by Justin Sevakis,
Last week I asked if you guys were interested in hearing about more technical matters, and the answer was a more or less unreserved "yes!" That's pretty cool, thanks to everyone who answered. I didn't have time to sit down and figure out how to best tackle that stuff (I think I'll start off with a One Big Question installment, and go from there), but it's definitely coming.
This week I'm buried under Anime Spotlight and other work, so I had to pick questions I could answer quickly. Next week I'll be back with a few more in-depth answers, I swear.
For the last few weeks or so I've been thinking about starting a new kind of anime venture. It has nothing to do licensing or any kind of physical media, but more of an idea inspired by Twitch TV gamers and Youtubers (Two Best Friends Play specifically). Basically, me and a couple people watch an episode of anime and we give live commentary while watching it. The idea is to cater to people who don't have anime-watching friends and to be funny. It's kind of an evolution of the dieing anime club scene where fans get together and watch anime without having to deal assholes on forums hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.
Whether it's a good or bad idea, I don't know; it's still in the "that'd be kinda cool" phase. However, my question to you is this: If I were to do this, how legal would it be? I mean, big time game companies allow Youtubers to stream the entirety of theirs games while making *careers* off of the money they make from ads, all the while not giving the companies any kind of royalties. I would think I'd be in the clear since I don't plan on doing this for money, but then I remember anime companies take down harmless AMVs and MADs all the time, so maybe the light's not as green as I think it should be. If I were to post an *entire episode or series* of an anime, even though it's covered in commentary, how long would it stay on Youtube? If I could away with simply asking the R1 licensor for permission, that'd be fine, but I don't wanna have to jump through hoops for a fun, little thing.
Hi there! Thank you for writing into Answerman. Please read on as I crush your dreams!
What you are proposing is absolutely illegal. How long such an attempt would last on YouTube without getting taken down by its copyright holders depends entirely on how diligent its owners are in policing illegal activity. Watching an anime with your commentary:
- Completely duplicates the episode in question without permission
- Makes it so that someone who watches your commented version no longer needs to watch it legally
- Brings in no money for the show or its producers and rights owners
And therefore, it is completely and utterly illegal even under the most generous interpretation of fair use. But what if you asked permission? Simply, you would never get approval. The American publishers do not have the rights to authorize a show's audio being altered (and if you're talking over it, you're altering it), and they have no reason to approve an upload that competes with their own, legal streams. The Japanese producers are definitely going to be leery of that sort of thing, and would more than likely dismiss the idea even if someone offered them a lot of money to do it. They have no real desire to have their hard work be made fun of in a public forum, and they certainly wouldn't authorize it.
If it's any consolation, countless nerds have attempted to do what you're proposing, and the end result is almost always unwatchably terrible. It's simply a lot tougher to be funny riffing over a show than it seems like it would be. For years anime conventions would attempt a live "Mystery Science Theater" style performance over some terrible schlocky 80s OAV, and the result was usually head-in-hands embarrassing for all involved, but people would still laugh because in a large audience at a convention people will laugh at anything. In the privacy of their own home, however, I doubt people would be so charitable. So consider yourself having dodged a bullet on this one.
Whenever I hear about an anime's potential to air on TV in the United States (I think this may also apply to other non-Japanese countries), I hear two opposing viewpoints as to how it happens: The first is that an anime may be pitched to networks, [and then if nothing happens], the licensing company decides to give up and use other outlets. The other one I've heard is that a licensing company has to maintain a wait-and-see attitude, where their anime only air on TV outside of their respective services if a network bites. This one I hear a lot when someone suggests Sentai Filmworks anime to air on Toonami or some other channel, like I get when I ask whether Girls und Panzer may air on Toonami or Vortexx or whatever. So I have to ask: who's right?
Well, it's not a matter of "who's right" as it is a matter of what a company's priority is. For example, Tiger and Bunny appeared to be a show with a lot of potential for a mainstream audience, if it ever found a home on a TV network. So rather than spoil a potential premiere for a TV network by premiering it themselves, Viz held off on a dubbed release while they shopped the broadcast rights around. It was only after they all passed that Viz basically decided, "okay, looks like a big TV debut isn't going to happen. Let's just release it like normal and see what it can do on its own." This is the path companies take when they really want the show to be on TV. It's more appealing to broadcasters if they get to premiere the show themselves, and a bigger network is more likely to pick up a show that hasn't been released in the States yet.
When you're asking Sentai and Funimation and everyone to put stuff on TV that's already out, and they answer that they're taking a "wait and see" approach, that basically means they didn't care to sit on the show or solicit it to largely indifferent and uninterested TV networks. TV broadcast was not a part of their strategy for releasing those shows. Should some network want them, they can talk, but that company wasn't going to sit on the shows and pursue a deal that would probably never materialize.
By the way, it's probably a waste of time to suggest working with a TV network to an anime company. They know perfectly well what networks are out there, and what opportunities for anime broadcast might be available. Pursuing TV broadcast for an anime series is expensive and difficult, and very seldom reaps any rewards whatsoever. It's usually it's not within their interest to bother, unless the show seems very, very mainstream in its appeal, and even then a pick-up is unlikely.
I've noticed some people at some message boards claiming that when you buy a U.S. anime or manga good, a very small amount of money will go towards the original Japanese companies and creators unlike importing it from Japan where the money will go directly to them. Instead, most of the money the person used to buy a domestic anime or manga title will go directly towards the domestic licensing companies. Now I want to give those people a benefit of a doubt and figure they just want that certain title to succeed so Japan can make more of it i.e. 2nd Seasons, new volumes, and so forth. So is there any truth in buying a domestic anime or manga title vs. importing in terms in the amount of money that goes towards the Japanese companies?
I went pretty deep into the money trail in my series of articles last year, The Anime Economy. It is true that buying the Japanese product does have a more direct effect, and makes the show or manga's producers more money in a more direct manner than buying the US versions.
That said, I wanted to revisit this topic because I think some people got the idea that buying the American versions has little to no good effect on the show's creators. I don't think that's quite accurate. It is true that it's a lot harder to quantify how much effect your purchase is having. But if the anime publisher has a good relationship with their licensors, they are filing monthly royalty reports, and the number of sales in the US will still be seen by both companies. Further, the sale of that book or DVD goes to replenish the amount the publisher paid for the rights. If they recoup their investment, both companies get royalties off every sale.
Now, does it send a stronger message to buy the Japanese version? Yes, especially with video products, which are quite expensive and contribute quite strongly to a show's profitability. But not a whole lot of fans can afford to spend US$300-500 for a one-season TV show that (usually) doesn't even have English subtitles. So, if buying those pricey imports aren't an option, buying the official US releases, especially when they're new and not heavily discounted, is still a perfectly good way to contribute.
While it's a nice thing to "vote with your wallet", there really aren't enough Americans buying anime DVDs to move the needle in either direction. Buy your anime because it's the right thing to do, and it contributes to what you like. The Japanese producers don't really care that much about what we think, anyway.
And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.
Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.
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