Hearts On Fire

by Justin Sevakis,

It's Valentine's Day, and for the perpetually single like me, Valentine's Day usually means a chance sit down with yourself, stare into space, and contemplate what the hell is wrong with you and why nobody will ever love you, ever. It's a tradition I hold in great esteem, one that I celebrate and look forward to all year long, like Christmas.

Alas, it is a tradition in which I will not be participating this year. Not because I'm seeing someone; no, seeing someone would diminish all those years of naval-gazing and overeating to fill the gnawing emptiness inside. Rather, it is because a friend of mine pointed out that several of us are, in fact, alone, and rather than spend the day staring at a turned-off TV, it might be more psychologically healthy, and nay, more fun to have a gathering of similarly discontented friends.

Cognizant of the obvious implications of life actually being full of love, if not the right kind, I have decided to put off my forlorn stares into the night sky for another day. After all, there are friends to chat with, and dammit, that bottle of Maker's Mark isn't going to drink itself. I hope that you'll do the same.

Rose asks:

My attention has recently been caught by several intense discussions in certain forums regarding the presence of illegal anime streaming sites on the Internet. Because I still prefer physical media I'm not much of a streamer beyond the occasional use of Amazon Instant Pass or Crunchyroll so I must admit to not knowing much about online streaming (anime or otherwise). As it becomes easier and easier with each passing season to stream whatever anime you want via legal—and usually free!— sites it seems like everyone has an opinion about those illegal sites. Modern libertines fancy rabidly defend them while white knights just-as-rabidly rail against them. However, no one ever seems inclined to take action. Thus, my question(s) to you, dear Answerman: why not? How difficult is it to take down an illegal anime streaming site? Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about doing so? Have any ever been successfully shut down?

Those pirate anime streaming sites are one of those things that doesn't really have that many ardent supporters and yet keep popping up and multiplying like cockroaches. 100% illegal on every level, these sites operate by taking downloaded fansubs or rips from legal websites, uploading them onto free video file locker websites that are usually based overseas, and then putting a sprawling front-end website on their database, making it look like the whole thing is legit. There's usually some FAQ page in there where the site claims to be legitimate, or works under a legal technicality. That's all a bunch of horse poop, of course.

These sites are a huge drain on the ability for legal sites like Hulu, Crunchyroll and Funimation to get enough traffic to monetize their streams effectively. It's too often the case that if you google, "free streaming [SHOW TITLE]", most of the results will be pirate sites. Fringe fans and uneducated media consumers are none the wiser. Manga aggregator sites, hosting scanlations, are equally prevalent and awful. It happens with mainstream content too. I just saw a friend of mine post a link to the movie Fruitvale Station on Facebook, thinking she was helping support the film, and was mortified when I told her that she had linked to a pirate site.

Shutting down these sites is very difficult and very time consuming. Most of them use overseas domain names and possibly overseas hosting providers (often from third-world or small island countries), which make it difficult for the lawyers to send a court order to get their account shut off. Many of the staff claim to be from those countries, although a little detective work usually reveals that the people running it are actually American. Funimation and a handful of Japanese companies have definitely gone after these sites, and there may be more companies that I'm unaware of. Rather than shut them off at the hosting end, publishers have recently started notifying Google that those are pirate sites, and Google has been pretty good about removing them from search results. A few of the major site owners have been tracked down and threatened legally to the point where they did go away. But more quickly pop up.

These sites don't make anywhere near as much money as the legal ones do: as they are fly-by-night operations, they can only source advertising from low-paying "remnant" ad companies that (sometimes intentionally) don't check where their ads are ending up. The few ad companies that do work with these sites are also potential legal targets, and lately several of them have been doing their homework and trying to verify that everything is on the up-and-up. There will always be a few remnant providers that just don't care or won't have the manpower to figure it out, however.

I'm not going to bother arguing with people that don't "agree" with the concept of intellectual property, because those people will twist themselves in knots trying to justify their position and yet can never come up with a reasonable idea on how artists are supposed to live when nobody pays for their creative output. It's already hard enough to make money from online free streaming without these jokers around.

Valve's Gabe Newell says, "piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem," but honestly I don't know that there's much that the legal streaming sites can do within the US that they don't already do better than the pirate sites. (Outside the US, where availability is spotty, sure, I understand that these sites serve an unmet market.) Video quality is better, they post faster, their community sections and other site features are more robust. Other than habit, I don't understand for the life of me why people go to these sites. Anyone in the comments care to enlighten me?

Patrick asks:

Recently I bought my first anime Bluray in hopes of being able to watch it in glorious high definition with 5.1 surround sound and no dodgy fansubs, but to my dismay found that it refused to play on my computer. After a bit of scrounging around on the net, it turns out that I had bought an encrypted bluray, which requires certain paid software such as Cyberlink PowerDVD to play (strangely enough the extras DVD that came with it played without a hitch on my computer). I did a bit of experimenting and found that it plays fine on my PS3 but as I'm moving out soon with no intent of bringing it with me, it would mean I have no choice but to either buy a bluray player and TV or one of those programs. So my main question is: Why make encrypted blurays that can't play on PC using popular free software such as MPC-HC or VLC?

It's not just the disc you bought, EVERY Blu-ray ever mass-produced is encrypted. It's a mandatory part of the format for every Blu-ray to be encrypted with AACS encryption (and optionally, BD+ encryption as well). While it would be nice to be able to play them with free movieplayer software like MPC-HC or VLC, it's just not going to happen. The format was developed in conjunction with the major movie studios, who were understandably nervous to be letting the general public play with their movies in full theatrical quality. They insisted on having some protection mechanisms in place to prevent people from just copying the movie to their hard drive, cloning the disc, or uploading it to the internet willy-nilly. DVDs had encryption too, but VLC has somehow managed to break that protection without getting their butts shut off by the MPAA.

Those encryption techniques were broken years ago, and anyone so inclined can use readily available software to get around it. (I should note that circumventing copy protection, and the software to do so, is against the law in the United States.) Doing so is just a big enough pain in the butt to dissuade most people from doing so, which in my book, makes it pretty effective copy protection. But even if you do that, Blu-ray as a format is such an odd duck, consisting of several different kinds of video, audio and subtitle streams, in addition to interactive layers and even embedded Java applets, that reverse engineering things like menu navigation has proven pretty much impossible for the video enthusiast community. VLC and MPlayer can play the pieces of a disc, but neither can play the whole thing.

Sorry to say, but if you want to play Blu-rays on your computer, the only sane way of doing it is with commercial software. None of them are great (which speaks to the difficulty in dealing with the format), but out of all of them I recommend ArcSoft Total Media Theatre, as the others still have a ton of weird compatibility problems. Due to the patents inherent in several of the technologies behind Blu-ray, I don't expect this will ever change.

Brandi asks:

what is up with anime and the S&M fetish? I'm not talking about hentai. It mostly comes out in the form of one of the men on the show turning out to be some kind of over the top masochist. I've seen this joke over an over again. Most recently in D-Frag! and in Kill la Kill. I know this is played for gag, but is such a strange gag to see in so many shows.

Japan loves it some bondage! The Japanese traditional rope bondage tradition known as kinbaku (or shibari, as it's known outside of Japan) dates back to at least the edo period, and its invention was born out of a martial arts practice of tying people uo, known as hojojutsu. Kinbaku is known for its intricate and aesthetic knot patterns. The tying itself is intended to be the pleasurable part, since the rope is used as an extension of the bondage master's hands. Kinbaku has always been a thing in Japan, enjoying a particular renaissance in the 1950s, starting in magazines and eventually finding its way into pink eiga, live shows, and other media.

Japanese sexuality often tends to cross the line into displays of sub-servitude and discomfort, and so kinbaku mingled quite well with bondage subculture from the West. I couldn't find much reference material about the historical origins of modern bondage in Japan, but I would bet money it all started in the post-war era.

As for why it's such a big part of anime? Well... there are lots of reasons, but we probably have Go Nagai to blame. His groundbreaking 1968 manga series Harenchi Gakuen is often credited with being the first ecchi manga series, and made a point of pushing the envelope past every conceivable social taboo. It was a huge hit, the blowback from PTA groups and the media were fierce, and Nagai famously trolled them back by turning the series from a gag comic into a brutal depiction of war and freedom of expression. The PTA in the story ends up killing everyone. Then a few years later he picked up the story again as if none of that ever happened.

Abashiri Family followed not long after, and other manga and anime like Cutey Honey basically set the tone for boundary-pushing pervy mischief in anime (although TV anime versions to this point were significantly tamed down). A few years later Yatterman became one of the first outright ecchi children's TV show in Japan, and featured a bad-girl villain named Doronjo that basically wore leather bondage attire. Yatterman was also a huge, blow-the-doors-off hit, and things basically escalated from there.

When you go back and study the classics of anime from the 60s and 70s, it really is amazing just how much of what we have today is rooted in what came during those decades. The bondage references are no different.

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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