Personal Space

by Justin Sevakis,

Just sittin' here, workin'. Nothing of interest or excitement to report. Please continue towards the questions, for I have nothing to contribute in terms of polite chatter.

Joe asks:

I was wondering, I have noticed a trend on Hulu of releasing the first few episodes of an Anime dub along with the sub, then having only the sub available for the rest of the season. Or having the full dub and sub, then taking down the dub after a few weeks. Is this a decision made by Hulu or made by whoever holds the license? The only thing I could think of was they are hoping to get some excitement over a good Dub in the US to boost DVD/BD sales. Or is it Hulu not wanting to keep unwatched content? Any ideas on the matter?

It's pretty simple, really. The whole point of streaming anime online is to make it so fans don't need to resort to fansubs. Thus, in the world of streaming, subtitled versions are the preferred format. They're fast to make, relatively cheap, and while producing a simulcast subtitled version isn't the easiest thing in the world, it's a million times easier than making a simulcast dub, which is a workload that would kill most mortals.

Dubs, on the other hand, are a lot of work and expense, and they're not anywhere near as big of a piracy threat as the subtitled versions were. So when Funimation started putting everything on streaming sites like Hulu a few years back, they decided to put the entire series up for free in subtitled form, but only a handful of dubbed episodes. This way, fans could see what the dub sounds like, but there's still a reason to buy something if you want the whole package. (They may put the whole series up for a short time at first, but then take down everything but the first few after a couple of months.)

Anyway, the policy appears to be working for them, because they've kept this practice up for a few years now. Occasionally other companies do the same, but this is predominantly a Funimation thing.

Ashley asks:

This might be too broad of a question to ask, but what's up with production delays in anime? You usually hear about studios working on an anime at least a few months prior to release, but if that's the case, why do you hear about production delays and people working down to the wire so frequently? I'd would've thought there would be some kind of system in place to prevent that kind of stuff (or am I just grossly underestimating the amount of work that goes into making a show?)

I am pretty sure you are grossly underestimating the amount of work that goes into making a show. That said, delays and last-minute delivery are something that's endemic to the anime business, and has been for decades. But now that everything's simulcast to the US, we're just now noticing what a huge problem it can be.

Work, especially creative work, has a way of expanding to fit the amount of time given. And since anime creators are both notoriously understaffed and underfunded, and tend to be perfectionists, it's pretty common practice for them to REALLY drag their feet on delivering the final product until the last minute. I've heard lots of complaints about animators not managing their time well (coming in around noon, being flaky and distracted until the last minute, then pulling a marathon of all-nighters right before deadline), and I'm quite sure they're all true.

Over the course of a TV series, all these little delays add up, and after a long run of episodes things get so far behind that the final delivery schedule starts to slip. Master files for simulcasts don't get sent in time for translation and timing (or sometimes they get sent an early version that isn't finalized, or doesn't contain full animation). If all hope is gone, and it looks like there's no possible way a master tape will get to the TV studio in time, the show producer will grab an editor and slam together a recap episode.

Recap episodes can cause more problems than they solve, since it basically cuts out an entire episode of story from the planned series run, causing subsequent episodes to need drastic rewrites and possibly re-editing, so it's considered a nuclear option. (If the series is nearing its end, it's not an option at all.) It's a bad thing for everyone: fans hate it, sales go down, and it's an embarrassing mark of failure for a production staff. But sometimes it's simply the only way a series can keep its timeslot when all else has failed.

Long story short, pretty much every anime production is chaotic to an extent, and the really bad ones are essentially a non-stop panic attack for all involved. I highly recommend you track down a copy of Animation Runner Kuromi (both parts) to see just how crazy things get in the anime business.

Jennie asks:

I have been a long time anime fan and I have always bought my manga and as much merchandise as I can find (my shelves were on Shelf Life on Apr 22!), as my way of supporting the community. However, I did not buy DVDs and downloaded fansubs for all of my anime until a few years ago when Crunchyroll turned legal and streaming anime really became a thing. Now, I subscribe to Crunchyroll and watch my anime through legal streams. I very rarely view fansubs anymore and, if I do, it's usually for older series. Recently I said to my boyfriend, also a long time anime fan, that I've eaten my way through almost all of Crunchyroll's library. His response was to download anime that Crunchyroll does not offer, then. I said I do not do that anymore, I said since a legal method has become available to me, I support that. He said that I am a hypocrite because I used to download a lot of anime. Do you think it makes someone a hypocrite to not want to download fansubs now that legal streaming is an option? His argument is that I always had a legal option, I could buy DVDs and blu-rays and I didn't do that because it was too expensive/inconvenient and that's hypocritical. I'm not trying to get you to resolve a lovers quarrel, I'm really curious what your take is on what I presume has been a rather large movement from fansubs to legal streams and if us former fansub watchers will always be "the bad guys who stole" or if we are "redeeming" ourselves now.

Before I get to your question, I have to ask... You REALLY plowed through Crunchyroll's entire anime library? ALL of it? What about Hulu? That's insane. There is SO MUCH ANIME on those streaming sites, you'd basically have to have shows streaming 24/7 for years before you'd get through all of it. (Okay, well, I'm sure you're not watching EVERYTHING, just the stuff you like, but still...)

Your boyfriend sounds like he either A) does not know what the word "hypocrite" means, or B) is trying to make you feel bad for not consuming anime the way he does, because he's insecure and wants the validation of his girlfriend making the same choice he is. (Either way, he sounds like quite a catch.)

For years, you and everyone else who wanted to watch anime basically had the choice of either pirating it, or shelling out the bucks for a VHS or DVD copy. That's not a very pleasant choice to make. Anime is expensive, and buying it sight-unseen is a recipe for disappointment. Many anime fans just want to watch a show once and have no need to keep a permanent copy. Even a huge media hoarder like myself, with my 1800+ disc collection, has no interest in buying a copy of every show he's ever seen. That was crazy, and that sucked. It was not a reasonable expectation of us as fans.

The really, truly great thing about being an anime fan these days is that we no longer have to make that choice. We can watch just about anything we want to see, legally, and cheaply. And if we really really like a show and make sure we have a copy to have on the shelf and gaze at lovingly and occasionally fondle and sniff, chances are, we can buy it on a disc. It's a great system. Not everything gets released in both forms, but enough does that we're really spoilt for choice. There's nothing hypocritical about taking advantage of that system. It was the hope of the industry that your needs would be better met by legal means, and it's absolutely a good thing that you're now participating in a system that gives money back to the creators. (If you pay to subscribe to those websites, that's even better.)

The Answerman column has regularly fielded questions like this, which basically come out to "I pirate stuff, or have done so in the past, and need to know just how guilty I should feel about that." To which the answer is, inevitably, "depends."

You want piracy guilt? Here's piracy guilt: in the early 2000s, I was a hardcore pirate. It was too easy not to be. Broadband internet was just becoming cheap and easily available. I was torrenting movies, video games, music, software... you name it. I was the guy people called when they were broke and needed to be hooked up with all the essential software. I even had VP-level co-workers coming up to me, asking for DivX files to watch the plane every time they had a business trip. I was right out of college, a month behind on my rent, and deep in credit card debt, so it wasn't like I could actually buy any of this stuff anyway. (In high school I was also a VHS fansubber, but that's a whole 'nother subject.)

Copying all that media I learned a lot of technical tricks, some of which I still use today. But it's inescapable that I was being a GIGANTIC hypocrite. I was literally making my living and going to school to make media, media that I was expecting people to buy, and then not buying any of it myself. I'm not sure when it was, exactly, that I realized that I actually wanted to legally buy things and participate in the system. Maybe it was seeing the writing on the wall with the impending anime market collapse (which could be seen looming on the horizon as early as 2003), maybe it was my frontal lobe finally becoming fully attached with adulthood. But at some point, I decided to make a change.

After having this come-to-Jesus moment, I spent the next few years spending thousands of dollars reforming myself. I bought legal copies of every piece of software I actually used and purged everything I didn't. I bought DVDs of every movie I liked and every anime I enjoyed. I started buying my music on iTunes. It took years of careful planning and a lot of money. (I also got lucky and caught some amazing sales.) Eventually, I paid for everything -- even software packages costing thousands of dollars. There's a sense of peace you get when you actually own and are legally entitled to everything you're getting. I would never go back to willful piracy, even if I was broke.

But even as bad as I was, the guilt I didn't even know I had was purely in my own head. Nobody was really casting judgement on me for being a pirate, just as nobody sees you and thinks, "that piece of human garbage pirates anime!" So, really, it's all about how you feel as an anime fan. I personally don't have any ethical issue with having fansubs of shows that are not licensed, especially if they're old and unlikely to ever see a legal release. In the off chance I'm wrong, I can always delete those fansubs and buy a copy. I've done that with countless shows. I never thought I'd get a chance to buy Rose of Versailles, for example.

If you really and truly have zero emotional baggage about pirating anime, there's really not a whole lot anybody can do to stop you. But you know the difference, and you're doing the right thing, and don't let anyone make you feel bad about that, even if you made other choices in the past. That's the real benefit to being a paying, ethical anime fan: the peace of mind, the empowerment of buying what you're consuming. Knowing you're doing the right thing. The knowledge that you're doing your part, to the best of your ability, to support the stuff you love.

Craig asks:

It seems over the last year or so, allot of the more popular titles/franchise are getting stage plays in Japan. Just in the last 6 months, Blue-Exorcist, K, Tenchu, Princess Mononoke (London), Persona 3, Steins;Gate, Detective Conan and even Gurren Lagaan. Why do so many anime (even games and video games) get live stage plays? Has this been the case for years or is this something that's somewhat new? Is this for the art or simply a marketing ploy to generate more revenue to the creators, distributors, manga publishers, etc.? Any insight and opinion would be greatly appreciated.

Stage plays based on popular anime and manga are not a new thing. Takarazuka Revue has been performing Rose of Versailles since 1974, and there were probably more before that. There have been countless shows put on. I have noticed that franchises with sizable female fanbases tend to get adapted the most.

Musical stage adaptations are great from the perspective of a publisher, who wants to get their property celebrated by as many people as possible. Musical troupes do their own marketing, and having a stage show produced makes great publicity for any franchise. Many troupes have their own fans, who might also support other iterations of their favorite shows. There's royalties to be made on video sales of performances, or soundtrack CDs. Anything that gets people excited about your franchise is a good thing.

Over the years, the otaku/fujoshi musical theater subculture has grown to the point where it's self-perpetuating and growing, and publishers are all too happy to have small theater troupes adapt their work for the stage. The fans are all too happy to support them. Everybody wins.

I've seen footage of a few of these musicals, and to be completely honest, I am entirely underwhelmed by them. Their low budgets and hokey costumes remind me of community theater, and the songs seem pretty unmemorable. But then again, I'm also not a musical theater fan, so what do I know.

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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