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Theatrical Shenanegans

by Justin Sevakis,

I still have not yet seen Catching Fire because I refuse to be "That Guy" in the theater with a bad cough. I realize that most theaters this time of year will just be a sea of coughing and flu germs, but I remain steadfast in my self-absorbed paranoia of being a social outcast.

Gary asks:

Funimation is holding theatrical screenings for Wolf Children by using a service called Tugg, which basically lets you sponsor your own screening in your own city. I wonder, what are the benefits to doing this, versus something like a Fathom Events screening?

Crowd-sourced theatrical screenings are a pretty new thing. So new, in fact, that we're still in the phase where we don't really know how well they work. Tugg, Gathr, OpenIndie and Simple Machine are all new startups that have sprouted in the last couple of years. Most are focused on small independent movies, and give the promoter (usually the filmmaker, but in this case Funimation) the power to do the promotion, while not having to worry about the complicated logistics of booking theaters and releasing films. (Full disclosure: I've done some work directly for Gathr, and for filmmakers releasing through Tugg.)

In contrast to Fathom Events, the program run by National Cinemedia in large chain theaters across the country, there are both pros and cons. NCM Fathom Events are screenings distributed to theaters over the satellite system that was built to run promos at AMC, Cinemark, Regal, and other large chains. (You know "The Twenty", that 20 minute reel of promos that run while you're grabbing your seat? That's them.) They operate like a closed-circuit TV network that gets beamed in real time directly to theaters.

While this is definitely the best way to host theatrical screenings of live or almost-live events, such as This American Life or an opera at The Met, they don't make as much sense for anime in my opinion. While you are getting a screening in a theater, the quality isn't quite the same -- digital HD video streams played on LCD projectors simply don't look as good as a properly made Digital Cinema Package (DCP) played on the big digital cinema projector that's used for most movies. Those have to be prepared in advance and sent to theaters on a hard drive.

The other thing is, Fathom Events are usually nationwide all-or-nothing one-night-only one-screening affairs. The entire program is intended to do something interesting on slow nights of the week, when at least a few auditoriums might otherwise be showing movies to an empty room. However, friday and saturday nights are the "money" nights for big new studio releases, so those nights are completely off limits. The crowdsourcing sites, meanwhile, move to where demand is. They can scale easily if there is demand for multiple screenings spread across several nights, by working directly with the individual theaters.

I suspect that anime is better suited to the Tugg model of doing things. There are a lot of fans in very specific areas of the country, that would likely respond better to the more grassroots-style marketing that crowdsourcing attracts. Fathom Events definitely have their uses, but it's casting a much wider net with a lot less focus on your audience. And it's always better to screen off of a DCP.

Jeff asks:

In your opinion, as you appear to be one of the few reviewers of anime who isn't bought and paid for, where the bleep is the medium headed? Most of the worthwhile series seem to date from before anime became a hot commodity. A lot of what we're seeing now, or at least what gets marketed here, seems to be mindless fanboy dreck. Are we doomed to a future of nonsensical pedophilic panty-shot series like "Girls und Panzer", and borderline slaughter-porn like "Freezing"?

While I am flattered by your question I must nonetheless take issue with it. I am not a reviewer or critic (I do very occasionally write one, but Pile of Shame nonwithstanding, haven't in about a year). I don't watch most of the shows that are simulcast because I simply don't have time or interest. And it's very silly to think that most anime critics are "bought and paid for" because frankly nobody has much of a marketing budget these days, and that would be a very silly use of very limited funds. In all the years I've been in the business, I've never heard someone float the idea of paying critics even as a joke. In fact, many of the most critically reviled anime are also some of the best sellers, so it's utterly pointless to do so.

That "mindless fanboy dreck" is not stuff that you or I watch or appreciate. However, I can tell you that we are in the minority. Boobs sell. Those shows you dismiss are making money. Lots of money.

Do I like or watch these shows? No. I also don't like superhero movies, and that's pretty much all they make these days. I like smart, thought-provoking, well-made adult-oriented dramas. There aren't many of those. All the big "tentpoles" that gross a billion dollars worldwide are big stupid CG-drenched action movies. You see, the world at large couldn't care less about my opinions on what's good and bad. If I'm going to get what I want, I'm going to have to dig for it.

Japan is now making around forty shows at a time these days, more if you count short series and kids' shows. FORTY. That's more than the number of sitcoms America makes. Did you dig to find the artistically interesting ones? Did you try Flowers of Evil or Eccentric Family or Space Brothers? Are you watching Yowamushi Pedal or Samurai Flamenco or Kill la Kill? There's lots of good, different, interesting shows being made every season, and the onus is on you to find the ones you like.

If the mindless boob and exploitation shows weren't paying the bills, they wouldn't keep making them. They wouldn't be licensed or released if they weren't bringing in the bucks for the US distributors. A lot of people like the shovelware, but that doesn't diminish your interest in less prurient anime. It's still there, there's still plenty for you to watch.

In the mean time, you're going to have to figure out how to survive while not having the same tastes as the masses at large. As someone who has never had particularly mainstream taste in anything, I've long since stopped expecting people to come flocking to the obscure foreign films and indie electronica music that I love. I just try to share as much of the good stuff as I can.

Honestly I'm exhausted of all the railing against stuff we don't like. As long as we have good stuff, I'm fine. We're all fine.

Fred asks:

With Xmas rolling around the corner, are there any new Blue Ray Buena Vista releases of Studio Ghibli stuff coming up? I'd like to know so I'll have time to import from Japan if necessary.

Actually, this is a good time to recap what's out, and what's out in Japan. After all, the Japanese releases might be expensive, but they usually have English audio, subtitles, and all of the special features that aren't just banal interview clips with the English dub cast. And with Blu-ray, we can import them and play them without issue!

There haven't been any new announcements of Ghibli Blu-rays for the US market since My Neighbor Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle came out earlier this year. (This joined last year's release of Nausicaä, Kiki, Castle in the Sky, Whisper of the Heart, Ponyo and Ariettty.) Finally, Sentai's release of Grave of the Fireflies came out last year, and GKIDS' release of From Up On Poppy Hill came out in September.

Japan (and some other countries) have also gotten Blu-rays of Tales from Earthsea, Porco Rosso, My Neighbors the Yamadas, Pom Poko, Only Yesterday, and just this month, The Cat Returns and Princess Mononoke. I don't expect Disney will ever give us a Stateside release of Only Yesterday, but given that The Wind Rises is getting an Oscar push from them this year, I expect both Mononoke and Porco are likely candidates to be released alongside it when it comes out on video.

The UK market usually gets these Blu-rays before we do, but region coding will be more of an issue for US fans, who'd be better off sticking to Japanese imports. It's too bad, UK releases from Optimum Home Entertainment are really pretty gorgeous.

As for me, I'm waiting patiently. I already imported Only Yesterday, but I expect Disney to bring out the rest of them eventually -- I know it's not the same thing, but I'm still a little gunshy from having spent a fortune on most of the Ghibli catalog on Region 2 DVD years ago. Now I can't give those away. Turns out nobody in America wants DVDs they can't play! Go figure!

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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