Hey, Answerman! - Gone-zo

by Brian Hanson,

Hey, everybody! Welcome to another weekly piece of informative pseudo-journalism known as Hey, Answerman! I am that Answerman, my name is Brian, and we've got some really great questions this week, so let's get to them!

That is, ONCE I'M DONE TALKING ABOUT HOW BAD MAN OF STEEL WAS. Seriously. What the hell. Superman Returns was a better movie. What a joyless dirge. What a violent, destructive, needlessly dark and utterly convoluted movie based around the world's simplest superhero. He's Superman. He saves people. Richard Donner made a great Superman movie in the 70's. FIGURE IT OUT. David S. Goyer needs to be shellacked and held in stasis, chained to some machine that imprisons him every time he writes a script with needlessly shoehorned-in setpieces in place of character building. Ughh.

And now, things that you're actually interested in reading!

Hi Answerman,

I recently finished the manga Alive: The Final Evolution. I really enjoyed the series, and would love to see a full anime adaption. I've read that the anime adaption was going to be made by Gonzo, but was cancelled in 2010. I haven't been an anime fan for all that long, and this was before I really kept up with the latest news. From reading, I got that it had something to do with Gonzo being delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange and it's clear that the studio was having trouble even before that.

So, onto my questions: What really happened with Gonzo during this time? Why was the studio being delisted from the Stock Exchange such a big thing? Was there other factors involved in the Alive anime getting dropped? What other potential projects were cancelled because of all this? Finally, is there any hope that Alive or any other projects that got cancelled could eventually see the light of day?

Trust me, there's no secret insider dirt about Gonzo that's not out there in the open for people to read. Honestly and truly, getting delisted from the stock exchange was *the* reason that Alive: The Final Evolution, as well as other unreleased projects, were canceled from Gonzo's lineup.

Getting delisted from the stock exchange is a huge setback for any publicly traded company, which Gonzo was. It's a real kick in the pants for the shareholders, who fund the company in the hopes that its assets will recoup their investment, and it also locks out future investors from adding any much-needed capital. And when you're trying to put together a budget for a bunch of new animated series, that's obviously a huge problem. With no immediate guarantee of future investments, Gonzo had to rely on the shows they already had in production - luckily for them, they had both Strike Witches and Rosario + Vampire ready to roll - and they restructured the company in order to trim costs and shed some of their corporate flab. (They had an online gaming company that was hemorrhaging money, for instance.) There's a happy ending, though; just earlier this year, the company boasted about its return to profitability! Which is good news for Gonzo, but bad news for me. I get no fewer than sixteen emails every day asking about another Rosario + Vampire series. GUH.

But what about Alive? Alive is certainly a misnomer; Gonzo's plans to adapt that series died when they pulled the plug. I've mentioned in columns past that the creative staff that writes, directs, and animates these series are fluid, moving from studio to studio - all the planning that was made to create Alive as a series was done by people who are probably no longer at the studio. And if they are, they're most likely up to their necks on any number of other things Gonzo's got in development. Essentially, if Gonzo wanted to move forward with another series based on Alive, they'd have to start from scratch.

The other problem is, Alive (the manga) was finished almost three years ago, and that's ancient history as far as the manga industry is concerned. If Gonzo wanted to make another anime series based on a supernatural shonen romantic high school action series, there's no shortage of current or at least contemporaneous manga to draw from. Something that's still running and still selling volumes and magazines, with an active fanbase.

Still, never say never, I guess. In all my years writing about anime, I've been proven wrong enough times to note that even with prior knowledge backing my cynicism, there's always a silver lining of hope that Alive could come back alive and well.

Hey Answerman,

I was reading Mike Toole's column about ADV's backlog of VHS tapes and one thing caught my eye: Discotek releasing old shows with pre-existing dubs.

I assume licensing the show itself is the same for companies like Discotek, but what goes into licensing that dub? After the license lapses from ADV or CPM or whoever, who owns the dub? And what rings does Discotek have to go through to secure that for a DVD release?

Great question! And one I never really thought about all that much. I figured, "well, so long as they're able to track down the right elements, it couldn't be that hard..." Turns out, there's a lot more to it. So I defer to The Master of home video Mastering himself, Justin Sevakis!

Justin: It's all over the place, really, depending on both the quality standards and legal standards of the company doing the releasing, the legalities of the old contracts under which the dubs were made, and luck.

For the legal part, it was fairly common prior to 2000 or so for the US companies producing the dub to own the copyright to it. This makes for a pretty awkward legal situation, since they obviously do NOT own the show itself, so suddenly there's a dub for which the only legal use is to license it separately from something that's required to use it. In some cases that US company has since gone out of business.

A copyright is only as good as its enforceability. So a company like Discotek would have to ask itself, "is anyone REALLY going to have a problem if I use this?" At best, the copyright to those dubs is sitting at a bankruptcy trustee's office. That trustee has little to no incentive to even follow the anime business, let alone actively police those fairly useless copyrights. However, if the company is still around, maybe they would? It's hard to say. Sometimes the Japanese licensor will own the dub, or say outright that the new publisher can use it. That can be a nice legal CYA (That's "cover your ass" in nice, legal-friendly acronyms! - Brian)

At any rate, getting the materials for those old dubs can be really really hard. If you're lucky you can still track down master tapes, but that's not easy in most cases. Often, old dubs are gotten the old fashioned way: by capturing or ripping them off old consumer media.

Yes, that happens and I've done it. Laserdisc is the best option, since its audio tracks are digital and uncompressed. DVD is good but not ideal, since it already has (sometimes badly done) audio compression applied to it -- it'd be like making a new CD from an old MP3. Finally, if there is absolutely no other choice, there's VHS. VHS actually has two audio tracks, the HiFi Stereo track (which is actually really good quality but very fragile -- it can drop out or buzz and crackle if the tape is old and worn), and the mono track. The HiFi Stereo track can definitely be used if it's in good condition, and in fact several discs have used this track without drawing complaints. The mono track sounds like crap, but if there's no alternative, it's still probably better than nothing.

If you're matching an old dub to a new film transfer of a movie, chances are the old dub has to be recut slightly to fit the new video. Movies on 35mm were made by the 20-minute reel, and how those reels are spliced together will often vary enough to throw off the sync. In the case of UK-produced dubs, sometimes those were dubbed at a frame rate of 25 fps, so the audio will need to be slowed down and pitched back up so it doesn't sound funny. Indeed, the process of preserving old dubs can be time consuming. Personally, I think it's worth it, even for bad ones.

So yes, Kudos to Discotek, and whoever sat around painstakingly ripping the audio from an old DVD of Space Adventure Cobra!

Hey Answerman,

About six months ago I asked you what Neon Alley should do in order to become more successful. While that topic is probably still up for debate, I personally feel that they have improved in regards to acquiring and airing English dubbed anime. They have currently acquired and are airing many shows that I thought would never get an English dub (i.e. Fate/Zero, Accel World, and now K). This leads me to my question: could digital streaming be the potential future of English dubbed anime? With digital streaming becoming ever more popular, there could be a lot of potential with choosing to premiere English dubs this way as opposed to airing it on television or giving it a straight-to-DVD release. Also, although this has likely not changed, I would like to know what your opinion on Neon Alley is now that half a year has gone by.

My opinion on Neon Alley is the same as it ever was: it is a useless service to me. It offers none of the inherent benefits of either an online streaming service or a cable broadcast channel.

That said, I do give them a lot of credit for - wisely - partnering up with Aniplex USA, which gives them a huge lead on a bunch of interesting titles, for which there's no other cost-effective way to watch them with a dub. For people who're already subscribers, this is a real boon, and it finally gives the service a distinct advantage over Crunchyroll, and other services like Hulu Plus, which don't have access to dubbed versions of those shows. At the very least, having Fate/Zero on their lineup is a great way for them to distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Of course, all of those benefits would be rendered moot the very instant that Aniplex USA decides on doing something crazy like, I dunno, releasing those titles with a dub on R1 DVD at an acceptable price. Whether or not that'll happen is anyone's guess, so for the time being, it's nice to know that Neon Alley does have something specific to itself that gives it a real sense of value. It's still not enough to get me to subscribe out of my own pocket, but it's a good sign that the company is forging powerful allies with Aniplex USA, who've quickly and shrewdly muscled their way into the Western anime industry purely on the backs of their excellent titles.

Now for the part of the column where my opinion matters naught! That's right: Answerfans!

Last week I fielded a lot of questions about Visual and Light Novels, and your answers did not disappoint!

We'll start with Curtis, who is optimistic for Sword Art Online:

Hey Answerman,

I am very interested in reading Light Novels, as some anime series that I have seen that were based on LNs were quite good. Visual Novels a little less as I have not watched too many anime based on them.

For how they have been handled in the west so far, I'd say pretty badly. It is not rocket science to see that some of the most popular anime released over here in the last 5 or so years have been based on LNs. Since these anime adaptations only cover some of the source material, people (or myself anyway) who liked the series might like to read the source material and go farther into the series, as not everything gets a full anime adaptation. Somehow though the Japanese publishers haven't caught on to this, or just don't care for competing in the Western novel market. I feel the latter is truer, for what reason can only be guessed. Now, I have heard some rumors (however reliable they may be) that the Sword Art Online LNs are being looked into for a Western release. However, this is more from the desire of the author to tap the Western fan base of his series. If this did happen, considering the popularity of SAO here, the LNs could if released do well, perhaps opening the gates for more future LNs releases banking on Western popularity of anime. Until something like this actually happens, I won't be holding my breath and will just have to satisfy my LN curiosity on Baka-Tsuki, or just stick to anime and manga.

Next up is frequent contributor Ahren, who reiterates his devotion:

Am I interested in reading Light Novels? Yes very much so! I own the first 2 volumes of Spice and Wolf and The Melancoly of Haruhi Suzumiya, as well as the Boogiepop Phantom Series. I would have liked to read the Oreimo light novel series, but it seems unlikely that it would be released here. I was interested in reading The Familiar of Zero, but it was cancelled. I would be reading more of the light novels I own, but I'm currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and I've only reached halfway through the 1000 page novel (I only read 1 book at a time).

Visual Novels? Well I own about 40+. The first visual novels I owned were from Hirameki International. My 2 favorite games from them were Hourglass of Summer and Ever 17. Unfortunately the company's visual novel sales didn't last. I think visual and light novels have been handled fairly well. Only a few light novels have made it from Japan to America. I suppose there is only a small market for them so the companies aren't trying to release too many although I wonder if they could make more profit if they could be purchased for portable reading devices (That would be the only reason I would buy a portable reading device . Some companies are doing a decent job with visual novels including JAST USA and Manga Gamer and they seem to be doing well so far (although the majority of their titles are adult rated). If more light and visual novel are continuing to be released here then I will surely buy them.

Next is Josh, who chants "Go! Yen Press!" like it was the episode title of a shonen anime:

I think I am somewhat interested, especially since I've become quite invested with the Spice & Wolf (Go, Yen Press! Bring the rest of them over!). I haven't done much with Visual Novels, but I think I could like some of them. I believe there's potential for interesting stories from both of these mediums.

However, I think the big problem is that, in the West, they are definitely niche entertainment with a small (if diehard) fanbase, which means that it will be difficult to convince people to invest in and distribute them. Part of the problem is that both Light and Visual Novels have become rather otaku-centric, and there may not be enough fans to sustain the publication for a release. Light Novels in particular would be tough to sell to a wider audience because they are mostly focused on the teenage demographic, which means they would be competing in a pretty crowded market as authors aspire to write the new Harry Potter or Twilight. Visual Novels are also hard to broaden out because they are video games with limited gameplay (in the traditional sense). Just because the fanbase understands them as a kind of electronic "Choose Your Own Adventure" story doesn't mean everyone will want to spend their video game money on something that's many more times book than gameplay. (And the fact that quite a number of them are eroges doesn't help things either.) Essentially, they both have become rather highly-focused forms of entertainment, which can be demanding to unpack and understand for anyone who is not already familiar with their formats.

Still, I think there is hope with the ever-expanding nature of digital distribution. With the proliferation of game services like Steam and Desura, and the inevitable domination of ebooks (much to my personal dismay), there is plenty of room for smaller, more focused releases. Perhaps with some clever marketing and the fans putting their money where their mouths are, these mediums can be (moderately) successful outside of Japan.

Brandchan thinks that Steam is the future:

I love reading. So, the concepts of light novels and visual novels are great ideas to me. I've read a handful of light novels from Kino's Journey to Spice and Wolf. I enjoy them. They are something nice and quick paced to read. Plus it gives a chance to see more adventures of my favorite characters.

For a while I had some high hopes for visual novels in the U.S. when TokyoPop launched their PopFiction line of novels. But that quickly ran out of steam. I'm glad companies like Yen Press are still releasing any light novels at this point. I know they are costly to translate and bookstores don't really know what to do with them. Perhaps in the future when digital formats for books have gained a bigger foothold we will see more since the distribution issue would be much easier to solve.

As for visual novels I haven't read many but I plowed through the first four Umineko: When They Cry stories at one point. It is an experience that still sticks with me. I really can't quite put into words how much the music and sounds effected me. But I can tell you it felt much more intense than just really a normal book. One of things that disappointed me about the anime is I felt it did not use the music and sound effects to great use.

If more visual novels were available and easy to purchase, I would be buying them way more often. As it is now I have bought and read Analogue: A Hate Story, through Steam (Which I also highly recommend). If more where available in such a manner I'd love to buy them.

I think the issue right now is access. The only big seller of visual novels in the U.S. in Manga Gamer and most of their content is adult oriented. I have purchased Higurashi: When They Cry from them at conventions. But a lot of people have no idea who they are, and not everyone ever goes to conventions. I've followed Visual Novels on Steam Green Light and they do seem like a hard sell for some users (as they are not ‘games’) but it would be a huge breakthrough. I think the increase in sales that Steam would allow for could justify bringing over more of the non-adult visual novels.

Daryllee responds with a Light Novel in his own right:

Hey Brian!

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to share backstory in these answers, but backstory is the best part of Visual Novel games so I feel that it applies here.

(Cue dramatic fading)

When I was a wee lass, my mom was of the belief that anime would brainwash you. That's right, no Pokemon, no Dragon Ball, nothing. That applied to video games too.

So, you may ask, what did I do with my deprived childhood? Well, I read books.

Needless to say, a little bit of Harvest Moon later and I was able to change my mom's mind, opening up the door to anime, manga and video games.

But I was always attracted to the Visual Novel games the most. They had all the aspects of books I'd grown to love -- character development, a strong plot, and twists and turns that kept you guessing. But the element of Visual Novel games that really draws me to them over books is that the ability to interact with the story in a visual novel game makes you so much more attached to the characters. It brings them to life. Kyle Hyde isn't just a hard-ass, stereotypical detective character, he's a lonely ex-cop who sulks over his scotch alone in a bar.

So, if there is a market for books in the West (which of course there is), there should be a market for Visual Novel games. They give you a book with the ability to interact with the characters, something so many avid readers dream of, and a television show without the detachment that the TV brings.

Oh yeah, and as the Zero Escape games have shown, they're pretty damn fun too.

My worry is that games like Steins;Gate and other extremely text-heavy games won't make it to the West, however, since Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies isn't even currently planned for a physical release. The ball is in our court, though, as Chris Svensson of Capcom told fans to push for a physical release via forums and Twitter. Maybe, if we can be successful on this front, it will be the start of a long, beautiful friendship between the West and Visual Novels.

So far, the Visual Novel market has done well to accommodate the small, devoted fan base, but the obvious dissent over the lack of a physical release for Dual Destinies shows that that fan base is growing. It's only logical that the market grows as well.

Jessica has hope for the digital future:

Hi Brian,

I have read the Haruhi light novels released by Yen Press. Yen Press did a great job with them and I was impressed. They were nice looking and happily shelved in the YA section of Powell's. But would I go out and buy every light novel I could find? No. One of the issues with light novels is that while each individual books isn't that expensive, light novels series are quite long. The Haruhi books are similarly priced at other YA paperbacks, but most YA series typically go for on for only three or four books. Not ten to twenty like light novels. I would also add that the audience for light novels isn't necessarily going to be the same as with comics and manga. Comics and manga collectors are still willing to put a lot of their money into a collection. With the rise of e-books, book readers aren't doing that anymore.

I bought the Haruhi hard copies at around $10 per book. Again not out of line for one book but with an ongoing series it adds up quickly and I'm not sure if I will continue to buy them. Amazon is offering them for the Kindle at anywhere from $6-9. E-books would seem to be a great format for light novels, if the price point is set right. $5 on sale or for pre-order would be perfect. Sell a set of three at a reduced price, even better. Market them to the fantasy or YA audience, minimize the moe art, market to libraries for digital licensing and you may have something. Now would the publishers do this, or even better, would the Japanese companies let the US publishers do this? Who knows? Japanese distributors for manga, anime and books seem more reluctant to change than their American counterparts. They care about the Japanese market so they have little incentive to cater to the digital book crowd over here.

Of course another problem with light novels is that the serialization is different from the self-contained, or even the trilogy format, of American books. So yeah it's a niche market but it seems worth trying. And with television successfully embracing serialization, books could too. Especially if you could grow it as a digital business without the added expense of printing and getting into stores.

Yes, we've heard it before: manga needs go digital for the American market but the Japanese won't allow it, etc. But it is starting, the obvious example being Viz putting Shonen Jump online. The number of manga beginning to be released for Kindle/Nook is increasing, so why shouldn't the light novel find digital success as well?

Lastly, here's Enrique, who expounds in great detail about the strength of the visual novel!

Hey Answerman,

I would consider myself a fan of visual novels and I'm actually pretty happy with how things are going for them recently. They're gaining more acceptance as a whole and losing a bit of their connotation of being "porn."

I think that is my largest problem with how they have been treated in the west. They've have not been taken seriously as a medium for telling stories. Admittedly, the large majority of them, especially the ones that have come to the west and become popular, are far from being art, but I think the medium has a lot to offer as a medium for telling stories.

I also had that perspective that VNs were niche porn material, until I played a particular VN called Ever17 (written by Uchikoshi Kotaro, who now writes the Zero Escape series). Not only was it a very engaging story, and still remains as my favorite visual novel, but he used the medium to tell a story that could not be told in another medium. It uses everything from perspective to making you read the VN multiple times to give the effect of being in a time loop. Here are a couple more examples:

In VNs, you can't tell the length and how close you are to completion. When holding a book, you can tell when you're almost at the end. In another VN that plays with time loops, you play to a sad ending, get credits, and get shot out to the title. When start game option gets replaced by a new option. You then play again, starting at the same point in time, but characters appear to remember things. You get a bitter sweet ending, get shot back to the title and get a choice. You then go back in time again, and are finally able to make things right, before the real credits scene.

In Katawa Shoujo, 2 of the routes are distinctive for the choices they give. In one route, the main character is meant to feel dragged along by the love interest. In this route, only one choice is given to the reader, and that's when the love interest is not present. In another route, the main character experiences depression, confusion, and futility. In this route, you are bombarded with questions with no right and wrong answer and can come to different conclusions that result in little to no gains.

In Chaos;Head, there is almost no real choice in the story. Instead, the main character constantly experiences delusions. Some of which, you can choose whether to see or not to see. This makes you, as the reader, feel the same feelings the main character is feeling: confusion about what is real and what is just in his head.

In general though, the act of choice has the potential to make a much more immersive first person experience, which I enjoy. I won't say these examples are the best stories, but they show using gameplay elements for immersion. I also think if they are going to become more mainstream in the west, they're going to need to push mobile harder. They are not very far from ebooks and ebooks are as popular as ever. But, i don't know how well that would happen, I can at least hope.

I always appreciate my readers' hope for the future! It's swell! It hardens my cynical heart! Speaking of cynical hearts, here's my question for next week, targeted for all of you congoers past and present!

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 as always, friends! Don't forget to send me any questions and answers, which you can do by using your email prowess and sending it to Answerman(at!)AnimeNewsNetwork.com! Toodle-oo!!

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