Back in the USA

by Justin Sevakis,

After a week in London (and a night in the indescribably cold and rainy Edinburgh), I'm back in the good ol' US of A. I had a great time, ate way too much dessert, drank way too much beer and tea, and made a ton of new friends. I'll definitely be back. (Also, special thanks go out to Andrew Partridge from Anime Ltd./All The Anime for taking me out for proper Scottish Haggis. Despite the endless Simpsons jokes, it's actually really, really good.)

So now that I'm back at my desk, what fancy new questions have you for me this week? Come on, let's have it. Email me at [email protected] and stop holding out on me.

Steven asks:

What's up with the Double Standards in Anime? Something full of blood-n-gore murder-death-kill trends towards the most popular, well received and reviewed shows. Meanwhile, the fan service, T & A heavy shows get lambasted for their content? Is this more of a Japanese cultural/consumer issue. Or are we Americans, driving the "creative bus" so to speak. Is it, we want slice and dice, drive in movies type carnage? Will the US Anime market continue to denounce anything that's not down the Rippers Alley? Is the Rom-Com dead? Are Harem and Witless Twit gone forever? Has the Anime market lost the idea of "fun"?

Americans are absolutely more prudish about sex and nudity in our entertainment than we are violence, especially if it's the over-the-top variety. I've always scratched my head at how parents in this country will freak the hell out at the sight of an unclad nipple on television, but have absolutely no problem letting their 6-year-old see horrifying, gory violence. But then, there's a lot of parenting out there I disagree with.

Anime has always occupied a conspicuous place in our minds when it comes to sex and violence. American fandom came of age in the early-to-mid 90s, which was an era where countless blood-and-spooge OAVs were being made in Japan. Creativity in the burgeoning home video market was being driven by testosterone-fueled young male artists, high on the newfound freedom inherent to not having to get their anime played on television or screened in movie theaters. A huge percentage of this stuff made its way to American shores, where a similar audience of college-aged males ate it up.

But as fandom progressed, the fans got younger (and more gender neutral), and now most of them are teenagers, and most anime is late-night TV series, which aren't exactly G-rated, but pretty clean compared to most 90s OAVs. Younger audiences are still very influenced by the parenting they're still receiving, and have also been shielded from a lot of sex (and, hopefully, some violence) in the media. Seeing really wanton sexual behavior when you're that young and innocent can be pretty shocking. In my experience, younger fans tend to clutch pearls pretty easily. I know I did when I was 13 or so.

That's one reason. The other reason for the difference is that although bloody violence is somewhat prevalent in anime, it's very seldom that anime's raison d'être. I can count on one hand the number of shows from the last decade that made a constant display of blood and gruesome violence the show's sole selling point. Even when shows are happy to engage in a little blood and guts, it's neither constant, nor the point of the show. (Even the ridiculous blood orgy that was Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan was clearly intended as satire. The bloody stuff got boring after a while.)

Personally, I don't get annoyed when there are boobs in anime. There have always been boobs in anime. I get annoyed because there is NOTHING ELSE in the show. I get annoyed because yet another cardboard male character sees yet another cute girl naked before getting punched into oblivion. I get annoyed because those jokes were old a decade ago, that story has been done a million times, and I would rather microwave my testicles before sitting through that lazy, hacky, insulting garbage one more time. (And also, once you've dated for a while, you know just how completely fake the poorer-written anime "romances" really are.)

There are certainly some lazy, schlocky and terrible violent anime too, but nowhere near the TERRIFYING amounts of trashy anime that exists purely to show off school girls with huge boobs and short skirts. But for the record, I think any adult who isn't bothered by adult content would quite happily sit through a borderline-hentai show if the underlying story was good enough, and the sex was in service to the story. It just shouldn't be THE story.

Matthew asks:

What is up with Aniplex's 4-episode-per-volume release of Kill la Kill? I though we had left that ridiculousness behind years ago?

and Brandi asks:

I know this is come up before but seriously who is buying those Aniplex releases? I know somebody must be or they still wouldn't be doing this (or would they?!) The new Kill la Kill DVDs are $40 for a single disk with 4 episodes on it. It is like we slipped back in time, and got an extra tax on top of it. The Persona 3 movie is listed at $75 dollars that that is just the regular edition! Meaning a person would have to spend $225 to get all three movies. What makes this work for Aniplex but didn't for the Bandai Honneamise label?

and Charles asks:

I just found out, to my absolute horror, that Aniplex of America is continuing its pricing trends with Kill La Kill. I thought that they had changed with the release of Magi, but sadly no. So I would like I try another way of getting Aniplex titles without the pricing hassle: getting them from the UK. Of course this means that I would have to deal with different region disks. So I was wondering if you knew of any software workaround instead of a hardware one?

Sheesh. Aniplex is obviously doing this because it works. Madoka Magica was released the same way at the same price, and it sold like hotcakes. Now, Kill La Kill is getting the same treatment. It would be nice if Aniplex released them at a cheaper price, but they did the math, and determined it makes more sense for them to do it this way, by making more money selling fewer discs to customers that can afford it. Fans can get upset all they want, but their opinion doesn't really matter.

I'm sure lower-priced releases are coming from All The Anime in the UK, and Madman Entertainment in Australia, so if you're so inclined, there's nothing stopping you from importing those. You can usually play discs from other regions on a computer with the freeware app VLC (Win/Mac/Linux) without being impeded by region codes. DVD43 is also a Windows solution that lets you play discs in any DVD player app without impediment. Similar tools exist for Blu-ray as well, but they're commercial ripping programs of questionable legality, so I won't mention them here.

Aniplex is doing a few things much smarter than Bandai Visual USA/Honneamise did. First, they're keeping their expectations in check. They're releasing hot, new shows that people want now, whereas BVUSA concentrated on older, "classic" titles that wouldn't have sold THAT many copies -- and then expected them to move 20,000 units or so at super high prices. Second, they're doing this in 2014, when DVD and Blu-ray is much more about collectors instead of simply being the mass-market way everyone watches stuff. That's a big difference.

This method of release is successful for Aniplex. It's not going away. You can complain about it all you want, but you're just shouting into the wind.

Derek asks:

I have purchased very little physical anime in the last few years what with all the streaming and all. But one of the things I used to like to do with my discs was to search them for Easter Eggs. I found a few too. So my question would be: Do companies still hide Easter Eggs on discs, and have you ever done it? Or do most people in your position kind of look down on the practice?

Sure, I've programmed discs with Easter Eggs. Did one just a couple of weeks ago, actually.

Easter Eggs are fun little hidden features that used to crop up quite a lot on anime DVDs. However, there are fewer and fewer reasons for companies to have them. The biggest reason is that there generally aren't that many special features that can be put on the discs (remember, everything has to be approved by Japan). Most discs just get clean OP/ED sequences and little else. And when you have so few special features, you're not going to hide them as easter eggs -- you want them out in the open, so you can advertise that they're on the disc.

The other reason is that having easter eggs on the disc can make a DVD or Blu-ray harder to test. The programming behind easter eggs can be complicated, depending on how much you obscure them, and so these little quirky undocumented features can sometimes cause all sorts of unintended problems. DVDs and Blu-rays are software, after all, and many software companies have banned their programmers from adding easter eggs outright for similar reasons.

I have mixed feelings about this. While easter eggs can be nice, they are pretty low priority, and in most cases I don't know what a company would even have access to that they'd willingly hide. Also, easter eggs used to be a pain in the butt, especially when a company would get too overzealous in hiding them. Take this easter egg from the old Pioneer release of Cardcaptor Sakura Movie 1, for example:

First, go to the Extras page, and highlight the "English Trailer" option. Press ←,←,↑,↑,↑,→, which will then highlight the hidden button over the "Extras" heading. Press Enter. The background animation will restart. Select "Japanese Commercial Spots" and press enter. Highlight the "15 sec TV Commercial C Type" button, and then press ←,↑, Enter, ↓, and then finally Enter.

For all that work (which you'll never remember and probably have to write down), you know what you got? This ridiculous piece of European weeaboo insanity. I... guess that was worth it?

Brandon asks:

When dubbing an anime, there is the matter of the script. There are some anime that are nearly identical to the original with some changes, like Attack on Titan; and there are some that slightly change the dialogue while retaining the spirit of the anime, like Yu Yu Hakusho (pun can be intended). While recently watching a boxset of Lost Universe, I've noticed that the dialogue are almost completely different and laughably corny but maintained the true spirit of the story. And then, there are anime like Crayon Shin-Chan and Ghost Hunt Stories where the dialogue, and possibly the story, is entirely different. My question is when is it acceptable to change the script from the original and does an anime exists where it follows the original script to a T?

First and foremost, you really need to stop thinking of the subtitle translation as the "original script." A subtitle script is an approximation of what's being said in Japanese. Japanese and English are very different languages, and the translators and editors who wrote that subtitle script have made all sorts of judgement calls, and thought of all manner of subjective solutions to various puzzles along the way. English is a very pliable language, and there are a boatload of different ways to say the almost anything, sometimes adding nuance or implying things that weren't possible in the original Japanese. Conversely, a lot of nuance can get lost just by transcribing the original Japanese dialogue into text form. There is no absolutely pure way of translating something, much as some of us might like to think otherwise.

Rewriting a translation for a dub is, frankly, a very necessary step. Subtitle translations are often pretty "raw" and literal -- most of the time, reading them out loud would sound awkward. The dialogue needs to fit the timing of the lip-flap on screen, the manner of speech needs to fit the character, and jokes need to be adapted to be funny in English without having to flood the screen with translation notes. That's not easy. There is definitely an art to it, and some writers go a little further in reworking things than is strictly necessary, but that's just how they work. In my opinion, this is absolutely the most important part in creating a good dub. Experienced voice actors usually don't need too much direction when they get a script that reads naturally -- they can get their emotional queues both from the script as well as from what happens on screen. On the other hand, if the script is clumsy, even a great actor can only bumble their way through.

There are a few dubs out there that come from the "print out the subtitle script and get in the booth" school of anime dubbing, but they're mostly old and pretty terrible dubs, such as Patlabor TV or the later Project A-ko OAVs from Central Park Media. You can tell because characters speak way too slowly, and the actors sound kind of lost and detached. When dubs like this got released on DVD, fans turned on the subtitle track, saw it matched the dub exactly, and accused the anime company of making "dubtitled" discs (i.e. captioning the adapted dub rather than providing faithful subtitles), when really it was the dubbing studio that just got lazy. Even though there are terrible dubs still being made, most studios at least TRY to adapt the scripts these days.

Full-out repurposings like Shinchan and Ghost Hunt Stories are few and far between. It's always a tricky judgement call when it's appropriate to completely "throw out the script" and rework a show, but my general criteria are:

  • The original producer/creator is OK with what you're doing
  • The show would make little sense, or be otherwise unappealing, if dubbed "straight"
  • You have a coherent method to make the show more appealing to more people than it would've been otherwise
  • You make the original subtitled version available, even if only online

Of course, any time you get creative, especially with another person's work, you're taking a risk. Just like with most attempts at comedy, anything can be excused as long as you're funny. The trouble is, a lot of people think they're much funnier than they actually are. And then you get horrors like the reworked ADV dub of Super Milk Chan. (shudder)

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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