The Shape of Things

by Justin Sevakis,

I am crabby. I've been getting up every morning at 5:45 AM so I can go to the gym, get a good workout in, and start my day with energy and vigor. It's supposed to be healthy. "Early to bed and early to rise," as they say.

The problem is that "early to bed" part. I seem to be utterly incapable of getting to sleep any earlier than 1 AM. Which means I'm getting less than 5 hours of sleep a night. Which I'm pretty sure isn't healthy.

Of course, I COULD go back to sleeping in, but now my body is trained to get up at 5:45 AM (or earlier) so I think I'm just screwed.

Michael asks:

From 2007 to 2009, I started watching a lot more anime than I ever had before. It was pretty much the only media I was consuming and it wouldn't be uncommon for me to be watching eight to ten shows at the same time. Well, as it happens when you overdo it, I got burned out. It came to the point where I just got so sick of anime that I stopped watching it entirely. Recently though, I have been coming back into the fold and have started watching things again, and am also realizing that I have a huge back log of shows that I want to check out that I either never started or never finished during my four year burnout period. My question for you is, do you have any advice for how I can do this? I want to watch the stuff on my massive list, but I don't want to overdose and fall back into that slump where I want nothing to do with anime.

Ah yes, burnout. It happens to all of us at some point or another. Having been an anime fan for 21 years now (oh my god I can't believe I just typed that) I've endured more cycles of burnout than I care to count. Everyone has their own means of dealing with it (and I encourage other readers to share their secrets in the forum), but here's what I've learned over the years.

In my case, I get burned out for two reasons: the first reason is that I'm forcing myself to watch too much anime that I don't enjoy. The thing is, the older we get and the more anime we watch, the more discerning we get. The vast, vast, vast majority of anime is only a slight variation on fairly well-worn themes, and those themes become less and less enthralling the more times we see them. There is SO MUCH ANIME being released, simulcast, and made available in English these days, and nobody knows how any of it is going to turn out. The vast majority of it is going to be completely forgettable pablum at best.

I think the first step to combatting that is to stop trying to keep up with current shows. Your time is valuable, your sanity is finite, and frankly, the odds of you being able to successfully predict which shows will end up being worthwhile aren't very good. Wait a season or two, listen and find out which shows people are still talking about months after they stopped airing. THOSE are the ones that, generally, are worth your time. Just doing that will prevent a good 90% of the unsatisfying viewing experiences that cause burnout. You might not be able to participate in as much online chatter about those shows when they come out, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, when we're (hopefully) old and on our death beds, absolutely none of us are going to sigh deeply and wish we had argued more about currently-airing anime with people on the internet.

The second reason I get burned out is that I end up watching so much anime that it all blurs together in my head, which makes me forget why I enjoyed any of it in the first place. Once you've reached this point, you simply have to take a break for a while, which it sounds like you have. But I've found that taking a break alone isn't enough. Part of the rehabilitation process is going back and revisiting a handful -- JUST a handful -- of your old favorite, formative shows. The ones that made you an anime fan, the ones that give you the sense memory of that magical moment when you said, "wow, what IS this stuff?? I have to see more of it!" As that original "wow" moment recedes further and further into the dusty past, I find it's incredibly important to go back and revisit what stuck a chord in you, and why that is.

That doesn't mean you'll still love those old shows as much as you once did. Heck, one of my old favorites, Dominion Tank Police, has aged rather questionably, and now that I'm in my mid-30s it's much clearer to me that its intended audience was basically 12-year-olds. But other times you'll find that the stuff you loved really does stand the test of time, and coming back to those shows is both refreshing and essential to rekindling your enthusiasm for the medium.

It's far easier for someone who doesn't work in the anime business to avoid burnout, because you are never in the position of HAVING to watch a show you don't enjoy. With that in mind, stop doing it. If a show isn't making you happy, you can and should stop watching it, no matter how many people tell you "it gets better once you get past episode 9!" or whatever. Anime is entertainment, it's supposed to be entertaining. Once it stops entertaining you, bail out IMMEDIATELY, or the resentment will start to build up. There is no fan activity anywhere that is worth wasting your life watching crap you don't enjoy.

I think too often we get caught up on being a fan, needing to know about as many shows as possible, and filing out our to-watch checklists than living in the moment and enjoying what we're doing. We don't owe anybody, we don't NEED to watch anything, and there's no need to prove we're "real fans" to anyone. Watch anime for fun. That's all it's there for, that's all it's intended for. Unless you are getting paid for it, there is absolutely no other reason to watch ANYTHING. Period.

Chagen asks:

I've noticed a lot of manga/anime getting stage adaptions recently, some of them musicals. This makes me wonder--why are anime musicals almost nonexistent? The only one I can remember is Nerima Daikon Brothers, and that is rather old in the fast-paced world of anime (Symphogear MIGHT also count). In an industry where being able to sing is practically a requirement to getting jobs, you'd think production companies would salivate at the chance to make a show with tons of songs that can be put on hilariously over-priced CD's later. Plus, all the fans of the seiyuu would get to hear their singing voices over and over again. Is it the cost and work required to make that many songs and still make them catchy (Nerima Daikon Brothers got around this by using the same 5-6 songs, with different lyrics each episode)? Or are musicals just not that popular in Japan?

There really are only a handful of anime musicals out there. (Red Garden also comes to mind.) They're difficult to make, the ones that do get made aren't all that successful, and hit movie/TV live action musicals that work and find an audience are also a pretty rare thing. It's just not what anime people want to make, or want to watch.

Also, keep in mind that anime often acts as an edgier counterpoint, even in Japan, to family-friendly mainstream animation from places like Disney and Dreamworks, a significant chunk of which are musicals. Musicals, by nature, tend to be lighter fare, and more family-friendly. Since the 1930s, musicals from America have been put in the same category as family films and comedies, even if that's not always accurate. Japan did make quite a few musicals of their own back in the day, although most of them were kayu eiga, which weren't even really musicals but more standard films with a few musical interludes.

In terms of anime, musicals are much harder to make. Having characters that sing forces the animators to pay much more attention to lip flap-matching (which is something they've never gotten very good at), and having to compose a bunch of songs means having a much bigger musical budget. The occasional attempts to do musicals never seem to make much of an impact, so the lack of them is definitely a combination of lack of supply, lack of demand.

RB asks:

My question involves older anime released in HD with a 4:3 aspect ratio. TVs now are 16:9 so when you watch these 4:3 shows on Blu-ray, they appear pillarboxed. What would happen if I watched one of these on a 4:3 aspect ratio 1080i HD CRT TV, like one of the old Sony Wegas? Would the pillar boxing still exist, would it go away, or would I add a second layer of pillarboxing? I still have an urge to buy a Philips Cinema 21:9, is that so wrong?

Uh, yes? If you watch a 4:3 program on a 4:3 TV, and you zoom it in to cut off the pillar boxing, yes, it would fill the screen. Similarly, if you watched a film in 2.35:1 on a 21:9 TV, it would crop off the letterboxing at the top and bottom. There are very, very, very few anime made in 2.35:1 aspect ratio (the only ones I can think of off the top of my head are the old Toei films from the 60s); you would be watching almost entirely live action films on that very expensive TV.

I must admit, I don't understand your need to watch everything on a screen that is shaped exactly to your content. CRT displays are insanely heavy, smaller, emit radiation, and tend to be interlaced. They're also next to impossible to find anymore, and most of them look pretty terrible by today's standards. Why in the world would you want to own one now? Just get a bigger TV, and the fact that part of your screen isn't being used won't bother you so much.

Also, god help you if you really get into European films from the 70s. I don't think they make TVs in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.

Jon asks:

I was hoping you could comment on the current industry standard of blu-ray/dvd combo packs. It seems that many anime companies, as well as other movie companies in general have been using a business model where they have a combo pack, sometimes a blu-ray only, and sometimes a dvd only release. Most of the major movie studios seem to offer all these options while I have noticed with anime a lot of times only the combo pack is offered. Do you think this is simply a cost savings measure by only producing one retail product of a show, or do the combo packs cost more for anime companies since they are producing twice the number of discs per copy sold? Could this trend be due to the severe reduction in retail shelf space for anime in big box stores today? When do you think we might see a complete abolishment of dvd inclusion in the home video industry and could this happen sooner with anime companies since a lot of fans tend to like watching shows in the best possible quality when possible?

The idea of putting DVDs and Blu-rays in a combo pack is tricky business. On one hand, it increases per-unit manufacturing costs a bit. A DVD by itself is around $1 all-in, a Blu-ray around $2-3, and a combo will end up going over $3 and some change. That doesn't sound like much, but it definitely adds up. On the other hand, with retailers like Best Buy, Walmart and others severely limiting shelf space dedicated to anime, it can really help sales to have both DVD and Blu-ray in one package, so everyone can get what they want.

There are hidden costs to having two separate SKUs (Stock Keeping Unit, or individual package type). It's more warehouse space you're taking up, more shipping costs, and if you're going to brick and mortar stores, more returns you have to absorb. It can also be a nightmare trying to figure out if you're going to sell more DVDs or Blu-rays of a particular show: there often doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to which direction fans will go. If you go with separate packages, you're often left with too many of one or the other. If you have just one SKU, you don't have to worry about any of that.

According to a recent survey taken by Viz, and shared with us by Charlene Ingram on ANNCast, fans either love or hate combo packs. There is no consensus, and they feel REALLY REALLY strongly about that. Some resent having to buy an extra disc they're not going to use, others appreciate the upgrade path for eventually going Blu-ray, or the portability of having a DVD copy for friends. This is truly one of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" things for the anime companies -- they're not going to please everybody, and they're sure going to hear about it regardless of what they 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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