Teenage Party Weekend

by Justin Sevakis,

It's Anime Expo weekend! But you probably got that, from the giant banner on the front page with all of ANN's coverage.

I've been to at least 13 AX'es over the years, and as the show gets bigger and bigger, and more and more crowded, I find myself wondering just how many more sweaty nerds one can possibly cram into LA Convention Center. Last year was already packed to the gills, and with attendance expected to grow significantly this year, I don't even know how people are going to move through the hallways, much less the dealer's room. I'm already hearing kvetching about scheduling snafus, and I'm sure a lot more complaining will be done by the time the weekend is out.

That said, AX bears the distinction of being the convention that industry always complains about, and yet comes back to every year, even now that most of the anime business isn't even in Los Angeles anymore. For all of the frustration behind the scenes, the fans at large always end up having a good time (to varying degrees), the show gets good guests, piles of stuff gets sold, and we all end up back the next year, ready for more. Many companies plan their announcements and release schedules around AX weekend. Other conventions have conspired repeatedly to steal AX's crown, but nothing ever seems to work. The con just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

I always look forward to Anime Expo, even though it exhausts me. I look forward to seeing my industry friends and catching up with them, I look forward to the drunken stories, and seeing what the fans are into this year. But having earned my "crusty old-timer" badge some years back, it's hard for me to get too excited or worked up about the good or the bad. It's an institution: monolithic and indestructable, with an attitude that says "well, take it or leave it, but come on, we know you'll be back."

And we will. Over and over and over.

Kristen asks:

Today, there's a plethora of legal North American simulcasts. I was wondering if any of the subtitles that appear in the simulcasts reappear in their physical release. For example, if Section 23 picks up a show that is streamed on Crunchyroll, do they arrange to buy the subs from CR? It makese sense that they wouldn't want to "re-invent the wheel", but is this perhaps more difficult than it seems? Also, some shows are simulcast and then published by the same company, such as Funimation or Viz. Do they keep the simulcast subs or do they re-do them?

Simulcast subs, or anything produced for the show, are the property of the licensor. Whoever makes them has to send them to the licensor, and the licensor sends them along to whoever else needs them, be it a DVD distributor, or someone overseas.

As for whether or not they'll actually be used, that usually is up to the distributor. Simulcast subtitles are made very quickly, and there usually isn't time for them to be proofread, or even properly vetted by an editor. At the very least, most distributors will at least hire an editor to clean them up, make sure spellings and translation choices are consistent, and have proper grammar before putting them on a disc. Some distributors have decided that the scripts just aren't good enough, and redo the whole show from scratch. Some licensors will INSIST on a pre-approved script being used, no matter how rotten it is, but that's rare.

An exception is when a home video company, such as Funimation or Viz, gets the streaming rights and translates everything in-house. Their standards for the translator and editor tend to be much higher than normal for simulcasts, as they're looking to re-use the subtitles for a later home video release anyway, and there's no sense in paying for the same work twice. Even in cases like that, those subtitles will later be re-checked and re-proofed before they get put on a disc.

Michael asks:

With Miyazaki and Suzuki being invited into (and accepting) the Academy, what does this mean, if anything, for anime and the Oscars? Does this invite allow them to vote? Do you think their admission will increase anime's chances of nominations or awards?

There are only around 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the organization that runs the Academy Awards. Being invited to join the Academy is a big deal: to get appointed, you must be considered to be among the elite of the motion picture creative community. For writers, producers and directors, the academy requires that you have at least two screen credits on well-regarded films. New members are inducted by being sponsored by existing members (or winning an Oscar), and then being selected by the membership committee of your branch of filmmaking. Normally only 100 new members are selected every year, roughly replacing the number who die, retire or resign from the organization.

Ever since some startling statistics about the Academy members were published by the LA Times starting in 2012: that the members are 93% white, 76% male, and average 63 years old, the Academy has openly been trying to diversify its ranks. In 2013 they more than doubled the number of new members, and 271 new members are being inducted this year. It's a very diverse group, including actors Josh Hutcherson, Lupita Nyong'o, Barkhad Abdi, Chris Rock, Jason Statham, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Rob Riggle; directors Jay and Mark Duplass, Frozen composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and producer Megan Ellison.

And Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, as well, both adding to the previously 0.5% of the Academy that are of Asian descent. Both will be part of the Short Films and Feature Animation division, wherein they'll get to narrow down the nominees from the qualifying films of that year. (Each member gets to vote for 5, numbered in order of preference.) Once the final nominees are announced, they'll be able to vote for Oscar winners in all categories, get screeners in the mail, and get invited to special members-only screenings.

Just how active they'll be, I have no idea: neither speak or read English fluently, and being in Tokyo they likely won't be attending many Academy screenings. Miyazaki, of course, is a known grouch who can't stand nearly any anime being made today, so I doubt he'll be voting for much of the anime that gets submitted. Suzuki is almost certainly a little more sympathetic. But regardless, their votes will be but two of 6,000, a voting body still largely dominated by aging white, male American actors. So in terms of anime's odds at capturing Oscar glory, I'd still rate them as relatively unchanged.

Andrew asks:

I'm from Australia, and our local distributor/licensee Madman is very dependent on companies in the US or UK getting the license for a title, dubbing it and then selling it. This means that I have a vested interest in keeping up with companies like Funimation, Manga Ent, Viz etc to keep an eye out for what would potentially be licensed by Madman, despite them not selling anything to me as a consumer directly. A lot of discussion I have had with people involves speculation on what a US company plans to do with a title and how it affects us. On the other hand, Madman has been known to distribute a show locally in Australia before the US (the highest profile show I can think of off the top of my head is Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage). So I guess what I am asking is, since US companies like Funimation are increasingly becoming the gateway to Japan, is your average anime enthusiast in the US aware of international distributors and if so, how much discussion takes place involving them?

No, most American anime fans are only barely aware of the anime distributors in the UK or Australia, if they're aware of them at all. While occasionally a show will come out in one of those two countries before it comes out here, that's a pretty rare thing, and for the most part American audiences get more and faster releases of just about everything. Since all of the localization is being done in America as well, there's simply no reason for American fans to pay attention to what goes on elsewhere.

Since American fans have it so good, it's fairly rare for Americans to own region-free DVD or Blu-ray players, and most people don't own a single import disc. There are, of course, the superfans that import stuff from Japan and other countries, but they are the exception, not the rule. Occasionally, a show will get released in the UK or Australia that never saw the light of day here -- Tatami Galaxy or Genius Party, to name a couple of examples. It's only then that those handful of fans will consider importing.

The other reason imports from the UK and Australia don't happen so often is because most of the DVDs are converted to PAL frame rates (25 fps, instead of most anime's native 24), either by blending frames together or speeding up the video (and, consequently, the audio). Neither are very good solutions, and result in a less-than-ideal viewing experience. Blu-ray doesn't have this problem, but anything encoded to 25 fps usually won't even play back properly on American TV sets.

Kigen asks:

So, concerning the fact that some very erotic series like Kodomo no Jikan and ImoCho air in heavily censored states, for the most part removing the entire point in watching them, and are later uncensored for the BD releases, my question is this: is it actually to the benefit of animation studios that their more ecchi work is censored, giving them something extra to sell, and giving consumers more incentive to buy their actual product? Has this supposed abridgment of free speech, artistic expression, whatever actually made them more money, and are the animation studios themselves happily playing this game to their benefit?

While I'm hesitant to call the censored airings of a pervy late-night anime series an "abridgment of free speech," it's hard to say whether censoring the episodes has a demonstrable effect on disc sales one way or the other. Most of the shows that get censored like that are not intended for very large audiences, and probably wouldn't have made the Oricon top sales charts anyway. That said, there is definitely a good business reason why you would still air a hacked-up dirty anime late at night, even if nobody would ever want to watch it in that state.

Making an anime doesn't just mean anime disc sales, it also means merchandise sales, and even better, a huge boost to sales of the original work, be it a manga, eroge, or light novel. New animation projects get buzzed about online, get ads and coverage in magazines and in Akihabara, and press on anime news websites. The actual broadcast of the show isn't just meant to be advertising for the DVD, it's an advertisement for everything in the franchise. Whether or not anyone watches the actual broadcast airing is almost besides the point: if sales of everything get a nice enough boost, nobody even really cares how many people tune in every week.

A late-night anime broadcast is just a way to whet an otaku's appetite for paid product, and if that paid product is demonstrably better than what gets played on TV, that could be a good thing. Of course, when a show has nothing to offer BUT the cheesecake shots that got cut out of the broadcast version, the strategy could blow up in the producer's face. If people watch the show, go "this sucks!" and walk away, then that show is going to flop.

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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