Holiday Madness Edition

by Justin Sevakis,

It's the peak of the holiday season. I finished my shopping and baking early this year, and so I've spent the last week pinging all of my friends, trying to get some face time before everyone jets off home to their families. Or, at least, I'm trying to. For some reason EVERYBODY is now rushing to get projects done before the end of the year, so as if Christmas wasn't a busy time already, now it's INSANE. Nobody has any time to hang out. Plus it's cold. And dark.

No wonder everyone gets depressed right about now.

Rachel asks:

I've noticed that for a lot of anime, the opening and/or ending themes are sung by the voice actors in the show. Why is this? I know that voice actors typically don't get paid much, so is it less expensive (or easier) to get them to do a song, versus getting an established musical act? I especially wonder how this applies for series that change the ending themes often, but the songs are all sung by the voice actors.

How the opening and ending songs are selected is a decision made early on by the production committee. If the committee involves a music publisher (and shows involving Aniplex or Bandai Visual always do -- Aniplex being part of Sony Music Japan, and Bandai Visual owning Lantis), those committee members will want to use the anime to promote an artist or album. They select a list of song demos from their artist roster, and involve the show's director in choosing songs that would be thematically appropriate for the show.

But when the committee doesn't involve a record label, and sometimes even occasionally when it does, sometimes it makes more sense to "grow your own" opening and ending theme, specifically for that show. This is especially true with shows that are meant for a more niche, or otaku-only audience: when there's not THAT many people watching, the show isn't so valuable as a place to expose musical talent. But that small otaku audience is usually more likely to buy secondary things like soundtrack CDs and character goods. Throw together a quick by-the-numbers song from the main character's point of view, have the voice actor record it, and suddenly you have a new, cheaply-made piece of media that will sell a few thousand units.

There are other reasons to "roll your own" OP and ED theme too: when you control your own music, you don't have to pay the royalty to the record label for the use of those songs, and that royalty comes out of every broadcast and every disc you sell. It's also one less company you have to deal with when it comes time to sell rights internationally. Funimation or Sentai want to subtitle the song lyrics? A major record label would have to clear that first, but if the show producer already owns the song, it's not such a big deal.

Like everything else, there are business situations where one makes sense over the other, and vice versa. However, there are times when the show's producer or director want a specific piece of music, and if the production committee is OK with that, exceptions are made for artistic reasons. That sort of thing doesn't happen all the time, but it does happen often enough that it can't be ruled out.

Johanna asks:

I was wondering if you would consider that Moe is fading or at least evolving? It appears that Moe is finally starting to hit it's expiration date, and that shows like 'Beyond the Boundary' are taking it's place in this weird Moe/Action/other genre hybrid. Does this mean that Moe is fading away, or transitioning to something with more substance? If Space Dandy is a success, will this start a new trend in anime?

I've always hated talking about moe, because it's such a meaningless expression. When people talk about moe, especially derisively, it's never clear what they're talking about. Cherubic, underaged-looking female character designs? Anime with bad stories clumsily adapted from a visual novel? Visual clichés like sad girls in snow? Boring-as-hell slice-of-life shows where nothing ever happens? Or has the term simply become a catch-all term for everything relating to the half-assed otaku-pandering laziness endemic to the industry?

Welp, with over 40 new series coming out of Japan every season, I doubt we will ever see the last of lazy clichéd fan pandering. And given that cute, slightly-loli looking female characters have been around for decades I doubt those are going anywhere either. And the only reason we don't see as many lame visual novel adaptations these days is because there aren't as many of those as there used to be, so anime has largely turned towards adaptations of light novels, which have their own set of problems.

If you want to blame the mid-2000s rise of moe for all of that, be my guest. But the moe aesthetic, or whatever gets lumped into that basket, also brought us The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Toradora, Kannagi, and other genuinely good shows. The aesthetic will follow whatever "type" is fashionable among fans of the era, so as tastes evolve (in directions either normal or creepy), the designs will follow. Japan is bizarre and unpredictable this way -- I half hope that we eventually see flatulence fettish anime, or armpit hair moe.

But I don't see any trend here one way or the other. "Moe" is far too nebulous a term to mean any one particular thing at this point, so whether the medium is veering towards or away from it is something I just can't measure. But I do hope we see less dating sim-inspired "girls of different types do cute things pointlessly" shows, because lord knows we have enough of those.

Justin asks:

For longest time I've had the hardest time understanding the all legal issues (whatever they are) associated with watching anime on YouTube. Don't get me wrong, I pay for all my anime in this country. However, their are shows that have lost their licenses here and I wanted to continue onward with them (case closed and Rockman EXE for example). Now I know that the uploader gets into all sorts of trouble, but what about the viewer who is just streaming (not downloading). Do I have to worry about people black uniforms coming to take me away?

A few shows on YouTube are uploaded by the likes of Funimation and Right Stuf, and it says so right on the username. Those shows are legit, and you can relax. The shows that are not legally uploaded, and are often chopped up into a bunch of different pieces, are not legit. And if you watch them, you can relax because nothing is going to happen to you. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Basically, the only people who ever get a slap on the wrist over YouTube uploads are the people who uploaded them illegally. If Google gets too many takedown notices over copyrighted material you uploaded (or if it matches a bunch of copyright protected material that their software automatically looks for), they will ban your account. But just watching? Especially with stuff that has no current legal distributor in the US? Harmless. Nobody's going to come after you.

It's always best to go for legal streams, buy legal discs, and support legal means of watching anime. But when those aren't available, and someone has uploaded that ONE SHOW you CAN'T FIND ANYWHERE to YouTube, there's really nothing stopping you from watching it there, as long as it's still up. But if that show becomes available again and you still like it, you might consider buying the DVD. Just 'cause supporting it is the right thing to do.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

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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