the signing for the Japanese con guests. It really wasn't until I started to show my prized book to some people in line for the signing that I started to question the validity of the book. When I saw others with artbooks, they were not hardcover. They were the typical softcover artbooks that I'm much more used to seeing. They also weren't as extensive as this book, focusing more on one series or another whereas my book has pictures from several of Tanemura's series. Also, it was the way a fellow fan in line said, "Wow, I've never seen an artbook like this before" in that way where you can tell they're trying to be polite, but silently judging you. I was too excited and nervous about the signing to think too much of it at the time so I took the book up to Tanemura-sensei and had her sign it. There was a definite flash of confusion on her face upon seeing the book, but she signed it anyway and I went on my merry way.

When I got home, I thought about all this more and more, and upon further inspection, I realized one of the kanji in Tanemura's name on the cover is not quite right. Some of these clues such as the odd look from Tanemura-sensei and the fan's reaction to the book might be my own conjecture and me drawing my own conclusions, but I'm pretty real certain that I had Arina Tanemura, a professional mangaka whose art (not so much stories since they're a bit fluffy for me) I really admire, sign a bootleg artbook of her work. While I did not purchase the book and really took it to her with the best intentions, oblivious to the possibility of it not being legitimate, I still feel a bit bad about having done this, but I have to laugh at it, too.

From Philip, who reminds us that FELT is usually a dead bootleg giveaway:

My first and only bootleg was Chobits. I was a fledgeling anime fan. I just owned one anime, and I wanted more, but I wanted a complete show, for cheap, with no fuss, and it was either the very nice looking Chobits collection with Chii and Freya holding hands, or an ugly damaged pink box of Record of Lodoss War. I wasn't quite down with the color pink yet, that would come later in the hobby, so I went for the white digipack of Chobits. I kick myself these days for not getting Record of Lodoss War since it was an official release, but, aw well.

I liked Chobits, but there were two key instances that grated on my nerves. At one point the Land lady was raking leaves and every time she raked it was silent, every time she lifted it up you'd hear raking, thus I realized the entire episode was off sync by a second or less!? The other major thorn in my side were the last few episodes which had some subtitles that didn't match up with the video, and so during the critical moments of the finale I was left feeling dreadfully confused because characters were talking and I didn't have all the subtitles, nor were they in the right place.

After I gained more financial stability and awareness I replaced the 3 disc set with Pioneer's 7 disc set as a college graduation present to myself...Oh, and the old bootleg went back to the used bookstore for some other schmuck to buy. I wanted my money back. I probably should have thrown it away, but I can't go back and change it now.

I experienced one awful bootleg of Samurai 7 at an anime get together... I called out the wooden case with felt inner liner as a bootleg, and the owner didn't believe me, he'd bought it at F.Y.E. (You'd think they'd police this stuff?). I felt like a mean spirited individual for insinuating his anime wasn't legit, but then halfway through the DVD an episode just stopped mid-scene and became unplayable. That was even less fun, I still haven't seen all of Samurai 7 to this day.


I just recently moved to Japan, and my skill with the language isn't going to help me avoid bootlegs. A few months ago, I went to Mandarake, a famous manga/anime/hobby store in Japan (well, there are quite a few of them), and found a Momoko Asuka (Ojamajo Doremi) gashapon figure. It was around 2 dollars. I decided to "splurge" and got it. It was cute. I got home, checked the internet, and lo and behold, it was a bootleg. Huh, no wonder it has trouble standing (it falls over on its face every day or so). Anyway, it was cheap, it's ADORABLE, and I have a figure from one of my favorite anime. So really, I don't care if it's bootleg. It's not like the bootleggers got my money... Mandarake did instead.

I dunno Doug, I would totally watch ORGUSS - STARRING 'JACKIE':

Hey, Brian!

I've actually been quite lucky in my almost 30 years of collecting anime merchandise and have never been unfortunate enough to wind up with a bootleg.

I have, however, had friends that did wind up with bootlegs. One that I remember the most was a friend winding up with a bootleg copy of the book, Macross Perfect Memory. The moment that I saw his copy, I knew that it was a bootleg without even opening it up.The telltale sign was in the ink used to color in the word, Macross. In legitimate printings, the ink is a metallic silver, whereas in bootlegs, the ink is usually a fairly dull gray.

As for inept bootleg subtitles, I remember borrowing Super Dimension Century Orguss on DVD from a friend. In the first disk, the translation seemed fine. Once I got to the second disk, everything changed and the subtitles read like they were translated by a person who was just starting to study English. The most memorable part of the translation, however, was how much the names of the characters changed. For example, the main character, Kei Katsuragi, wound up suddenly becoming Jackie in the middle of an episode and stayed that for the remainder of the series.

Lastly, here's Emma with a story about the omnipresent malfeasance of the malicious entity known as EverAnime:

Hi Answerman! First time writer, long time reader!

I got into anime around the late 90's and early '00s in the days of dial-up where it took an hour to download that ending theme from Sorcerer Hunters. ("And the kid who just stand tonight"? Sorry, wha???), and while they played good on my Window's '95 desktop, this was in the pre-iPod days, so it wasn't like you could take them with you.

So when I discovered an anime kiosk in the mall run by a skeezy middle-aged man, was selling Anime Soundtracks, I was stoked! Because at this point, I had been reduced to holding an old tape recorder up to the TV in hopes of being able to listen to all my anime OP and ED songs on the school bus ride home. I was amazed at all these CD's! The Trigun Soundtracks, all the Fushigi Yugi image songs! There was even a CD that had every single OP and ED from ALL the Slayers TV series! I was blown away by all these anime soundtracks that were imported FRESH from Japan! And they were ONLY $20!

My Mom put up with the "Screech as loud as possible and throw some English words out there" music, but she became fond of my Cowboy Bebop music. To the point where she asked me if it would be possible to use a few songs for the short documentary she was putting together about fresco painting.

We sat down and chose a few of the more mellow pieces (Including the iconic "Green Bird"), and my Mom asked I could track down the contact information for who owned the rights to the music, so she could get in touch with them. I looked at the CD's and told my Mom that she needed to get in touch with (I'm sure you can see where this is going) 'Everanime' and 'SonMay'.

Years later I learned the horrible truth that I'd dropped hundreds of dollars into bootlegged CD's and I never bootlegged any shows or music ever again. The end! Well.. ok, but I WAS a lot more conscious about paying attention to where my anime music came from and can happily say that while Yoko Kanno might have not seen a dime from those Escaflowne and Cowboy Bebop OST's I'd bought, I did purchase both Wolf's Rain Soundtracks from Amazon.jp with no 'EverAnime' printed on the CD.

Yipes! I kinda want to track down this fresco painting documentary with bootleg anime music. That's gotta be a weird watch.

I have my own weird bootleg story, but unfortunately the specifics of it are lost to the stream of time - on my 19th birthday, my sister bought me My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies on DVD. I should mention, they were both on the SAME DVD. The box came from some bizarre location in Asia, and the disc itself was atrocious.

The amusing part came from the weird scenario of watching Grave of the Fireflies translated with the same literacy standards as a barking seal. I remember howling with laughter at the end of the movie, during that intensely moving final scene where the boy is watching her sister starve to death. While the younger sister is barely breathing, clutching to her tin candy box, the subtitles read - and I quote - "FEEL BAD!!!"

Wish I'd held onto it. Woulda made a killing on the Tumblr screencapping scene. Oh well.

Hey, here's next week's question!

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

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

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

Things To Do:

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

Things Not To Do:

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

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

That's all for this week, people! Remember to send me all your questions and answers to answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Have a week of excitement and joy, everyone!

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