Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

by Justin Sevakis,

Before I moved to California, I always thought, "sure the weather is really nice there all the time, but there's earthquakes and everything is always on fire! That's so unnerving that I can't imagine anyone would really be all that much more comfortable there."

This week, I felt a small earthquake (a 4.2 on the richter scale, centered about an hour's drive away), late one night while lying in bed. Also, it's been so dry here that fires are cropping up everywhere, and this morning while driving to the gym there was a reddish tint to the sun and a dark cloud from all the smoke.

But you know what, it's January and I'm wearing shorts. Everything is just fine.

Tayler asks:

I've watched a lot of anime recently that either isn't fully licensed in the USA, or isn't at all. As a collector, this always bothers me because when I see a really great show my first instinct is to head over to Rightstuf or Amazon and find a copy, but with unlicensed shows this isn't an option. Anyway, my question is this: What is the best way to get an unlicensed show licensed? Is there a place to petition for it? Directly contacting someone like Funimation or Sentai? Any other possible options?

No, not really.

Anime companies get pitched new shows and shown promo material so much earlier than the general public, that there's simply no way that the anime companies don't know about a given show. If they know about that show, they've already thought about licensing it, and if they thought it made financial sense to do so, they'd have made an offer. If the show is still just sitting there (especially when it's not even being streamed legally -- Crunchyroll has made it their mission in life to simulcast everything they can get their hands on), there's probably a reason why.

Those reasons could involve everything from music rights, to some disagreement with the original artist, or an asking price that's out of whack with how well it would do. There could be any number of things holding it up, or making it a bad deal. And there's really not a whole lot you can bring to the table that would change that situation. The companies know how popular certain titles are via streaming or piracy, and they've pretty much already decided what they're going to do.

Sorry to say, that while it can't hurt to politely let a company representative know that you like the show and you would buy it if it were available, it's not really going to help, either. Anime companies get so many "will you license ____" requests that they pretty much go in one ear and out the other. There's nothing being made that they don't already know about, and if nobody has licensed it, there's probably a reason.

James asks:

I run an anime and manga club at my local college. I established it last year and it's heading into two years. My advisors are two professors who are not really familiar with anime or manga. We host a lending library for member that accept donations and purchase new materials when we can along with screening series during meetings. The problem I find myself coming back to is trying to justify a series that may contain adult themes and excessive violence to my advisors. I am always upfront with them in regards to titles that we submit to them. I want to say that members of the ANN site have mentioned being in Anime clubs at one point or another and I wish to ask if there are some tips for groups that run anime clubs in high school or college that will help them select items and help avoid awkward conversations with advisors. I must note that the college library carries R rated movies and I feel that the content of some of our library would get more questions because it is animated and not a live action film.

Hey, wanna hear a story? So, the first anime club I belonged to in high school, Manna Anime, was co-founded by a few upperclassmen of mine at my high school in the Detroit area. (They look, they're still around!). It was originally intended to be an official school club, but as part of the approvals process, the vice principal wanted to watch some of this "anime" stuff. They intended on giving him Grave of the Fireflies, but instead they accidentally gave him Dominion Tank Police. If you've never seen it, there are some cat girls doing a sexy strip tease at around the ten minute mark. Suffice it to say, we were never allowed to become a school club.

But I digress. The fact of the matter is, while we all know there's a ton of good anime with great artwork and interesting things to say, that treats its subject matter and its audience with respect and tells a good story and all that, there are a metric ton of shows that are simply cheap titilation and fan service, and if you're not looking for cartoon cameltoe there is precious little that they will offer the viewer. And most educational organizations are not really all that interested in subsidizing the availability of cartoon cameltoe. Just sayin'.

If your goal is to simply provide your members with as exhaustive a selection of anime as possible, regardless of quality or merit (which is always arguable, to a point), this is simply going to have to become a matter of seeing what you can get away with. When your advisers come sniffing around, you're going to have to show 'em the good stuff that, even if it's kind of adult-oriented, its artistic value simply cannot be questioned. I'm talking Ghibli stuff, Satoshi Kon stuff (although Perfect Blue might be a little too shocking for some people), artsy OAVs from the 80s, serious works dealing with the Meiji or Edo periods, etc. You know, the stuff you'd show your parents.

If your advisers can't find the value in those works, then they're beyond help. But should they get wind that you're also lending out stuff like Queen's Blade or High School DxD (or, god help you, hentai) you might find yourself in a politically awkward position.

It might be a good idea to work with your advisers to set parameters as to what would be acceptable and what wouldn't be. Just as not all anime is suitable for children, not all anime is suitable for an academic environment. In the abstract, it would be much easier to say up front, "since the library contains movies rated R but not NC-17, let's apply the same standard to our lending library" than it would be to have to defend your choices after the fact. Also, your members may benefit from having a more curated library. Having an extra line in your database for each series explaining the show's artistic merits wouldn't just be helpful for your advisers, but would probably help your members find the stuff they're looking for as well.

In my experience, most advisers are fairly open minded, but have to be "sold" on things that make them uncomfortable, and lending out discs containing animated boobs does tend to make a lot of people uncomfortable. It sounds like by checking IDs, you're doing your best to keep them out of trouble, but by involving them in the process and making them understand the logic behind what you're buying, your advisers will doubtlessly feel a lot more at ease. After all, if an administrator comes up to them and asks why school funds are being used for drawings of boobs, they'll be able to defend their actions.

Like most things in life, what you're able to get away with will depend on how you're able to spin things politically.

Ruben asks:

I've always wondered about the term "Series Composition" (シリーズ構成). What exactly does the person credited with "Series Composition" do? I know that he is involved with the script, but the internet doesn't give me a proper definition or explanation what exactly the difference between "Series Composition" and "Script" is. Is there actually a major difference?

Writing scripts for a series is a lot of work, and is seldom the job of just one person. In most cases, in both American and Japanese television, there's the individual writers, and the head writer, which in anime, gets credited as Series Composition. (In Western television, the head writer is known informally as the Show Runner, and also has producing responsibilities, which in anime would be the domain of the Series Director, or 監督.)

The head writer might never actually write out a single script for the show, but they are in charge of setting and finalizing all of the individual things that the episode scriptwriters would flesh out later. How would the overall story arc be divided up, by episode? What is each character's unique personality, and how do they speak? Is there a narrator, or voice-over? All of these things are discussed with the director, and then it's the head writer's job to map out what happens where, and keep the style consistent, even if 4 or 5 different writers are handing different episodes. In many cases, the head writer will write a few episodes themselves -- usually the first and/or last ones. On occasion, they're write everything.

The Series Composition credit is actually the second most important creative role on an anime, and aside from the series director and the original creator, they're the only people to directly get a share of the revenue on every DVD sold.

Jitendar asks:

Straight to the question, and Why do so few television anime get Japanese 5.1 Surround Audio? It's a medium with a lot of action, and with home cinema a lot more common, you'd expect the sound design to be up there, but it's only the rare anime that gets to the West with 5.1 audio, shows like Samurai Champloo, and Moribito. Actually all this begs further questions... Do Japanese audiences get surround audio on their TV anime, and Western audiences get a lesser product? Are the 5.1 Japanese tracks that we do get on the rare titles actually sourced from Japan, or upmixed locally as Funimation do for the dubs, or as Manga Entertainment used to do for all of their releases about ten years ago, matrix both audio languages to DD 2.0, 5.1 and DTS as standard regardless of title and regardless of audio source?

Japan does virtually no 5.1 mixes for their TV shows, and only occasionally for OAVs (what few are made these days). While North America's digital TV broadcast standard, ATSC, supports 5.1 audio (due to its use of Dolby Digital AC3 format audio, which is also used on DVDs), the Japanese standard ISDB carries AAC audio, which is high quality but only supports stereo. Additionally, most Japanese homes are simply not big enough for people to bother with big, fancy 5.1 audio systems. Movies that play in theaters definitely get 5.1 mixes, but for things that are only shown in the home? Not really worth the trouble.

In the early days of DVD, American anime publishers would throw all sorts of bells and whistles onto DVDs thinking they affected sales (they didn't). 5.1 audio was seen as a major selling point, and so many dubs were created in 5.1, and occasionally a Japanese mix was upconverted to 5.1 (although often licensors didn't make the unmixed audio stems available, so that upconvert sounded pretty lame). 5.1 mixes are time consuming to do right, and require expensive equipment, so nowadays most dubs are created in stereo too. After all, if the Japanese is in stereo, and the supplied music and effects tracks are in stereo, what's the point?

5.1 is pretty cool if done right, of course, if you have the home theater equipment to play it. And a few lucky people in Japan do. So, for the "prestige" releases, the Japanese studios will go to the expense of creating a 5.1 audio track. But in most cases, especially for TV anime, producers have determined that the additional labor involved is just not worth it.

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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